Friday, April 13, 2012

The Cockroach and the Rural Development Camp

Last week I had the dubious pleasure of spending about 6 hours in a jeep through the not-so-great roads of Bangladesh on my way to the lovely town of Chandpur. Part of my job at the Embassy is to visit minor children of divorced or separated parents, one of whom lives in the good ol’ U.S. while the other one has decided to come back and live it up in Bangladesh with the small child. Should the so-called “Left Behind Parent” (whom we lovingly call the LBP) get a burning desire to learn what his or her American child is up to these days in Bangladesh, they demand that we perform a Welfare and Whereabouts visit and write a detailed report about the kid’s life and favorite foods. So, we do.

After a particularly unpleasant car ride, and a really nice visit with the child and his family in Chandpur, we turned around to go to the hotel for the night. The closest big town was Comilla and I was told that we will stay in the only hotel right outside of town. My colleagues who had stayed there in the past cryptically told me that it is in the midst of a lot of greenery and that it might be a tad on the old side but it is clean. I was warned to bring my own linen and towels. So, I think I was justified in being just a little apprehensive as we drove towards it.
And then I saw it – the sign at the gate read “Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development.” And rural development it was – it smelled like it, it sounded like it and it sure looked like it too. Apparently, the establishment is a sort of a training facility or camp for governmental employees of the rural development variety. We booked what I think were the best rooms at the Academy – mine was fairly large, with a palatial gloomy bathroom, a massive air conditioning unit, a large bed equipped with a mattress the consistency of a sturdy stone, a miniature desk, a prehistoric TV which inexplicably featured a full range of cable TV and two electric outlets. I let out a deep sigh and settled in. I spent about an hour recuperating from the drive from Dhaka, lying on the stiff bed fit for self-deprecating monks and willing myself to go have a nice, hot shower. I finally mustered some resolve, disrobed and entered the dark, slightly depressing bathroom. To my amazement, the shower head was not attached to anything but simply protruded from the bathroom ceiling. That meant that if I did not desire to wash my hair (which I did not), and did not possess an elegant solution to the problem like a plastic shower cap, I would have to shower by bending my body at 45 degrees like a truly skilled dervish, one limb at a time, in order not to wet my hair. I sighed deeply again and turned on the hot water. After about 7 minutes, I came to the mournful conclusion that there won’t be any hot water coming in the Rural Development Academy this year. Maybe next year, when there is a bit more development. But definitely not now. By then, my body had gotten either used to or numb to the cold water, so I quickly performed the exquisite bathroom dance almost avoiding wetting my hair. Somewhat refreshed and a tad frazzled, I decided to visit the canteen and have a tasty rural development dinner. I put on my (possibly a bit whimsical) Indian outfit – a fashionable Bombay top coupled with black tights – and strolled down to the canteen on campus. I think I gave a whole bunch of rural developers the fright of their lives by walking decisively into the facility, not very Bengali-looking at all, lining among the good natured public servants and ordering in crystal clear Bangla what turned out to be one very deshi dinner. The person behind the counter apparently found the whole matter rather hilarious because he could not stop giggling while handling my money and request for some poratha bread. He looked so goofy that I began fearing for his mental wellbeing.

Sufficiently fed and stared at, I took the wise decision to return to my humble abode and spend the rest of the night watching chick flicks. I was practically excited – I had a whole evening to myself and I could watch anything my soul desired without having the Diplomat roll his sophisticated eyes at me. As luck should have it, my choice of movies for night ranged from “Mortal Combat 2,” “Predators,” “Unstoppable” (about an unstoppable train threatening to kill a zillion kids during most of the movie), and some other horrendous gory movie from the 80s whose name I have buried deep into my unpleasant memories. I finally stumbled upon a good cooking show where a maniacal and angry Australian chef kept cooking everything with heaps of potent red chilies. I was quite engrossed in the show while all of a sudden my peripheral vision registered a movement to the left of the TV. A rather LARGE movement, I should say. I slowly turned my head in that direction and my eyes met the gaze of a mammoth Bengali cockroach. That @#$% thing was at least a foot long, I swear! Now, let me be clear – I AM VERY, VERY, VERY AFRAID AND DISGUSTED BY COCKROACHES! Every time I find one at home, I thank God that I am married as the Diplomat has the honor of executing and getting rid of the body of the nasty insect. But there I was, in the Rural Development camp, with a giant guest uncomfortably close and no husband in sight. Crap. The dastardly thing kept moving around minding its own business. I was about 3 meters away on my painful bed. All of a sudden, it turned around and started moving in my direction. And then the electricity went out and it became pitch black inside the room. I might have yelped in horror. No one will know for sure. I jumped on the bed and briefly contemplated climbing up the curtains. Then the electricity came back.
I noticed that the cockroach was headed back towards the trashcan and started climbing onto it. An idea hit me – I would wait until it climbed inside, then run, turn it over and trap it underneath. I felt so much better. I watched its climb with trepidation and when it finally went over the top, I made my move towards it. Then, the power went off again. This time I distinctly remember screaming – the proximity to the thing was too much to bear. I ran back and tripped over the stone mattress. The power came back a whole eternity later, and since the cockroach was still in the trashcan, I made one last desperate move, ran to it, pushed it over and trapped the roach inside. Then I slowly pushed it outside the room while the beast was wildly shuffling inside. I slammed the door closed, and spent the next 20 minutes surveying the perimeter anxiously, looking for its worried relatives to come by. No more cockroaches came in that night.
The next morning, we spent another excruciating 5 hours on the road. I cannot say that this was a fun trip.