Letter 38: Thailand--On the Wrong Train!

Dear Elizabeth,
            I’d been in Bangladesh for a year and a half when my visa required another trip out of the country.  April had returned to the States, and it wasn’t safe or smart to travel alone.  What was I going to do?
            Fortunately for me, there was a group of fellow missionaries headed for Thailand for a few days.  They invited me to come along with them.
            We made an interesting collection of people.  The family, with 3 pre-teen girls and one young son, was quiet and conservative.  Teena, a middle-aged widow, was uninhibited, full of and laughter and spunk.  I guess I was somewhere in the middle.
            Our trip got off to an unusual start.  (You’d think I’d start expecting that since the unusual happened much more often than the usual around there.)
            First was the train ride from our city to the capital city of Bangladesh.  We arrived at the station before 7, where an exuberant train worker welcomed us by yelling, “Last call!  Run!  Your train leaving!”
            Thus, very quickly, we scurried in and out amid all the people, trying to get on the train before it left.  Coolies rushed behind us, carrying some of our luggage.  White people are a sight in Bangladesh at any time, but a whole group of white people jumping onto a train while coolies throw their luggage in through the windows must have been a noteworthy scene indeed.
            About this time, the train man actually looked at our tickets.  He started yelling again, only this time it was, “Wrong train! Get off!”
            Off the train we jumped.  Out the windows came our luggage.  For awhile we all just stood there, sweating, catching our breath, rather amazed that all of us and all our luggage was still together in one vicinity.
            Not long after that, another man came to show us the right train we were to board.  Fortunately, this one was not in the process of leaving right at that moment.  We boarded the train and found our places.
            We had seats together (which was good), 5 windows (also good), and ceiling fans (which would have been good had they been working).  We asked a train worker to turn on the fans.  He smiled and said yes.  We didn’t know whether that meant the fans would get turned on, or that they didn’t work but he didn’t want us to be unhappy so he said yes anyway.
            We sat and waited, still sweating.  There were so many beggars at the window, they blocked any breeze that might have been blowing.  The 3 young girls were sitting with me, and the male beggars who had crowded outside kept reaching in to touch their blond hair or white skin.  Finally, I closed the window and we endured the heat until the train began to move.

            Once it did, a refreshing breeze flowed throughout the train.  Our ride would have been nice and relaxing, except for the extremely loud noise it made rocking back and forth.  Not to mention the rocking back and forth.  Teena said it was like a 5 ½-hour long mild earthquake.
            For awhile, I left our seats and went to stand in the open doorway.  That was delightful.  I reveled in the feel of the wind swirling all around me, and felt part of the scenery as we sped past deep green rice fields, clusters of trees, goats and cows wandering around, children waving as we passed.
            I remained there happily until the train man very nicely but emphatically directed me back to my seat.  By then the fans were working.  Apparently they needed the train to be moving for them to move as well.
            After several stops and a snack of bananas, we finally arrived in the capital city of Dhaka.  As the driver who was supposed to meet us was nowhere to be seen, we summoned three baby taxis to take our group to the guest house together.  They agreed, but we found out quickly that they had no intentions of staying together.  Each had his own way to get to our guest house, regardless of whether he knew where the guest house was or not.
            Of our little group, I was the one who had been in Bangladesh the longest, and who knew the most Bengali.  This was not fortunate for our group.  I tried to tell the drivers where to go, but there was only one of me and three taxis.  Taxi number three went the wrong way and we couldn’t get him to stop.  Finally we all regrouped, but were still several blocks from the guest house.  The drivers didn’t want to go the way I told them.  I’m not sure where they wanted to go.
Traffic can get...interesting!
            Eventually, we did end up at the guest house, and then the drivers got upset about the amount of taka we paid them.  They were expecting to make extra off the rich white people and were quite disappointed when we wanted to pay them the normal rate.
            We did end up paying some extra, but not as much as they wanted, so we left them to argue with the gate keepers for awhile while we went inside.  Only problem was, we realized we were locked out and had no key.  So we sat on the steps and waited until the gate guard went up to the roof where the cook lived and got us a key.
            We were happy to get inside.  It had been seven hours since any of us had been able to visit a bathroom or wash our hands—this being in the days before tiny tubes of hand-sanitizer.
            About half an hour later, the driver who should have picked us up at the train station appeared.  He had only gotten to the station an hour late.
            Thus the trip began.  The next day we got off to Thailand without a hitch, oddly enough.  Once there, we couldn’t get enough of the American Fast Food places, or the restaurants with real salad that hadn’t needing washing in bleach first.  I ate a ridiculous amount of french fries, and would have eaten more had I had the chance.  French fries taste incredibly good when you haven’t had them for almost two years.
             Thailand to be continued . . .

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