I remember arriving into the capital city, Dhaka, for the first time and would return there many times over the next two years, having taken a job as a flight attendant for a Middle Eastern airline.
The smell that was Dhaka would become strangely familiar. The sights however, never assumed that quality. They remained alarming…jarring and at times, frightening.
Inequities in the world no longer frighten me.
We were ushered into an awaiting minibus and kids of all ages clambered onto the outside seeking a sweetie, a pen, a lipgloss perchance..?
We took pens and crayons but even in vast quantities, the supply could never match the hundreds of pairs of tiny paws, scrambling for a Bic biro.
Dhaka is a place of contrasts.
None more so than when staying in a hotel across a muddy road from the rows of slums that collapse upon each other and masquerade as villages.
A covered maze of a market in Dhaka is famous for its assortment of goodies.
It is colloquially known as ‘Bongo Bazaar’. I am unsure which of the two names is more apt for the place, Bongo…or Bizarre. They both fit.
My first time at “Bongo”, I was taken by the hand almost immediately. A little girl held my hand for four hours straight, as she took me on the “Bongo tour” - ducking and weaving between clothes, stopping for ice tea
or patiently detouring any time I showed a flicker of interest in an item. So attentive was my deft and agile little guide.
She was sweet and gentle and laughed when I spoke to her. She said little but understood much.
I write with thoughts of her in my head even now. Her face appears fresh before my eyes.
I rang my mum at one point to see if I could adopt my Bangladeshi ‘baby’…
My mum listened and related. As a young mum, living in Nigeria with my Dad, she had her own story of wanting to adopt a Nigerian newborn, left outside a nearby hospital.
She would later name one of her four daughters, my sister Lisa, after her Nigerian, doorstep baby.
Prompting my phone call however was not that visit. The seed though, was planted that day.
Reluctant to say goodbye to my tiny chaperone, I hailed a tuk-tuk and smuggled her a lip balm, a $US5 note and a kiss.
I turned around to wave goodbye to my new friend and caught him… in full flight…out of the corner of my eye.
He had her by the scruff of her neck. His arm raised above his head, in preparation for another almighty slap…
Across her face.
Horrified, I screamed and jumped out of the tuk-tuk.
To be fair, there was much in that scenario, the dynamics of that instant, that I did not understand.
He was her minder. She was obliged to give all proceeds to him. She was not meant to accept secret goodies. And likely much more…
I screamed at him til I almost choked.
In contrast, his response was a cocktail of bemusement and disdain.
She reassured me she was ok when I questioned her.
With mixed reluctance and shameful relief, I was rendered choice-less and hopped back into the tuk-tuk.
Shell-shocked by the confrontation, I steadied myself by fixing my gaze on her til she disappeared. Her smile maintained my stare the whole time.
Three months later, I returned to Bangladesh. And to Bongo.
A hand slipped into mine the minute I stepped out of my tuk-tuk and I recognised her excited little face and voice.
She had waited every day for my return. I had moved on. And because of that, my heart broke to see her again. It rejoiced also.
Our smuggling this time was smart, as we shared another Bongo adventure.
Her receipt of my stash was cheeky and complicit.
A divine secret of conspiracy and contraband.
It was that night, that I rang my mum…
I would go back to Dhaka another 7 or 8 times.
Each time, my Bangladeshi baby was always there.
And then I didn’t go back…
I often thought - how long did she wait?.
My smiling, welcoming, genteel, little hostess.
The Bangladeshi child I now sponsor is in her honour.
I went through all the scenarios of how I would bring her home and bring her up.
Except that I never did.
That was 15 years ago...
I prayed for her future.
I hope it was bright.