Sunday, May 4, 2014

Contrasting travels

I’m on my way to Bangladesh and Iceland. An odd combination I concede. Like syrup and ketchup, two destinations that couldn’t be more unlike. Obscurity is the only thing these two places have in common.

Bangladesh is hot, humid and flat like a pancake. The country acts like a sieve to two great rivers—the Ganges and the Brahmaputra—before they spill into the ocean. Like my two young sons trying to pour a glass of water from a heavy jug, the yearly monsoons overflow these rivers, flooding villages and cities.  In contrast, Iceland is punctuated by volcanoes, glaciers, and the rivers in Iceland seem to flow down to the sea in a graceful manner showing off with magnificent waterfalls.
With a population of more than 150 million, Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. It’s also one of the poorest and its people have suffered at the hands of poor government and corruption. Anything that moves in the country's capital, Dhaka—people, rickshaws, buses, cars, boats and even the cockroaches—are in a constant fight for space in this teeming city. The difference in Iceland couldn’t be starker. While it’s estimated that there are more than 600,000 bicycle rickshaws in Dhaka, Iceland’s population is a mere 350,000, giving way to wide open spaces and natural wonders.  And if in Bangladesh the earth moves beneath the feet of millions of people, in Iceland geothermal and volcanic activity keep things bubbling underground. Here’s another stat for you. Iceland’s per capital GDP is $36,000 compared to just $2,000 in Bangladesh.  
Bilkis, a gracious Bangladeshi cabin attendant
Looking out the window of an airplane, I’ve always thought that one could be anywhere. The quiet of the airplane’s cabin masks the noise and chaos below. I thought this flying over the green Bangladesh countryside, where meandering rivers have their way with the landscape and run where they like. It could almost be a fill in for the English countryside or parts of Europe. Then peering out the window as we neared the airport in Dhaka, I thought of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz… “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” And I’m guessing it doesn’t look like Iceland, either.

Arrival into Dhaka

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