Bangladesh Just Might Be Lagos In A Sari: Kay’s Abroad Life

May 22, 2020

The Nigerian experience is physical, emotional and sometimes international. No one knows it better than our features on #TheAbroadLife, a series where we detail and explore Nigerian experiences while living abroad.

In January 2020, Kay — awesome writer over at TechCabal, (Zikoko’s sister publication) spent a month in South Asia, touring the borders between Bangladesh and India.

In preparing for this interview, I spent an inordinate amount of time getting lost in Bangladeshi cuisine, using maybe all of 3 minutes to learn about everything else (JK. Do not try this in your Zoom interviews at home kids).

Kay shares her experience as a woman traveler and tells us all the ways Bangladesh is indeed, Lagos’ long lost South Asian cousin.

For my first question,  I’m going to sound like a raging Nigerian politician, because I’m only focusing on my stomach. But, I got into a Morog Palao rabbit hole when I was em.. researching for our interview, and my life hasn’t been the same since. What is the Bangladeshi food culture like?

So this is interesting. If you walk into a Bangladeshi restaurant, it’s going to be a little rare to see anyone eating alone. They’re very communal about meal times.

As someone who is currently leaning towards the ‘chop alone, live forever’ movement, this is interesting. Please go on.

So while I was there, I always noticed they had some type of buffet going on. If you’re ordering food, they wouldn’t bring you like a plate of rice and stew to eat. Nope.

They’d bring a large bowl that has rice, lots of rice… for everyone to share. Then, that would come with all these other things, for you to serve yourself with. Oh, and you eat everything with your hands there.

Nigerian boarding school students will read about this serve yourself meal system, and wonder how anybody can be so reckless!

And tea! They take a lot of tea. It’s called ‘cha’. They take it morning, noon, night. Whenever, wherever. It’s also a welcoming treat, if you’re visiting a home, they’d serve you tea. That kind of thing.

Besides water, it’s the second most consumed liquid in Bangladesh, and they serve it everywhere!

The same way you’d see puff-puff sellers on the streets of Lagos, is the same way you’d see people selling tea in Dhaka (The Bangladesh city capital). Also, they take a lot of sweet things.

Sold! My sweet tooth and I will be on the first plane to Bangladesh when this whole virus situation is done with. Which way to the visa office and can I pay in cash?

Haha. Well, in addition to sweet things, there’s a lot of bread and spicy sauce in their diet – cinnamons, curries and what not. But you’ll eat bread and rice die!

I got tired of that. There’s also a wide variety of fruit. There are cherries, pomegranates. Just so many options. Now about that visa…

*Whips out notepad plus anointing oil to pray for the end of the virus*

Well, for the visa, I didn’t handle any of that. I’m part of an art organisation – Invisible Borders Trans-African Photography Organisation and we were invited for a project in Bangladesh, examining its borders with India. 

Ah, I see. My next question was going to be how you decided on Bangladesh

Yeah. So with the organisation, I wasn’t really involved in the visa process. That was handled by the project manager, but I do know he had to go to Abuja to handle all of that.

*Adds travel to Abuja sometime in 2020 for Bangladesh visa inquiries to reminder*

So when you touched down in Bangladesh, what was the most overwhelming feeling? What’s an unmissable first impression you get at the airport?

You know what? I’d have to say it feels like you just landed at an extended wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos. It feels like you just landed in Lagos.

*Burns notepad* *Cancels reminder* *Forgets Bangladesh travel plans *

Wow. Girl I am so sorry! I am so sorry you got played! How did you go around the world, only to wind up in a place just like the one you left?

It’s funny because when I first landed at the Shahjalal International Airport, I noticed how similar the arrangements were. The way you queue, the maneuvering, people using tape to tag their luggage. It was so similar, it was actually fascinating.

That same disorderliness in Lagos is there. There was a huge crowd when we got to the airport.

This japa problem is everywhere sha

Ha! We spent a few hours at the airport. Some of it was just delays you’d expect, the rest was racial profiling. Myself, my travel companions, some Ugandans and another man from an African country, got pulled out of the queue to get our visas and passports confirmed. So that happened.

Really? Bangladesh too wants to form? Okay sha…

Oh and one interesting thing before I go back to the similarities. If you’re black in Bangladesh, you will get a lot of stares. A lot.

It’s kind of like how in earlier years, white people in Nigeria would get a lot of attention, regardless of who they were? Here, we got people that stared us down all the time. We were actual spectacles. It was the most interesting thing.

This your trip was a trip, no lies

So the similarities again. The traffic! Lord. There were constant standstills, trying to maneuver your car. That same Lagos craziness? It was all there.

Have I said how sorry I am you jammed Lagos part 2 in this trip? Because???

What made it even more hilarious was that they have all sorts of transport contraptions in Bangladesh. So you’re dragging the road with regular cars, buses, bicycles, motorbikes, kekes. Then you have rickshaws. When I went sightseeing in Old Dhaka, I literally saw a horse chariot.

There is no way you saw a horse chariot in 2020, Kay. No way. We will fight over this phone.

See now…

Yeah, I have to go to Bangladesh now!

But beyond the airport and the traffic and the craziness. It’s just the constant hustle and bustle and crowds similar to Lagos. You get that whole vibe complete in Bangladesh.

I hear that. So now I’m intrigued about the people of Bangladesh and if they’re operating on the same wavelength as my fellow crazies in Lagos. What were your immediate impressions of the Bangladeshi people?

Hmm. So once you get past all the staring and being the object of the day, you’d notice that the Bangladesh people are incredibly warm. The strangers go out of their way to help. Easy example, while we were travelling from one stop to another, some of us needed to use the restroom.

Mind you, we were a team of four from the organisation (3 Nigerians and 1 Belgian). The project also had 4 Bangladeshi photographers. Usually, we’d find a gas station to pee, but there wasn’t one available for the next mile. Our companions said they’d stop at any house and ask if it was possible to use the rest room. I laughed and thought they were joking.

True true, we parked at a random house. They spoke to an elderly lady who agreed to have us use her restroom. It was the most welcoming thing ever.

Fruits in the countryside

The Nigerian in me is stuck on all the ways things could have gone wrong for the old lady, but that’s an incredibly sweet story. Great to know some kindness still remains in the world. And their dressing? How’s the Bangladeshi drip?

Well, when it comes to dressing, there’s a lot of traditional garb. Especially when you start moving away from the capital Dhaka, to the countryside. People wear these traditional outfits called Kameez, a kaftan with trousers that reach your ankles. They wear a lot of saris too. There was an art summit we participated in, guests were constantly trooping in in their saris. So there’s a lot of traditional wear in Bangladesh.

Got it. Now I know Bangladesh is very traditional and there isn’t a strong female presence in its affairs, what did you notice about gender representation during your trip?

So there was this Zikoko article about a housewife that kind of reflects the position I noticed a lot of Bangladesh women are in. In some parts of Dhaka, and the further away you go from it towards the countryside, you’ll notice that there are rarely women on the road. My Bangladeshi colleague told me it was because women are usually left to cater to the home. The women are expected to shelf their dreams and take care of their families most of the time.

Oh wow

But, I’ll say things are changing. I had two Bangladeshi women with me, photographers. Eery where we went, people would ask ‘where are you from?’ Like how did your husband/father let you out? That kind of thing.

But they’re breaking the status quo. The prime minister is a woman, the leader of the opposition party is a woman. There’s still a big-gender imbalance, but it’s changing.

Oh wait, this brings me to another similarity with Lagos.

A parrot at a tea resort

Let’s hear it!

Politics! The usual ruckus of violence during election campaigns. We were in Bangladesh until the first of February, and before that time, they held Mayoral elections, our equivalent of a governorship election. It was the Nigerian blueprint.

There was a riot after elections, the opposition party accused the leading party of rigging, people stoning voters. That kind of chaos

Oh Lord. When will this end? Embarrassing political antics to the side however, there is one ultimate way to know if Bangladesh really is like Lagos.

And what’s that?

The nightlife. How does Bangladesh throw it down?

Well first off, they do not drink alcohol over there, it’s prohibited and you’d have to …

F9! It is not like Lagos, let’s wrap it up!

Haha. But yeah, you need a special pass to purchase or drink alcohol. In my experience, the Bangladesh favour mostly hangouts and house parties. Just small clusters of friends, that kind of thing. But I’d say I didn’t stay long enough to really figure out their social scene.

Tut tut.

But thinking about it, I have another question about women experiences in Bangladesh. How was your experience as a female traveller?

So there was something I noticed when we were doing our border rounds. We were usually paired with a Bangladeshi team mate who could speak Bengali, so they’d act as interpreter while doing their own work. I realised people were always asking the translator if I was married. Marriage and family are big deals for them.

Ah yes, the Nigerian similarity pops out again

But in terms of security, I felt relatively safe because we had male companions, so there wasn’t a lot of interference. But from what I have heard and seen in the news, the universal female experience applies. Don’t walk alone at night, be constantly wary, that kind of thing. It’s the same there.

Sigh. Just existing as a woman is exhausting.

Would you return to Bangladesh though?

It is exhausting. But yes, I would return to Bangladesh given the opportunity. I’d find a way to get over the tiredness of eating bread and rice all the time. But it’s a great place to visit, absolutely.

Last question has to be the most mundane thing that happened and the most riveting thing that happened to you on this trip

Well, haha. I have to talk about this. So I had a wig on, and a lady stopped me to ask if it was my hair. I told her no, it wasn’t and she got so upset. ‘Why would I be wearing someone else’s hair?’ She couldn’t understand it. That was interesting.

Ah! Wait till she finds out braids aren’t actually our hair

Then the most riveting thing definitely has to be getting our photographs taken everywhere. I have no idea what Facebook groups why pictures ended up in or really why they were so fascinated by us, since a lot of Nigerians actually school in Bangladesh. But it was definitely an interesting experience.

Want more Abroad Life? Check in every Friday at 12 PM (WAT) for a new episode. Until then, read every story of the series here.

Boyin Plumptre

Join The Conversation

Bring a friend.

You'll like this

June 15, 2021

The Future of Hiring Lawyers During COVID-19 and Beyond for 200 Million Nigerians With the spread of COVID-19, most industries have adjusted their standard practices of conducting business. The legal profession is no exception, with TalkCounsel at the helm redefining the legal experience for countless Nigerians. TalkCounsel’s digital workspace hosts vetted lawyers that offer a […]

December 2, 2020

Adeoye Mercy Abosede of the African Action Congress will be contesting in the Lagos East Senatorial bye-elections which is scheduled to hold this Saturday, December 5, 2020. The by-election became a necessity after Senator Bayo Osinowo, who represented Lagos East Senatorial district at the senatedied died following a brief illness. A by-election is an election […]

September 25, 2020

On Thursday, President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the new Police Establishment Act 2020, aimed at making the Nigerian police force better. But the new law has generated sharp criticism, especially on social media. Many critics say that the law has now granted wide and unending powers to police officers. Reasonable Grounds, Reasonable Apprehension The […]

Watch

Now on Zikoko

Recommended Quizzes

November 28, 2019

There are so many talented and stunning Nollywood actors that make it hard not to fall in love with them. So, while we all know the likelihood of us ending up with any of them is super low, it’s still fun to imagine a world where we actually stood a chance, and that’s why this […]

April 9, 2020

At some point in life, we all learnt that someone can be very intelligent and still lack common sense. That’s the difference between being book smart and being street smart. If you’re not sure where on the spectrum you fall, well, that’s what this quiz is here to tell you. Take it:

October 29, 2019

We are going to be attempting to guess when you’ll marry based on your favourite Nigerian foods. What does your fave swallow have to do with when you’ll tie the knot? Please, don’t ask complicated questions. This quiz is rigorous and accurate (don’t quote us), so just take it already. QUIZ: Why Do You Have […]

September 1, 2021

August is over, and here are some of our best quizzes from August. Enjoy: 1. QUIZ: Only Ajebutters Can Get 10/21 On This Quiz Some people like to form ajepako when they’re really ajebutter. Are you one of them? Let’s find out. 2. QUIZ: Sorry, If You’re Under 25 There’s No Way You Can Pass […]

More from Citizen

open grazing
September 16, 2021

In Nigeria, up to 2,000 people die every year due to deadly clashes between farmers and cattle herders over rights to openly and freely graze, and the clashes made about 62,000 people homeless between 2015 and 2017.

In reaction, southern states in Nigeria are passing anti-open grazing laws. But what do they mean?

Rivers VAT
September 14, 2021

Rivers State generated ₦15 billion from VAT in June 2021, but only got ₦4.7 billion, whereas Kano State generated ₦2.8 billion naira from VAT in June 2021 and got the same ₦2.8 billion naira it made.

This is allyou need to know about the VAT crises:

Nigeria Doctors
September 2, 2021

If you live in Nigeria then you have to be careful because three things can strike at any time — thunder, “ASUU” or doctors. Presently, all three of them are in action: It’s the rainy season in Nigeria so of course thunder is present, lecturers under the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) are already […]

August 27, 2021

On August 14, 2021, unknown armed individuals attacked a convoy of five buses and killed at least 22 travellers along Rukuba Road in Jos North Local Government. According to multiple reports, the victims were returning to Ondo State after attending an Islamic festival in Bauchi state. Reports also say that another 23 people were injured, […]

Watch

Trending Videos

Zikoko Originals

December 14, 2020
What happens when a group of chatty young Nigerians talk about things they're passionate about? You get Nigerians talk. A show that discusses very familiar struggles for the average Nigerian. From relationship deal breakers to sex education with Nigerian parents to leaving Nigeria, be prepared for a ride.
November 2, 2020
'The Couch' is a Zikoko series featuring real life stories from anonymous people.
October 26, 2020
A collection of videos documenting some of the events of the EndSARS protests.
June 22, 2020
'The Couch' is a Zikoko series featuring real life stories from anonymous people.
June 22, 2020
Hacked is an interesting new series by Zikoko made up of fictional but hilarious chat conversations.
June 4, 2020
What happens when a group of chatty young Nigerians talk about things they're passionate about? You get Nigerians talk. A show that discusses very familiar struggles for the average Nigerian. From relationship deal breakers to sex education with Nigerian parents to leaving Nigeria, be prepared for a ride.
June 2, 2020
Quickie is a video series where everyone featured gets only one minute to rant, review or do absolutely anything.
May 14, 2020
Isolation Diary is a Zikoko series that showcases what isolation is like for one young Nigerian working from home due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
March 12, 2020
Life is already hard. Deciding where to eat and get the best lifestyle experiences, isn't something you should stress about. Let VRSUS do that for you.

Z! Stacks

Here's a rabbit hole of stories to lose yourself in:

Zikoko amplifies African youth culture by curating and creating smart and joyful content for young Africans and the world.
X