Bangladesh Travel Diary: Living with a Tribe

I’m currently based in Bangladesh as part of a team of community workers. Follow me over on Instagram (@madisonbeachphotos) and here on this blog to keep updated with the ups and downs of living in such a beautiful yet challenging country..

For the last 3 months I have been living and working with members of the Garo tribe. Mainly residing in Northern Bangladesh and following the Christian faith the Garo are an extremely welcoming and friendly tribe living in the 21st century. Over the last few months I have got to know members of the tribe and this week I was lucky enough to be invited to visit the Garo Cultural Academy of Bangladesh.

The Garo cultural academy:

A scale model of a Garo traditional tree-house which would house an entire family:

The tribe’s roots date back to 400BC and although they are extremely proud of their past and traditions such as the mothers name being passed on and the man living in the wife’s home, they have adapted to fit-in with modern Bangladesh wearing modern clothes, using new technology and getting jobs outside of agriculture. The tribe also get special privileges from the government to honour their past, they have different property laws and although alcohol is illegal in Bangladesh for everyone, the Garo community are allowed to both make and drink alcohol. Having got friendly with the tribe these special privileges have been extended to us..the vodka is 65% alcohol and the rice wine goes off after a day as it’s so strong and fresh- it had led to some interesting nights of bonding with my team mates!

Four members of my team are Garo and have treated us to Garo food (not for the faint hearted-very spicy) and traditional dances in full Garo outfits (a lot of feathers and colour). The community is incredibly strong and everyone looks out for one another. I am very privileged to have experienced their culture first hand and been invited to their homes to meet their Families. No matter what we are doing; going for walks, leading workshops or drinking tea at the market my diverse team made up of Muslim’s, Hindu’s and Christian’s along with the Garo rival members are always having fun, planning adventures and taking way too many group photos…

Bangladesh Travel Diary: Finding Paradise

I’m currently based in Bangladesh as part of a team of community workers. Follow me over on Instagram (@madisonbeachphotos) and here on this blog to keep updated with the ups and downs of living in such a beautiful yet challenging country..

Growing up I never thought paradise could be found at school; as much I value education hugely I spent most of my days at school waiting for the bell to ring to signal it was the end of the day.

But here in Bangladesh I had the privilege of being invited to visit a prestigious boarding school on the edge of the Indian border. Usually outsiders are never allowed in- your child has to go to the school for you to be allowed a visitors pass. But one of my Bangladeshi team members parents run the school and invited us to visit.

It was an hour long rickshaw journey and short boat trip to reach the walled gardens of the school. Students take turns and great pride in guarding the entrance. We were let in by a boy no older than 12.

We then had a guided tour around the grounds. It was a beauty I have never seen before, I felt like I was on a film set of a children’s film. Students in uniform were enjoying the sun and playing games around the campus. They have 700 students who live and study on sight surrounded by palm tree’s and rivers. They also have their own snack shop, clinic and guests houses.

We were the invited in for snacks at the headmasters living quarters. It reminded me of holiday homes in Spain. It is the most luxury I have seen since coming to Bangladesh two months ago, but the headmaster was nothing but welcoming and humble.

Near the school we had heard there are beautiful, cinematic clay hills. So on the way back we took a detour- and boy was it worth it.

The hills go on for miles creating another film set-like landscape. Group photos were a plenty as we tried not to fall in. I have never seen colours like it; pink clay, orange dust and teal water.

As we stood at the top of the hills, to the South we could look across Bangladesh’s green fields and forests while to the north we could see hundreds of mountains stretching into India. A day I won’t ever forget.

Bangladesh Travel Diary: Being Ill in a 3rd World Country 

I’m currently based in Bangladesh as part of a team of community workers. Follow me over on Instagram (@madisonbeachphotos) and here on this blog to keep updated with the ups and downs of living in such a beautiful yet challenging country..

Coming to Bangladesh we expected that the new food and climate would at some point make us ill; nothing some sleep and antibiotics wouldn’t cure. But none of us predicted what happened at the end of October. On the very same day 5 members of the team including myself starting feeling odd but couldn’t put our finger on what was wrong. Then slowly but surely one by one we became worse; diarrhoea, sickness, nausea and headaches.

We first made a trip to our local village clinic. Despite obviously having the same problem the doctor prescribed us all with different medicines. A quick google afterwards showed that half our medicines didn’t relate at all to our symptoms. Something you have to be careful with as a foreigner, as our insurance pays for all the medicine they will prescribe as much as possible.

Over the coming days the group quickly declined and the decision was made to go to Dhaka. As we were so ill the organiser of the transport said we would go the ‘quick’ route. He failed to mention this included an incredibly painfully bumpy 10km rickshaw journey and that the rickshaw journey would end at the edge of a river where we would have to board a boat. To say we were unprepared to be in public boarding a boat was an understatement. We were all in pyjamas, wearing socks with flip-flops clinging to pillows and blankets. Thankfully the wobbly boat journey was a short one and there was just a short wait for our van to arrive the other side.

Despite being assured that the ‘quick’ route would take just 4 hours, 7 hours later we were stuck in traffic nowhere near Dhaka. Although light relief was provided when Hannah, sleeping at back of the van, sat up having had a life epiphany, unfortunately her joy was short lived when she had to grab a sick bag.

Hannah pre-epiphany

We arrived at the Hospital 10 hours after setting off. As the main hospital was now closed we had to go to A&E. We explained our symptoms were all the same and started at the same time but things appeared to get lost in translation. Along with two other team members I was hastily put in a hospital bed while the remaining two members were escorted upstairs to a waiting room. It was all a bit surreal, ironically my roommate from the village, Emily, was put in the bed next to me; we managed to keep each other sane as they put us on drips.

Halfway through the receiving the drips a women was wheeled into the ward. It became very clear very quickly why she was there: she was giving birth. At home I can’t even watch the end of One Born Every Minute and yet here I was 3 metres away from a women giving birth with just a curtain between us.

By the time I had finished the drip there was a healthy baby boy in the corner of the room being weighed by the nurses.

Not looking my best but celebrating the birth of a healthy baby amongst the chaos

After 4 hours the 3 of us on drips were all discharged and given medicine to deal with our symptoms, it turns out the doctors here aren’t very keen on spending time working out the diagnosis they just give you the medicine. It took me two more visits and an overnight stay in the hospital to get a diagnosis. They found an infection in my blood, most likely caused by food poisoning. We then spent 3 long days in a compound in Dhaka starting our various courses of antibiotics, resting and eating. We are now very happy to be back in north Bangladesh in the village we call home surrounded by beautiful landscapes and reunited with our team. Hopefully the next time any of us will be in Dhaka will be when we’re flying home.

It wasn’t all bad at the hospital..

Bangladesh Travel Diary: Eating Bangla Style 

I’m currently based in Bangladesh as part of a team of community workers. Follow me over on Instagram (@madisonbeachphotos) and here on this blog to keep updated with the adventures and challenges faced when living Asia.. 

One of the biggest cultural differences to  the UK is the food. Bangladeshi’s eat rice for every meal of the day and often don’t feel full until they’ve eaten rice. 

As a fan of rice I wasn’t apprehensive about my new diet but after two months I can confidently say I am now 80% rice. And here in Bangladesh the only dessert we have been served is rice pudding! As an owner of a very sweet tooth this has been the hardest thing to adjust to food wise, I am especially missing cheesecake. 

Delivering first aid training.

We have been working incredibly hard delivering important workshops to those living in rural Bangladesh. As these communities are often cut off from main cities these workshops provide the residents with vital information about health and social issues affecting their villages. So yesterday after a long days work and planning for future projects in our community we decided to have a Bangla Style BBQ to celebrate our hard work so far. 

It was a brilliant experience as I got to cook and see first hand how the meat is killed (!) and prepared. I think it’s incredibly important to avoid burying your head in the sand when it comes to where your food comes from. 

I got to peel potatoes and make the roti (round flatbread) although our resident chef tried to subtly fix all my attempts. 

We ended up pouring a bit too much fuel on the fire; it was more reminiscent of a bonfire than a BBQ. We had a long wait for it to die down so we didn’t loose our eyebrows turning the chicken. But we did end up with a delicious meal of chicken, garlic potatoes and roti under the night sky filled with stars. There was no rice in sight and we all went to bed full! Although I did look forward to rice for breakfast.. 

Bangladesh Travel Diary: My Very First Bangladeshi Wedding! 

I’m currently based in Bangladesh as part of a team of community workers. Follow me over on Instagram (@madisonbeachphotos) and here on this blog to keep updated with the adventures and challenges faced when living Asia..

We were very lucky to be invited to our very first Bangladeshi wedding. A friend of one of our Bangladesh-based team members was getting married and we were invited to the reception.

We were a bit like deers caught in headlights given just 24 hours notice. Us girls scrambled to wash our nicest shalwar kameez and the boys were trying to get the creases out their smartest shirts with no iron available.

On the way we rushed to the market to buy a gift, unsure of what you buy for a Bangladesh wedding we went with buying the stereotypical wedding gift of crockery.
One slight problem- the market path was muddy. By the time we had bought the gift my feet and flip-flops were caked in mud, not quite the first impression I was going for.
We were quite worried that it would look weird; 6 (very pale) foreigners turning up to a wedding of people we have never met. We thought we would stick out like sore thumbs. But it turns out an extra 6 people didn’t make a difference considering there were 1200 people invited! And even more people had turned up. The invites are done by invitation and word of mouth. The wedding was based in the fields surrounding the couples house.

The first marquee

There were several marquees, the first one you sit under waiting for your turn to enter the house and meet the bride. She was very beautiful and surrounded by her female family members, managing a small smile at all the guests, although she was sitting down for so long she must have had a very numb bum. As it was so busy we didn’t stay too long and headed for the best marquee.. the food. It was incredible, although we aren’t meant to eat food cooked for us by people other than our chefs we got into the wedding spirit and devoured rice, chicken and beef.

You can see our fear of imminent food poisoning..

We stayed for a while exchanging what little Bangla we know but decided to head home and let the people who actually know the couple enjoy the night. Overall I am glad and very grateful at how welcoming everybody was and that we got to experience the wedding reception. It’s a lot to get your head around as it was an arranged marriage and the couple have only been speaking on the phone for 2 months before getting married yesterday. I can’t even comprehend marrying someone I’ve only known 2 months. But that it why experiencing different cultures first hand is great-going to the wedding dispelled a lot of myths in my head and has made me curious to learn more.

Not all fun and games. We came home to a mouse in our room so have created this DIY mousetrap. Update: this was last night, there is no mouse in the trap and all our snacks have been taken.

Bangladesh Travel Diary: Roadtrip Views 

I’m currently based in Bangladesh as part of a team of community workers. Follow me over on Instagram (@madisonbeachphotos) and here on this blog to keep updated with the adventures and challenges faced when living Asia.. 

We recently took a trip to the nearest big city. It turned into a long trip as we were stuck in traffic for what felt like a lifetime. But it gave plenty of opportunity to look out the window and photograph the people who use these busy, unfinished roads everyday..

As the tallest member of the team I get first dibs on the back seat

Bangladesh Travel Diary: Riverside Hikes 

I’m currently based in Bangladesh as part of a team of community workers. Follow me over on Instagram (@madisonbeachphotos) and here on this blog to keep updated with the adventures and challenges faced when  living Asia.. 

Bangladesh is home to the worlds longest natural beach; the Coxs Bazaar. As I am currently based in landlocked Northern Bangladesh I haven’t had a chance to visit the Beach yet. But here in the north we are spoilt for choice when it comes to beautiful rivers. 

The Team

After a hard days work the teams’ favourite way to unwind is a sunset walk or hike along the edge of one of the many rivers. Unlike most rivers in England the rivers here don’t have a footpath, you can either walk along the sand or in the river itself- whilst being careful of the quicksand! We have almost lost 5 flip-flops and a team member to quicksand.