Friday 29 October 2010

Go with the flow

A tune breaches the blockade of sound that constantly surrounds the city.
A simple melody from a flute that is clear and pure, floats over the cacophony of horns, engines, bells and shouts. It casts a spell on me stilling the tempest in my head. It offers succour and soothes my soul. I walk out of its earshot and then realise I want more; I have to turn to bring it back into my life. Ryhad and I travel as pilgrims to its source and find it is a youth of maybe twenty with a sack of flutes and whistles on his back playing on a street corner. I am caught and helpless in his power the child to his Pied Piper.
The music he plays alludes to a place I haven't been but know I will visit, a greener quieter land where life flows at a gentler pace, away from the dust and noise of Dhaka.

I am again in my element -anonymous in an unknown city in a strange country with a newly made friend.
Rhiyad works for Impact Foundation in Bangladesh, pioneers of a floating hospital that visits the most remote areas and performs operations to correct clubfeet, cleft palettes and remove cataracts. Life changing procedures at affordable rates even for the poorest of the poor. The Jibon Tari (meaning the boat of life) is moored 150 miles away in Barisal on the banks of a river that makes up part of the vast delta of the Ganges as it flows into the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh is 60 percent water and I will be travelling to Barisal by boat.
This is where I am transported to by the music played by the flute seller and I understand that I need to make a recording; it will work so well with my film.
I have only been in the country for five hours and two of those were spent in near stationary traffic coming from the airport. Dhaka like most of the SE Asian countries I have been to is absurdly congested, but whatever I must negotiate with this young man to take possession of his spell.
Sabaj (meaning green) is cool and confident and knows his worth. Though obviously financially impoverished he will never be destitute he has the special power to make people feel something, can change their state of mind. He is so obviously a musician, though unkempt his mismatched clothes look good on him, his hair is stylish but is not a haircut and he moves with the ease of someone who knows who they are and what they can do. As a musician I am proud of him.
We agree a price and go to fetch my camera from the hotel. We walk in an easy silence him perfectly content to have had his evening hi jacked then he starts playing a selection of tunes that herald our arrival as we moved through the city, children dance ahead. Then all three of us including my camera bag squeeze onto a cycle rickshaw and set of on a death-defying journey to the Impact Foundation office. More than once I feel the urge to get out and call the whole thing of it certainly isn't safe. It is sometimes hard in the moment to differentiate between exciting and foolhardy and even harder to stop what one has set in motion.
Sabaj is as relaxed in the 6th floor air conditioned office of Impact as he is on the street, unfazed, he is a musician aware of his power and can do what he does anywhere, it’s about what's in him not what's around him. He plays five tunes and by the time he finishes two security guards a cleaner,Rhyhad and I are sat at his feet completely enchanted.
Once paid he leaves me a flute and a whistle and goes leaving just the asthmatic wheeze of the door closing behind him.
One good thing about music...

Part of the fun of travelling alone is that you can indulge yourself completely in your impulses, be a complete free radical and throw your dice whenever you like Next morning finds me walking the baking dust dry streets of Dhaka making the most of my 24 hours there. I come across a market full of the most gorgeous looking vegetables all arranged beautifully like mandalas. So green, clean and moist but so open to defilement in the city’s atmosphere. I've no idea how large Dhaka is and I can't remember the name of the area where my hotel is (I've enjoyed getting stoned most my life but really don't enjoy the memory loss) But importantly I know how to get back.
Busy, frenetic, Brownian motion, thousands of souls each being driven by their own will and human need all with their own desires, fears and secrets. 4 million people living in the fastest growing city on earth with 400,000 rickshaws trying to get them around. Every square metre is used and there seemed to be as much demolition as construction it is like being in a human termite colony everyone doing something. At one point I stand on a bridge over a stinking green lake that can't possibly support life, on one side are new high rise apartments marble clad with tinted windows as good a money can buy any where in the world. Across the divide are stilted slum dwellings, wretched and shameful. The haves and the can't ever possibly haves. Such juxtaposition is beyond a joke. A family of geese float gracefully on the sludge. I find a likely looking restaurant and sit down to a coffee and rice pudding.
Sweet success.
A young Bangladesh man turns over his shoulder and asks where I'm from, it's a normal opener to a conversation and I tell him He asks if he can sit with me. No problem I say and he sits. We talk and he tells me he works in Eco tourism and he tells me he had an English boyfriend for a while. I ask him if that is a lover or a male companion." Oh no we had sex" he says blowing my tact out the water. We talk about being gay in Bangladesh society and how hard and dangerous it can be.Adnan works for a British guy who is trying to kickstart the tourist industry in Bangladesh he is ex marketing manager of Jaguar cars and Retired CEO Sony Europe. Sensing the opportunity to rustle up some work I agree to go and meet him.
On standing up Adnan's sexuality is clearer; so obviously gay. It is amazing how openly gay men have traits that transcend all cultural divides it is a if he is one of a tribe that is scattered throughout the world. Like musicians it is because they know who they are maybe? They know themselves and allow themselves to be how they are. A great liberation, the exorcism of male veils revealing the anima beneath. He really does mince across the road and the hand is limp and he throws his head dramatically back over his shoulder to check that I am following. I am behind him and dealing with the fact that everybody in the street that is looking at us is assuming I've picked him up and I'm doing my utmost to exude "straightness" and avoid being arrested for homosexuality
It occurs to me that anything could happen now, this could be some set up that I will have to extract myself from or at worst a gang rape in a warehouse down by the waterfront or... or it could be really interesting and I should trust my instincts (so do wildebeest sadly)
So I sit down next to Adnam on a rickshaw. By now he's turned into a full on queen and is flapping his hands round wildly and howling with delight at the near misses our rickshaw and gripping my arm in false seizures. I actually feel ok about the whole thing and enjoy this one-man camp carnival through town
I am also keeping myself aware of our route so I will be able to at least direct a rickshaw towards where we had come from. With a final whoop we arrive at a very grand apartment which is not too far from where we had recorded Sabaj the night before and we breeze by security as he informs me that this is the mayor's residence too. It is a fine looking place and I'm thinking there's either money behind this scam or all is cool.
Adnam knocks an apartment door gently and a servant let's us in to a hushed and cool interior
It turns out that Tim Steele is real and he makes me most welcome. We talk for about an hour an a half he has a fantasastic overview of the country. He could live anywhere in the world but is drawn here and is dedicated to turning the tourist industry into an income generator for rural people. He fills my head with facts and details and advice with what to do with the three days free that I have at the end of the week. I gave him the gentle sell offering to film some of the ancient temples, fantastic beaches and wild elephants he's talking about but he said he was very busy but would have a look at my website I put it down as a no sale in my head.
I notice it is 2:30 and I am being met at 3. I make my goodbyes and rush out to retrace my steps back to my hotel.
In between giving directions to a rickshaw driver I sit back and thank my luck and the way the world can sometimes run so smoothly, the ways things link up with each other if you have time to go with the flow. Give every opportunity the maximum advantage with no agenda but the desire for experience.
Don't be scared
I got up this morning and checked my mail, Tim Steele has contacted me saying he has looked at the website and would like to have dinner and talk about how we could work together.
Who knows something may come of it
It's always worth a try.
Go with flow and see where you go.

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