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January 2, 2014

Bangladesh at last

Transcript reporter among State Department visitors

DHAKA —

Editor's note: Transcript senior staff writer Joy Hampton is traveling with a U.S. State Department-sponsored group to Bangladesh. Journalists from Bangladesh visited Oklahoma in 2013.

Bangladesh at last

Our Oklahoma delegation arrived in Bangladesh after several grueling hours on various airplanes. Unfortunately, our luggage — or at least most of it — did not arrive with us.

The hospitality of the Bangladeshi people is already shining. We were greeted by several university and media folk and assisted by two very determined gentlemen in the search for our luggage and getting through customs. Of course, with no luggage, customs was a breeze.

After lengthy sessions of paperwork, we were given cold hard cash — $3,870 taka or about $50 each — by airport officials to buy something to wear. Many of us only have the clothes on our backs as we were forced to check our biggest carry on bags when we left Chicago.

Our Bangladeshi friends greeted us with flowers and bottles of water then chauffeured us in a mini van through a bustling city where every public transit bus has scraped sides, dented fenders and broken windows. Vehicles pass on the streets in close proximity, explaining the long scrapes on the sides of the buses. Honking is continuous.

Our driver navigated quickly and confidently, threading the van through the traffic that he said was not as bad as usual because of the boycotts and blockades currently in progress.

We did not see any sign of the political unrest. People were friendly and curious and helpful. Internal strife triggered by the upcoming election on Jan. 5 has resulted in violence, but none of it has been directed toward Americans. The conservative Islamic opposition party is concerned the election won’t be fair without outside intervention to oversee the election and is protesting.

Bangladesh is a relatively new country. Once part of India and colonized by the British, English remains a common language, and they drive on the left side of the street.

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