February may be the shortest month of the year but its packed to the brim with joyous celebrations. The advent of Falgun (spring), Valentine’s Day, International Mother Language Day, and in 2021, a whole month of life in Bangladesh. We were suddenly living a life free from lockdown restrictions that had marked most of 2020. I was sporting freshly plucked eyebrows after a year, dressing up to actually go somewhere, and eating food cooked by everybody else but me. February was kind!
But that state of mind didn’t come easily. It took me well over a month to feel mentally relaxed in Bangladesh. Jumping that wide divide between two dramatically different lifestyles was a process. Eventually, I started venturing out more, meeting friends at outdoor cafes and rooftops and living out my shari dreams (read: raiding my mum’s closet). Discovered new items in old places (chiffon cake from King’s) and old items in new places (cheesecake from Secret Recipes). It all felt too good to be true.
I got to experience Dhaka at a slower pace – something I haven’t had the privilege to do in a decade. It was so slow, somedays it almost felt like I live here. I was shopping online from Food Panda and getting my coffee through Pathao. Instead of spending time hopping from one wedding to another, I was visiting Sonargaon, Dhaka University and Parliament House. With societal obligations reduced to a bare minimum, a feat only a pandemic could grant to Bangladeshis, I spent a lot more quality time with my loved ones.
UK vaccinated millions this month. Bangladesh has also been doing a fab job. A proper registration process is in place. For every person hesitating to take the vaccine, there are hordes of people who were happily getting jabbed.
Traveling to Bangladesh was a challenge. Travelling back was no different. UK started imposing rules on hotel quarantine for inbound passengers. You had to declare a ‘valid reason’ for travel or face fines. I know we dithered for ages before taking the decision to fly out but in retrospect we probably took the decision at a good time. When UK shut down all flights from UAE, our return started looking uncertain, something I had feared all along.
We were able to rebook our tickets with Emirates (their flexibility and customer service were both top notch). Then those flights got cancelled as well. The only remaining option was to buy new tickets with a different airline and extend our stay by 2 extra weeks. My company allowed me to work the first week and take leave for the second but Nizar had to take unpaid leave for both. Coupled with all the covid tests we had to take pre and post travel, our expenses racked right up.
To my delight, Ary has settled into Dhaka life like he was born here. He has become an expert at mosquito killing. He is mesmerized by the busy streets, remarking how there were ‘so many people!‘ He is learning more and more bangla, greeting people with a cheerful ‘Ki Khobor!’. He is also saying full sentences in Bengali. He plays music from my phone and takes selfies like a boro person. Kinda worried how he will settle back into a life devoid of people and playdates!
Few more days left till our UK rerun. Things seem to be getting better – finally. Boris has laid out a roadmap that could see England back to NORMAL by June. Dreaming of a beautiful summer.