'Pack your kit, you're off to Dhaka.' This Aid Agency visit was welcome, because it involved a field excursion to the riverine people - small communities that live on the fertile banks of the Brahmaputra.
That year, devastating floods (a common event) had caused havoc, and I was to witness the aftermath. A one-day stop in Dhaka office, debrief, and two project officers were to accompany me for the two day visit 'up-country' to a partner's compound. Aid Agencies normally provide project funds to partners (who have the necessary expertise to carry out Aid relief).
Our Toyota Land Cruiser (4 wheel drive, a necessary requirement in this country) was comfortable enough, and I spent most of the morning gazing out at a flat landscape full of paddy-fields. Occasionally we passed a truck overloaded with brightly-dressed people hanging from every conceivable part - a religious festival taking place somewhere.
We arrived late evening, exchanged greetings, curry for dinner, and off to bed under a mosquito net.
'We set out after breakfast,' said one of the officers. 'About 7am.' Sleep didn’t come easy and I was up at first light to take a look around, joined by one of the partner's project officers. The compound - a concrete building housing an office and living quarters, was in a courtyard where vehicles parked. It was walled off and gated at night, opened in the morning.
‘The monsoon was tough this year,’ he said, a wide grin on his face. ‘You missed out. We set up base in the Post Office, and all our workers carried out rescue operations. Houses in town were flooded, including mine, and we hired a boat to ferry families to safe ground.’
All said in a matter of fact way as we strolled around. Another bad day at the office. Despite his family home being under water, his main concern was helping others. Human compassion at its best.
After a small breakfast – omelette, bread and fruit, we gathered together outside. While we waited for the driver, and discussed our route, a little scarecrow of a boy dressed in a pair of shabby shorts and sandals came through the gate and trotted up to our group. He couldn’t have been more than eight. He carried an empty coconut shell and held it out to one of our women officers, while gabbling away in a local dialect.
‘What’s up?’ I said.
‘He’s hungry, she said. ‘I know him. Comes from a large family, maybe six or seven brothers and sisters. At meal times, Mama puts rice and whatever she could scavenge at the market on the table. Tradition dictates that the eldest child takes food, then the next eldest and so on. He is the youngest, and by the time the others had eaten there was none left for him.’
I shook my head while she explained further. ‘He knows we help people and he hopes we’ll help him.’
And with that she dived into her carrier bag, took out a small green apple and, to my complete surprise, a carton of Pringles. Proceeded to undo the top, pour some crisps into his coconut shell, and topped it up with the apple.
You should have experienced his face. His eyes lit up, and he danced away as if she’d given him a 5 course banquet.
Would you believe it? In one of the poorest parts of a third world country, there were Pringles available.
And I just knew our journey to the riverine people, would hold similar surprises.