Out from a week in the jungle, and into town. I checked into the local (and only) government guesthouse. Upon check in, the caretaker required two copies of my passport, my visa and my permit papers; I obliged and thought nothing more of it.
I spent the afternoon walking around town, drinking tea with the locals, snooping around the bazaar and seeing what Alikadam had on offer. In the late afternoon, on my way back to the guesthouse, I passed a small row of shops. A teashop worker chased after me and summoned me inside his stall, saying that the Police wanted to speak to me.
When I entered the teashop, a large burly policeman, who was eyeing off my camera, barked at me in Bengali. He was clearly looking for someone to bully. I gave him a blank uninterested look, and as soon as he realised that I was a foreigner his mood changed. The policeman and his associates became curious about me, where I was from and what my business was in Alikadam.
I sat and politely drank some tea with them, humouring them for a while. The burly officer began to question why I hadn’t submitted my permit papers to the police station on my arrival. As far as I was aware, this was not a requirement for travel in this area, and he was abusing his power, trying to control the movements of a foreigner in his territory. I flatly told him that I had already given all my papers to the guesthouse. Hearing this, his mood changed back to dictatorial status.
He started screaming, telling me that the guesthouse staff were “very stupid” and “they have done something very, very wrong”. I tried to calm him by telling him that perhaps they were going to submit my papers later as I had only arrived several hours ago, or that maybe they were not familiar with the protocol when dealing with foreigners.
He belted out that it was not my fault, then started dialling furiously. Through the speaker of his phone everyone in the tea shop could hear his screaming argument with the man on the other end; he was in a fit of rage.
When he finally got off the phone I asked if everything was ok. He repeated, “This guesthouse man is very stupid, but you have nothing to worry about’’. Thinking it was over, I excused myself and left.
I strolled back in the direction of the guesthouse and chatted to a few other locals along the way, and by the time I arrived back at the guesthouse the Police were already there. The burly Policeman was on his motorbike with a civilian passenger; they ploughed through the gate with their motorbike, forcefully entering the premises. A tom tom (3 wheeler taxi) followed closely behind with an entourage of 8 – 10 men. The burly Policeman began violently screaming in the guesthouse grounds. He jumped off his bike and went straight for the hotel staff. The screams soon turned to fists being thrown and soon the whole entourage was involved with the beating of the guesthouse owner. I tried to intervene, but I was out of my league. The mob cuffed and dragged the owner and the caretaker into the tom tom, and drove into the falling night.
The guesthouse grounds were now eerily empty as I stood in a daze watching the front gate, as if they would return any minute.
After the initial shock of the incident, I made a few calls to my family to talk the situation over and work out what to do. I was gravely worried about the fate of the guesthouse owner and the caretaker, but was in a powerless position. All I could do was wait.
A couple of long hours later, the caretaker returned, looking worried. Every time I asked if everything was ok he replied with a yes, but I could see in his face that it wasn’t. I asked where the guesthouse owner was; all he could say was ‘Police’.
Half an hour later the police came knocking on my door. They made me sign some documents and said I had to come back to the police station to sign out again before I left. I tried asking them if I could sign out there and then as I planned to leave first thing in the morning; they denied my request.
It was another couple of hours before the guesthouse owner returned. He seemed ok - maybe a little shaken up over the whole incident, but with my limited language skills I wasn’t able to find out what had happened while he had been arrested. Two plain-clothed men, who claimed they were part of the Army, accompanied him, but with a small amount of English knowledge on their part and almost zero Bengali on mine, they phoned a friend to help with the English translation.
I was asked to verbalise what I saw to a man on the phone, which I thought was strange because the guesthouse owner, caretaker and I had all witnessed the same things. I was too tired to argue or make my point understood, so briefly described the evening’s events.
I asked the man on the phone who he was, and he replied that he was a Major from the Army. What I had assumed I was retelling events purely for translation purposes, turned out to be actually made an informal report over the phone. Next he said he would send his men to the guesthouse so I could make the formal report.
Shit-a-brick. Thoughts were darting in my head about what I was going to say to cover my tracks for the past week. According to Bangladesh, I was unaccounted for during a period of 1 week while I smuggled myself into the hills.
At about 11pm that night, an army convoy arrived and men in uniform with big guns slung across their bodies filed in a line across the guesthouse balcony. The Major was set up in the VIP room and I was called in for an interview.
Surprisingly, everything ran smoothly. I managed to divert attention from where I had been in the past week, so only minor questions were asked. The Major was incredibly apologetic for what had happened earlier in the evening; he informed me that it is not standard procedure to check in at the police station and assured me I didn’t have to check out on my departure. He told me I welcome to stay in Alikadam for as long as I wished, but I was set on leaving. The last thing I needed was a nut-bag Police officer on my back whom I had just unknowingly dobbed in to the Army.
At 6.30am the next morning with almost no sleep I left for the bus station. I felt much more at ease knowing I was leaving. Crammed in the bus with my bags on my lap I peacefully watched the world through my window, whilst deliriously recapping the events from the night before. Two hours into the journey the bus was in an accident. It had clipped a car. I heard the noise, but didn’t see what had happened. Some passengers who had seen left the bus and ran back down the road, but returned in a few minutes. Another passenger told me very matter-of-factly “oh, the car roll down the hill, maybe people died, I don’t know”.
A new bus driver was on board and we were off; again I was in a helpless place.
Arriving at a halfway point where I needed to change buses added to the drama of the day. There was a hartel (strike) and no onward buses were running. After an hour of dragging my bags around town, I managed to pile into a minivan. Generally minivans of this sort seat about 11 people, however this van waited for more and more passengers, until there were approximately 20 humans squished in the van. During the drive, my neighbour deliberately kept falling asleep on me so he could indiscreetly touch me. For the next two hours, every time he would ‘fall asleep’ on me, I would jab him in the ribs. It was like a game to keep my exhausted-self occupied.