So said the sign outside Zia Airport in Dhaka, Bangladesh!
It’s certainly true that whilst many third world nations are being opened up to ever more intensive tourism, Bangladesh, is lagging behind. The infrastructure of the country is primitive in many respects: hotels of high standard are rare outside the capital, Dhaka; transport is fraught with frustrations and discomfort; facilities and entertainments are limited; public toilets are hard to find- and if found are probably best forgotten!
To make things even less appealing, the electricity supply is notoriously unreliable and intermittent- particularly during the appallingly hot and sticky summer season when even the minor luxury of a ceiling fan may not be available.
All this makes the destination seem somewhat unattractive to the tourist intent on having fun and relaxation!
It’s just all too much hard work!
But then, not everyone is seeking a sequence of pleasant, voyeuristic experiences whilst on holiday. And if a little discomfort is acceptable then there is something quite unique and wonderful to experience on a visit to Bangladesh.
And that something is the people!
Bangladesh is a populous state- perhaps 167 million in a land area that approximates to England and Wales combined, and much of that under water! The great majority of these people are eking out a life in significant poverty and under huge pressures and yet there is a level of affection and respect for visitors to be found here that would be difficult to equal anywhere in the world.
And it is amongst the poorest of the population that the greatest warmth is to be found: amongst the simple village folk of the countryside and even in the grubbiest slums and busties of Dhaka city. To meet these people, to live with them for a time, to eat with them and to share something of their lives is to receive a blessing that will stay with you for ever.
There may be only one bed for the whole family to sleep on, but as a guest you will be invited to sleep on it while the family use the floor; food may be scarce, but you will be served all that is available whilst your hosts wait until you are finished. If it is too hot someone will stand behind you with a fan- and remain there for a whole night unless you dismiss them.
In every way you will be treated as that old fashioned archaism, ‘the honoured guest’.
Similarly, whilst the richer shopping centres of the city may be as impersonal as our own, in the poorer bazaars of town the experience is different. A battered stool is quickly brought out for you to sit on as you look over what a shop has to offer, even a coke or cold water can miraculously appear at your side. The shopkeeper gives you immediate attention although he appears already to be serving another 5 Bengalis and if the prices have been over-inflated to take account of your presence, a bit of robust haggling is only greeted with cheerful acceptance. Anyway, you only have to turn to an innocent bystander to find out what the going rate truly is. Most Bengalis are much too polite to tell a lie and will delight in taking your side against any excessive avarice by a shopkeeper.
The occupants of tiny road-side tea shops will invite you to sit amongst them, and buy you tea if you do. The travellers in battered and overcrowded buses will create space where there is none and sometimes even offer to pay your fare. Children will tug your sleeve and point with concern to the bank notes peeping from your breast pocket. Young men will chase up from behind to return the umbrella- or the wallet- you have just dropped
And yes, there are rascals who you have to watch out for and thieves who might snatch your handbag and run, and the surly and the ungrateful and the downright unpleasant; but I think there are not so many in Bangladesh as in some parts of our own nation. And if I had to choose between walking home at night through the back streets of Dhaka city or Glasgow or Edinburgh then I would have no hesitation in choosing Dhaka as the safer option.
There are some visitors who will find the seas of faces in this overcrowded and unselfconscious nation far too intrusive. It is difficult to adjust to the strangeness of having people stare at you closely without let or shame. And there is no doubt that familiarity by apparent strangers can escalate alarmingly if you open up for even a moment.
But perhaps it is our own isolationism being exposed here, our western need for the personal space and anonymity that enables us to keep others at a manageable distance- and thereby seriously limits us in what we are able to both give and receive.
In fact, it is only when we as visitors relax and allow the people of Bangladesh to draw close and receive us wholeheartedly, that we may ourselves receive the rich blessing that this poorest of nations is able to offer.