Welcome to Bangladesh

I hand my passport to the immigration official. He looks at the passport, then looks at me. Page by page, he studies the passport. He calls other immigration officials over. I’m conscious of being one of only a few women, and the only white woman, visible in the airport. I’ve dressed conservatively; I remember very well what it’s like to be a Western woman in a Muslim country.

Soon eight military/immigration officials are paging through my passport, staring at me after the turn of each page. I want to disappear into the ground, but remind myself to stand tall and not slouch. I continue to watch them with a slight smile on my face. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, I’ve been in enough situations where I’ve been questioned/interrogated that I’ve figured out the best way to react. Stand upright, but not aggressively. Have a pleasant, though not overly friendly look on your face. Keep your arms by your side, don’t cross them in front of you. Don’t speak unless spoken to. Offer only information requested.

One of the military men notices my nose piercing. He smiles and points to his nose then to me. “You Bangladeshi.” I smile slightly and nod. They all stare at my nose and comment among themselves. Suddenly something in my passport has caught their attention. I hear murmurs. I think quickly. Are there any stamps which would raise concern among Bangladeshis? I don’t think so…

Finally one of them says, “1968? You?” I smile slightly and nod. He emphatically says something to the rest of the group in Bangla. They all stare again. I continue to stand, waiting for them to finish. “Look so young – you!” I quietly say, “Thank you” and remain standing there. I know that eventually they will tire of staring at me.

I am the only person remaining in immigration. My male colleague waits for me on the other side of the desks, laughing at the scene before him. The immigration officials look at me and say, “Alone?” I am eternally thankful I am not. I smile slightly. “No,” and I nod towards my colleague. The turn to see him waiting for me. I immediately get a stamp in my passport. “Welcome to Bangladesh!”

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