Tuesday, 4 March 2014

I need your help - support and become involved in photojournalism

I'm crowd-funding a series I've been shooting for a while - Syrian Nakba Keys, and need your help to continue with. By spreading word, links, social media links or donating you can become involved in the story and the project. Learn more about the campaign here: Syrian Nakba Keys

There are plenty of rewards on offer for your financial help.
Many thanks,

Bradley

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Abdul receives asylum in the Netherlands

Abdul, an Iraqi asylum seeker I photographed in 2010, finally received refugee status in the Netherlands this week after years of waiting in Damascus, Syria. Without the finances to leave Syria as war enveloped the country, he continued to wait in Damascus. 
Not knowing what the future held whilst waiting patiently in a city gently disintegrating into chaos, it must have felt reminiscent of the Baghdad he left years before. 

Smuggling himself to a neighbouring country he was then able to take his flight to Amsterdam, where he says he's happy.
Despite this being only a small piece of positive news coming from Syria, it reminds me that there is some good news to receive from this catastrophe. 

As news filters through from Syria of further homophobic executions committed by extremist groups, I'm happy to see a friend far away, safe, and in a country that has led the world in LGBT rights for decades. 

His What'sapp message was definitely the best of 2014 so far. Happy New Year Abdul!


Sunday, 22 December 2013

Memories in suitcases

Ali's bags were packed for his imminent departure to Canada, after more than two years of waiting in a small city in western Turkey. One of the tens of young Iranian men identifying as homosexual, that chose, or were forced to leave their country and claim for asylum and resettlement from Turkey.

After briefly explaining the gay life in Shiraz, Ali's hometown in southern Iran, he took out a carefully wrapped and labelled package from one of his suitcases containing home made films of private gay parties hosted at friend's homes, as part of what formed the underground 'scene'.

As the first seconds on the film flashed on the laptop screen, he said something that for me encapsulated the situation for LGBT Iranians, and those displaced due to their sexuality and gender identity around the world.

"Honestly, I don't know what happened to all these people. Some are refugees, some are living in Canada, some still in Iran, some imprisoned, and others are dead."

The films showed groups of men in their 20's and 30's dancing, eating, laughing, smoking and enjoying this safe space together. In at least three of the videos, the parents of the host were not only present, but fully embracing the situation, joining the dancing, clapping, and joking whilst bringing dishes of food to their guests.

Turkey, December 20th 2013.
Image caption: Sourena, left and Ali, right looking at photos and videos in Sourena's kitchen, Turkey. (C) Bradley Secker

Monday, 29 July 2013

"My memories" Hael, Deir Ezzor, Syria

Millions of Syrians have been displaced, and continue to be, with thousands fleeing across the country's borders on a daily basis. The figures are shocking, and appear to continue as the conflict continues without an end in sight.

The United Nations says that up to 1 in 5 Syrians have been internally displaced, and millions are living in camps in neighbouring countries.

These are the keys of just one man who had to leave his home, where he might not return, or which might not even exist any longer. Hael describes his home as the place of "my memories."

Part of an ongoing series on the keys of Syrian refugees...trying to tell the story visually on a basic level. 

Monday, 7 January 2013

Born under canvas


A thought for those born and spending their early years growing up in tents.

Thousands of Syrian children are spending the cold nights and rainy days in refugee camps in Turkey. Some even born into displacement camps, such as the one in Atmeh, western Syria, see photo.

The longer the war and instability continues in Syria, the more children will be without education, warmth, proper healthcare, routine, stability, family, freedom and a home.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Repatriated

After living and working in Cyprus as an exile for the past ten years, Zakariah decided to return to his native Syria four months ago to join the Free Syrian Army (FSA), something he says is "my duty as a Syrian".

Far from unusual, many Syrian ex-pats are now returning to the country to take up arms, fighting against the regime they fled many years before. With little or no military training, sometimes only from the military service in their late teens or early twenties as in Zakariah's case, individuals smuggle themselves into their own country to do what they think will bring freedom, change, and an end to Bashar Al-Assad's very bloody crackdown.

Offering to help in any way possible, the repatriated are viewed most useful when armed, provided they are trusted by the others. Basic training is given and the 'soldiers' join the ranks of military defectors, ex-Mukharrabat, and armed locals. Zakariah thought about his decision to return carefully, considered his options, and then went about getting in touch with what was then a recently formed FSA, via Facebook.
Months passed, and he continued to work in the construction industry in Cyprus, exchanging messages regularly, until he was finally trusted and told to come to Antakya, from where he would be equipped, smuggled into Syria, and provided with basic military training. It was January 2012.

Only 12 months ago Zakariah's life was filled with work, sunshine, a network of international friends, a girlfriend, enjoyment, his life was care-free and moving forward.
Since March 2011 the killing of thousands by their own government, has caused many like Zakariah to return and fight, giving up the life abroad that they left family and friends to make, and spent so much time establishing, to gain freedom for those they left behind.


Wednesday, 21 March 2012

No news, no answers...

Reyhanli, Hatay, Turkey: Syrian refugee camp
18th March 2012

Months of waiting. No news.
Loved ones dying, missing. No contact.
Questions about the future. No answers.

With the lack of information, your mind fabricates ideas of the worst kind, round and round again and again. Trapped only 20 km away on the other side of the razor wire that separates Turkey from Syria, a daughter is trapped in her village after going back for more children, or at least that was the latest news received three months ago.

Since then anything could have happened, especially since the town was hit by further shelling several days ago, still no news. Sitting with a grandchild she can only hope for the best, put on a positive smile.

An elderly brother lost his wife shortly after hauling her paralysed body to Turkey a few months ago.

Even in exile the loss of life continues, the mind keeps the fear alive; children wet their beds, nobody answers the calls for help and no one has any answers.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

A year of struggling

Today is one week until the year anniversary of the beginning of the Syrian rebellion against the Assad regime.
Calling it an anniversary seems wrong, I associate it with happy occasions, not the marking of a battered people for 12 months with figures of close to 10,000 men, women and children dead.

The struggle against the regime has been going on for decades, and mostly from exiled activists, although the brave few that stayed helped the movement gain momentum and supported ordinary people through the toughest moments of their lives. What began as a non-violent resistance movement turned into a now armed fight against the government forces, which some Syrians told me will escalate the amount of force used by government forces, as was well documented in Homs and Baba-Amr.

For the millions of civilians caught up in the fighting, the struggle looks like it won't be finishing anytime soon, and do they have any choice other than supporting the armed side of the resistance in one way or another? Whether it be by food, telecommunications, transport, information, or armed support, most Syrians are realising that it's either support the so called 'Free Syrian Army' or face being on the receiving end of Assad's artillery.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Wounded soldier

Al Janoudiyah, northern Syria, 23rd February 2012

A wounded Free Syrian Army (FSA) soldier lays under a pine tree waiting for a tractor to collect him, to take him to a safe hiding place after the Syrian security services raided a village where he was being treated and hidden.

Luckily escaping capture by the notoriously brutal Syrian security services the first time, Ibrahim managed to escape again from a village where he was being treated, just as the government personnel arrived.

En route to the next hiding place, Ibrahim came under sniper fire sitting on the wheel of a tractor; he luckily managed to avoid further injury.
The following day he was smuggled across the Turkish border for medical treatment in the near by Hatay province of Turkey, where there are large refugee camps provided by the Turkish Red Crescent.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Twice a Refugee and still waiting...

Bissam is now a refugee for the second time, this time in Turkey, after leaving Syria last April, at the start of Syria's 'Arab spring'.
Whilst he awaits news from the UNHCR regarding his refugee status his mind is becoming his enemy.

After escaping Iraq and living for four years in Damascus, Bissam felt that his future would be compromised by the revolution in Syria, and that both the refugee and LGBT community would become a target for those looking to scapegoat minority groups. Nine months ago he arrived in Turkey and applied for refugee status, from when there has been no update on his case.

Being exposed as a homosexual in Iraq meant almost certain death, whilst in Syria it became a dancing game to avoid detection by the authorities, subsequent imprisonment and possible deportation back to Iraq, and in Turkey it's a waiting game. The fear of the unknown has control over Bissam's mind, the future suddenly seems bleaker than before, and the end goal of living an open and free live almost unimaginable.

Living in a small Anatolian City in the depths of a cold winter are taking their toll, on a man that was full of life, charisma and smiles when I last documented his situation from Damascus in late 2010. The smiles are now seldom seen, and the nights are long as he considers his options carefully but erratically instead of sleeping.

The regional instability has killed thousands, and many continue to struggle for freedom, a better life and an end to restrictions on identity.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Location: Unknown

After being left for dead by militia men in Iraq for photographing a story about the treatment of gay men, Nasser fled to Damascus, Syria, barely alive. 18 months later he is robbed in Damascus, everything he had stolen by a boyfriend. He was feeling betrayed and impatient, and tired of waiting to hear of news of resettlement to another country through the United Nations.
Nasser wanted to go to Bulgaria, smuggling himself into the European Union illegally.
Instead he went back to Iraq to get new documents, risking his life doing so.
Arriving back in Iraq Nasser was kidnapped and has dissapeared. His whereabouts, his survival; unknown.
I just had a phone call from someone in Iraq telling me that Nasser had been taken away, and that his friends are worried he might have been killed for real this time.

In the search to make a new start, Nasser; a very brave, quiet and confident man may have lost his life and become another number added to the countless others killed because of their sexuality in Iraq. Sexual genocide continues.

He may be alive, held somewhere.
If he's alive, his courage will allow him to break out, escape, and start the new life he has been wishing for.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Clandestino

Evros, Greece




The Evros river region of north eastern Greece has seen a steep increase in the number of undocumented refugees and migrants entering the country illegally over the past five years.

The early hours of the morning bring fresh arrivals from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Algeria and many more. Mothers with young children walking for days on end with little food and water.

The area is officially a sensitive military area for both Turkey and Greece, despite upwards of an estimated 100 people crossing per day. Greece has recently received help from Frontex, the European Union's external border agency, to stem the flow of people crossing in the north but this has only pushed the flow people further south.



Crossing the Evros river at night is a dangerous feat for those who cannot swim.

Many die trying to make a better life in Europe, the place they believe will be safer and filled with more opportunities than their country. The journey for many ends here.

Bodies are often recovered months after death, and the identities of those discovered is usually unknown. They are name-less, nation-less. Relatives may never know the fate of their loved ones.

To be continued...

Monday, 30 May 2011

Lost in Europe



Thousands want to get here, hundreds die getting here.
This is seen as the bright side, streets paved with gold, stable government, open living, free loving, money to be made, multiculturalism, individuality, independence, freedom.
Europe.

For those that make the lengthy, often deadly journey into Europe by land, illegally, smuggling themselves, escaping something worse, yearning for freedom, refugees, economic migrants, the final destination is often not what was dreamt about.

Greece - one of the EU's front-lines, the Balkans, islands, water, a short distance from Turkey. Greece is now home to thousands of people who have made long journeys, worked tirelessly, suffered, sacrificed a great deal, people from far away lands; Arabs, Kurds, Palestinians, Sudanese, Algerians, Libyans, Syrians, Pathan, Hazara, Persian and many more.

Greece doesn't want them to stay, but Greece won't let them go also. Trapped. Limbo.

Those looking for more out of life deserve a chance, the opportunity to have their case heard, asylum claims read, and human rights respected, after all; is this not the land of milk and honey?!

Many look for illegal work on farms paying €20 for an 8-10 hour day, hard labour, without rights. Money that will pay smugglers for the rest of their journey, further into Europe.
Maybe their cases will be read in Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Denmark? Maybe not.



Rising right-wing government policies in France and Italy are threatening the greatest achievement of EU partnership - the Schengen agreement. Let's not take steps backwards and undo this.

Migration is an EU issue, not an issue solely for Greece and other southern European countries.

Think of those camping out tonight and every night, those travelling in overladen and unprepared boats, rough seas, leaving your family, searching, fleeing from war and repressive governments.

Welcome to Europe.


Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Iraq's unwanted people


August 2010, Damascus, Syria.
The unwanted of Iraq are many, the diaspora often resettle in Damascus, although some still live unknown lives, and have been doing so for a while.

The man in this photo was a high ranking officer in the Iraqi and International Police forces in the region, and now he lives alone in a single room in one of Damascus's poorer suburbs.

A life of danger and risk paid off with a hefty financial reward, and he enjoyed his time and money in Baghdad. During his time in the force he covertly working as a gay rights activist; freeing more than a hundred men arrested for homosexuality related charges.
Things were about to change, luck was about to end.

He was found out and 'outed'.

Life changed.

Danger was not just a risk but almost a guarantee if he stayed.

Threats came.

Family were injured, killed.

He is gay and Iraqi, something not looked at as possible by some.
Those with the guns.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

A Palestinian Rapper in Beirut


A fresh minded 22 year old Palestinian, first generation to be born in the Burg el-Barajneh refugee camp in the suburbs of Beirut to a member of Hamas and his wife. Instead of encouraging violence, Mohammed al-Turk, aka TNT spreads words of resistance through his music.
He's young and fed up with the cramped living conditions, lack of job opportunities, social stigma and dual identity that being raised in one of Lebanon's 12 official refugee camps for displaced Palestinians offer.
Rap is his weapon against his situation, described as 'war music' by the man himself. His inspiration came not from the streets of New York like the origins of rap, but the streets of his neighbourhood, and he and is partner Yaseen, known as i'Voice (invincible voice) have sculpted the lyrics and beats to suit their message and their audience.
Having performed across Europe and the USA at various world music festivals, TNT disappeared in Oslo before performing at the Oslo world music festival in Norway in November this year (2010). The reason for his disappearance is still not clear, although media sources say that his discovery is not far away. I hope that he is safe, well and not in trouble.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010


Playing in the afternoon sunlight, flying a kite.
A boy living in a refugee camp near Peshawar, Pakistan.
His parents are from Afghanistan, they are living in Pakistan and the boy is essentially non-existent; having no formal record in either country.
The UNHCR estimate that there are upwards of two million Afghan refugees currently displaced in northern Pakistan alone. Countless other men women and children have fled further to the borders of Europe in search of a better life.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Stuck in the Outback



Driving a mini-bus through the outback, water in the engine, stuck in a river, waiting, crocodiles sitting on the bank, waiting.
To our luck a local Aborigine was passing, he pulled us out before he went onto run over a dingo and hire a prostitute.
This was the real north-western Australia, and it's people were helpful, charismatic, and a little wild around the edges!

Iranian De-dash


I'd been in Tehran for a week or so and I decided to hop on an overnight train to Mashad. The journey took me trough the bleak desert of central Iran, and onwards to the north-eastern region of the country, close to Turkmenistan.
The moment I found my cabin on the train I greeted my fellow travelers 'salam aleikum'. They soon discovered that my Farsi wasn't great and that I was not Iranian.

We laughed and joked in bits of languages we all had in common and watched the sun set on the minus 18 degree dust rolling past the window.
We arrived in Mashad to heavy snow and yet colder temperatures when Mortezza insisted that I stay at his house. I went home with him, we lit a fire and smoked cigarettes before sleeping.
Little was I to know that we would spend the next two weeks together. We visited some of his friends and he showed me the sights of the city, including an amazing mosque complex covered in mirrors and glass. After constant hospitality and generosity we went back to Tehran.
I stayed with Mortezza and his friends in Tehran for a couple of days, mostly taking high speed tours around the city's icy streets on a motorcycle.
We left each other at the train station as I headed further south. I gave him some gifts and got on the train.

Damit garm de-dash. Khoob-est ti?

Working kids



Downtown Dhaka, the heart and soul of Bangladesh.
On first arrival the sounds were intriguing; car horns, the endless bells of bicycles that glided through the streets by lantern light, and the seemingly never ending sound of electric sewing machines. Homeless children of all ages are gathered from the streets and railway stations of the city and taken to various mini-factories. From here they are comparative to modern slaves, as they are often made to work 15 or more hours a day, making clothing in return for food and shelter.
Waking up to a new day, the sewing machines could be heard until I retired again in the late evening. These children and teenagers in the photograph were just a few amongst the many young workers that produce clothing for western Europe.
What does your label say?

Friday, 15 January 2010

Two farmers in the desert.



I once owned a camel. A beautiful dromedary camel called Alfie. I rode him from his home in Palmyra (Todmor in Arabic) to Damascus.

After a couple of weeks I met these two young shepherds with their flock in the desert.
I made them tea on my gas burner, and as dusk drew nearer we walked to their farm, past a few hills in a nearby valley.
The walk made me smile because it was something reminiscent of the tale of Noah and his ark. Three men, a camel, a donkey, a flock of sheep, a couple of goats, all followed by the sheepdogs.
A feast was made by Amir's mother, followed by a shisha pipe with his father.

That night curiosity, generosity, intrigue and friendship all followed us into their Bedouin home.
Syrian desert October/November 2007

The hills around Kabul



I decided to climb a hill.
My friend and travel buddy Egill and I decided to climb the biggest hill we could see, as to get the best view of the city.
On the way up some children were waving for us to go and see them. We wandered over and their father (photographed) invited us in for tea and biscuits.
We discussed the view over Kabul, his life and the loss of his leg by standing on a landmine, left over from the war against the Soviets in a previous decade.
He directed us to the best path, waved goodbye and continued sitting on his chair overlooking Kabul, watching the city living.

Friday, 4 December 2009

An American Deserter in Berlin

It was early in the morning and I was buying some bread from a Bakery in Kreuzberg, east-central Berlin.

I crossed the road and saw a man in his early 20s with a black eye, and who looked like he was sleeping rough on the streets. He asked if I spoke English, I replied, 'yea, I'm British. Are you alright?'
He explained that he had been sleeping in a near-by park for the past week or so, he didn't know a word of German, had no money, and was hungry.
I immediately knew that he was American from his accent, and after taking him to the bakery to get some food and drink, we sat on a step outside and I asked how he had ended up in Berlin.
He told me that he was a soldier for the US army, until a week ago when he escaped from his base on the outskirts of Berlin. He was set to be deployed to Iraq the following morning. He was so scared that he deserted his post, and came to Berlin to seek help.
He was shaken up, and jittery like a big ball of nerves. I asked what I could do to help him.
He waited on the street whilst I went back to the bakery to use a phone book. I called the nearest hostel and got directions. I highlighted the route to the hostel, gave him my travel card, and looked in his eyes again. He was too scared to go. We walked to the U-Bahn station, but he was having second thoughts so we sat down.
He told me about his family in New Orleans.
He missed his wife and son a lot, and couldn't imagine that he would ever get to see them again. According to him, the alarm would be out and the military would be searching for him. With no papers, he couldn't go anywhere, get a job, rent a flat, and was too scared to stay in a hostel. His fear was that they would need some ID; of which he had none, and that they would know that he was American and alert the authorities.

It was about two years ago that I met this man in Berlin, who's name I have unfortunately forgotten.

I left him on that street trying to persuade him to go to the hostel.

I have no idea if he followed my advice, or if he continued sleeping in the park.
I have no idea where he is now, or if the people looking for him have found him.
I have no idea if he was a deserter for real.
I have no idea if he managed to see his wife and son again.

All I know is that he didn't want to die in a war he didn't believe in.

Behind Bangladesh




Barely raising its head above the Bay of Bengal, the bridge between the seas’ salt and the Himalayas’ snow, is Bangladesh.

Bangladesh...What are you thinking? Famine? Floods? Fighting?
East Pakistan was reborn in 1971 after the bloody war for liberation, as the patriotic nation of Bangladesh. The 1972 famine that followed caused nationwide problems at all levels of the society. The numerous natural disasters, namely cyclones and flooding continue to batter and plague the country almost annually up to the present day.
Of course the famine, flooding and fighting all happened, why else would you be thinking about them?
Though, you should understand that these three things shaped the nation; the nation that finally had their nationality - the Bengalis. Either from want or necessity, unfortunately more likely the latter, the recycling, re-shaping and transformation began.

I enjoy chance and the ride it can take you on, so much so that I travel using the numbers on a thrown dice. Each number represents a different location, which means limitless chance experiences and unknown turns. Understanding me a little better now, you will understand why I am here, and how this country of chance never fails to please my mind or my dice.

If wandering, getting lost and intimate personal questions seem like a fond ideal – here’s your heaven. You’re famous! Gliding through the streets on an extravagantly bright and over flamboyant rickshaw, people waved, stared, shouted and waggled their heads at me. Then came the questions, ‘country?’, ‘fathers’ name?’, and my personal favourite, always provoking a smile, ‘my name is’, which was actually a question rather than an unanswered statement.
Everybody wants to know you, and with their charismatic crack, you’ll want to know everybody.

To describe a first time arrival in Dhaka is comparable to the idea of walking into an operation theatre during the middle of a life saving operation. The haste and importance of everything and everybody is immense. For me it felt like the fitting capital to the most densely populated land on the planet. I was an insignificant grain of dust, whipped up by the breeze, engulfed in a sandstorm that twisted and shifted me without option – the destination seemed pre-planned. Intimidated, but easily lodging myself firmly into the slap-in-the-face transition, I was ready. From here my journey deep into the re-shaping nation began. Bicycle bells patrolling the nights’ streets sent me to sleep, and the delivery trucks horn woke me up again, to old Dhaka; the heart and soul of the capital.

In an attempt to divert the staring gazes of the streets, I invested 160Taka (£1.20) in a lungee, the ubiquitous and traditional garment of the Bengali male, consisting of a tube of material tied around the waist much like a sarong. Without doubt, it was the best money I have ever spent. A lungee wearing foreigner it seemed was even more interesting to the locals, than one without. The idea didn’t go to plan. Some people couldn’t hold their excitement and pride any longer; they came to touch this lungee, shake my hand, thank me and walked away again. This was all very bemusing.
Amidst the excitement a tragedy struck! I was in a rickshaw hit and run, the driver too busy looking at lungee to see my arm. “Sham-o-shah-nay bondhu” (no problem); indeed, my blood was soon mixed with that of a scorpion, given back to me in a jar, by a friendly ‘street doctor’ who massaged the concoction into my skin there and then. I was pleased I took my injections before leaving Australia, I assumed (and hoped) that one of them would provide prevention against the doctor-of-deaths’ roadside treatment.

Next stop Sadarghat, the city’s pumping boat terminal, where I was chased and caught by two men – I had forgotten half of my change.
Did I find him or did he somehow fine me? Mohammed Ali, the talented boat wallah paddled me through the best of the madness. Over laden cargo ships drifted past, decks underwater and horns a blazing. We found what I was looking for – ship breaking in all its’ grubby pride. Tankers being dismantled as far as the eye could see. Welders, hammerers, and sheer man handlers, carrying steel away. By the early evening, work continued by lanterns on the passing river taxis’ and sparks from the welders torches.
For such an economically unfortunate country, the steel salvaged from vessels was the only way such a place could obtain useable steel. This steel was made into new ships, more rickshaws, and everything else imaginable.
I was to find later in my journey, on a beach north of Chittagong, that everything from these sea monsters’ shells is reused, as I stumbled through a pile of salvaged orange lifeboats. Some were now used for local fishing craft, and seemed to serve the purpose well.

After further ‘welcoming days’ that I allowed myself in Dhaka, I took a mail train south at dawn, listening to the sound of the first prayer call of the day vibrating from the minarets. Fairly and honestly, the caller had one of the least pleasant voices I have ever heard in terms of Islamic prayer callers. Seemingly adolescent with a breaking voice, at least it covered the noise of the car horns, I was happy for that at least.
My destination was Chittagong, the favourite city of the British during colonisation, and the second city and business capital of present Bangladesh. With few places of interest to visit in town, I decided to take a tour of the city’s cha (tea) stalls. Fresh goats’ brain, copious levels of mango and cha later I moved further south to Cox’s Bazar by bus. The game of chance comes in to play here; the bus could be heading anywhere, I don’t think anybody knows. Once on the bus, the chance of being involved in some kind of road accident is around fifty-fifty.

This small town with big hotels was the playground of the middle-classes. No sooner than arriving and dumping my bag in a room equipped with no less than a cockroach and a candle, a young man called Monsur found me. Now this was a man with some serious connections. Keen to show me around his town called Ramu, a short bus ride away, and improve his beautiful subcontinental English; we did a tour and met his various relatives along the way. The bus driver was apparently his ‘brother’ (free ride), a few minutes later we bumped into his ‘uncle’ selling fruit (free bananas), and then a restaurant owner ‘cousin’ , of course (free cha). These unexpected meetings lasted the whole day and were all as comical as each other. Nobody seemed to have ever set eyes on this young man, but played his game nevertheless. For an unmarried only child with no kids of his own, and a deceased father, this was close to a miracle and I enjoyed every minute of this peculiar day.
This place, at the base of the Chittagong Hill Tracts’, and at the southern tip of the country was home to the minority people that lived secluded lives. The Buddhist and Chakma groups found themselves here after displacement from Myanmar and North Eastern India, movement of political borders and the historic, legendary paper shuffling bureaucracy of Bangladesh. Buddhist temples caught my eye, whilst the faces and tongues around me changed.
Despite being a minority in the country as a whole, within the Chittagong Hill Tracts, minorities were the majorities. Chakma, Marma, Burmese, Assamese, and groups from further afield made up the local population. The ambiance was relaxed, rickshaws were forbidden, smuggled Burmese goods went on sale at the local market, corruption was inevitably high, and security was tight.
Once there, past the security checkpoints, it is one of the most pleasant places in the country. The moon reflecting off the surface of Rangamati Lake with the night chorus croaking in the background.

Bangladesh can definitely feel like a rather overwhelming experience, the scale of genuine intrigue and friendliness can be slightly too much sometimes, but don’t let it intimidate you. Whilst I was relaxing in the beautiful plains in the north of the country, I suddenly fell ill with a rare disease called Ludwigs’ Angina. With a high fever, dehydration and feeling a little disorientated, I knew I had to return to Dhaka. Due to the hospitality and caring nature of the local people, I managed to board a postal train bound for Dhaka, where I was admitted to hospital. After an operation and a few weeks in isolation I was feeling great, but if it were not for the friendship and help of those who assisted me, my fate could have been much worse. This is the same disease said to have killed Queen Elizabeth the first long before my time.

Post recuperation, there were inevitably many more adventures to be had, and I wanted to be part of it all। I took a boat to Barisal - the gateway to the Sunderbans. Just the trip in itself was an incredible one, with horns blazing, people jumping off and on at the last minute, and being slightly overloaded left us just above the rivers’ surface. Barisal is famed for its ‘rough around the edges’ reputation, with the locals said to have been hardened by the weather, and of all things, the salt from the sea. To the visitor, the people seemed no less friendly than anywhere else in the country, maybe even more curious, and intrigued.

To be continued...