I knew Bangladesh was different the moment the scooter rider tried to punch the cycle taxi owner as they both blocked all the traffic in a multi-vehicle kaleidoscope of traffic chaos.
It had already taken me 10 minutes to work out which side of the road you legally drove on. I say legally because it’s actually a fiction. Apparently it’s just as natural to drive side to side or diagonally.
By the way it took me about one minute to be convinced beyond all doubt that I would never get behind the wheel in Bangladesh.
Use of the horn is clearly a mandatory part of the driving test and one all people pass with no difficulty. Perhaps it’s the compensation for the otherwise gentle nature of the Bangladeshi people who are unfailingly polite to visitors, even when telling you that you are in their way.
That summary of Bangladeshi nature is, of course, a huge over-simplification. Historic anger at Pakistan isn’t even skin deep; student anger is prevalent.
But if you are a guest you are treated with huge honour.
My visit was to the Church of Bangladesh (COB) – 18,000 people in a nation of 120million. The Methodist Church is one worldwide partner with COB as it influences the society for the Kingdom of God in this beautiful land.
As David Hall, one of the mission partners there, says, the church consistently punches above its weight through social development programmes such as its engagement in hospitals, medical mission and education.
If it kept itself to being a worshipping community it would disappear into insignificance, but it lives on a bigger map. I went as Head of the Mission & Advocacy Cluster of the Methodist Church here in Great Britain which includes some responsibility for the World Church Relationships team.
My privilege was to visit some of the projects that we help support, along with a number of other churches and agencies. More of that later.
Just after I got home, one of the lectionary readings was Paul’s opening verses to the church at Rome, where he tells them that he “longs to see” them. Similar thoughts ran through my head about my wife and family as we hurtled along roads in the gathering dark, just avoiding carts, rickshās and other motorists who hadn’t bothered to turn on their lights.
During the visit I tried every form of Bangladeshi transport except a train – we couldn’t get a ticket – and sitting on top of a bus; officially not allowed in the city, but then a lot of other things aren’t either.
There is more about the project visits I made on the Methodist World Church blog at http://worldchurch.posterous.com/#!/