We entered Bangladesh airspace on New Year’s day of 1980 for a four-year World Bank posting assignment, with son David (4 1/2) and daughter Samantha ( 2 1/2). From the air, the territory looked like water all over. The Biman Airways pilot came from his cockpit in his white robe, kneeled down, and bowed toward Mecca for his morning prayer. We hoped the first officer would keep the shaking aircraft steady.
Flying over, we saw rice field after rice field and more water.
The outskirts of Dhaka looked like an extensive garden. But when we landed, all hell broke loose: hordes of Bangladeshi young men offering their services. Our first experience with an overpopulated country where everybody is fighting for a dime (or Taka, the Bangladeshi money). Fortunately, World Bank staff had come to receive us and guide us through diplomatic immigration while our suitcases were loaded on a huge heap outside on an uncovered platform (nowadays that has all been substantially modernized!).
We were put up in
At night, with the full moon, the backyard was a dream come true for a Dutchman grown up amidst oaks and beeches. For Joy, hailing from Caribbean Guyana, it just felt like home.
During weekends, especially in December when the weather was dry with warm subtropical temperatures during the day, cool at night, the yard was a wonderful place for our kids and their many friends to have party fun. Below, Joy cutting another birthday cake, with head servant Paul looking on.
The kids enjoyed themselves. Our children grew up in a ‘multicultural’ environment.
Dave and Sam on the left, with their Montessori teacher Mrs. De Souza in the background and top right, Dave’s math teacher.
Striking features of Bangladesh were its ships on the broad rivers!
My portfolio concerned industry, energy,
We traveled monthly with a group of local donor representatives to Ashuganj in a diesel-powered train through the flat land covered with rice fields and small rural villages to supervise construction progress and solve project issues. Below is a picture taken from the train window, representative of the Bangladeshi flat land scenery.
Next came a natural gas drilling project (needed to feed the fertilizer company), a very
Because of the distances and weak road connections, many of my energy trips needed to be carried out by helicopter, which also provided a thrilling opportunity to see the country from the air.
I also followed American entrepreneurs involved in oil production and visited their projects. See below one of the rigs I visited.
Below the proud Bangladeshi Energy officials, hoping for a break to help their poor and overpopulated country (100 million+ at the time I was there, now grown to 160 million!, the country with the highest population density of the world. The majority is Muslim.) The fellow in the orange shirt was an American oil man.
Other field trips were carried out by road (with local office drivers, who were very good). There we met workers hacking bricks from clay, dried in the sun, and then pulverizing the bricks again for gravel, depending on the construction needs.
Two solutions: go back home or cross in a little boat, and continue with another vehicle waiting across the ditch, which we did and which landed us in a welcoming village with doe-eyed beauties.
They smiled at us when we left, after having handed them a few hundred Takas for posing on the picture.
After four years and many adventures, our two kids had grown up nicely. Here they are, in our backyard, in front of the poinsettia, with bikes we got for them on our R&R trips to Bangkok.
And farewell it is, to two of our closest friends, the two of us (Joy extreme left, me extreme right) with Jim Curry, Deputy Chancellor of the Canadian Embassy and his wife, Cynthia, who also hailed from Guyana!
Next: our travels to India.
Ted and Frank sit at the counter of their regular Hullahoo bar for their weekly chat, and sitting not far from them we are overhearing their babble. It’s a busy night with many patrons sharing their corner.
“Do you have skeletons in your closet?” asks Ted, referring to a politician whose election failed after sex revelations surfaced in the media.
“Oh man!” Frank responds with a sigh. “I wouldn’t dare open it for fear they’d all tumble out with a rattling cabal. And you?”
“Mine are in the garden shed,” Ted confesses. “Too many to count. At night they haunt me, making me scream, yelling ‘why was I so stupid!’ Then Ann asks, ‘Are you all right?’ What am I supposed to say? If I told her, she’d probably run away.”
“But why do only men have skeletons in their closets?” Bert wonders, sitting next to Ted. “Women are never accused of hiding them.”
“Women use closets to store clothes, Bert,” Frank says. “You of all people who live with one should know. There ain’t any room for skeletons.”
“It’s because you guys are the perverts,” joins in Alicia, sitting next to Frank. “It’s us the weaker sex that always gets molested.”
“I know a few of you who collaborated quite eagerly in the molestation,” Frank shoots back.
“But you must’ve started it,” Alicia says. “Passing by in the office and glimpsing invitingly? Asking to have a coffee together, then lunch and then dinner, and then the nightclub with dancing cheek to cheek and more? And then the skeleton gets baked.”
“You could’ve said ‘No’ but instead you went along,” Frank says, grimacing. “Our skeletons are shared with your permissive weaker sex, but it’s always us who get burned.”
“I didn’t speak of myself, just the experiences of my girlfriends,” Alicia says, looking away.
“So you don’t have skeletons, only your girlfriends do?” asks Ted, pressing her. “Your type’s always the holy Mary.”
“They’re all hypocrites,” Bert shouted, gulping his beer. “Them so-called journalists who uncover these skeletons have tons of them in their own closets. He who’s without sin should cast the first stone. Remember Bible class?”
“If you remember, Alicia, the adulterer in that story was a woman.” Frank sneers.
“That was then and this is now,” Cathy buts in, sitting next to Bert. “Sad enough it took two thousand years for the roles to turn around.”
“But a man still needs a woman to make a skeleton,” Bert argues. “So you guys must have skeletons, too. That’s all I’m saying.”
“Not so, Mister Bert!” Cathy hollers. “You heard about that scumball of a sports coach that molested all those trusting young gymnasts against their will?”
“And that ugly guy in Hollywood who forced himself on actresses if they wanted a job?” Alicia adds.
“And what about that lewd role model of all husbands and fathers, Bill Cosby?” yells Cindy from the far end of Ted’s.
Sudden silence reigns at the counter. All males pull shameful faces feeling they truly belong to a bunch of public perverts. In an effort to turn the conversation back to the usual uplifting clatter, Ted asks Frank, “Can you share any skeleton you’re hiding?”
Frank’s face clears up. “So glad you asked. There’s one I want to get rid of. I took it out from the shed at Halloween but forgot it had an eye-operated talker. Each time trick-or-treat kids passed by, it squeaked ‘Come in and meet Frank Womanizer.’ The whole neighborhood came out, especially moms, who told their daughters to stay away from me! Colleagues gave it to me as an office award. I became the neighborhood villain. It ruined my chances of running for State Office.’
“You see,” Alicia says. “You ain’t any better than the rest of them. You better pay me a drink to make good.”
“Bert, any skeletons you want to share?” Frank asks, ignoring Alicia’s demand because he’d taken his killing libido pill.
Bert shifts on his stool, uncomfortable he’s put on the spot. “Mine are only financial. I claim the fifth.”
“Ted, would you volunteer?” Frank asks.
“The most embarrassing thing that got me fired. I had a bad dinner the night before and went with awful tummy cramps to the office. I was asked to see the boss and as he hadn’t returned yet from a meeting had to wait for him in his office when it flew out. I didn’t know it would be that bad. I almost fainted myself. I thought of running away but he suddenly came in, got furious, threw all the windows open, and shouted me out. It took me two years before I got hired somewhere else as everybody kept gossiping about it.”
Laughter all around. “But that’s not a skeleton that interests the media,” Henry says, sitting next to Alicia. He’s from The Washington Post, so he knows. “It must be juicy, not stinky.”
“Come on, Henry,” Bert says. “Why are male skeletons always female? Because you guys make it so? Skeletons do not wear their sex, so how can you see what’s what? Dirt diggers you are!”
“Hey, Bert, I must write to earn my bread and butter, man! You do it with financial crookery. I’ll find out and leak it to the Special Prosecutor.”
“Sure,” Bert retorts. “From sources at a bar.”
Then a busty skeleton enters the bar door and rattles to the counter. “Hi, I’m Stormy Waters and am for hire.”
“Can I buy you a drink?” Henry asks.
Sitting cramped in my window seat, I wondered why the moon had this mocking smile on his face. My heliphone didn’t ring. Maybe because of secret regulations between Heaven and air traffic control? I still didn’t know the whereabouts of Anita’s husband’s prison. Stumbling through customs on arrival at dawn, a voice told me that the cab driver would know. “Oslo fengsel,” he confirmed. After going through town, he turned into a long driveway lined by leafless trees and snow-covered grounds, ending at a red-stone somber building. “You wait,” I said and went in. The guards watched me, quizzically. I was dressed as a priest, my faith-inspiring white collar shining trustingly behind the white scarf around my neck. I didn’t speak a word of Norwegian but had many times mumbled Anita’s husband’s name, Wilhelm Lassen, that bloody Viking who’d trounced me with Anita.
I sat in the bare visiting room when Wilhelm Lassen entered, took the only other seat, his face one question mark. I gazed at his hands. As I’d suspected, he didn’t wear rings in prison. I hoped he spoke a bit of English.
“My name’s Father John,” I said. “I’m bringing you a final word from Anita.”
The man’s face grew grey, his lips tightened, his eyes squinted. “Anita is dead,” he said with a rolling accent. “I did not do nothing. She suffered shortage of breath. Who are you?”
“Her confessor when she lived with you in Geneva. She left this small package to hand you in case she’d die before you.” I pulled a blue jewelry box from my pocket and handed it to him. In it was a golden ring I’d dipped with a tweezer into a small base with liquid cyanide in the airplane toilet a short while before landing. A friend at a chemical factory had given me the deadly stuff, believing I’d use it to kill persistent mice in my basement. If Wilhelm would slide the ring on his finger, his skin would absorb the cyanide and death would follow soon.
Wilhelm opened the box and stared at it. “My wedding ring?” he asked. “I thought I’d lost it. Rar,” (‘strange’) he muttered. Then he shifted it onto his ring finger, looking sad.
The guard came in and warned me my time was up. I stood, said farewell to Wilhelm, and left as fast as I could. The cab driver took me rapidly to the airport, and I grabbed the first flight out to Amsterdam to erase my footsteps, hopefully having left pandemonium at the Oslo fensel. In Amsterdam, I got the last seat in a crowded United flight to Washington, mission accomplished, I reckoned.
Back home at night, the heliphone rang. It was Anita.
“Thank you, Johnnyboy. He’s nicely burning in Hell, screaming his lungs out.”
“But won’t I be punished?”
“No, you’ll be rewarded in Heaven when you get here in a while. Can’t wait.” Her heavenly voice drifted away.
“Crime pays in the afterlife,” I whispered and fell asleep, uncomfortable about Anita’s eagerness. Wilhelm’s death was reported as a suicide.
Once you reach a certain age the heliphone starts ringing. It always does around or a while after midnight. Nowadays, it rings more often. Past loves are calling in from the afterlife. The other night it was Amalia.
“I didn’ t see you at my funeral. Why didn’t you come? Why not bring me any flowers? After all, we spent some good times together.”
“Oh, dearest Amalia! Your voice sounds just like before. Australia was a bit far for me. Where are you now?”
“Much farther than Australia. You remember that day in the dunes?”
“Wonderful. I often dream of it.”
“So how come you didn’t marry me?”
“Blame it on my immaturity. I didn’t realize how good you would’ve been for me.”
“That figures; you were proposing all over the place after you left me. Are you any happier now?”
“It would’ve been nicer to share our lives together. If I’d had more than one life, I would’ve done it.”
“I’ll keep a seat reserved for you here then. Till soon.”
The heliphone broke off. That “soon” gave me the shivers. I got up and made myself a stiff Martini. What did she know?
Earlier this week, I got another call, from Irene.
“Nobody came to my funeral. Only Cindy, you remember, our bridesmaid, and that bloody husband of mine who’d left me by myself most of the time. Why did you divorce me? “
“Probably for the same reason your second husband left you alone.”
“We had so much fun together, don’t you remember that sofa?”
“I do, delightful, but you embezzled my money.”
“Come on. All that paper’s just monopoly money. You can’t take it over here.”
“What’s over here?”
“The purgatory. I don’t know why they put me here. It’s always cold. I spent time enough in jail.”
“Terrible. It surprised me you got yourself married again.”
“I got him the same way I got you.”
“By pretending he’d made me pregnant.”
“Yeah, I remember that. I think the purgatory is fine for you.”
The line broke off. I shivered again and took another Lorazepam. Was I lucky I got rid of her. She took all my money and still keeps calling me. That heliphone is a nightmare.
Mid-week wasn’t any better. It was Marilou, the fat girl from Switzerland, who I heard via the grapephone had suddenly passed away.
“I got heart trouble because I was overweight.”
“I’m so sorry, Marilou. I guess you’ve got plenty to eat now and can’t die anymore.”
“I still hate you. You only made love to me in the Alps because you got high rubbing my big boobs. You were a pervert.”
“I remember your telling me that. I broke my back lifting you up all the time because you couldn’t stay up on your skis.”
“I offered you my millions of Swiss Francs, but you only wobbled in between my boobs, said ‘Ahhh,’ and left me.”
“You told me the Swiss tycoon you married did it for your boobs too.”
“He was supposed to go before me. Now he’s got all my money and married an ultra slim pin-up from Vanity Fair.”
“Are you calling him too?”
“His phone is off the hook. I hate Vanity Fair.”
The heliphone died away. Marilou was one of those sad moments in life you want to forget but keep being reminded of. How did she get my number?
Last night was the worst ever. It was Anita from Norway, my biggest regret in love life.
“I wish I’d married you.”
“A bit late to tell me that now. What happened?”
“My husband murdered me.”
“Oh no! Why?”
“Because I kept dreaming aloud at night mentioning your name, saying that I loved you.”
“I hope they put him on death row.”
“Death row does not exist in my country. But hell does here.”
“Awful. You think I could do anything?”
“Go to his prison and poison him. I want him in hell right now where they’ll knife him with red-burning forks every second.”
“But they’d catch me and put me in prison as well.”
“Don’t worry. I’m told we have our ways up here and I’ll protect you.”
“But I won’t get you back, Anita. What’s the point?”
“You’ll be here soon enough, darling, and we’ll live happily ever after.”
That was enough to whip me into a frenzy and I swallowed two Lorazepams, but nonetheless, I stayed awake all night, shaking.
I’m on my way to Oslo now with a dose of cyanide wrapped in foil paper and my heliphone in my pocket to get word where that prison is. Pray for my soul.