Glastonbury resident shares experiences of Bangladesh
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Thu., Apr. 4, 2013
Glastonbury's Leo St. Michel has lived and worked in several exotic countries in his capacity working for Booz Allen Hamilton – a management and technology consulting firm that is most often contracted by the U.S. government – and he has made such stops in places including Burma, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Thailand and Egypt. For many years, beginning in 1965, he has collected thousands of slides, which prompted former Glastonbury Senior Center Coordinator Maryleah Skoronski to encourage him to present a series of slideshow travelogues. The latest in the series was a slew of photos of St. Michel's time spent in Bangladesh, which at the time was still a territory of Pakistan, and referred to as East Pakistan.
St. Michel, who lived with his wife and children in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka (then known as Dacca), said the people of Bangladesh are a very friendly people, who are “anxious to learn, but not necessarily anxious to work.” He explained that many Bangladeshi people live quite a meager existence, and many had menial labor jobs to support their basic needs. Much of the local economies are river-based, as the country – about the size of Wisconsin – has more than 800 rivers.
“Rivers are predominantly the source of water, and provide the means of transporting goods and people,” he said, adding that many construct “tanks” or concrete pools to collect rain water from monsoon months to hopefully last through the dry months. Many people also make their living via the fishing industry, and one of the most popular sports was boat racing, he said.
“Boat transportation was very, very dominant,” St. Michel said, adding that to get from Dhaka to the eastern city of Comilla was a trip of about 70 miles, but it took the best part of a day, because there were three lengthy ferry crossings.
Tungi, an area north of Dhaka, is where much of the commerce of the country takes place, St. Michel said. “There are goods coming by boat, and everything is for sale – all different kinds of pots, pans and containers, and almost anything you could name was being sold across a huge area,” he said.
“The people are very friendly and anxious to speak English,” he said. “There was never really a need to learn their language.”
St. Michel said travel within Bangladesh was difficult because there are so many rivers and very few roads, never mind bridges. “You have to use a ferry to get across,” he said. “You have to be prepared that if your vehicle would break down, repairs would take a very long time. You also had to be prepared to survive for days [in remote locations]. You'd have to carry drinking water and I carried cans of tomatoes.”
Among the places in Bangladesh he visited was a tea plantation, where he was to stay the night. “When we first visited with the tea planter, his bearer's question was, 'When do you want your bath drawn?'” he said. “It's not that they lacked water, but they lacked means of making hot water. It had to be heated outdoors and brought into the bathrooms.”
The quality of life for Americans living in Bangladesh, St. Michel said, was very good, although there were a few adjustments to local customs. For example, the Fourth of July was celebrated on Presidents' Day in February, because “the weather on the 4th of July is always lousy.”
St. Michel said he's not sure yet when the next installment of his travel series will take place. He added that he spends a good amount of time converting his decades-old slides to digital media.
For more information, contact the Glastonbury Senior Center at 860-652-7638.