A Blonde Bengali Wife

A Blonde Bengali Wife
Travels in Bangladesh

We've Nearly Made It

Hello and Welcome!



Where you will learn everything you
need to know about the progress of A Blonde Bengali Wife, the travel
book I've written about my love-affair with the fabulous country of

It's a blog about Bangladesh, about Bhola, and about fiction
and creative writing in general...

A Blonde Bengali Wife:

First published in September 2010 and launched in October 2010.

Reprinted and re-launched in November 2015 as an eBook available from Amazon UK/.com

#1 Amazon Bestseller

Follow it on Twitter @AnneHamilton7 and @Anne_ABBW and Goodreads

Buy it here http://www.amazon.co.uk/Blonde-Bengali-Wife-Anne-Hamilton-ebook/dp/B016UDI86I

Monday, 13 December 2010

Edinburgh, December 2010

Back in Edinburgh for a quick pitstop before travelling down to Suffolk for Christmas and New Year - if the airports are open long enough... so this might well be the last post this year.  That said, a very happy Christmas to everyone and thanks for your support and interest in the blog so far!  Lots of happiness, health and good luck for the new year -

Back in 2011


Thursday, 2 December 2010

Reviews, Reviews, Reviews

Greetings from Virginia!

Simon slept through his first transatlantic flight, has yawned through his first meeting with Santa Claus, and even decided to sleep in a cot for a week before deciding this was a mistake...  And we're missing the big freeze in Scotland.

Some nice reviews on Amazon: 

If you've read the book, please feel free to add your own!  The more copies sold, the more royalties for Bhola's Children - so dare I suggest it as a perfect Christmsa gift???

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Reflections on the Launch

Huge sigh of relief!

The people flocked in in their hundreds (well, a wonderfully affirming 68, not all of whom I knew) and stayed beyond the wine and canapes.  The venue was great, the books arrived in time for a long, snaking queue for signings and the attentiveness (other than from Simon who slept from beginning to end) of the audience to the readings and Jacqui's explanation about Bhola suggested that the evening justified a night away from the telly.  Best of all, I didn't fall flat on my face or say anything completely stupid (I don't think).

So, a big thank you to everyone who made it such a success - Neil & Caroline for their respective roles as compere and bar girl!! Ruth for seeing to the food, Julie & my mum for doing stuff that needed doing and Jacqui for the exhibition, the photographs and the 'speech'.  Jacqui Dunbar is a friend and  great photographer, who joined me on one of my longer visits to Bangladesh and was equally won over by both Bhola and the rest of the country; watch out for her photographic work - or hire her to take your pics!  She provided the photos for the book cover too.

It's a very positive start to sales and ongoing publicity and - most surprisingly of all - it was fun...

Now it's off to Ireland for a bit of a break before travelling to Washington DC for Thanksgiving.  Back next week when we've settled in.

Monday, 15 November 2010

The book that inspired a charity

Remember the theory of the 'six degrees of separation'?  Well, I met Dinah who met Bruna who took her to Bangladesh and introduced her to Ali who was running a small home-school for children with disabilities there... 

The detail is in the preface to A Blonde Bengali Wife, but put simply Dinah fell in love with the country and the people in exactly the way I had done.  More so, she was totally inspired by the work Ali was doing on the island of Bhola, and came home with the plan to set up a charity to support him.  Thus was born Bhola's Children and a lifelong relationship between us and them.

Still no sign of a publisher - but did it matter now?

Well, some more excellent rejections ('great book but we've just taken on one about a female cyclist in Sierra Leone' or 'if only the author was famous we'd snap it up' and - my personal favourite - 'there's just not enough sex or violence.  Can she jazz it up a bit?') when I met, purely by chance Zetta Brown of LL-Publications who heard an outline of the story and asked to see the manusript in full.  She liked it, she offered a contract.  And finally...

it's been a very long journey but the diary which became a book which was instrumental in establishing a charity has its formal LAUNCH TODAY.  More details tomorrow!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Scotland, May 2004

Rejection followed rejection once the manuscript for A Blonde Bengali Wife was completed.  And however nice the notes were, they were still rejections.  In fact, it's fair to say that the nice ones ('we loved this but...') are far more infuriating than the pre-printed photocopied slip complete with coffee stain and addressed to Miss Hambleton/Hamill (or on one occasion Mr Roy Thompson with reference to his novel The Byronic Man... If you're out there Roy, best of luck!)

I went back to Bangladesh.  When my flatmate of the time, a few weeks after my return to a job in Edinburgh, casually remembered that someone calling herself a literary agent had called in my absence and said I should phone back - who, when it was said flatmate wasn't sure, oh dear, was it important..?

Dinah Wiener, a very experienced and successful literary agent in London eventually took a risk on the book.  'It's not very commercial and I have doubts I'll ever manage to sell it,' was what she said, 'but I do feel passionate about it and it makes me want to go to Bangladesh.'

And go to Bangladesh she did.


PS The book launch is tomorrow.  The books, the focal point of the event, the things I am meant to be signing in front of a huge and enthusiastic audience(!) are somewhere in transit in courier-land. Is this an omen?

Friday, 12 November 2010

West of Ireland, September 2002

Back at home, back at work, full of stories about Bangladesh  - a veritable 'Bangla-bore' - and with a huge album of disappointing photographs (this was before I got a digital camera and I have no eye for photography) I turned towards the diary I had been diligently keeping whilst away.  Long and boring and self-indulgent, I looked at it again and again and began to think it would make a good travel book if I ever managed to edit it.  I'd always done a lot of writing but never finished anything full-length before so this was going to be a huge challenge; the aim to show the 'other side' of Bangladesh beyond the dismal and shcoking news reports that tend to sideline it for the Western world...

Fast forward to the present and yes, the reporter and photographer from the Evening News, duly interviewed me.  And simon.  And my mother.  No idea what the two (very nice) people thought of the chaos, or if/when there will be a story.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Something to wrap the chips in...

It seems that an afternoon round the kitchen table with Juliet and a pile of newspapers as well as the inevitable Google, has paid off. 

Whilst the book was sent direct from the publishers to the reviewers on the big nationals, we have been concentrating on the local papers and magazines.  The technique has been more along the lines of throwing darts at a board and aiming at reporters who prefer the heart-warming to the car-crash in the vain hope that 'the book which inspired a charity' angle will catch someones eye.

We've had several responses from interested journalists and whilst I doubt - realist or pessimist? - they'll actually become a story  it will be interesting research!  Interview with the Evening News tomorrow...

Friday, 5 November 2010

Edinburgh, November 2010

Q: Which is easier - launching a book or a baby?

The jury is still out on that one!  Simon is now nearly 12 weeks old and a giant baby, a definite endorsement of on-demand breast milk even if his mother is also going to be a giant trying to eat enough to keep up with him...

The book launch is in ten days time and the preparations are slowly falling (literally) into place.  This is due solely to the work of The Committee, my friends who were the slowest in thinking up excuses why they couldn't/shouldn't/wouldn't be able to listen to my desperate pleas for help in setting up the event.  I couldn't offer them much in return but - being three of the best women ever (or cheap dates the lot of them) - a couple of slices of cake and a cuddle of the baby was enough! 

So, Juliet (press releases), Caroline (along with the lovely Neil, venue and event organiser) and Ruth (food) - thankyou, thank you, thank you.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Leaving Bangladesh, April 2002

At Dhaka Aiport....
Suddenly there is an announcement over the tannoy system, which Munnu translates as my having to leave. We say a flurry of goodbyes—tearful in my case—and I load up my bags.

“But I don’t want to go,” I whine like child. “I want to stay here and take tea and go shopping with Hasina and on tours with you and sit in the SCI office and fill in evaluation forms and make Christine come back and…”
“Anne. You must go.” Munnu propels me forward. “Also you must return soon.”
At a sign that says “Departures. Passengers Only” we face a serious security guard who wants to check my papers. He asks Munnu a couple of questions, grunts doubtfully and waves us both along.
“What did you say to him?”
“I tell him my blonde Bengali wife departs the country leaving me behind her,” he grins. “He says I may come to the gate and wave to you.”
Suddenly it is time to go, and I load Munnu down with messages for everyone I can think of. There is so much to say, and yet there is nothing. I take a step forward, and then one back. I suddenly think of something I have been meaning to ask Munnu for weeks, and I must know before I go.
“Munnu,” I say. “What is calculus?”
He looks puzzled. “Calculus? I do not know. Why do you ask?”
“You must know.” I persist. “You’ve told me a lot of stories and in many of them you start by saying, ‘when I was in calculus…’ Is it something in college?”
He looks at me for a moment, and then laughs out loud. “Not calculus,” he explains. “Cadet class. I say ‘when I am in cadet class.’ It is a school that gives good education and also trains men for the Army. My mother sent me there, but I do not wish to be a military person. Cadet class,” he repeats. “Make sure this is correct in your travelling diary.”
“Yes, my diary,” I say. “I will send it to you. But how should I finish it? What will I say so people know how I feel about Bangladesh?”
“Anne. Long ago in Khalia you tell me that you come to Bangladesh because you want to have your story to tell. Yes? And now you have this story.”
I nod, touched that he remembers.
“So already you will have written everything. You just be simple.”
Since he is right, it is only fitting that I give Munnu the last words.
He thinks carefully: “Say: I said goodbye, I got in the airplane, and went home. The End,” he advises.
And this is what I do.
(ABBW Ch30)

It wasn't really the end, it still isn't, as this blog and the book both signify.  But it was the beginning of another long journey in which the diary became the book, begat a charity and is the basis for my ongoing 'life' in Bangladesh which has involved eight or nine visits to date - the next one with a baby???
So here starts another chapter...

Monday, 1 November 2010

Sunderbans, March 2002

We circumnavigate a small, oblong island that should surely sink beneath the jumble of tin shops and wooden houses, a tiny modern health centre dwarfed by an anti-AIDS poster campaign, and a school hut from which the children pour out, shouting and waving homemade flags. I have no time to ponder whether this is a daily event or laid on for our benefit because Gadji’s face appears by my right foot to point out the dense, green forest ahead of us. Slicing the water into a dual carriageway is the outermost point of the Sunderbans, the world’s largest littoral mangrove forest.
“What exactly is a mangrove?” I ask Munnu. “And are they always littoral?”
“Trees,” he answers comprehensively. “I do not know what littoral means.”
The inner forest is largely impenetrable by all but the tiniest vessels and the waterways are saltwater swamp, clogged with leaves and fallen trees. The Sunderbans are a UNESCO World Heritage site and a haven for birds and wildlife: humming birds to birds of prey, wild deer, monkeys, and every hour on the hour one of the boys pop up to say that he has definitely seen a Bengal tiger ready to pounce on a wayward crocodile. Then he adds thatta korchi: he is joking. Besides it’s okay because the tigers in this vast reserve are not habitual man-eaters.
Hiron Point, the most southerly point of the Sunderbans, is at least eight hours away by boat and so far beyond our capabilities. As it is, we barely penetrate the edges of the forest, yet even here the sheer variety of trees is immense. They come almost to the edge of the water (hence the term “littoral”), are stopped only by a slip of muddy beach, smooth and slippery and home to crocodiles during the rainy season.
At this point, a real writer writing a real journal would be able to list the trees, a brief but interesting description of their origins, lifespan and uses, possibly with footnotes and references to learned works. I groan out loud.
“Anne. What is the problem?” Munnu wakes up to ask me.
“I cannot name the trees. I don’t recognise any of them.”
“I help,” he turns his chair to the side, puts his bare feet up on the rusting red rail and makes a scientific observation. “Tall thin trees,” he suggests, “with big green leaves. Others with small leaves. Short, fat trees like a bush…Anne. Why do you not write this down?”
“Because you don’t know the names either,” I object.
“Yes. There—” he waves at a palm tree. “That is palm tree. And here, maybe this is...err...willow tree?”
(ABBW Ch28)

Sailing through the waters of the Sunderbans, on a vessel that looked like a pink four poster bed,with Munnu and the 'boat crew' was one of the highlights of the trip to Bangladesh: tranquil, beautiful and balmy (and, at times, barmy).  There was probably already an element of nostalgia too; it also meant that I couldn't put off the return home for too much longer...

Saturday, 30 October 2010


Where have my blog entries gone.... hmm, posted to the wrong place!
Normal service to resume soon

Sunday, 24 October 2010

And the next event is...

So, following a very successful 'cyber launch' of A Blonde Bengali Wife and a spot as suthor of the week on AuthorIsland, the next event is the real, live launch in Edinburgh on 15th November.  The Committee (aka Juliet, Ruth, Caroline and me) has met, the plans made and the email invitations* have finally gone out (corrected) and hopefully some of the lovely people who have promised to attend won't get better offers or decide to stay at home and watch TV, but will be there!  It's worse than organising a party for yourself... but with simple angst - what if nobody comes?

More details as we go along, but in the meantime, I'll get back to finishing the story of the book.  Tomorrow that is, Internet signal permitting from the depths of Suffolk where Simon and I are staying for some serious baby-worship from family and friends!

*if you haven't received one but would like to come, please leave a comment here - if I already know your email addressit's a baby-brain induced oversight

Friday, 22 October 2010

Join me at AuthorIsland...


                 AuthorIsland Tiki Hut: This Week's Special Guest Anne Hamilton

Read how A Blonde Bengali Wife inspired the charity Bhola's Children...
Please drop in and leave a comment.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Successful Cyber Launch

Well, we're coming to the close of the cyber launch 'party'

But there's still a while left to visit and leave a comment

A long time in the making- it's here:

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Eid, March 2002

The eve of Eid means last minute shopping.

“Meat for the freezer—in case there is not enough to share from the slaughtering tomorrow.” Hasina marches towards the stall.
It is like seeing a road accident. The meat is hanging from canopy hooks attached to rusty scaffolding, and carcasses crowd the front of the stall like an obstacle course and passing by without getting a slap in the eye from a swaying piece of mutton flank is a laudable feat. Bloody off-cuts—skin, bone, offal, hairy ears, and glassy eyes—litter the floor. Hasina directs this dismemberment and supervises its stuffing into a jumbo-sized polythene bag or six.
It is heaven for the fat flies taking first pick of the goodies. Some settle on the hanging meat, valiantly swatted by a young boy with a witches’ broom, but the majority indulge in an uninterrupted gastronomic experience feasting on the cut pieces, crawling languidly over the diced meat destined for the Hoque family deep freeze like a holiday maker at an all-inclusive resort who cannot resist temptation.
Three fine specimens have been so gluttonous as to die mid-mouthful and are gamely gouged out and flicked away before the butcher slings the meat into a bag. Let’s revise that: two of them are gouged and flicked, the third I’m sure is now somewhere in a 5kg bag ready to be marinated in yoghurt, herbs and spices, and roasted on the barbecue. Luckily, I don’t have time to be sick. I am too morbidly fascinated by the hand of the man brandishing the knife. He has the tips of three fingers completely missing.
(ABBW Ch25)

Eid is a real family occasion, one I was lucky to spend with my adopted family, the Hoques, in Dhaka where we flew from house to house greeting and eating... Everyone kills (or buys) a goat or a cow and shares it amongst themselves, their relatives and anyone in need.  The sentiment is great but the public slaughter is not for the faint-hearted...

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Chittagong, February 2002

I lie awake for a while listening to the shouts in the corridor grow louder, jump when other residents fall against the door or turn the handle and begin, mistakenly I hope, to creep in. Munnu has a sixth sense for these occasions and growls viciously enough to receive a muted apology before telling me not to worry and go back to sleep. I obey.

I love this place. Love it. Like a ciné film, my mind runs through my adventures, my travels, my new friends, my horrors, and I realise for the first time since my arrival, I am truly at home in Bangladesh. I feel almost comfortable here. On this day, the 16th February, I have, in effect, fallen in love.
“Oh, would you ever listen to yourself? Cop on and stop being a sentimental old twit.” I mutter out loud, grin to myself in the darkness, and dream spiritual dreams of fried eggs and roti.
Needless to say, in the morning, my moment of truth, of peace, of contentment is but a memory. I awake scratching frantically. My left shoulder, arm and entire back are covered in raised, angry, red lumps already irritated by my scraping nails and brewing horrible, infectious pus. Where there are miniscule gaps, the skin is black and blue with tender bruising from too many jostling rickshaws and buses.
Awkwardly I shower, and then cover myself with every cream, unguent, spray, and liquid I can find, swallow double the recommended dose of antihistamine, and pray for a plague of locusts or whatever is the appropriate member of the food chain to descend on the entire mosquito world.
(ABBW Ch23)

It was that moment when it all came together: the place, the people, the work, the travelling, and I had one of those rare moments when I was exactly where I wanted to be.  It was then that I knew I wanted to maintain a long term relationship with Bangladesh - and to let people at home see this 'other side' of the country, the bit where life goes on despite (or even in the midst of) flood, famine and monsoon aadn most of all, rather than being different, human beings are much the same, with similar concerns and challenges and joys, the world over.... too simplistic?  I never knew it would end in a book and, more importatnly, that the book would inspire a charity.

Saturday, 9 October 2010



2pm (UK time)

Finally - well, the launch of Simon always had to take priority - the publication date for A Blonde Bengali Wife is less than a week away!

The first event is on 15 October and that is the cyber launch. It's an all-day blog event where people can stop by and post comments/questions about me and the book--and I'll answer them. The owner of the blog will pick one person who made a comment to win a prize which will be a copy of the book.

This event starts at 2pm our time so I'll make my first "appearance" as soon as it starts and will keep checking in throughout the day.  So please visit the site, join me there. leave a comment or ask a question - and offer some plain old moral support!

Visit the blog now for an idea of how this works. Be sure to read the blog post and the comments that follow....


Look forward to 'seeing' you there...

Friday, 8 October 2010

Rangmati, February 2002

The simple reason for the soldier’s reluctance to let me enter Rangmati, he describes with obvious relish and Munnu—I know him well enough by now—picks over and selectively interprets for me. Unfortunately, the soldier is unaware of this nicety and punctuates Munnu’s narrative with ghoulish gurgles and throat-cutting antics.
“He says that yesterday there was a kidnapping. Ten Bengali men are taken from their microbus. Two are found unharmed. The others are mostly still missing.”
“One is dead….” Observing the soldier’s garrotting motions, there is no need to ask how death occurred. “…And one injured.”
“Injured how?”
Munnu, pained at my insistence, finally yields. “His fingers and toes are no more attached to him,” he admits delicately.
Chittagong suddenly looks very inviting, so inviting I think we should go straight there. I have an abrupt urge for a large, bustling city with a pleasant waterfront and access to a tropical beach. A place that is safely in the opposite direction and full of people who will want to stare at me, perhaps even stroke my hair and ask me to marry them. What they will not want are my body parts as souvenirs.
I open my mouth to demand immediate expatriation to civilisation, and stop. The tableau of rolling hills, winding roads, the dazzle of the sun turning the ripples in the water silver, that early morning slant of light promising a glorious day, is the most perfect image I have ever seen.
Naively, I refuse to believe that anything bad will happen to me here.
Stubbornly, I refuse to waste the opportunity to drink in more of this Nirvana.
Politically, I refuse to give in to terrorist threat.
And, fatalistically, I refuse to give up on my mantra: regret the things you do, not the things you don’t do.
(ABBW Ch21)

Clearly I wasn't kidnapped, murdered or anything else but scared out of my wits for a couple of days, which was incongruous with the beautiful surroundings, and not helped by the fact I was staying in an underground room and over-stayed my welcome by a nerve-racking 24 hours...  Rangmati is also memorable as being the place where Munnu and I forged a firm friendship that has survived years and miles since.  If there is a hero in the book, it is Munnu.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

ABBW Website!

Courtesy of LL-Publications we have a website up for the book..... 

We can even take pre-orders so if you feel inspired.....


Saturday, 2 October 2010

Srimangal, February 2002

The land stretches to infinity, silent and lush against the setting orange sun, the peace interrupted only by the crunch of tyres and the soft thud of falling fruit as Hasina discards the last of the skins into the dirt. The path bends to the right where wrought iron gates sweep round a circular drive. A perfect, green lawn and flower gardens surround two white-washed bungalows. A bearer in spotless white makes his regal way down the steps of the main house, opens the car doors and stands respectfully back. Mr Habib, the estate manager, follows in casual contrastI have joined the cast of A Passage to India.
On the veranda, varnished cane chairs and small tables are strategically placed for shade and view, and gas lamps are lit as the evening falls. As the crickets emerge, punctuating conversation and drowning the mosquitoes’ whine, we sit back and admire the gardens; extravagantly watered, bright with flowers, and a swimming pool discreetly curtained by manicured hedges. Light-footed bearers serve ice-cold drinkstea, and biscuits from a linen napkin on a silver tray. Later on, as it grows dark over the hills and the heat of the day disperses, a two-tier trolley is wheeled out smoothly and silently.
“How is this done?” Hasina wonders. “Anne, do you see trolley’s like this in your country? We try one in London, but it is so noisy.”
“We had one just like that in 1978,” I say. “It was the rule for all aspiring middle class households.”
“And did the wheels squeak and rattle?” Hasina is interested.
“Almost certainly.”
She nods. “Here, the wheels would not dare squeak.”
(ABBW Ch20)

Spending a weekend on one of the many tea plantations in the north-east of the country was like stepping back to an age long gone and an experience very few visitors can achieve without 'contacts'.  For me, it came about  - as did so many other things - because of the kindness and hospitality of the Hoque family, definitely my adopted family in Bangladesh.  One day I hope to find a way to repay them... they are happy to 'star' in the book; I'm hoping they still feel that way when they'v.e read it!  I hope so.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Gulshan, Dhaka, February 2002

Bely is tirelessly tweaking and gathering and pinning material, eventually resigned that I am not, unlike in the best fairy stories, transforming into the new-look Cinderella. Standing back, she observes me swathed in the delicate peach, tottering on her high-heeled, strappy, gold sandals, my hair crudely tied up.
“Now, Anne, you are true Bengali wife,” Hasina says. “Turn this way, and this..."
She and Bely talk rapidly over my head. Bely claps her hands delightedly and rushes out of the room. I hear excitement in her rapid, high-pitched speech, and the careful repetition of “Bengali wife” as she talks to the house girls.
“She tells that now you must learn to cook Bengali. Come.” Hasina smiles. “We make samosa. Try. Is so easy. Try.”
“But Bely’s beautiful clothes…” I protest. It will be like trying to make scones in a wedding dress, trying to keep it pristine for the ceremony whilst egged on by several intoxicated bridesmaids.
“Bah. It washes clean.” Hasina dismisses my concern.
Metaphorically I roll up my sleeves and copy Parvin’s casual kneading. By the time I have flour reaching my elbows, grease spots on my chin, and a stringy, holey piece of pastry, Mitali, one of Hasina’s sisters and Reka, the masseuse, have joined us.
Mr Hoque’s head even appears around the door. “Women. Chatter, chatter. So much eating. I go to rest.”
“Now, put in the vegetables—like this.” Hasina leans over and deftly hides the doughy holes under the pea and potato mixture. Laboriously, I make rough, triangular folds and, pink with exertion, hold up six samosas, for inspection.
“We eat them hot. One each,” Hasina enthuses.
Parvin takes over again and deftly fries the snacks in hot oil. She hands the cooked platter to me. Uneven and misshapen, the pastry is by no means thin and crisp as it should be.
“You serve,” Hasina instructs me. “The Bengali wife serving her guests.”
“Who is Bengali wife?” Mr Hoque appears at the merest sniff of food, rubs his hands, eyes alert. Bely, claiming responsibility for my transformation, gestures at my outfit, the hot food, speaks rapidly. Mr Hoque roars with laughter. “A blonde Bengali wife. Very good. Very funny. I must taste her first meal.”
He bites the offered samosa, chews, and nods his approval. “Okay.”
(ABBW Ch17)

If ever there was a ready-made title for a book, then this had to be it.  The furthest thing from a true Bengali wife - I had (have) neither the poise, the behind-the-scenes determination or the flair for homemaking - but the honorary title stuck; everyone knew I was trying hard.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Deja Vu

Tomorrow Simon will be 4 weeks old, and the rest of life seems to have been put on hold - exactly as everyone told me it would be!  In fact, I've got a very real sense of deja vu... with a bit of editing, where have I written this before?

The first few days... were a blur. I was suddenly alone in a country where I could do nothing...

You might remember a few posts back when I was referring to my arrival in Dhaka as a novice and was way out of my comfort zone.  Well, here I am again with Simon blindly figuring out the eating, dressing and changing routine and most of all trying to communicate with somone who looks blankly back at me - and then screams.   At least no Bangladeshi ever did that.

4 weeks into Bangladesh I was settling in, things were becoming familiar.  No doubt Simon is hoping something similar is about to click this time!

Next time: back to Bangladesh.  Oh, and some news about publication.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Simon, 15 August 2010

As the eagle-eyed amongst you will notice, I've been absent for a while, and yes - the baby has been launched before the book!

Simon was born on 15 August, timely at D-Day+3 and giving his father time to travel 3000 miles to make the big event.  The baby took a while to make his grand entrance before arriving waving (his hand on his head) but as I've kept saying, childbirth is like a pilot landing a plane: don't matter how s/he gets that plane down as long as it lands safely...

I'll get back to the story of A Blonde Bengali Wife whilst he is sleeping... so bear with me for a few days!

Thursday, 12 August 2010


Today is the Glorious Twelflth  .... And D-Day for the baby - though he is deliberately ignoring that fact!

So I should clarify: I am talking a real, live, human boy baby here whose due date is today.  It seems that I've been so obscure  that people who haven't seen the sumo-wrestler sized bump I'm currently sporting think I'm referring to ABBW the book.  Nope!  Little person imminent.  Book trailing (not far) behind.

So, I'm off to dunk a pineapple into some raspberry leaf tea and waddle up and down the stairs a lot.  Any other suggestions gratefully received!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Jessore District, February 2002

“Now, Mrs Anne.” Dr Musa beckons me to continue the tour. “I show you my speciality. In French, my wife says it is a piece de resistance.” He pauses for dramatic effect outside a square concrete room screened from the corridor only by a flimsy and ill-fitting door. “The operating theatre,” he announces.
In the centre of the room, raised on an oval pedestal is the operating table, a tattered couch covered in black plastic. Above this, swinging from a long metal chain is a bright, white light, and to the right is a table and shelves littered with intriguing bits of medical equipment.
I search for words, try to imagine even minor surgery taking place here, wonder about sterility, the lighting, and marvel over the lack of gleaming surfaces and fancy gadgets.
“You find this a strange place, Mrs Anne,” says Dr Musa. “It is to you, like something from the Charles Dickens. I hear European doctors say this.”
“It is fascinating,” I say. I long to poke around, sniff the stoppered bottles of anaesthetic, and take out the polished tools of incision. “Absolutely fascinating. I would love to watch you work here,” I tell him, smothering the inner voice that tells me that I am no better than the wealthy Victorians gawping around Bedlam. “What surgery do you do?”
Dr Musa shrugs. “Whatever is needed. Yesterday I remove an appendix, last week a ruptured spleen. I mend broken legs and arms here. For big operations, on maybe the heart or liver, the patient must go to Dhaka, sometimes to Bangalore. My clinic is simple.”
With time to spare before patients arrive, Dr Musa reaches onto the top of a skinny wardrobe and pulls down a crinkled carrier bag.
“Now, Mrs Anne, I test you,” he announces happily. He peers into the bag like Santa Claus into his sack and pulls out a strip of tablets, tossing them onto the desk in front of me. “What is this medicine?” He sits back, his arms folded.
We run through his limited supply of antihistamines, antibiotics, and antacids. That I manage to sound like a competent pharmacologist pleases him greatly.
“Good. You become my intern,” he tells me. “SCI leaves you here to assist in my operating theatre. We start with general surgery now. Okay?” The look on my face compels him to roar with laughter. “I am teasing you, Mrs Anne.”
I sit back in relief. For a second there, I had visions of performing a quick appendectomy before bedtime.
(ABBW Ch 16)

Way over in the west of the country only a few miles from the Indian border, my next home was a local health centre.  The task here was to encourage local health care providers - doctors, dentists, opticians and pharmacists - to donate a few hours of  free care per month to the poorest communities, people who could not afford to pay for consultation or medicine. Hundreds of eyes were tested, teeth pulled and drugs dispensed.  Families arrived en masse for check-ups; they made a day of it with a picnic, their curiousity aroused by SCI Jessore Unit who shamelessly advertised the added novelty of a pale foreigner to look at... 

And by the end of the placement, this same pale foreigner had received the gift of an old man's tooth as a souvenir and her first proposal of undying love. 

It was time for a quick exit back to Dhaka.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Jennifer Who?

Anytime I'm asked to speak about Bangladesh, one of the questions is always: "Bangladesh?  But Why?"  Here's a light-hearted travel piece, variations of which I've often used for publicity...

Bangladesh? Why?

When Jennifer Lightfoot’s granddad won her a dream holiday in the local newspaper, she was unbearable:

“You’ll never guess where we’re going,” she crowed. “You’ll never guess because it’s really erotic –” (she was ten; she probably meant exotic. But given her later career choices, maybe not).

She gave me a clue as the Mini-Traveller pulled off with the whole family squashed in, goggle-eyed. “It begins with H and ends in N,” she yelled. “Ha-ha! I bet you’ll never go anywhere I can’t guess…”

Twenty years on, Jennifer Lightfoot can eat her sunhat.

If I invited her to swim at the longest sea beach in the world, to trek rare tigers amidst the earth’s largest mangrove forests, to refresh her taste buds beside verdant, rolling tea gardens and to watch the sun rise and set at the same most southerly point, would she even know which country she was in? Even if I mentioned the names: Cox’s Bazaar, Sunderbans National Park, Srimangal and Kuakata, would she ever, ever guess this tropical location?

Reaching from the River Ganges in the Bay of Bengal right up to the foothills of the Himalayas, Bangladesh is not the well-trodden destination of its Indian and Nepalese neighbours. Yet in winter it is far more than a country of violent monsoon, immense poverty and squat toilets. 140 million friendly and hospitable people in a space the size of England and Wales might not make for a restful or secluded holiday, but escape the dusty clamour of the capital city Dhaka – where a bicycle rickshaw ride costs less than a bar of (imported) chocolate – and the villages are a rustic dream. You won’t find the eighth wonder of the world or even a chain of luxury hotels, but the traditions, the vibrant landscape, and the welcome are priceless substitutes. The locals follow you with delight; constantly asking “what is your good name? Your good country?”, and women receive more proposals than a planning officers in-tray (and most of them more courteous).

A culture shock.  An experience. And don’t go if you dislike eating rice.

Best of all? You won’t run into the grown-up Jennifer Lightfoot and her brood of Jennifer Juniors. I never did discover whether her week was in Hunstanton or Heaven, but she wouldn’t have found this gem. As an old tourist board slogan in the Parjatan office says: Come to Bangladesh before the tourists do.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Khalia Village, January 2002

A playing field stretches out in front of the school, a cracked and arid carpet sprouting stiff and prickly grass at variance with the lush palm trees framing it and the tarred road opposite. During the rainy season, Munnu says, this field is deluged by floodwaters leaving patches of subsidence that make playing games erratic.
“So we wait now for our tools,” he finishes, leading us to the school steps and motioning us to sit.
“Digging,” mumbles Christine. She speaks up. “Suez said we would be digging.”
A delicate silence ensues whilst the brothers look at oneanother, clearly hoping the other will speak first..
“Well?” demands Christine. “Is Suez right?”
Bachchu and Munnu both nod slowly.
“What kind of digging?” I pray for a little light weeding.
“We make flat the Khalia school playing field,” Munnu states with endearing honesty.
“We...are going to level the field?” asks Christine slowly, examining the lines and dips that form a parody of a mountainous rural map.
“Yes. We make it smooth enough for the Bangladesh cricket team,” beams Bachchu. “It takes maybe five days.”
Vague thoughts of shiny JCBs, turf rolling machines, and fluorescent-striped donkey jackets dart through my mind.
“Bloody hell,” says Christine. “We’ll be rolling rocks like The Flintstones.”
(ABBW Ch4)

150km away from the capital (a six hour trip via road and river) Rajoir District branch of the charity SCI hosted our first volunteer 'Work Camp'and was a free-fall experience into the delights and the traumas of rural Bangladesh: lack of water, electricity and privacy had to be off-set against the peace, the green fields and the friendships-in-waiting.

Working boots off, we ate rice, drank tea, hit the arsenic problem head on, ate rice, drank tea, shopped for Private Ladies Things, ate rice, drank tea and one afternoon we even did something that no nice Bengali girl would ever do. Then we had some rice and drank some tea...

Preparing Dinner

Khalia Tea Shop

All mod-cons are overrated!  This scrubbed up well and so did we.

Saturday, 7 August 2010


It's now D-Day Minus 6 (allegedly) for the baby.

But wait -

that doesn't come into the story for a long time yet...

Friday, 6 August 2010

Dhaka City, January 2002

The harsh bedroom light is snapped on. Rehana is ushering in a tall, thin woman with short, greying hair and a friendly if bemused smile; the same look I have had on my face all day.
“Christine from Australia.” Rehana says by way of introduction. “Anne from Ireland. You sleep here.” She points to the bed in which I lie, and I obligingly move over to one side. Before Christine or I can say anything, my friend Shahardot, who is lugging two suitcases, launches a huge square canvas bag into the room. He points at me in recognition, laughs for old time’s sake, and demands money from Christine.
With Rehana watching avidly, Christine changes into the long johns that contrast nicely with my oversized purple T-shirt. She opens her canvas bag and from its depths, and like a modern Mary Poppins, she shakes out a full-sized duvet and pillow. We lie down side by side and make the desultory small talk of strangers who have just climbed into bed together.
“Must be a bit like an arranged marriage, this,” says Christine.
“Well, they said Bangladesh would be an experience,” I add. “I don’t know about you, but this is the first time I’ve slept with someone three minutes after meeting them.”
(ABBW Ch1)

The first few days in Dhaka were a blur. I was suddenly alone in a country where I could do nothing for myself. It was like being a toddler again: I couldn't read Bangla script and I barely spoke the language. I tied myself up in knots trying to dress in the traditional salwar kameez and I spilt food everywhere because I was eating curry and rice by hand. Much good I was going to be as a volunteer worker in a developing country!

Then two things happened: I met Christine, a fellow volunteer - wise, experienced, laid-back, the complete opposite of me - and we both got sent to a little place called Khalia. There wasn't much scope for a music teacher(Christine) or a public health advisor (me) there but a great deal of opportunity for digging, painting and 'cultural exchange'...

That's when I knew a travel diary was just crying out to be written.

The Modern Reader - Interview

Here's an interview I did for the LL-Publications newsletter.

You can subscribe to it by sending an email to subscribe(at)ll-publications.com  or learn more by going to http://www.ll-publications.com/newsletter.html


Thursday, 5 August 2010

West of Ireland, 2001

Leaning on my trolley, trying to look blasé whilst scanning the crowd and waiting to be found—in this crowd, a pale-faced, blonde-haired Westerner is a beacon—a frowning policeman accosts me.
“Bangla, na,” I apologise, bemoaning my half-hearted efforts with Bengali tapes and a phrasebook. We attempt to communicate in sign language since the only English phrase the policeman can repeat frequently and with a serious smile is unconstructive in the circumstances:
“I love you,” he announces, arms akimbo. “I love you.”
“Thank you,” I say. “But do you love me enough to take me home with you? You see, I don’t know where I’m going, where I am staying, who is going to meet me, what I will be doing, or indeed, with whom I will be doing it.”
Gently, he moves me to a quieter spot where more people can easily watch me. Minutes grind past. Then. . .

(ABBW Ch1)

After years of working in Child Protection services and with a MSc in Epidemiology languishing somewhere in a drawer, I was hunting for a new challenge. Seeing a tiny advert for Voluntary Service International (VSI) made me apply to volunteer in Asia/Africa/Latin America and soon I was looking for this country called Bangladesh (in)famous for poverty, floods and devastation.

Ashamed at my ignorance about a country of 140 million people, I found it hidden at the bottom of India, poking into the Bay of Bengal even though it used to be East Pakistan. I learned the capital was Dhaka, the currency was taka, language Bengali and the population mostly Muslim. I hunted for a guidebook, packed a rucksack and on a snowy, frosty New Years Eve headed into Dublin airport and right out of my comfort zone.


Tuesday, 3 August 2010

In the Beginning...

The road to publishing A Blonde Bengali Wife has been—is—long and winding. It’s the story of a personal diary that evolved into a travel book and en route became instrumental in forming the charity Bhola’s Children.

Over the next few posts, and without becoming a total Bangla-bore (I promise) I'll tell the story of the journey so far and where we're going next.

Oh, and as for anyone curious to know where the baby comes in, well even at D-Day Minus 9 the jury's still out on whether that's another story.

But for now, back to where it all began...

Monday, 2 August 2010

A Blonde Bengali Wife - The Blurb

They all said that Bangladesh would be an experience...

For Anne Hamilton, a three month winter programme of travel and “cultural exchange” in a country where the English language, fair hair and a rice allergy are all rare in the extreme was always going to be interesting, challenging and frustrating. What they didn’t tell Anne was that it would also be sunny, funny and the start of a love affair with this unexplored area of Southeast Asia.

A Blonde Bengali Wife shows the lives beyond the poverty, monsoons and diarrhoea of Bangladesh and charts a vibrant and fascinating place where one minute Anne is levelling a school playing field “fit for the national cricket team,” cobbling together a sparkly outfit for a formal wedding the next.

Along with Anne are the essential ingredients for survival: a travel-savvy Australian sidekick, a heaven-sent adopted family, and a short, dark, and handsome boy-next-door.

During her adventures zipping among the dusty clamour of the capital Dhaka, the longest sea beach in the world at Cox’s Bazaar, verdant Sylhet tea gardens, and the voluntary health projects of distant villages, Anne amasses a lot of friends, stories...and even a husband?

A Blonde Bengali Wife is the “unexpected travelogue” that reads like a comedy of manners to tell the other side of the story of Bangladesh.


My latest short story has just been published in 'Sushirexia: 32 Stories About Hunger'


Sunday, 1 August 2010

The First Post

It's like standing on the edge of the highest diving board or listening to the clock in an exam; like watching a baby bird get ready to fly for the first time or opening the door to a room full of strangers...

Just get on and do it, feel the fear, stop thinking, and


So here it is. And now I'm going away to lay down in a darkened room - always supposing this appears on the page when I press Send...