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, 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...