Safe travels overseas can be fun and meaningful, but you need to be wary of any safety, security and crime-related risks in the country that you are visiting. I know that talking about this is sometimes a bummer, and it can kill or change your plans for a certain destination. Nevertheless, I personally feel that this is such an important issue because Fufu and I were personally involved in an incident while we were living and volunteering in Bangladesh.
I want to make sure that you have a fun and safe experience when you travel, so I want to share with you my own personal lessons and experiences to keep you safe!
Why we were in Bangladesh in the first place?
During the 2 years that I was volunteering in Bangladesh, and Fufu had come along to Bangladesh to volunteer too, there was a night that shook us and really made me prioritize the importance of safety and security for me and Fufu and our familly when we travel from that moment on and in the future.
I was in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh as an Australian volunteer, working for the United Nations World Food Programme as a Programme Officer to help with food aid and humanitarian assistance to 2 refugee camps there.
A night that I will never forget
There was one night on the weekend in which Fufu and I went to once of the international expat parties, where many of the international UN staff and international NGO staff get together and hang out. I had been in Dhaka, the main city of Bangladesh for 1 weeks, while Fufu stayed in Cox’s Bazar on her own. I would call her every night to check on her and make sure everything was fine.
On that night when I arrived back from Dhaka, it was actually Tim’s birthday, a Kenyan food aid humanitarian worker for Acción Contre la Faim (ACF, for short, or Action Against Hunger in English). After having some drinks and a great night of dancing on the sandy beach shores of Cox’s Bazar, near Mermaid Café, Fufu and I walked home. Our apartment was only about 5 to 10 minutes walk from Cox’s Bazar Beach. It was around midnight or just after midnight, and the night sky was pitch black with hints of stars in the Bangladeshi sky.
Not a dream… but a scary reality
Both Fufu and I were tired after drinking and having fun from the party, so we went straight to bed. I dozed off and slept like a baby. I was deep into my sleep, when I began to hear a slow, creaking sound. My mind melded those sounds with my dreams and I innocently thought those sounds were part of my dream. However, the slow, creaking sound continued and dragged on longer.
My mind curiously realized that perhaps the sound came from within the room. I thought perhaps it was an animal or the apartment walls just naturally creaking.
My eyes opened slightly, and I saw a small light shining in front of me in the midst of our dark bedroom. I tilted my head forward, and opened my eyes wider. I began to see the silhouette of a person, crouched to the front right-side of my bed, holding a flashlight, trying to peek into our bedroom closet. I thought it was Fufu at first, but I looked to the left side of me, and saw that she was fast asleep. Only Fufu and I lived in our apartment. There should not have been a third person in that room at that time in the dead of night.
It suddenly dawned on me, even with my brain that was barely awake.
There was a stranger in the room.
Adrenaline, fear and anger
The creaking sound had come from that stranger who was trying to discreetly open up my closet door, in order to look through my things.
A mixture of adrenaline, fear and anger surged through my body and through my veins. That stranger was in our bedroom! The first thought that came into my head: I had to protect Fufu and myself.
“Get out of here!” I yelled in a booming voice along with some expletives, as I sat up in my bed. “Get out of here!” I threw my pillows at the stranger. I had nothing else. No weapons, except my loud voice and my pillows.
The stranger was certainly startled, as he bolted immediately out of my balcony door (which was to the front-left of our bed). I turned on the light and chased after him out the balcony door. I couldn’t see him in the balcony. So I searched left and right and then looked down from the balconyI . saw him climbing down the balcony and downwards along the pipes of the apartment building. He looked back up at me. That bastard!
Cash and Mobile Phone are Stolen
Fufu had awoken, and asked me what had happened. I told her, but I was still visibly angry, with adrenaline rushing to my chest and my head.
She turned on the light and we surveyed our bedroom. He had gone through our closet, and he had stolen some cash from my bag that had been next to my bed. Fufu’s mobile phone was also missing. He had taken that too.
We went out of our bedroom door, and noticed that nothing had been touched in our lounge room and kitchen. We then decided to check the second bedroom of our apartment. But before doing so, I got a knife from the kitchen, just in case there was trouble behind that door.
As we turned the door knob to the second bedroom, we held our breaths. The door of the second bedroom was locked. But we never ever locked that door. There was no need to lock it.
So it had been locked from the inside. This meant that someone had been in that second bedroom too and that person may still be in there. We thought that the stranger who had been in our bedroom may be in that second room now, or another personal altogether may be in there.
We didn’t want to take any more chances.
Fufu and I went out of our apartment front door, we and began screaming for help. “Heeelllppp!” We screamed for what seemed like 5 or 10 minutes. Then, one of the Bangladeshi building staff came up to see us.
We explained to him the situation and said to him that now that second bedroom was still locked. He looked confused, as his English wasn’t that great, but he could tell from our expressions and gestures that a break in and robbery had occurred, and that we weren’t the ones who had locked that second door.
I gave him the key to that second bedroom door, and he took the lead. I gave him a knife, just in case, and I held onto another one as well. Fufu stayed behind me.
We opened the door. What we saw next, shocked us.
The lights in the room were on, even though they were supposed to be switched off. Also, the closet doors were opened, and several of our things were sprawled all over the floor. The intruder, or intruders, had rummaged through our stuff in that second bedroom, searching for things to steal.
We then called the police. Soon after, they came, as well as some of my UN colleagues who I had called.
What Really Happened?
After I visited the local Cox’s Bazar police station, and had spoken to the UN Security team, as well as the apartment building staff, this is what we, the police and UN Security concluded had happened:
We suspected that some of the apartment building staff had actually conspired with the intruders. Often we would let different cleaners into our apartment, and our bedrooms specifically, so they had the ability to leave our bedroom balcony doors unlocked as well as our bedroom windows unlocked, in order to let the intruders in later on.
Also, we suspected that the apartment building security guard was in on it too, because apparently he was “sleeping” throughout the whole time the incident occured. He was later fired.
They never caught the intruder or intruders who had come into our home and bedroom that night.
Our Life in Bangladesh After the Break In
That incident was pretty traumatic for me and Fufu, but I think especially for me, since Fufu had slept through most of it, and I was the one who woke up, found the intruder in our bedroom, and then confronted him.
For about 1 or 2 weeks after the incident, we slept at a hotel because we couldn’t sleep in our bedrooms any more. For those first weeks, I had a really hard time sleeping and had to keep the lights on while we slept. I even had to listen to some guided meditations in order to get myself to sleep. I even had to talk to a psychologist for a few sessions just to let out all my emotions about it, and to quit being paranoid about the event.
What kept me feeling tense was the fact that we suspected that some of the apartment building staff had conspired to do it, so my trust in some of the local people who I interacted with really dropped. When we moved back into the apartment, the paranoia and fear was still there, and we added extra chicken wire on our windows, as well as chained locks to our front door and balcony doors.
We still slept with the light on for a while, until eventually I was okay to turn it off. We then no longer allowed any random cleaners to come into our apartment, and only accepted just one trusted cleaner to come in.
This period after the incident was really a dark time for us. It felt like we were carrying a lot of fear, anxiety and paranoia with us. After a few months, my 2-year contract with the UN WFP was almost up, and Fufu suggested that I not continue and extend the contract. I reflected on how much our lives had changed.
I had come to Bangladesh with such optimism and hope, wanting to make a positive difference, but that contrasted so much to how we were acting and feeling on a daily basis in the period after the incident. I agreed with Fufu that we needed to leave Bangladesh in order to start fresh again, and to stop feeling so negative, drained and scared.
The Balance Between Exploring New Places & Safe Travels
This post was not intended to scare you or put you off travelling the world. Generally, our time in Bangladesh was safe, especially in Cox’s Bazar, but it was just this one incident that really ruined it for us. I just really wanted to share my personal experience with you, and to let you know about the realities that could face if you do decide to travel, especially to some of the more exotic places in the world.
On the flip side, sometimes news reports and the media actually over-hype or generalise the the level of crime of another certain country, too. I’ve seen that to the be the case as well.
Although my overall time in Bangladesh was worthwhile, we eventually needed to leave it because of what happened. When we did leave, our spirits were a little bit broken and down, but still, we learned some tough lessons, and we were hopeful for a new start.
Since that time, I have really valued our safety and security when considering visiting new places and countries. We look up the crime rates and read the news of places, and we take into account the safety reviews of tourists and expats before we go to certain cities and countries.
As Fufu and I embark on starting a family, I think it means so much more for me to protect our family and ensure that our priority is to have safe travels wherever we go. Of course, I still want us to explore the world and have fun and have new experiences. But I don’t want it to be at the expense and risk of our happiness and wellbeing. For me, that is a very high priority.
These are some of the considerations that we have to think about, and I suppose it is about striking the right balance between discovering new, interesting places in the world, while at the same time ensuring that safe travels is at the forefront of our priorities.