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  • I never could sleep any other way than horizontal. Now it was the middle of the night and here I was. Surrounded by sleeping men with large guns on their laps and I was wide awake. I was at Dhaka airport, Bangladesh, the international lounge, a 1970s hall with brown benches, closed for the night. It was the end of the world.

    We had been in Bangladesh, me and two other journalism students. It was our third year and the college had given every student the challenge: visit another country and fund the trip yourselves with the stories you sell. I somehow wound up with two guys I hardly knew, B. and E. We had been in Bangladesh for two weeks and had crossed the border to India a few days before. Kolkata (Calcutta) had been a relief to me. In Dhaka the sighting of tall blond females led to people stopping their rickshaws. I travelled with a personal spotlight. In Kolkata, I just got invited to beer gardens and swimming pools. The day before our flight back from Dhaka to Amsterdam, B. and I boarded the plane again from India to Bangladesh. E. stayed behind for a wild multi-day story in which he travelled around with an Indian lorry driver. When we got to Dhaka airport, however, our visa didn’t seem to allow us into the country. The visum only granted one visit. B. and I saw our passports taken and were told to follow the men in green suits with the large guns. We were to spend the night at the international lounge.

    There had been a Japanese-Peruvian salesman of candy, stuck in no-man’s-land with us. He shared his samples with us, I can’t recall another dinner that night. There had been a cleaning lady who got us chai tea from outside the lounge, but now it was deep, deep night. Straddled over benches were airport employees and guards, asleep. Some had even brought a sheet. Their eyes were closed, most snored. B., across from me, was fast asleep, as was the Japanese man. I got up from my bench and went to the toilet. Even in the ladies room, on a piece of cardboard, was a woman, sleeping. Bangladesh and India are like that, you are never really alone. I came back from the toilet and not one person stirred. It may have been the fact that it was 4:00 am, that magical hour, the not entirely clean chai tea, or I may have been reading too much Douglas Coupland, but for a few moments, I was convinced I had arrived at the end of the world. Somehow, while I was at the toilet, sleep had become permanent. It could have been a blast I had just missed, it could have been something in the air. I was the only one alive and there was nothing left to do. I returned to my bench.

    Two days later, back in the Netherlands, a world did somewhat end. In Bangladesh we’d seen reports of candidates for city council being murdered. It made the place feel even more foreign to me. But on the sixth of May 2002, in the Netherlands, while I was sitting on the couch, sick with a stomach bug (probably that chai tea), news reports came in of how an activist killed a politician, nine days before the elections for parliament. The end of a world looked a lot different than it does in novels.
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