104 Percent Humidity in Bangladesh
By Tim Brookes

In a country defined by water—whether monsoons, floods, or capsized ferries—rain seems to seep from the air itself. Will cars eventually become obsolete?

Bangladesh boats

I am in Bangladesh for many reasons, one of which is to test a strange, doomy hypothesis.

As global warming melts the polar ice cap, that moisture has to go somewhere. Some of it causes the oceans to rise, or in our local case Lake Champlain, which set new records for flood levels and then refused to go back down. Much of it, though, falls as rain or hangs in the air as water vapor. Some say the world will end in fire, Frost wrote, and some in ice. My hypothesis is that it will end in rain. It's not the temperature that will be the end of us; as they say in Florida, it's the humidity.

Or to give this situation a more imaginable form, think of the landscape of Blade Runner: the world as one great collapsing city, under endless rain.

Where better to study what this will look like, then, than in a country that, according to WeatherUnderground, was currently experiencing temperatures of 85-90 but humidity of 85-90 percent?


So, off to Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh.

Dhaka airport itself was invisible under low cloud: the runway appeared only seconds before the wheels touched it. In the jet bridge, the air reminded me of flying into Belize City. I can manage this, I thought.

I had worked up a sweat long before I left the airport. Baggage from our flight was unloaded randomly onto several different baggage carousels, and a couple of hundred bewildered people pushed their overladen carts from one to another, peering first at one belt, then another.

The flight had landed 45 minutes late. By the time I retrieved my bags and headed toward the crush outside the arrivals area, I was starting to be a little concerned that my driver had up and left. No small white sign with my name inside baggage claims; no sign among the first public throng. Then I pushed open the front terminal doors, and the world vanished.

It vanished, of course, because even the hot air inside, with its added hints of sweat, belt rubber and exhaustion, had been to some extent conditioned. The real air, outside, smacked against my glasses and clung on in grateful watery globulets. I couldn't see a damn thing.

I took my glasses off and the world reappeared, but even hazier than usual. The middle and longer distances seemed to have vanished. Closer at hand, a dozen Bangladeshis were crowding around me asking, "Taxi? Taxi? Do you need help, sir?" Beyond them I could make out the usual half-dozen slender young soldiers making vague and unthreatening waving gestures that were routinely ignored by everyone, and beyond them the curb, where half a dozen taxis and minicabs were packing in new arrivals in another form of supersaturation. But the rest of the region—well, it consisted entirely of water.

Let me try to be more precise. It was raining, but the rain had a quality I'd never known before. It didn't seem to be coming down, or blowing sideways: it seemed to be emerging from invisible pores in the air itself. The air, in other words, was sweating. Of course, the ground was also wet, the tarmac out in the open a series of silvery greys, the tarmac under the airport frontage a series of darker greys, but all were unified in a way that the meteorologists dub "Humidity, 104%."

Bangladesh rain

I looked down at the directions in my hand, which purported to tell me where I'd find my driver. They seemed to have been drawn both not to scale and not to direction, an unusual combination. Worse, the paper, though not yet exposed to rain, had already started wilting, and began to droop from my hand. Given that I was already trying to carry my knapsack, my traveling guitar, my suitcase and my glasses, this droopage presented a major problem. I had to bend forward and try to read the map upside down.

As far as I could tell, the instructions told me to turn left. I shuffled off leftwards, dragging my baggage and a small percentage of the private transportation employee population of Dhaka, through the first of two security checks (where, following local custom, I was nearly run over by several cars and a minibus) and into another identical concourse exit, where my current batch of taxi-drivers gave up and was replaced by a fresh batch.

"Go through two security checks," the upside-down instructions said, so once again I moved crabwise past cabs, indolent soldiers, near death, and so on, and at this point found myself outside.

"Outside" meant "no longer under any overhead protection," so in theory I was now being rained on, but to my surprise not much changed. My shirt was already sodden. My socks were already sodden. My instructions were already hanging limp in my hand like a wet handkerchief. The open tarmac around and in front of me was still a series of opaque greys and silvers, merging into a complete opacity as if the future itself were out there and consisted of nothing but water and water vapor.

Continue to Page 2

Bookmark and Share
Read this article online at: http://www.perceptivetravel.com/issues/1011/bangladesh.html

Copyright (C) Perceptive Travel 2011. All rights reserved.

Also in this issue:

Books from the Author:

Thirty Percent Chance of Enlightenment

Buy Thirty Percent Chance of Enlightenment in your local bookstore or online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK
Fishpond (Australia)

Guitar: An American Life

Buy Guitar: An American Life in your local bookstore or online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK
Fishpond (Australia)

Sign Up