Birganj madness

Since I’ve been in Birganj, there has been a fair on the grounds of an abandoned factory just north of downtown. Sounds like a child’s dream, right?

I think it is the leftovers from the Batman movie set. Truly. Exactly the kind of place a kid wants to go. Anyhow, I’d been in Birganj for several months before I finally wandered in to check things out.

And it also took a friend coming to town before I finally went. I felt the need to entertain, and where better to do that than at the abandoned factory fair with a man-powered Ferris wheel. I saw another Ferris wheel in Narayanghat that was powered by a man in a wheel, same as a gerbil’s wheel. Really.

But the one we had in Birganj was larger, faster, and on the grounds of an abandoned factory. When Alayne and I visited we prudently (frightenedly?) avoided the Ferris wheel. The rest of the fair was comprised of games just slightly off kilter from what you might expect.

The fair grounds in Birganj, which occupied the previous (and now abandoned) dry port.

The fair grounds in Birganj, which occupied the previous (and now abandoned) dry port.

The second time I went to the fair was just a few days ago with Rob, who had just returned from medical hold in Washington, DC. For some reason Rob couldn’t stop talking about the mela after he got back to town.

So on our day off (Saturday, as Nepal has a six-day work week) Rob came by and declared that we were headed to the mela and probable death and/or dismemberment.

(I would like to comment that the first topic among PCVs in Nepal is personal tallies of days passed without major illness and/or injury. My number is getting big enough not to hold, if you know what I mean.)

There was the game of pop the balloon with the air rifle. There was the ring toss. In the ring toss, you would lob a piece of bamboo over a block that is, perhaps, smaller than the ring. Around the blocks, Indian rupees were tied. Get a ring around the block to win the corresponding rupees.

There were some other games, nothing too memorable. When we did stop in front of game to observe, we quickly attracted at least a dozen of Birganj’s high-stakes gambling community. I clasped my wallet.

People put in five rupees on a wheel that is spun. If the wheel stops on a certain spot, you win the designated amount of money, so it’s pretty simple—to lose money.

Before we made our way to the Ferris wheel (oh yes) we were diverted into a magic show. The magic show was in a tent adjacent to something that probably was an oil refinery, because the ground was black.

We sat in a room on folding chairs. In the back facing the stage was a huge megaphone, the microphone amp. The show was in progress when we came in. The magician sported a fake beard, black, ragged, and long unwashed.

As the stagehands made the transition to the next trick, the magician spoke dramatically with sweeping gestures. I didn’t catch everything, but one statement stuck with me: Boy katne. Eckdam disturbing.

One day Rob and I happened upon a video game parlor tucked away.

One day Rob and I happened upon a video game parlor tucked away.

I assume he asked for volunteers, because four people promptly stood and walked on stage I’m not going to debunk this magician. It’s sort of like talking and loudly and explaining the tricks while your neighbor’s kid shows off a card trick. I don’t want to be that guy. Sure enough, the magician put some random guy in a box and sawed him in half. I’ll be damned.

We only caught the end of the show, which was fine. We learned later that the full show is two hours long. If I had to suffer two hours of that magic, I would have been compelled to sabotage. Wouldn’t it be funny if the guy being cut in half began screaming uncontrollably? Things can get ugly when the showman is upstaged.

We didn’t think about what we did next. Often, I forget to consider, I’m in Nepal, just like I forgot to think, I’m in the United States.

I tell you what, my friends, spending a few minutes on a Ferris wheel in the roughest Terai town this side of India was a quick reminder of exactly where I was: Birganj.

As soon as I sat in the car and heard the bolts squealing and the steal groaning with aggravation and saw Rob ripe with terror, I thought, This was a bad idea.

As we began our initial ascent in the Ferris wheel car, which was without anything even resembling security, it began rocking back and forth—clearly the beginning of potentially lethal oscillation.

Earlier that day, I had pointed out a daal bhaat tarakari restaurant that was super cheap (NRs. 15). Rob said he never went there because he never saw locals eating there: Do as the Romans do. Good advice, right?

Well, we had failed to notice that the Romans were steering clear of this Ferris wheel. In fact, the guy running the ride was so excited by not only having customers, let alone white customers, that he felt compelled to give us an eckdam exciting ride. Try eckdam disturbing.

We’d only been around four or five time before the oscillations got bad enough that we began pleading with the operator to end the ride. Pugyo, we shouted. If we had been some place other than Birganj and near an abandoned oil refinery, I might have kissed the ground afterwards.

Instead Rob and I immediately departed the fairgrounds for Himanchal Cabin, our watering hole (no beer, though), where we retold the story with vigor and exaggeration. We were heroes.