Saturday, September 26, 2009

Photos around Old Dhaka

Some more pictures that you might think are interesting...

Some more Pictures of Durga Puja

Here are a few more pics from around Puja.

More in Old Dhaka

So… the story of our day in Old Dhaka continues. After we went through and saw all the Durga Puja stuff, we decided to walk around Old Dhaka a bit more. Old Dhaka is great because there are just endless little streets with interesting things on them and it has a totally different feel than the rest of the city- definitely different than the bourgeois Gulshan bubble. We ambled around looking at things, Jon got a guy’s hopes up that he was going to buy speakers and then left him hanging, we talked to some folks. The standard conversation is something like this: Other Person : Hello! What is your country? Us: Hello. Amader desh America. [our country is America] Other Person: Aah… Very nice. Very nice. Then a period of awkward silence. Us: OK, abar dekha hobe [ok, see you again] Other Person: Ok, thank you! Thank you! Us: Ok dhonnobad [thank you]. Repeat for everyone in the crowd, even if they were just listening to the same conversation with another person. Possible variants are What is your name? and What is your job? but the basic conversation remains the same. Jon and Atticus are also infinitely more interesting than Sam.

So, in such manner, we started chatting with a trio of kids, because they were following us and because Sam can’t really resist talking to kids. The main kid of the trio, Mohammed Shakhouri, spoke a pretty high amount of English, and he was eager to show it off. He was also surprisingly well informed for a kid of about 12- he was talking about how his president (Sheikh Hasina- actually she is the Prime Minister, but come on he’s only 12, close enough) and our President (Obama – you know this, but I include it to illustrate that he did too) had met and she had invited him to come to Bangladesh and he accepted. This is pretty impressive for a kid – it just happened and I doubt that many 12 year olds are really that up on international current affairs. I think Shakhouri has a bright future ahead…

Anyhow, we talked and walked and he suggested we go on a boat ride across the river to see his house. We weren’t sure about the seeing his house part, but boat rides are part and parcel with Old Dhaka (there is the riverfront of the Burigonga river and about 10,000 boats of all shapes and sizes, so getting into one is pretty much just a matter of bargaining). We decide to go for the boat ride because it was a hot day and Jon and Atticus hadn’t been out on boat here yet. Sam has already gone on this very river on a little boat and wasn’t particularly dying to repeat it (last time the guy was bailing water the whole ride while the boatman paid more attention to the photos he wanted to stage than the actual direction of the boat…) but, in the spirit of motherly/wifely sacrifice, she went for it. This boat was in fact, even smaller than the last boat she went on. Sigh. (Note: everyone here can swim comfortably except Sam, who can just barely manage a floating backstroke when completely relaxed, so the nervousness is well-founded!)

PHOTOS: Us and boats

We headed across the river to a much less developed area and to the yards where they are either repairing broken boats or breaking down old boats. Ship breaking is a major industry here in Bangladesh but is usually more associated with Chittagong (another city) but it wouldn’t be unheard of for it to be happening here too. We’ll never know though because of the linguistic confusion between “breaking” and “broken.” Sorry everyone. Here they are at work, whatever they’re doing.

PHOTOS: Ships either being broken or already broken being repaired.

We got off the little tiny boat and Shakhouri showed us around where the work was being done. Somewhere there definitely seems to be regular ship breaking taking place as there were rooms with ship parts (like giant propeller pieces) and some parts for sale in the little shacks around them. So most things indicate this was ship breaking taking place (although I also saw a guy painting one of the ships – why would you paint something you were dismantling? The mystery remains unsolved).

Next, we went through winding little alleys to Shakhouri’s home to meet his mother. We weren’t really keen on barging in on her, but that was just our foreign minds working- for her, it was exciting and an honor for us to visit and tell her she had such a nice son. In fact, she’s probably scrimping and saving to send her son to school (Bangladesh doesn’t have a free public school system) and seeing that he was able to use his English to talk to these Americans was probably something very satisfying. For us, it was a good chance for Jon and Atticus (well, for Sam to see too, but Jon and Atti hadn’t seen it yet, Sam has...) to see how the majority of people in Bangladesh actually live- whole families living crowded into one room with one big bed and not much room for much else. Here’s a picture of Shakhouri, his mom, and his aunt (who works in a restaurant not far from our house) - I wish it had turned out better, but I want to include them in the blog, so here it is.
PHOTO: Shak’s fam
Afterwards we took the boat back over to where we started, gave a little taka to the trio of kids for showing us around, and headed for home. Well, headed in the rough direction of home, because we needed a cng and there weren’t really any available on the little streets we were on. We were just taking some snapshots here and there, and these guys were really excited for us to take pictures of them working. They even posed for the photo so it would look like they were hard at work. (I think the guy in front was totally flexing his guns for the second shot too!) So, in the spirit of their excitement, the photo shoot is below.
PHOTO: Hard at work…

We ended up meandering around a bit more, and then we noticed that we were surrounded everywhere by onions. Piles upon piles of onions in every single shop we passed and on rickshaws and carts that passed us. Seriously, we are talking a lot of onions (especially since onions aren’t all GMO here so they are really only about 1-3 inches in circumference). The smell was…something.

This wasn’t totally uncommon- thing usually come in streaks here in the shops. There will be a streak of just watch shops, or just motor oil shops, or just bicycle part shops, etc… but this was more than a streak. I’m pretty sure we had to have encountered the epicenter of onion distribution for the entire country. We passed through for a while, then crossed into chile pepper-ville which was smaller than onion-ville but still interesting.

PHOTOS: Onions – those bags are all filled onions, everywhere - both sides of the streets, as far as the eye can see...

Finally, we caught a cng home to rest with tired feet and sunburned arms and faces. Actually we came home and had to cook dinner (mmmm – chana masala!) , clean up the mess from dinner, sweep the apartment and do laundry, but Atticus had a nice rest…) It was a great day and nice end of the weekend to get us ready for work tomorrow. We got some other interesting shots while out that we’ll post in separate posting just to let you see more of the area.

Durga Puja in Old Dhaka

Today we took a trip down to Old Dhaka. The Hindu holiday Durga Puja is being celebrated right now and Old Dhaka is home to Hindu Street, or Shakhari Bazaar, which is an old area with a big Hindu population. Normally, Hindu Street is nice place to go see some old carvings on the temple, see Hindu-centric art, buy really beautifully carved conch shell bracelets ( it is a local Hindu tradition that women wear these bracelets after their marriage – I actually don’t know if this is specific to Bangladesh or if it is a more widespread thing – I’d be interested to know if anyone else knows more about it) and generally experience the part of Dhaka that looks a bit more like stereotypical images of South Asia. So Hindu Street is always a nice trip, but to go during Durga Puja is a particularly fun experience. The whole area is decorated up with a tent running overtop areas of the street, many many lights, musicians, giant piles of delicious treats everywhere, a ferris wheel, and castle-looking marquees over intersections. There are massive statue scenes (I really have to apologize for my lack of proper Hindu terminology in this post throughout) set up and the whole area is transformed into a fun carnival-festival. It is really quite a party.

Durga Puja celebrations in Bangladesh are also held up as very symbolic of the secular nature of Bangladesh. It is very important to (most) people in Bangladesh that even though this is a majority Muslim nation, and even though there is a sad history of violence between the two communities, it is still tolerant and peaceful with the 11% Hindu population. (The Hindu-Muslim rivalry in South Asia is of course an animosity that is frequently exaggerated, but there is also no point in denying the very real violence that is done in the name of either extremist Islam or extremist Hinduism throughout the subcontinent. There is also still a real issue of Islam-centric societal norms and networks which leave many Hindus in Bangladesh excluded socially and economically- although this is more of an issue in the rural areas than in Dhaka.)

In a statement earlier this week, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina said: “The government is pledge-bound to uphold the spirit and values of the war of liberation. We are aware of our constitutional obligation to protect rights of people of all religions.” Well, it isn’t exactly a warm and fuzzy endorsement of the holiday, but religious tolerance, even under legal duress, is still a fine sentiment (I would have hoped for a little more than a “constitutional obligation” but what can you expect from a politician? She doesn’t want to alienate any voters!) But I digress…

So we had a fun time at Durga Puja. Some of the statues freaked Atticus out a little, and it was pretty crowded in spots, but overall, it was really like nothing any of us had ever been to, so it was a lot of fun. Of course, we had an audience the whole time, Atticus got cheeks pinched by random strangers, some random new friend of Jon’s had his hand on Jon’s back for half the time and everybody was endlessly amused with Sam speaking bangla, but that is just par for the course at this point. Atticus in particular gets the brunt of adoration though, and he deserves some acknowledgement for his willingness to grin and bear it while strangers rub his head, pinch his cheeks, and generally pour compliments over him.

Here are few pictures to try and capture some of the sights of Puja. Our day didn't end here- we went on to boats, kids, and onion row, but we're saving that for a seperate post! More pictures are coming as well!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Shuvo Jonmuddin Atticus!

...or Joyeux anniversaire Atticus!
...or Happy Birthday Atticus!
PHOTO: Birthday boy Atticus

Today was Atticus' birthday and we had a great day. He woke up and put on his fancy punjabi top to wear to school. He also brought the first of his two cakes in with him to share with his friends (both the punjabi top and the cake are shown below).

PHOTO: Cake #1 - the school cake

PHOTO: Atticus is 7 years old!

We had planned on heading straight to Pizza Hut at 3:00 when we picked him up from school, but on the way to get him we got hit with a terrible downpour. We've actually been getting these torrential downpours every single day exactly at pick-up time - except pick-up is at different times! Usually we go at 3:00 and it rains, but Thursdays are 1/2 days and we got hit with rain at 12:30 on that day. So we should have predicted it, but of course, did not. We were on a rickshaw so naturally we got soaked. It was OK though, because Atticus had gotten muddy playing at recess so we all needed to stop by the house. We got a ride home from our friend Fu whose daughter also goes to the French school (and who we mooch a ride home from every day). After Atticus got to look over his loot (but not open them), we headed out through flooded streets to get to our pizza dinner.

PHOTO: Birthday floods

So at Pizza Hut it was pretty crowded. Eid is kind of a multi-day thing and everyone was still all dressed up and festive today. We told them it was Atticus' birthday today and they said "Oh, would he like a birthday wish?" Atticus said yes, although he didn't really know what he was getting into. As we prepared to go, it was time for his birthday wish. They brought him into the center of the restaurant (and it is a big place) and had him stand up on a chair. They called for everyone to pay attention and then sang a birthday song at the top of their lungs (the whole restaurant sang along). The song was sung in the style of part Happy birthday, part football style cheer, and part bootcamp training song. I think the picture below captures Atticus' reaction.

PHOTO: Pizza Hut Spectacle

They also gave Atticus a very nice card that all the workers signed and it was all in all really fun(though perhaps a bit more of a spectacle than I think Atticus expected!).
After Pizza Hut we headed home and opened presents before Atticus got his second cake of the day. This one was a black forest cake and it was a tasty way to end a great day.

PHOTO: Cake #2 of the day.
So Atticus had a great birthday in Bangladesh. He got to hear happy birthday in french, english, and bangla. This year will no doubt be an exciting and fun adventure for him full of new experiences. We are so lucky to have such an open-minded and adventuresome kid that can enjoy so many things with us. Three cheers for Atticus!!!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Eid Mubarak Everybody!

So the official person in charge of sighting the new moon sighted it last night, which meant that today was the end of Ramadan and the day of Eid-al-Fitr. Atticus had the day off school. Due to a confusing printing on the school calendar however, we were not sure about whether he had school today or not, so we woke up and went in just in case, and of course there was no school. Oh well, it was a nice rickshaw ride in and a nice chance to spread some Eid cheer by giving our rickshaw-walah a big tip. (This is actually one of our favorite parts of Eid.)

So we made our way back home amid quiet streets. Of the people that were out, everyone was in a great mood and things just felt festive all day. Here's the banner over the road to our neighborhood - it says Eid Mubarak (which means Happy Eid, or maybe Blessed Eid, but you get the idea), and yes, it is temporarily covering the usual banner which is an ad for Rich frozen chicken nuggets.

PHOTO: Eid Mubarak!

After we hung around home for a while (and received our delivery of Atti's birthday cakes for tomorrow- but that's another post...) we went downstairs to Mr. Tanvir's house (our landlord) for a little traditional Bengali treat. It is funny because Atticus is still kind of shy around him and wasn't sure he wanted to go, but as soon as we said there would be mishti (the traditional sweet here) he was all for it! We had some tasty treats that Mr. Tanvir's family prepared and while it was a little awkward socially, it was worth it to let Atticus experience some of the local culture (the tradition is to stop by friends' and relatives' homes on this day) and the food was mighty tasty.

Afterwards we went for a walk around town. It was nice because even though most things were closed, everyone was out walking around dressed in their fancy clothes and in a great mood. It seemed like people were just out to be seen and to say Eid Mubarak to everyone. There were several bands of musicians going around and playing music and it was just an all around pleasant afternoon (except for Jon's repeated Jimmy Stewart impersonation saying "Eid Mubarak Everybody! Eid Mubarak" ala It's a Wonderful Life...).

PHOTO: The Eid band

Tomorrow is Atticus' birthday, so our big plans (as per his instructions) are that he'll take a cake to school to enjoy with his friends, at pick-up time we'll go straight to have our lunch/early dinner at Pizza Hut (and I'm certain this special day will mean that dinner includes a Sprite for him to drink) then back home for more cake (um... otherwise Jon and Sam don't get cake if it is at school and that is unacceptable) and presents. We'll update on that tomorrow though.