Looking Out, Looking In

Baitul Mukarram Mosque, Dhaka

Baitul Mukarram is Dhaka’s largest Mosque. It’s in Gulistan, the crossroads of old and new Dhaka. One of the most intense and chaotic parts of the city. The Mosque covers a very large square block and below it is an electronics and clothing bazaar. This photo was made twenty minutes before the rush to the late afternoon prayer. Shortly after the entire space was covered with men. It’s an unusual view with so few people present, a reflective moment.

This time last year I didn’t have a clue what to expect. The names of cities and towns on the map meant nothing to me.  And of course the most important thing, the people. I’ve been in Bangladesh for nine months and am grateful to all of the people who reached out with their friendship and assistance. There are so many fond memories and much to process.  To see my dedicated website of Bangladesh photographs take a look at the Bangladesh Project.

“Love in the First Person”

Photo: Matt Eich

As part of the final exam today my students wrote an essay about their favorite multimedia project of the semester. I showed a variety of work including some of the classics like “Becoming Human” and several of the Magnum in Motion projects.

In the beginning of the semester we saw “Love in the First Person” (by Matt and Mellisa Eich produced by Media Storm) that turned out to the clear favorite. The class was moved by the raw honesty of the piece and really identified with Matt and Mellisa who are about the same age as most of the students. This comment from Monica sums it up: “From my point of view the word love is a gift of God but depends on the kind of person you are in love with. Love is all about caring and having faith and this exactly what I saw in Matt and Melissa’s relationship. They were young but mature enough to make the most important decision of their life.” Life is beautiful but as Matt stated “nothing good comes without struggling.”

Interesting comment especially in terms of the differences between East-West, and Muslim-Christian cultures. After all, for many in Bangladesh arranged marriages are the norm. It’s clear, we need more work like this that skillfully portrays our real- life stories.

A Mela in Gazipur

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to starting the week on Sundays. Finals begin tomorrow and  hopefully all the buzz and excitement will overshadow my departure. I don’t like saying goodbyes.

One of the professors at IUB invited me to visit his families home in Gazipur district yesterday. It was about 35 km outside of Dhaka. Once we turned off the main road there were rice fields and the first miniature forest I had seen in Bangladesh.

We made the journey to celebrate the inauguration of his wives hair salon for “gents.” It stuck me as being odd to open such a business out in sub-urban (not suburbia) Dhaka. I’m sure that my friend and his wife did their market research. She already has two other successful clothing shops in the area. As in many Asian countries, Bangladeshi men take a lot of pride in the way their hair is styled. Most barber shops tend to be very basic, some with  just  a chair and mirror set up by the side of the road or in the middle of a field on market day. This one looked European and had all of the amenities that gringos are used to.

As the sun went down the crowd began to gather and entered a large tent set up for the occasion. The Imam arrived and led a short Mela chanting blessings from the Koran for the new enterprise. Hundreds of cardboard snack boxes were given out to family, friends and well wishers.  There were even a few local politicians in the crowd. According to my friend the event was a huge success.

“A Guest is Like Morning Dew”

I borrowed the above proverb from an email that Kathy Ward sent my way a couple of days ago. Although the words are probably translated from an ancient African language I couldn’t help but laugh to myself. No doubt, the Bangladeshis have an equally poetic way of  expressing such a sentiment. Well I suppose there are proverbs and then there is life. Kathy knows first hand about the real Bangladesh. She has lived and worked here for several years and her best advice was “always to take things with a grain of salt.”

Now that it’s beginning to sink in that I’ll be returning to the States in a few days my mind is going into overdrive. There is still much so process from the past nine months. Time has flown by so quickly (except the last few weeks). More about that later. I need to get back to reviewing my student’s homework while the electricity is still on.

A Death in Shakhari Bazar

Durga Puja, Shakari Bazar

A few months ago I was video taping some interviews in Shakhari Bazar, the Hindu neighborhood of  Old Dhaka with one of the students from IUB. We talked with two men that made and sold Indian musical instruments. Their shop had been in the same location for over one hundred years and has remained in the family for several generations.

Two weeks ago as I  was walking in Old Dhaka one of the men I had interviewed recognized me and asked if I could make him a copy of the video tape.  It so happened that the other man I filmed had a heart attack and passed away shorty after the interview.

Shibu Jose

When Shibu Jose (pronouced Joes) emailed me six months ago I had assumed he was from Latin America. It turns out that he’s from Kerala, India and is the other Fulbright scholar in the Environmental Science department at IUB this semester. Shibu is an Associate Professor of Forest Ecology with the School of Forest Resources and Conservation at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He attended Purdue University, the same school my father in law taught at.

We live in the same guest house here in Dhaka and have been sharing countless meals together since his arrival in January. It’s been great getting to know him.  Always nice to have someone to commiserate with during the frequent power outages. Shibu is the one who suggested that I read “The White Tiger”, an excellent novel about modern day India. So much of that book describes what I’ve been seeing in Bangladesh these past nine months.

Under the Midday Sun

According to one of my neighbors, the power outages this summer, up to 5 or 6 hours a day, are much worse then previous years. It hit 40c today and many parts of the city are facing water shortages. There isn’t enough electricity to provide adequate pressure.

It’s an ordinary afternoon in Dhaka. I’m on my way across town waiting in traffic. There is a crowd of onlookers blocking traffic. I get out of the CNG to see what is happening. A giant bulldozer is demolishing a row of one story houses.  A man from the crowd approaches me and  says “this is the way our government takes care of us.” He invites me for tea but the heat has zapped all of my remaining energy.