Tee shirt courtesy of the Democratic Club of Bangladesh
Milan Barua is the manager of the guest house I’m living in. Milan is THE MAN responsible for taking good care of me. He is a fantastic cook. Bengali and Indian food as good as anything you will find on east fifth street in New York City. Milan is a Buddhist from Chittagong, Bangladesh’s second largest city where his wife and two sons reside. Before managing the IUB guest house Milan was on the staff at the Iraqi embassy in the eighties up until Operation Desert Storm. Since that war, Iraq no longer maintains an embassy in Bangladesh. Oh and by the way if Milan could vote, it would be for Obama.
Eid ul-Fitr, often abbreviated as Eid, is a Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. Eid is an Arabic word meaning “festivity”, while Fiṭr means “to break the fast” and so symbolizes the breaking of the fasting period. The days leading up to Eid are not unlike Christmas in the USA. Shops are filled with people buying new clothes. Last night one of my photography students took me to Old Dhaka to visit some of the bazars. Rumor has it that Dhaka empty’s out as people return to their towns and villages to visit with family. I’ll believe it when I see it.
Reviewing student photography assignments
The past month I’ve been teaching a photography workshop at Nari Jibon, a very unique NGO here in Dhaka. Hira (pictured above) went out and made photo’s of men in her neighborhood for last week’s assignment. How cool is that!
Nari Jibon means Woman’s Lives in Bangla and was founded by Dr. Kathy Ward, a Sociology professor from Southern Illinois University. Nari Jibon serves a diverse group of women and girls ranging from Bengali medium students with some English skills to women with limited literacy in Bangla and little or no education. Over the past three years, they have continually served the needs of the women and their families. They currently offer two programs. The larger one offers English/computer skills and gives the women an opportunity to learn to read, write, and speak in office level English or improve existing English skills. Their technology director Taslima Akter, has also taught several of the woman to “tell their stories” through blogging.
Peter Dench, a British photographer who was recently featured on Verve Photo used the right word to describe the Bangladeshi’s. They work beyond belief when they can find work and seem to take the rest in stride. I’ve been exploring Old Dhaka- roaming the maze of streets- some so narrow that two people can barely pass at the same time. Each block contains workshops and tiny store fronts that cater to a particular trade.
It must have been over 110 degrees inside of this cave like interior tucked away down an alley in old Dhaka. The boys inside were fixing a contraption that resembled an oil furnace. Next to them another man operated a machine the makes imprints for the rubber toe inserts that are attached to thongs. I wonder how many people fall ill from working in these conditions and not drinking water for the entire day during the month of Ramadan.
Covered up tea stall
Many of my students are fasting for the month of Ramadan and it’s taking it’s toll on my late afternoon photo class. Some of the normally animated ones are having a hard time keeping their eyes open. No reflection on their teacher of course. The rhythm this month feels off kilter. People wake up at four am to have their meal and then go back to sleep for a few hours. Things slow down in the afternoon- I can’t imagine how people can work so hard without water in this sauna like weather- but as sundown approaches you can feel an excitement in the air as people buy special “Iftar” food on the streets and rush home to break fast. Restaurants and tea stalls are covered up during the day for the people inside who -like myself- aren’t able or willing to fast.
I’m afraid there is no other side here. Have been photographing along the train tracks that run through Dhaka this past week. Went out with my video camera for the first time two days ago. This is what I saw and heard:
—Old and young men breaking rocks with a hammer by hand- with the sound of the train whistle in the background- the construction industry needs material
—A train passing by just a few feet away from a tea stall- shot from the inside with beautiful light
—A room full of men watching Bangladeshi music videos- a mini cinema
—Men barely protecting their eyes while sparks are flying as the melt steel
—Garment workers crossing the tracks on their way to work, a common site all over town, they walk up to five km to save on bus fare always looking so joyful in their colorful flowing sari’s all laughing and walking together
Yesterday after teaching two classes and holding office hours I wasn’t planning to go out shooting but I had to seize the moment. One of my students in the photo workshop came up after class and asked for some tips on how to operate his new digital camera. It turned out that he lived in the same place I was filming the day before. Since he was heading home I asked if I could accompany him. Out of a city of 12 million we ended up back at the exact spot from where I filmed the same old man breaking the same old rocks the day before. Having my student translate and ask questions in Bangla was a huge help. His house was also along the tracks not more then 30 feet where he lived with his extended family of 30 people including aunts, uncles and cousins. His father owns the local dealership for Yokohama tires but that’s another story I will save for later.
There is plenty of green but not much space in Dhaka. It’s a mega city with over 12 million people. Gridlock and noise pollution- the kind unimaginable and difficult to show in photographs- plague the city. In the morning I normally cross the gate and wander through Kalachandpur- the “real” Bangladesh packed with people but today I went the other direction and strolled around Baridhara Park. It’s the Gramacey Park of Dhaka. There is even a small play structure for children. Many locals from the neighborhood power walk around the park for their morning exercise.
My students are starting to get their blogs in shape. You can find a link to them in the right navigation. Some have chosen topics that you might find of interest. For example Safina (left in photo) will be looking at challenges facing urban woman in Bangladesh.
Many students from my class joined her last weekend for the Costal Cleanup at Cox’s Bazar. My friends in Oregon will get a kick out of that since we do the same thing on the Oregon coast. In the southeast part of the country very close to the Burmese Border, Cox’s Bazar is the longest beach in the world. It is one of Bangladesh’s main tourist destinations.