I thought of the late great Marvin Gaye and his song this morning. Between “what’s going on” in Mumbai and Bangkok, Dhaka feels like a sea of calm. The locals here feel awful about what is happening in India and to be honest I haven’t felt any hostility since I arrived almost four months ago. It’s important that the west doesn’t label all Muslims as terrorists. Most of the people I’ve met are to busy inviting me for tea. The situation can change very fast especially since elections are coming up on December 29th, but that’s about local politics which I’ll save that for another post.
Photo by Kira Kariakin
Yesterday I did another photo workshop with the young woman from Nari Jibon a non profit organization that trains woman in computer technology, internet skills and photography. They also have a training program that teaches woman tailoring. There clients come from working class families and have really taken to photography. It was wonderful to see their enthusiam and self confidence.
I often return to my portraiture roots in Dhaka and appreciate the way it slows me down. If only for a second an exchange occurs and people here aren’t afraid to maintain eye contact long after the shutter is released. The only hazard are the crowds that quickly form with dozens of onlookers wanting to also be in the picture. This is not meant to be one of those Thanksgiving photographs that appear in American newspapers this time of year. Charity like that does not exist here but still people make do and are appreciative of the little they have. It’s like Thanksgiving everyday. The last thing I want to do is romanticize poverty but maybe as the rest of the world is experiencing recession, we should send Bangladeshi’s to the west as trainers and case managers in order to teach people how to better cope.
Started my day off photographing in old Dhaka- a place I can explore for the next year and still find something new to discover. In some ways it isn’t nearly as jarring as the rest of the city -the intersection near my guest house for example- since cars are not permitted into the narrow streets.
Back at IUB in the afternoon my colleagues and students somehow found out about my weakness for chocolate and surprised me with a cake. Leaked on Facebook I presume. Thanks Munsia, Salman, Safina and everyone. Sabrina, writer extraordinaire and Abir were kind enough to do an encore. What voices! I was never a John Denver fan until I heard the Bangla version of Annie’s song.
The semester has gone so quickly and will be over in a couple of weeks. I’ve been very busy with little time to read- something I love to do when traveling- but just finished “The Hungry Tide” by Amitav Ghosh.” What an amazing book that takes place in The Sundarbans, little known part of the world. I’ve read short stories and essays from him but this an absolutely fantastic novel that reveals so much about life in Bangladesh – he partly grew up here- as only a skilled writer can. Highly recommended.
Munsia Ahmed, a fellow instructor at IUB doesn’t sit still for a second. This week she organized another reception for a faculty member taking leave. Munsia will be relocating to the Bay Area in a few weeks to join her Brazilian husband who recently started work at Google. Always nice to find the Brazilian connection.
Yesterday I gave a presentation on photography, multimedia and the web to the Media Studies and Journalism dept at the University of Liberal Arts of Bangladesh. They were a good group of students and had some interesting questions. There is a lot of potential in this country- so much intellegence (the EI kind too) and resourcefullness to go with it. Surprisingly there is very small information technology sector in place but that will have to change soon.
A few weeks ago I met Harold Rashid and was invited to accompany him to visit his families estate in Sylhet. Harold is a renaissance man: an artist, educator, musician and recently performed in two films. In 1990 Harold founded “Anandaniketan” (Happy School) so his boys would have a place to learn without going abroad to England as he did. His sister Fahmeena currently serves as the administrative director and there are now over 700 hundred students from pre-school to the 12th grade attending. It was a heart warming experience to visit the school and see such a high level of quality and care. That same evening there was a three hour poetry recital contest in English and Bangla.
Shah Jalal Mazaar
I spent a good part of my time near Harold’s home at the Shrine of Shah Jalal, a pilgrimage site for the 14th century Sufi saint and a contemporary of Rumi. I just happened to be there on the day of his anniversary and their were thousands of his followers from all over Bangladesh. The atmosphere and music reminded me of the Lalon festival in Kustia.
Sylhet is known for being the most prosperous region of the country and contains the largest number of Bangladeshi immigrants living in England. It was calming to be outside of Dhaka…. to breath some fresh air and gaze at some of the tea estates in the area.
Early this morning Salman and I took a ferry boat along the Buriganga river to the town of Narayanganj It was calming to sit on the upper deck and watch the view especially since the skies have cleared the past week and temperatures have slightly dropped. We saw many brick factories along the way looking like phallic totems. Smaller boats transporting sand and bricks plyed the river. I had heard that Narayanganj is known for it’s weavers but all we saw were garment factories- some very modern looking on the outside- lining the road. Upstairs in one of the dark allyways filled with smaller tailor workshops we talked with young boys who were sewing designs and lettering on “designer” tee-shirts. The same story is heard over and over again. People migrating from the villages flocking to urban areas to find work. In this case the boys were given food and lodging and only small monetary compansation a few times a year.
On the bus back to Dhaka from the Lalon celebration in Kustia
Jonathan has become a good friend here in Dhaka. He was born in Bangladesh but moved to the States when he was 14 years old. He returned to Dhaka two years ago to look after his parents and keeps delaying his return back to the east coast where he is on sabbatical from General Electric.
I met Jonathan through a group of local photographers from the MAP agency. We immediately hit it off. He took up photography seriously last year and we often go out in the early morning hours to shoot in and around the city. Johanthan is a real friend, especially at a time like this. He is a serene person but also has a twinkle in his eye. I’m fortunate to know him.