Monthly Archives: March 2009

Poets and Politicians

Poster of Sheik Mujibur Rahman, founding father of Bangladesh & father of current Prime Minister

“We are extremely mournful for this black night. We esteem the great heroes who died for our country and saved all happiness by giving blood on the street. Happy Independence Day.”

—Text message received from a friend moments after I made this exposure

This years official Independence Day ceremonies were cancelled, the first time in the country’s history, because of what happened on Feburary 25th. I was in Old Dhaka and saw a larger number of security forces present.  The only other thing I noticed that was different were the bull horns strung up on utility poles blasting patriotic speeches (pre-recorded?) with what sounded like the national athem in the background.

Amazing Grace

Nodda Bazar, Dhaka

One of the things that awes me every day in Dhaka is how in the midst of what looks like a post apocalyptic scene something of beauty will appear out of nowhere. Only couple of blocks from my guest house lies one of the busiest intersections in the city. Crossing that wide avenue of eight lanes with no traffic signals requires enormous stamina and determination. It’s clogged with trucks, buses, cars, rickshaws animals, etc, etc. The sound of blasting horns rattles your brain. On the corner of that street I looked up a few mornings ago and saw these two girls on their way to school. This is one of the perks of being a photographer in Dhaka. If you go out with an open mind you are bound to be surprised and charmed by the people. Like the old national Geographic photographers used to say : “F8 and be there.”

A Visit to Proshika

On the road to Manikganj

Anyone with an interest in Bangladesh should check out the book called Freedom Unfinished by Jeremy Seabrook. It focuses on the activities of Proshika, an NGO with field offices throughout the country. Bangladesh has more NGO’s, local and international, then any other place in the world. The book’s format is a road trip  through the country where he meets a variety of people and also interviews Proshika members who are working on educational, cultural and social projects. Since the book was written there has been some controversy surrounding the leader of the organization who was sent to prison on corruption charges a few years ago. I’m sure it’s a very complicated issue.

The view from my room at Proshika’s Guest House

Only a couple of hours away from Dhaka, Proshika runs an impressive hotel/guest house and conference center near a town called Manikganj, one of nicest areas I have visited in Bangladesh.  After reading Seabrook’s book I was especially interested  in seeing the place. On the day I arrived in late January there was a family social gathering for the employees of Grameenphone, one of the largest companies in Bangladesh founded by the Nobel Prize winner Dr. Yunnis. It reminded me of those corporate functions that we have in the States.

The best part of the trip was wondering through the villages in the area and visiting a combination country fair/market. These “mela’s” spring up all over Bangladesh and provide the locals – especially the young people with a chance to socialize and entertain themselves. Inside of a huge circus tent there was quite an “interesting” variety show with young girls mouthing the words of Hindi pop songs and dancing up a storm.

Tweet, Tweet, Tweet

Rickshaw art, Dinajpur, North Bengal

Yesterday I introduced my students to twitter. It hasn’t taken off yet here in Bangladesh. Most were skeptical but today I noticed quite a few of them “following” me:) Thanks to Mindy McAdams for the reminder.

Speaking of photography, I posted forty full screen images from Bangladesh on  www.hillerphoto. com.

IUB students write about Feburary 25th

Army tanks roll into Dharmondi, Photo © Salman Saeed

As part of their midterm assignments I had my students write a post about what happpened on Feburary 25, 2009. These essays are a powerful testimony to the “decade zero” generation of Bangladesh- those coming of age in the early part of the twenty- first century. They are eloquently written, in the student’s second language no less. I’m proud of you. Take a look here, here, here and here.

Friday the 13th

A Mother watches her child play in a school courtyard

Summer is approaching and the power outages are getting longer. It’s up to about three hours a day and I ‘m sure it’s worse in other parts of the city. People are still shaken and confused from what happened on February 25th. I was supposed to travel over the weekend  to a town in Syhlet near the border but was told that as a foreigner I would need permission from the government since it wouldn’t be safe.

And now today, the largest shopping complex/ office tower in Bangladesh is on fire.  The top floors of this 20 story building are engulfed in flames. Thousands of people in the surrounding neighborhoods  crowd the streets watching the fire on their day off from work. There is a dark cloud of smoke over Dhaka tonight.

Return to Dhaka-Two Worlds

Bangladeshi workers returning home from the Mid East, Dubai

The majority of the passengers flying from Dubai to Dhaka were single men returning home from working in the Mid-East. The ones I spoke with were coming from Kuwait. With the global economic downturn I’m sure the situation isn’t good for them. The author James Novak in his book on Bangladesh “Reflections on Water” got it right 15 years ago and the situation hasn’t changed much since. On the first page he describes the middle aged expat NGO types flying into Dhaka  for their meetings  and conferences escaping the winter months of the USA and Europe. There were a few of them on my flight too.

The gate from Baridhara to the other Bangladesh

The taxi ride back into town felt strangely familiar. The local tea stall owner and rickshaw drivers in my neighborhood were in the same place as when I last saw them three weeks ago. Things appear chaotic at first glance but there is an hidden order to it. People have schedules and follow them to say nothing of all their hard work. Most of us would go off the deep end if we had to live that way for one hour.

Last weekend I went on a field trip with the art class from IUB led by professor Nazir Ahmed. He took over 70 students to the National Art Museum and a few other galleries. I love the creative projects he has done with students such as painting murals and launching exhibits on campus. Nazir studied in Norway and shares my taste for eclectic music.  The permanent collection of paintings at the National Museum was a huge inspiration. World class artists with a variety of styles. Some even looked  African influenced.  I had never heard of these artists but am sure some of their work is in European museum collections.

New Student Blogs

Martyrs of the 1971 Liberation War, Dhaka University

Students in my Interactive Media class are creating some excellent blogs this semester on topics such as:  The Environment, The 1971 Liberation War, The influence of Indian culture on Bangladesh, Bengali author Rabindranath Tagore and the Lost professions of old Dhaka. I’ve also included more in the student blog links on the right column. Take a look. If something strikes your interest feel free to comment.