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.
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.
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.
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.
Young girl on her way to school
The Daily Star, Dhaka’s English language Newspaper ran a nice article about the photography workshop I recently gave at IUB. Plans are now in the works to exhibit some of the work on campus. Thanks again to Shams Bin Quader, IUB faculty and staff for helping make this happen.
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.
Ramna Park, Dhaka
Last week Bangladesh celebrated their New Year. The historical importance of Pohela Boishakh in the Bangladeshi context began in 1965. In an attempt to suppress Bengali culture, the Pakistani Government had banned poems written by Rabindranath Tagore, the most famous poet and writer in Bengali literature. Protesting this move, Chhayanat opened their Pohela Boishakh celebrations at Ramna Park with Tagore’s song welcoming the month. The day continued to be celebrated in East Pakistan as a symbol of Bengali culture. After 1972 it became a national festival, a symbol of the Bangladesh nationalist movement.
Shooting Pohela Boishakh
Sometimes it’s an advantage to be a foreigner. I had left my press pass at home but the SWAT team like special forces assigned to the event (center) let me use the platform to video tape from. A few years back there was a bomb blast in Ramna Park during Pohela Boishakh so security was heightened.
Photo © Mohammad Zakir Hossain
I just wrapped up a four day Photography workshop at IUB and wasn’t so sure that it was going to come together until the last minute. On the last day as I was showing the students how to construct a multimedia presentation we had power cuts- they call it load shedding here- almost every other hour on the hour. For some reason the IPS back up power supply didn’t work either. Some guy, or maybe a woman, decides which neighborhood get turned off. IUB is located in Baridhara, the wealthiest part of the country. Lack of electricity and water are much more severe in other parts of the city.
Photo © Asif Khan
Bangladeshis are extremely resourceful and pull together when they have to. When the power finally returned, we made a final edit, sequenced the photos and made a couple of title images. With only a few minutes left we changed locations and presented our work to an enthusiastic audience. I better post this now before the power goes out again.