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.”
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.
Fattening the family cow in preparation for Eid-Ul-Azha
In a couple of days Bangladeshi’s will celebrate Eid-Ul-Azha. I noticed that quite a few cattle markets have sprung up around town in preparation for the holiday. Muslims who can afford to will sacrifice their best domestic animals (usually sheep, but also camels, cows, and goats) as a symbol of Ibrahim’s (Abraham’s) sacrifice. According to the Koran, the meat is divided into three shares, one for the poor, one for the relatives and neighbors, and the last to keep for oneself. The remainder is cooked for the family celebration meal in which relatives and friends are invited to share. The regular charitable practices of the Muslim community are demonstrated during Eid-Ul-Azha by the concerted effort to see that no impoverished person is left without sacrificial food for the holiday. Eid-Ul-Azha is an affirmation of what the Muslim community ethic means in practice. People are also expected to visit their relatives, starting with their parents, then their families and friends.
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.
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 box of books and supplies finally arrived from the States. One of the best purchases I made was a little HP photo printer that spits out a 4×6 inch print in two minutes. The quality is excellent and you don’t even need a computer. Just plug the memory device into the printer, press the button and instant Polaroid. This will be a fantastic way of saying thanks to all the kind people in my neighborhood who have invited me into their homes.
Between differences in timezones (+13hours), the sauna like humitity, people/traffic congestion, days of the weeks signifying something other ( I teach I on Sunday for example which is like our Monday back home) and the noise levels that are off the charts it’s no wonder that at times I feel a little dislocated. Oh and from what I’ve seen it’s rare to find street names posted. I’m slowly beginning to recognize landmarks to help orientate myself around this maze of a city.
The TV Room in my Guest House
I dedicate this photo to my old Brazilian friend Gil Prates. Gil is an amazing photographer who always sees things in unexpected ways. I lived with him in Rio for a year. In a strange kind of way the apartment building I’m living in here reminds of Gil’s place in Ipanema. This six story building is called the Scenic Panorama and this morning I discovered that I have roof access. I’m lucky to have a relatively calm place to return to after being in the middle of all the chaos just a few minutes away.