Bangladeshi Wedding Holud

A Bangladeshi wedding consists of several ceremonies. There is hand painting with mendi and other ceremonies which I have not been to yet. But, I got invited to my first Bangladeshi “holud” or pre-wedding party.

The bridal couple on the stage at the Holud.

The Holud can last five or more hours depending on the venue’s closing times. The purpose of the Holud is to celebrate and bless the bridal couple. The bride is often sad on this occasion because this is the evening that she will be leaving her childhood home. A Holud (which is the word for “yellow” in Bangla so I am told) is supposedly the “fun” part of the wedding celebrations. The ladies tend to wear sarees for the Holud. The fashion is often to have one designer design all the clothes for the wedding. For this Holud, the bride’s family were in green, the groom’s family in red, and the bride in yellow. This creates the effect of the colors of the Bangladeshi flag surrounding a shining gold center.

The guests arrive over the course of two hours, eat appetizers (like phoushka – cracked fried dough shells with chickpea filling and chutney), greet family, and find good seats. Then the groom is escorted out onto the stage by his family. The bride is escorted by her family. Then there are songs and speeches (including PowerPoint photo montages). The bridal couple sit on the stage while guests line up in queues on either side. The guests go up on the stage, use the turmeric paste to bless the couple (married people can also then put the paste on their own faces) and feed the couple. Photos are welcome at any point during the evening and are encouraged.

Mild chaos reigns. Families come up. Colleagues come up. Friends come up. Everywhere photo flashes are blitzing and the temperature rises from the press of 300 bodies smiling, photographing, eating, dancing, and celebrating. At some point, the rehearsed dances are performed and dinner is served but mostly people are concerned with going up on the stage, getting their blessings in, and their photos taken. A general feeling of family and love is thick in the air.

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Lovely. Thank you for including me.

Wedding Season

During the cooler months here in Bangladesh, it is wedding season. According to one’s wallet, the houses and sometimes the streets are decorated to celebrate the nuptials. But, it’s not just the weddings that cause the light decorations. Lights can be a sign of any festive occasion from the birth of a child to the birth of the new year.

Red and Green All Over

Today I received many gifts… in many splendid colors. I went to explore the market near the good banana salesman.

Paints of many colors and a brush of inditerminate bristles.

It’s near Rickshaw Road. This time, I went to more of the shops and I will go back to capture more of the photo-ops… like the saree salesman with a foot pedal sewing machine, but mostly, because there is so much more to explore! Today, I got some good shopping done and I completely forgot to haggle. Mostly, I’m overly joyed to have found a shop selling paint. It was like receiving a Christmas gift! Now I just need canvas or jute paper to paint on.

The red teflon wok with lid on the mesh grocery bag... these mesh bags are typical here.

I bought the paints for around 120 Taka a can ($1.25 per espresso cup size can). I got a red wok for 1,200 Taka ($15) and I’m pleased with the hearty red color. I may go back and buy the rest of the set once the salesman has more pots and pans in red. I also found some touristy mugs. I liked the smaller size and I will go back and buy more since they appear to be made in Bangladesh. The bigger ones are made in China… I will send them as gifts but I actually like the smaller ones better (and they only cost $0.95). The squat ones seem to have more sass.

The squat mug was better made and not chipped.

NOTE: The shawl in the photo is actually Pakistani and not typical of here.

Victory Day Elephant

Elephant strolling down a Dhaka street

“Did you see the elephant walking down the street?” We were driving speedily through the streets (for once) and I was looking at the rickshaws and decorated houses, soaking it all in like the newcomer that I am. My friend had not noticed. She didn’t notice it until we had whizzed past. I asked if we could go back. It’s not every day that you see an elephant strolling down the streets of Dhaka (in the exotic imaginings perhaps, but in the honking traffic jams rarely). Quickly, she yanked the car around and we darted down the street after the photo-op.

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December 16 was Victory Day in Bangladesh so it was a special day. I should have expected something special… The Bangladeshis celebrate. They put flags up. They ride elephants.That’s how they do it here in Bangladesh.

Thanks, Victory Day Elephant!

Mosquito Tennis

They take their tennis seriously here in Dhaka. Before coming to Bangladesh, everyone told me that I would be taking up tennis as it was one of the few sports to participate in here (and the lessons only cost $1.25 per lesson). But with 99 percent humidity, I did not plan on playing tennis. Then I got here. In every office, I saw brightly colored tennis rackets lying about. In every home, I saw tennis rackets. Wow, I thought. I was impressed with this level of dedication. Nay, obsession. Then, the other day I too began playing — and here’s why — Despite having had fourteen shots injected into me to protect me from various diseases, I still get bitten by mosquitoes every day. Every day. Every day. Every morning, I wake up, crawl out from under my princess-like mosquito net, sit down with a cup of coffee to read my emails and blog… and the itch starts… then another… and then I look down to see a mosquito happily sticking me!

Then, I go out my door, lock my door… and get bitten again. I go down to carpool and two or three mosquitoes buzz about in the car.  I go to the office followed by an entourage of mosquitoes buzzing like fawning groupies. Once inside the office, I am back to one or two stalking me.

So the solution?

Mosquito Tennis!

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I had to get one. So I paid the foreigner price and bought mine for 465 Taka ($6.50). These neon electrified rackets are fully equipped with a light, a wrist band (are you dangling a two foot racket off your hand?), and two prongs for re-charging… in China. Ha! These are made in China (surprise?) and need an adapter. But because of their size, it’s hard to find a place to plug them in.

To deal with the mosquitoes, I spray my feet and ankles with Off “deep woods” spray every morning when I put on my shoes. I also have 98 percent Deet which I intend to use (liberally). I have a Deet cream bug repellent to slather on. Just haven’t done it yet. I don’t like icky sticky gunk on my skin… but, I’ll do it eventually if I can remember it. They say that the mosquitoes at night give you dengue and the ones during the day give you malaria… or is it the other way round?

Sadly, yesterday was a day of note because I managed to not get bitten all day long! Put a star in the calendar, mommy!

A word on technique: You can swing at them but I have yet to hear that satisfying sizzle and crackle as the little suckers get zapped. But I’ve seen really experienced zappers do a sort of gentle scooping technique, a sort of underhand, with great effect.

Eco-Tourism in Dhaka?

The drums of global tastes have reached deep in the diplomatic enclave of Dhaka. I admire the owners for knowing their audience. The Mermaid Cafe in Baridhara is an eco-cafe outfitted with free Wi-Fi, cane furniture, funky artwork, and the other backpacking eco-warrior accoutrements. Located near a mosque, the cafe is a warren, nay, a medieval old city of room upon room upon room. The entrance has a tiki bar, pools of water carved out of tropical woods where turtles live as pets, and where are the dreadlocked backpackers?

Mermaid Cafe is known for their fresh lemonade as tart as Bangladeshis are sweet. I got the Wild Banana Shake (of course!) and the Thai Chicken with Organic Rice and Beans. It was all excellent. I look forward to trying the rest of the menu.

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This cafe is part of a tourist company and resort down on the coast of Bangladesh in Cox’s Bazaar (a favorite honeymoon destination for Bangladeshis). Cox’s Bazar is the location of the world’s longest unbroken stretch of natural sand beach in the world… 75 miles long.

Going Out On a Limb

***updated October 2013 — also Prisma now does Internet and I would choose a package deal if I were doing this again as their Internet prices are much cheaper than what I have*** Ninety-one channels of cable TV arrived yesterday. I went with a recommendation and used a company called Prisma Digital (www.prisma.net.bd). The customer service guy spoke English (useful for me considering my Bangla consists of saying something akin to “Good garble-TV-yes-yes?”). An appointment was made. Forty minutes after the appointed time, a call from the customer service saying that they were late. Another appointment time made. Another hour passed. Another call. Late again. New appointment made. For ten minutes later. Twenty minutes later, they arrived with the guard escorting them up and checking with me that this was truly  what “madame” (me) wanted. The two guys came in (not in their uniforms like I was told by the guy on the phone) but still the one guy was carrying a large roll of cable on his shoulder so I figured they were the right guys (or that guy has the strangest taste in neck ornamentation). They took their shoes off out in the stairway. Then they set to work.

Efficiently, they opened the balcony door, fed cable out down to the street, and disappeared out onto the street. Coiling the wire into a loose bunch, he threw the bunch over the first wire criss-crossing the street. He missed and the wire got caught. He pulled it back down. Coiled it up again. Threw it again. It went over. The other cable guy helped guide him. They do this ten times a day, every day of the year (but for ten holidays he gets off per year), so they know what they are doing. No doubt. Then, through some rock, paper, scissors system, decided who would shimmy up the telephone pole. Up he went, barefoot, pulling on wires for support. When he got high enough, he pulled on the plastic tube holding many of the wires… water came shooting out and poured onto the street. Unperturbed, the cable guy reached out for the cable junction. He couldn’t reach it. He climbed a little higher by grabbing hold of the wires. Rickshaws and cars honked and buzzed by on the street. The neighbors came out to talk. The cable guys conferred, one at street level, the other one dangling from a telephone pole (this level of agility and athleticism is not called parkour, base jumping, rock climbing or anything else fancy that involves helmets, safety lines, or club memberships). Then, it was done. They came running up. One guy climbed up the bars on the balcony and neatly attached the cable out of the way, then fed it along the wall so that it would be neatly hidden. When he got to the balcony door, he took pliers and efficiently “bit” off bits of the door frames so that he could feed the cable in. Then they plugged in the TV, set the channels, wrote a neat carbon paper bill, handed me a guide to the channels, showed me some of the choice channels (sport with cricket, Star movies, MTV Asia, and BBC), and left.

A word about the channels. Many of them are the same channel but in different languages. I have Bangladeshi, Indian, Chinese, German, Italian, Korean, Japanese, Russian, Arabic, American, British, Australian, etc. channels (TLC, Discovery, CNN, BBC, NG, HBO and so on). All with an Asian twist.

It was 300 Taka ($4.50) for the installation fee and 300 Taka per month with no contract***since 2012, it has cost 400 taka per month, of which I pay six months at a time so that they cable guy will not appear at my door every month***. The guys would not take a tip.

Life Lesson in a Banana

Because the “good banana” salesman was out to lunch (with bananas left unattended on the cardboard boxes that constituted his stall), my friend’s housekeeper had gone back of his own accord to buy the good bananas. I was brought some. These bananas are rich, custardy, and have an after aroma of passionfruit. When I told a colleague how incredibly sweet they were while showing her this photo, her reaction was that they were “so small and ugly.” My response to her was that many of us are small and ugly on the outside but sweet on the inside.

These small uglies are called Bangla bananas

Bangladesh is rich in small acts of kindness.

Exploring in Dhanmondi

Went to the mall in the part of Dhaka where lots of universities are located… was it past Dhanmondi? I am atrociously bad with names and places. We went to Boomers which is a popular restaurant chain with hip young Bangladeshis. They had Bangladeshi, Indian and Chinese food. The prices for the food at Boomers was in the 375 Taka ($5) range. The naan was covered in sweet goo as the locals like things SWEET!

Then we shopped. Lots of shops with not so crazy prices (earrings for $.75 to sari material for $150). More about sari shopping later. This is the one I like today. it was on sale for half price and still cost $95. There were lots of shops selling clothes, separate ones for both ladies and men. The mall had shops for buying bangles and other personal adornments for the ears, hair parting, nose, ankles, wrists, fingers, upper arms and so on. So much that sparkles! All that you might want in terms of grooming could be had here. Across from the men’s hairdresser’s was a “kid’s saloon” manned with smiling boys. Instead of chairs, there were colorful plastic space motorcycles (or some other conveyance that a child would find fun to ride).

ASIDE: I ventured to the toilet in the mall. The Bangladeshi lady with us went with me… apologizing for the condition. I frankly have been in MUCH worse toilets. This one was like some in the U.S. But, I was glad that she went with me as I would never have read the signs in Bangla (there were no pictures so you  have to be literate to go to the bathroom in this mall). Also, being able to see into the men’s was perhaps not what I wanted to see on my way out of the ladies.