I Remember Eid In Dhaka – Bloody Eid

Foreigners warned me that the streets would run with blood. They told me to get out of town for “bloody Eid” which is the second Eid, Eid-ul-Adha. As Eid will be in early October this year, I wanted to share my experience from last year. A warning: while I am not going to post the most graphic photos, some of you may think that the ones I’ve chosen are still TOO graphic. If so, please stop reading now.

Forcing the bull to the ground.
Forcing the bull to the ground.

Early on the slaughtering morning, we set out for a walk around the neighborhood. All along the streets, lots of groups of men were butchering cattle. There were also lots of “professional” butchers with giant knives ready to butcher for a fee. In reality, once an animal was forced to its knees and had its throat cut, the butchering only took about ten minutes (everything is done halal). Everything was very organized and there was a constant washing and sweeping of the streets. Everyone worked together. The hides were stacked up on rickshaws and taken away.

The streets are cleaned constantly during butchering.
The streets are cleaned constantly during butchering.

Perhaps the most surprising thing for an expat started a few days before the butchering. I came down one day to find a doe eyed bull tethered in the garage. Then, after the day of slaughtering, there were only the hooves and a newly washed patch of cement where once the bull had been.

Butchering is done on the streets.
Butchering is done on the streets.

While plastic shopping bags are banned in Bangladesh, I did see during Eid, lots of beef being sold in clear plastic bags. To the Bangladeshis, this is a big family holiday. I wish them a happy Eid!

A professional butcher for hire.
A professional butcher for hire.

The Bangladeshis told me that slaughtering a cow (actually, they meant a bull — read about my visit to the cow market) was traditional. Normally, a bull or goat (if your circumstances are lesser) or camel (if you have lots of money), is kept tethered until it is slaughtered. Then the meat is shared out to family, friends, and poor people as an act of charity.

The "cow" is cut up quickly after the skin is peeled open.
The “cow” is cut up quickly after the skin is peeled open.

During Eid, the town is empty as everyone is off with their families. Apparently, Bogota also empties out in December for the same reason. And then the traffic is better, a stark contrast to the traffic in Dhaka.

Cow Market, Dhaka Gabtoli Cattle Fair

On the road to the Gabtoli cattle market
On the road to the Gabtoli cattle market

As Eid-ul-Adha (a celebration commemorating Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son) approaches, many Muslims will buy a “cow” to sacrifice. Although folks say “cow,” the cattle for sale are actually bulls. The largest “cow market” in Dhaka is the Gabtoli cattle fair, located on the road to Savar, next to the Gabtoli bus terminal. I was told to take “gum boots” because of the cow “mud” on the ground. One person even told me to take a rain jacket as protection against the “mud” on the cows which might rub against me. It had not rained recently, so when I got to the cattle market, I chose not to wear my rubber boots (and I did not take a rain jacket anyway). It was extremely dusty and crowded.

A bull with painted horns.
A bull with painted horns.

I did not find the cattle market smelly. The smell of the open sewers in my neighborhood is much worse. The bulls were extremely clean and well cared for. I saw them being washed using hay as a sponge. The bulls were docile and they were not castrated. There was indeed some manure on the ground but I walked around it, and I do not think that I would have walked in it even if I had been wearing my gum boots.

Snack vendor at Gabtoli cattle market.
Snack vendor at Gabtoli cattle market.

The cattle pens were row upon row of bamboo stakes and fabric sun awnings. Like a county fair, there were vendors selling snacks and some selling feed for the cattle. The cattle were fed grain mixed with water. I cannot remember how much a bull cost per kilo but I think that when we asked about a certain bull, the price was around 70 lakh taka (a lakh is 100 thousand) so around $900. For those who can’t afford a bull, a goat will suffice, but I didn’t see any for sale at this market. I was also told that camels and water buffalo might be for sale at the Gabtoli market. I didn’t see any but instead saw many different breeds of cattle including miniature breeds, Rajastani (with hump), Hereford, Jersey mix — and all in a variety of colors from all white, dun, to all black.

The bulls get decorated for Eid-ul-Adha.
The bulls get decorated for Eid-ul-Adha.
Bull for sale.
Bull on the road to the cattle market.

All in all, it was interesting to see the cattle market after all stories I was told. It was much like a cattle fair in the U.S. except that here we expats drew a crowd. More on that in another blog posting.

Ramadan In Dhaka

One of the changes in Dhaka during Ramadan (or Ramzan as they call it here), is that the traffic patterns change. After 6:30 p.m., there is almost no traffic on the roads so it makes getting around at that time ideal for those of us not trying to be somewhere to break the fast (Iftar) at sunset. The times of the shop openings are slightly different and things are in general not as bustling. But only slightly. Mostly, what one notices is the lack of traffic during normal rush hour hours.

One of my favorite roads in Dhaka.

If you are lucky enough to be invited to Iftar, you will find certain foods ready on your plate for that exact minute when the sun sets. Most of the items are small fried items like dates, fish cake, lentil patty, mini funnel cake, etc. There is also a special lentil soup called “haleem” which is a must to break the fast. Lemon water is the normal drink served. After the Iftar, or breaking of the fast, people will go for a quick prayer, then they eat a supper, often buffet if at a restaurant. Many, if not most, restaurants offer Iftar menus.

The end of Ramadan is marked by Eid-ul-Fitr (the first of two in the year). The long Eid is a festive time lasting days. Families give gifts, mainly of clothes, to each other. The shops are open all night long so that people can shop. Bonuses are paid. During the long Eid, many businesses close for days and many people leave town for the long holiday. The start and end of Ramadan depend on the moon.