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.

Beggars In Bangladesh – A Reality of Life in Dhaka

This is part of Dhaka traffic.
This is part of Dhaka traffic.

Beggars are part of daily life in Dhaka, as they are in India. They are on every street, often with missing limbs, physical deformities, and naked babies hanging from their arm. Many foreigners feel sad and uncomfortable by the presence of beggars. For many expats, the hardest part is when out and about in town. When sitting in traffic (which is a huge part of life in Dhaka), the beggars will hobble their way through the traffic. They will tap on your car window. Sometimes they bring hungry babies to the car. Sometimes, they make eating motions with their hands. If you walk in Dhaka, the beggars may touch your arm and some may follow you. Usually, a guard or policeman (almost every building in the expat areas has a guard and there are uniformed police everywhere) will shoo away the beggars. During Ramadan, the number of beggars surges in Dhaka because they come to where the money is and because part of the Ramadan tradition is for people to give charity (called Eidy). There are many children beggars and articles have been written about how these children are part of gangs run by pimps and that giving money to these children perpetuates the situation. One thing is for sure, if you give anyone money (buying the beggar child’s stickers — a common device), they will remember you for all the rest of your days in Dhaka. When expats roll down their window or keep the door open to give money to the beggars, the beggars will make it difficult to roll the window up or close the door. Sometimes, the beggar will hang on to your leg and not let go even when you walk away. This adds a disconcerting element to an already uncomfortable situation for many expats. The beggars have no time for fear.

Every time the car stops in traffic, this will happen.
Every time the car stops in traffic, this will happen.

If the beggars are hard to handle, you can get tinted windows for the car. Or you can learn to ignore it. The more you ignore the beggars, the quicker they will move on. And never make eye contact.

Even the Bangladeshis get hit up for money.
Even the Bangladeshis get hit up for money.

Normally I don’t take photos of them but I took a few for this blog posting (though not of the countless mangled children).

Iftar – Breaking the Fast

Phul Pitha, a Bangladeshi flower shaped cookie.
Phul Pitha, a Bangladeshi flower shaped biscuit.

For those who fast during the month of Ramadan (called Ramzan here in Bangladesh), breaking the fast at sunset, called iftar, is a celebration. Iftar on Fridays, the holy day of the week for Muslims, is often the day when the whole family can get together. As a foreigner living in Dhaka, I was invited to many iftars. Some are restaurants which serve an iftar buffet. And some at home. I was recently at a friend’s house for iftar and served the beautiful bicuit in the photo above. This biscuit, a phul pita, was crunchy, nutty, and slightly sweet. Plus, it was made by my friend’s grandmother. A masterpiece only surpassed by the host’s hospitality.

There are traditions to iftar. Most people try to get to their iftar location at least 45 minutes before sunset (which changes the rush hour pattern during Ramadan). As the sunset approaches, everyone sits at their place. At the minute of sunset (announced by the mosque announcements and followed on TV), breaking the fast starts. Usually, iftar is started by eating a date and drinking some lemonade. The iftar plates are individual plates with a variety of bites ready for eating as soon as the sun sets. After breaking the fast, Muslims will go and pray before returning for more food. Jalallaby (fried swirls of dough soaked in sugar water), haleem (a meat lentil stew/soup), and pakora (fried vegetable chickpea dumplings) are some of the most common items served for iftar. There can be ten or more dishes served, more when there are guests. I really enjoyed the split pea salad with ginger (in center of photo below) as this was the first time I tried this dish. The yellow peas were crunchy and the salad tasted fresh and spicy.

My iftar plate. From the top: pakora, dates, lentil salad, jalallopy, deep fried eggplant, and in the center, split pea salad.
My iftar plate. From the top: pakora, dates, lentil salad, jalallopy, deep fried eggplant, and in the center, split pea salad.

For most Bangladeshis, who normally eat dinner at 9-10 in the evening, iftar is just the appetizer course. Enjoy!

Eid Mubarak!

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.