17 October 2007

Week 6: A Comilla trip, an Eid holiday, and a wedding

6th-1st in Comilla 10/10

School is off for the next two days because Eid is coming up.

Shakil and I left early in the morning to head to Comilla, the nearest biggest town to Dhaka, 2 hours away to the east, near the border of India. From the bus station to Comilla, two hours. Bus station wasn’t as big or hectic as I thought it’d be. We hopped on one of the four chair coaches which head to Comilla, and for Tk 100 ($1.40) each, you get a good ride. No A/C, but comfy chairs. Ride can be bumpy, and both of us got a bit of motion sickness. (pictures below: crossing Meghna river the first time, crossing the Meghna river the second time...its that big, sights from the bus)

Arrival in Comilla involved searching for hotel. We denied some which were downtown, and headed south of the town. The only big hotel with A/C was relatively expensive at Tk 1500 a night. So we chose one across the street at Tk250/night. We got two wooden beds with thin pad mattresses, an attached squat toilet bathroom, a fan, and mosquito nets. It was in the back of a muddy alley, but suited our needs. We signed the hotel guest book, got the key, and put our bags away.
After going to the ruins and discovering they were closed for a public holiday, we headed to a WW2 graveyard. We explored the graveyard. They soldiers died in battling the Japanese. Soldiers from all over the British Empire were here to fight. Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Ghana, Gold Coast, Rhodesia, and other African nations. Their families have probably never seen their graves. Graveyard organized mainly by religion. Japanese soldiers separated from the rest.

Shakil wanted to nap for sometime before Iftar, as it’s easy to get worn out while fasting. We napped for 2 hours at hotel. Then got a rickshaw and went back to town. Got into town with only a short time til Iftar. Couldn’t find a place to eat. Settled for some briyani off the street, and ate it while sitting in a market with a bottle of 7up between us. Filled us up.
Walked around the town in the dark for 2 hours. Saw stadium, many shops, ponds, mosques. Nothing touristy. Just a town. Many streets very very dark, and had to dodge rickshaws that seemed to come out of nowhere. Thin streets. Except for the crazy crazy main road. That was packed and bright. (pic: our room, sitting by lake in Comilla at night while roaming streets.)

For dinner we went to a place that served typical Bangladeshi fare: rice, chicken on bone, some mix of cooked vegetables.
Back to hotel, and later went out and roamed the highway for a bit. Then back to go to bed.

6th-2nd in Comilla 10/11

Shakil got up early for Sheri (the morning meal before sunrise and fasting starts), and asked if I wanted to come. Well, I wasn’t sleeping well anyway, but I decided to stay back. When he came back, he sat and drank lots of water, and when he finished, I fell asleep.

Woke up before him. Worked on reading Farewell to Arms til he woke. Also played soccer on my cell phone.

Took a rickshaw out to the ruins again in hoping they wouldn’t be closed. Had to bring our bags with us this time since we had checked out of hotel. Rickshaw got lost, had said he knew where to go, then didn’t. He went way around where he needed to go. Didn’t open til 10.
Shakil and I walked through the forest, then came upon a game board drawn on the ground. I asked if he knew how to play. Similar to checkers, just a very complex board. The playing pieces (15 each) were rocks for one team, and pieces of dirt with green moss for the other side. Our playing gathered a large crowd of guys. They started helping both me and Shakil. I ended up winning, but I think for both of us, it was all luck, little skill.
Talked a bit with the guys watching after. Wanted to know where I was from, etc.

The site finally opened. The grounds were gorgeously landscaped, and many workers were there taking care of it. Tk 50 for me to get in as a foreigner, only Tk 5 for Shakil. The site was really large, about 3 football field lengths on all sides. At its front is a 2 story tall gate which has been refurbished. It is carved with pictures of animals. At the center, about 1.5 football fields on each side, is the monastery. 115 living cells make up the outer wall of the monastery. At the center is the large temple of this monastery, which was built in several phases. It takes two flights of stairs to get into the temple. Some of it has been rebuilt with new bricks. But you can see the old structure in most of it. There are several other building footprints around the inside of the monastery.
We also explore another temple outside the monastery. It’s much smaller than the temple inside the monastery. This one is colonnaded on the outside though.
I realize that these are the oldest man-made structures I’ve ever seen. They were built during the 7th and 8th century. (pics of smaller temple outside monastery, and pictures inside big monastery, big stone structure we are on and in its own shot is the central temple)

We went to the museum next. Another Tk50-5 deal. Inside were lots of Hindu/Buddhist archaeological findings. Pottery, sculptures, and daily activity pieces. Also some plan drawings of the bigger sites in the town, there are 22, with about 8-10 bigger ones.

We then took a rickshaw to a new Buddhist monastery. This one was actually for Buddhist orphans. The shrine was active, and the young boys were taking care of the place. We signed the guest book and made a donation. Neat to see an actual in-use monastery. It was across the street from the ancient one. (below: Buddhist orpahns at new monastery/orphanage, Buddhist shrine inside)

The rickshaw then took us to two more older sites. These were free and not maintained. They were just out in untamed fields, goats roaming around them with their owners resting on the steps of the monasteries. One of the sites had two monasteries side by side. Of those, one actually had a Buddha statue still in it. It was in a pit near the top of the structure, covered/protected by a metal grate so it could not be damaged. Really neat to see the statue in its original location. Grass covered most of the structures, and we had to traipse down a thin path through the grass to get to it. (pics of the structure, Shakil in field, top of structure with grate covering Buddha, Buddha in the grate)

The second site was up a hill, and grass cleared within the site only, pushing through grass to get there. This one actually had a brick stupa. Really neat to see one after reading about them for years in architecture class. (pic of stupa)

We took a better bus home, same price though. The driver was very fast. Shakil said the guy was a crazy driver. I couldn’t tell, looked standard to me. We made it back almost 45 minutes faster than on the way out. Pretty fast. I napped in and out and looked out the window

Got back, and we hopped onto a crowded city bus to go back home. I got off at South Ave (near Gulshan 1) Walked the 15 minutes to Pizza Hut. Megan had been waiting there. I promised to pay for her dinner because I was supposed to be the one sitting there, but we got back later than I thought. Tamzid came, but Nashad couldn’t make it. And Aaron as well. Thus we had two open seats. We let the restaurant fill them with random people. Pizza was great, and unlimited, along with the Pepsi for the Iftar special. Had 6-7 slices…delicious!!

When I got home, I was so excited to have Radiohead’s new album waiting in my inbox!!! I listened to it 6 times the first night. So great to hear their new stuff. Love it love it love it.

And today marks 5 months that I’ve had on the Dad Vail registration wristband!

6th-3rd in Dhaka 10/12

I picked up my pants from the tailor. They called me to say it was ready. They fit nicely, in fact…perfectly. At first, I thought too tight, but then wait…no…they’re just right, and I’ve never had that.

While on the rickshaw ride home, 4 beggar kids chased after my rickshaw begging for me. My driver yelled at them to go away. They chased for a good 500m.

Read up on how Eid is decided to start. Read about the crescent moon and how in some places it is impossible to see it. Although this doesn’t stop everyone, Saudi Arabia for example said they “saw the moon” even though astronomically it would be impossible.

I just finished Farewell to Arms. I read it in about 3 weeks, reading almost half in the last 3 days. My first Hemingway book complete. I like how he writes. Sometimes in short quick sentences, sometimes in long drawn out ones. I like how trains of thought just flowed and you had to follow them. I also liked how he didn't describe how they talked...he only used the word "said"...thus you couldn't tell if it was sarcasm, or emotional, or anything. You had to give life to the words yourself. The book made me want to go Italy. He described the scenery so that I felt I was there. Also, all the cheese and pasta and bread. Every time he described them slicing a block of cheese, or eating the cheese, my mouth would water. He did it so well. I was reading the book since I had visited his home in Key West this summer, and felt I owed to him to read his books.

I keep playing soccer on my cell phone. When I get free moments it's what I like to do. It’s been addicting. I’m stuck on medium. I can’t seem to score a goal in the hard level.

I wanted to mention a thing or two about Bata (a shoe store company.) It’s kind of a joke in the US to say Starbucks is everywhere. How you can walk out of one and it seems like there’s another across the street (I guess literally somewhere.) Well, Bata is this many times over here. This store is everywhere. There was a point in Comilla when Shakil and I could see three at once from where we standing. Some are big, some are small. Some are fancy, and some look very worn down. Sometimes the sign is in English, sometimes in Bengali, but always the same font and with white letters on red background. Mr. Bata must be very very very rich.

6th-4th in Dhaka 10/13

So Eid is tomorrow.

Today I went to Megan’s, as I would’ve sat at home today otherwise. We watched How I Met Your Mother and just hung out. We had Iftar together. Just leftover pasta, because the Iftar food we bought at the market was sub-par.

Then went with Altaf to a hookah lounge with his friends. After awhile, a combo of hookah smoke and greasy food was making my head hurt and I felt sick. So one of his friends and I went outside to just talk, away from the smoke.

Oh, and saw a cow getting slaughtered in the street today.

And met a guy who is involved with garments here. He makes clothes for Perry Ellis, H&M, Wal Mart, Target, and many other European companies.

6th-5th in Dhaka 10/14

Traffic on the days leading up to Eid, and for a few days after has died down a lot. It’s because so many people leave the city to go home to their villages to be with their families. I’ve heard two figures: that 2 million people leave the city during this time, and that 40% leave the city…both are huge amounts! The buses and trains in the days prior many times need to be booked a week ahead of time. Crowds swarm stations as the mass exodus occurs. Thus, in the city, the streets seem almost empty since so many people are gone. On Eid day especially, the road is empty since many people stay home and celebrate with family.

The stores, prior to Eid, are also swarmed. People are looking to buy a new panjabi or sharee before the festivities start. Thus, at night, after Iftar, people head to the stores to get the new gear. Streets are swarmed at this time.

In the morning I celebrated Eid by doing homework.

Then Nafisa’s aunt and cousins picked me up. We went to Nafisa’s place. There I had lunch. Got to meet her whole family on her mom’s side. Her mom is in from Ohio for a month. This is the first Eid in 26 years that all of her and 5 siblings are together! That was really cool. We all took pictures. After lunch, and talking for a bit I left. I really like her uncles, they are fun to talk to, and love to ask questions and tell me about their jobs. Her cousins are real fun too. They love to talk about sports and music. (pics: Nafisa/me; Nafisa's aunt, uncles, mom, and grandma; her and cousins Ishfaq and Ishraq; and with cousin Ridwan)

After that, I took a CNG to Tamzid and Nashad’s place. Tamzid and I took a drive out along the Turag River north of Uttara. Drove to the three way intersection along the river where you can then go to Savar or Mirpur.

Stopped at CNG station. Saw that CNG is pumped directly into engine.
Apparently, it’s cheaper than gas here. It’s cleaner too! But it goes pretty fast, and it’s hard to put a bigger tank in a standard size car. His parents got out of the car when filling up. I asked why, and he said, “Oh, because sometimes the tank could blow up. I’m just too lazy to get out…” I laughed nervously, and um….I got out!

Everyone was in such good spirits. It’s a fun holiday. I was in a good mood all day. I also seemed to get less stares in my panjabi, since I’m wearing what others wear. I got several compliments all day about my panjabi. I was told I looked like a prince from Nafisa’s aunt, the gas station attendant told me I looked great.

We ate dinner at Numayer’s Watched a bit of LOST with Numayer and Tamzid. Then had dinner. And dessert. Embarrassed myself when I asked his sister if she had two brothers. She said no, and asked why, and I pointed at the photos on the wall. And she said that was her and Numayer at her wedding. Ooops I said, thought that was your older sister!! Numayer looked so young and different, I figured it was a brother. And due to another photo in which I thought I saw another sibling, I didn’t think it was her wedding photo.

Oh, and my new favorite commercial! On at every commercial break it seems.

6th-6th in Dhaka 10/15

Altaf and I cancelled our Comilla trip, so I called Jayita, Anwar’s sister-in-law, to see if she wanted to get lunch which she suggested if I wasn’t going. I took a rickshaw almost the entire way to Pizza Hut. No traffic meant they could go through Gulshan 1 and 2. The guy was new to Dhaka, and didn’t know his way around, so I had to give specific directions.

We ate, chatted. She invited me to her niece’s birthday party that night. So I went home and just worked during the day, before heading back over to her house. I got to her street, and she met me in a rickshaw to bring me the rest of the way to her house. I met some family. She showed me the balcony where we could see all of Dhaka from her apartment building.
We then watched her cousins dancing in the next room over, in preparation for wedding tomorrow.

Also at their house was Dr. Ashraf Ali. Anwar’s brother-in-law, who had helped me arrange my Fulbright here. We talked civil engineering. Discussed the different academic ways of countries we’ve both been in. He went to Carnegie Mellon for MS/PhD. It was great to finally meet him. It was also his daughter whose first birthday it was. Everyone was celebrating (day between Eid and wedding, a lot of family there) and many pictures were taken.

Talked to some of the younger guys my age there too. Just chatted about sports/music.

6th-7th in Dhaka 10/16

Class, I was exhausted. Sick a bit from not sleeping well. Rain and wind all last night.

I went to the wedding tonight that Jayita had invited me to. I left on the bus, had to ask around for which one to take, as my usual one wasn’t running today. I hopped on, sweating, and a bit wet from the rain, in the nicest clothing, my panjabi, I’ve bought since my suit two years ago. The bus didn’t go exactly where I planned. It went past the turn I wanted, so I hopped off at the next intersection. Grabbed a rickshaw to take me to Baily Rd, near Jayita’s place. I was supposed to be there at 6:30, but even with bus out of the way and rickshaw, showed up early.

Waited around while family was getting ready. As soon as her sister and she were, we headed to the wedding hall. It was brightly decorated by her friends. Jayita, by the way, is the one who introduced the wedding couple so thus she knows both sides and a lot of friends were there. (pics: her eldest sister, mom, and Jayita; Jayita/me)

It was my first Bangladeshi wedding. Neat to be part of. She and I just talked while we waited for others to arrive. She also was helping prepare, so many times I was talking to the few others there. Soon, the entire bride’s side had arrived.

The wedding has four days. First day, is a party for the bride, where her family hosts the groom’s family (he’s not there.) Before she arrives, dancing and singing by her side, entertainment. Then she comes in. She sits on stage. Then one by one people go up to her through the evening and feed her a bite of food, and put turmeric on her face. The second day of the wedding is the same thing for the groom’s family. Third day is the wedding ceremony. Fourth day reception. Don’t know about the other 3 just yet, since I haven’t been.

So we were there 2.5 hours til the groom’s family arrived. Whether this is typical or not, can’t tell. I inquired, and got the idea that it’s usual. They sometimes go to 2 in the morning. In this time, I talked with her family, mostly those closer to my age, but also some younger cousins too, who were very interested about the US.

Before the groom’s side arrived, we lined up to greet them as they come in. It’s only a representation coming, maybe 50 folks or so. Groom wasn’t there, but don’t know about immediate family. As they walk in, the girls, all dressed in red sharees, gave out candy and gifts to them. Once they sit, the festivities start. (pic: lined up for groom's family's arrival)

First, there was dancing performances. Jayita was part of the second. Her cousin had organized the several minute dance sequence, and over the last two days, 4 girls and 4 guys had practiced for it. It was pretty cool to see. They all did great, and I was very impressed. I told the guys afterwards, nice job, as many had said they were nervous beforehand. They really did well. (pic: the dance sequence)

After that, the girls sung a song they had written (about 20 of them)…apparently, since I couldn’t understand, it nicely teases the groom’s family. For example, in this case, the groom had two brothers who were twins, and they were on the larger side, so this was poked fun at…

After all this, the bride came in, escorted by some of the guys in the family, and she sat on stage. The band, next to stage started playing music, and things died down. It remains quieter the rest of the evening. Photos are taken of the bride on stage, and then one by one, people go up to put turmeric on her face, and feed her, mostly sweets. Meanwhile people start to get food, groom’s side first. I couldn’t tell if both sides go up to her on stage, since after the groom’s side got food, there were so many people milling around, I could no longer distinguish who was on that side or not. (pic: arrival of the bride)

I went up with Jayita, on stage to see the bride. I was nervous, my first time, and I’ve never even spoken to the bride before. But Jayita showed me what to do, and I did as told. If you’re already married, you touch it to your forehead first, to spread the luck you’ve had to her. (pics: Ashraf, Jayita's sister, and niece on stage; Jayita/me on stage )

The bride isn’t supposed to smile (at least not a lot) while on stage this whole time. But still, she started laughing at some points, especially when a relative tried to tease her and serve more than several mouthfuls of a food item all at once.

The night was good. Glad to go to my first. Her cousins and friends were great to hang out with. Some were real interested to hear about my studies, and asked a lot of questions about their chances of getting to go to American universities for grad school. Glad to answer questions best I could. (pics: All the women in the bride's family, Jayita's uncle, Jayita, me with turmeric on my forehead thanks to her cousin)


Saket said...


you did all that in a week?!

God I'm so jealous. Just reading about what you're doing makes me feel embarrassed. You're a pro at moving around and doing stuff there! I can't even say that about Mumbai, and I've spent nearly a year of my life there (when you consider summar vacations etc.).

"Oh, and I saw a cow getting slaughtered in the street."

You look quite sharp in that kafni! Very nice. I should ask my parents.

I like the description of the Bengali dinner. I had told Greg that I was going to put him in charge of the food for my wedding (in India), but I think you've earned the spot now.

Keep it up man, I'm so amazed and happy that you're getting to experience all this! Wow.

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