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Around the world in a daze


BANGLADESH | Tuesday, 21 September 2010 | Views [406]

Shortly after we arrived in Dhaka and started work, it was time for the month-long Muslim festival of Ramadan. Ramadan is the strangest celebration I've ever seen in my life. To start with, it's 30 days long, it takes a lot of stamina and perseverence to celebrate that long. In the Western world Christmas is just one day then a few days off to prepare yourself for New Years, then you can relax for another year.

During Ramadan, Muslims do not eat during day light hours (a bit like vampires). All cafes, tea stands and restaurants have banners, signs and curtains in their windows so peple cannot see in and be inticed by the few non-believers in town. It is still possible to get food during the day, you just need to be subtle about it and try not to eat infront of people who are fasting.

By mid-afternoon the street is full of stalls selling greasy snacks, including Beguni (deep fried eggplant) or my favourite - japalpi (essentially deep fried sugar). Locals stock up on these goodies every night and lay them out on a plate, mixing sweet and savoury together. At sunset (or the pre-approved time denoting sunset) they delve into the snacks for Iftar (breaking of the fast). They stuff their mouths with an assortment of different snacks all mushed up together and washed down with a sickly sweet cordial, often rose water flavoured. It takes about five minutes for them to wolf down the snacks and then pray. After prayer the real dinner is served. they fall asleep at normal time and wake at 4am to eat again and pray, that is the last meal until iftar the next day.

Consequently everyone is tired from getting up early to eat and by the afternoon, they haven't eaten for 12 hours. Needless to say almost no work gets done in this time and did I mention it runs for a month?

Ramadan culminates in eid. A festival celebrated similarly to Christmas - public holidays, big meals wiht the family and giving of presents. The one main difference is that eid is not on a set date. It depends on the sighting of the moon and thus cannot be called until the night before. The women then must rush around to create a feast.

Myself and Anna were lucky to be invited to spend eid with a colleague and her family. We turned up at the colleague's eldest sisters house around 11 and were presented with some Bangladeshi sweets. It looked like white stringy slop but tasted like doughnuts. Next we were ushered off to the brother's house. Here we had yummy chicken curry. Then back to the sister's house for yummy chicken curry. Next was another sister's house for more yummy chicken curry. After "takign rest" we went to the final sister's house. By this stage my stomach had grown about 4 times its normal size and I wasn't really in the mood for anything else but of course there was more chciken curry. It is such an honour for them to have a foreigner and it would have been so rude to refuse so I forced some more down. I was exhausted and full but there was more to come. A famous Bangladeshi movie star had invited us for the evening meal. This time, thank goodness, it was fish curry this time!

It was amazing to be part of the traditional celebrations, even if I felt like I didn't have to eat again for the rest of the year!

During Ramadan, we managed to enjoy ourselves. We had a quick trip up to Mymensingh to visit a friend. It was so nice to get out of Dhaka and see some of the countryside. Mymensingh is the same size as Hobart but after Dhaka felt like a tiny village. We had a trip to see the Garo tribe and could even see the hills of India in the distance.

The day after eid, Anna and I also set off on another adventure to Boda, in the very far North West. The air was cooler and clearer and it just felt more relaxed. although it is one of the poorest areas in Bangladesh and the stories from some of the women we met were devastating. So many women survive off just one serve of rice a day and are married off and pregnant barely teenagers themselves.

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