I got back from my trip on Thursday early evening – just in time to go out to dinner. My stomach was screaming for western food as bengali food for breakfast, lunch and dinner for 6 days was a bit much (rice or chapati every meal, including breakfast..). We went to a restaurant we had previously been to for a drink with a really nice interior near our house. It was a little expensive and too expensive for the quality of the food so we may not go back, but they have a good juice bar! You can get freshly squeezed mango/pineapple/watermelon/other juice here for about 1.50. The whole meal ended up costing nearly as much as I’d paid for 3 meals a day for 6 days on my trip to Madaripur (about 12 pounds.. who knows how that is sustainable). After that we tried out the Australian Club, a new one for all of us. There I ran into some hash friends and the night just kept going on from there. We ended up at a hasher’s house raiding their bar and we got home very late – it was a very fun night complete with darts so I was happy.
Friday was a very relaxing day – one which I needed – but friday night we had double booked ourselves – a birthday party for a colleague and a pot luck dinner for expats. To compromise we started at the colleague party then headed to the expat party, which was more our scene with people our age and some great food. Again, we met a lot of lovely people, who mostly work for development cooperations and NGOs here. We were asked to bring something to both so made a giant fruit salad and put half in two boxes for each party. I was again surprised with the price of the fruit – a kilo of the best mangoes you have ever tasted it about 60p for the lot, and pineapples are about 20p each. Melons and bananas are also very cheap, but you will pay up to 6 quid for a small box of strawberries or kiwis. After buying the cheaper fruit, or in season fruit, we turned our “fruit salad” into a “sunshine salad” as we realised after cutting up the apple, mango, banana, pineapple and lemon that there wasn’t a whole lot of colour diversity. They were both appreciated anyway.
Through an expat facebook group I have secured a “job” for a week – a Bangladeshi lady wants to improve her English for her work and I am being paid very very well to come to her house for one hour a day this week before she goes away for a course this weekend. She is a very interesting lady who has really achieved a lot so it’s very interesting chatting to her, and her family are very welcoming. I was offered mango and some type of jhal muri which were delicious. They also got me to try some jackfruit (national fruit of Bangladesh) as I hadn’t before. It was very strange, like nothing I’ve ever had. The “fruit” were pods which all had a large bean-looking stone inside. It has a strange texture, almost chewy, but the taste was like a mix of loads of fruits, including mango, banana, papaya, grape.. I liked it at first but then actually couldn’t swallow it properly as I kept chewing and it didn’t go anywhere, so perhaps not the best. The fresher it is apparently the better. You see them growing everywhere on trees here, both in the city and out. They are huge – the smallest I have seen is about the size of a large melon and they get up to the size of a small child. Bangladeshis love them, and they are in season right now so you really see them everywhere.
The next day we had a relaxing morning then went to the Goethe Institut here in Dhaka. I had plans to go to Hash but there was a “Sommerfestival” on, and I had been told the hash this week was a short run anyway as they were wanting to watch the rugby. As well as this, it was pouring and the many of the puddles were at least a foot deep. In hindsight I should have gone to the hash, the pictures looked a lot of fun from the run in the rain and it certainly would have been easier without the crazy heat. The festival was a little disappointing in my opinion, the henna had run out and the food was a meat BBQ, and there was a mediocre magician that only spoke bangla – at the German speaking institute! – who was screamed at for about an hour by kids who looked big enough to know when to shut up. But in fact, it ended with a performance from the very popular Joler Gaan – a modern bengali eight piece band that were actually really enjoyable, with great singing and a lot of skilled instrument playing including an electric double bass, flute, banjo, and many more. Everyone knew the songs and were dancing and clapping all the way through. I ended up buying three of their CDs (at 25p each, why not?).
I was back in the office on Sunday which was quite nice after a week away. My desk has been moved and I’ve graduated 2 floors, although now I’m also 2 floors away from two of my housemates in the same building. I’ve been getting more work this week and I’m actually doing things, but unfortunately the project I was meant to be working on, the Justice Audit, has been pushed back so I won’t be doing much on that at all. I am planning on creating my own project in what I see as a gap in what we already have and research myself. I haven’t decided on what yet, but I am also working on an anti-corruption awareness project for kids which is pretty interesting. As this is one my my first jobs I have a real interest in so actually want to work, I’ve been asking various people in y project for more work as I’d rather be swamped than bored so hopefully it will start rolling soon.
I saw an old friend on Sunday night who I went to primary school in England with, who is technically Bangladeshi but has never lived here. I was a little apprehensive about what we were going to talk about but conversation flowed from the minute I got there to almost midnight when I tore myself away from stories and reminiscing. Her grandmother Apu prepared a really lovely meal, my favourite being the prawn curry, and I tried another new type of doughy bengali food, luchi. It was a bit like the puri I had had in Madaripur – deep fried but with a lighter dough and softer. Again, delicious. I was asked to call her Apu to as “any friend of my granddaughter is my granddaughter” and was immediately invited back, despite my friend leaving in a few days. She has happily agreed to teach me how to cook Bengali food so I’m very excited about that. We chatted with my friend’s cousin who now lives her permanently and she kindly invited me to a wedding! This is great news, as one of the first few things people I meet ask me here is “have you been to a Bangladeshi wedding yet?”
Weddings here are big affairs that typically last 3 or 4 days, with different stages. Much like the weddings I’m used to, after the ceremony they are centered around consumption – but here it’s all about the food, no alcohol. On Wednesday evening I went to my first holud, and wore my first sari [pronounced shari here] kindly lent to me by my friend’s cousin. I had picked one out when I was over for dinner last week and it was really beautiful. But, to go with the sari you have to wear a blouse, the crop top that goes underneath. As everyone has them made for themselves, hers did not fit me and the two days before was a mad rush after work finding a ready made one in a colour that went with 2 different saris, then getting it adjusted to fit me. It worked out fine in the end even if I did pay a little much and the adjustment done in 24 hours was perfect. It was quite awkward to walk in at first but I got used to it quickly and really enjoyed it as I definitely fitted in more than usual and it was all very elegant. At first I wore it the traditional way, especially with a pretty sari fabric, by holding the fabric with my arm to show it off. But once there is got very hot and awkward so I put it over my shoulder which showed some of my midriff (or all when I didn’t notice it had slipped], a slightly more daring, but nowadays normal amongst the more modern generation, way of wearing it. I have to wear another one on Friday so good thing I liked it.
The holud is typically 2 or 3 days before the women and usually separate for the bride and groom, although it’s getting more and more common to have joint ones like this one. This wasn’t a totally traditional holud but it included many of the main traditions. The holud is essentially a ceremony held for family and friends to apply haldi – turmeric paste – to the bride and groom’s faces to make them more beautiful for the wedding (it is wiped off after as it can stain..!). This was a very long process involving many family members, who as well as smearing the turmeric paste on the faces, fed both the bride and the groom a sweet morsel on a stick, then posed for many photographs. After an initial procession much like the weddings I am used to where they both walked in, they both sat on a small stage fully decorated with flowers and lights ready to be pasted. On each side were beautifully wrapped gifts of presents from the bride’s family to the groom’s, and vice versa, including clothes, sweets, toiletries – everything they will need for the wedding day.
After that part of the ceremony and many many photos, there were some performances. As this was a more modern wedding, the bridal party decided to start off with the Harlem shake , something not so familiar here. It was quite funny as no one really knew what was going on and a woman joined in with the initial dancer so it didn’t work brilliantly, but I got a good video which I’m sure will be on youtube soon. I was told that both the bride and groom’s “cousins” (not strictly actual cousins) and friends had prepared dances, but I’m not sure what happened to the groom’s. It was a little chaotic (apparently more so than normal as the music kept playing up) but my friend and the rest of the bridal party performed a few dances that had been practiced beforehand then some kids did some dancing which was really lovely. The bride and groom both stayed sitting on the stage, the bride traditionally not allowed to smile [for grace, poise, and to let her guests have a good time instead] but after a while you could tell she was enjoying herself.
After that it was a rush to the tables for food. Most people had started feasting on the huge table of bengali style hor d’oeuvres (many shaped into animals!) that were on a large table in front of the bride and groom’s stage which looked nice but I felt I shouldn’t as I wasn’t even meant to be there! Although, unknown guests are really welcomed at weddings and everyone was very happy to see me and interested as to where I was from and what I was doing. As it was at a Chinese restaurant, the food wasn’t going to be bengali and I had been forewarned about the bengali take on Chinese food (much like other countries of course). I had been warned rightly, as it really wasn’t great and literally everything apart from the egg fried rice had meat in it, including the veggie dish! Luckily I wasn’t too hungry. It didn’t last too much longer after that, there was talk of an after party at someone’s house but both my friend I had work so headed home, promising to see everyone again at the “wedding” on Friday. I am still unsure when the actual ceremony takes place as I’m fairly sure they are not yet officially married, but I am sure I will know by Friday so stay on the edge of your seats until then – I am sure you will.