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We arrived in Dhaka, Bangladesh in September 2004. The first weeks were very wet ones, it was the worst and longest flooding in many years, which you can see on the pictures. In the months before we came there was a flooding from the main rivers in Bangladesh, the Brahmaputra and the Ganges, which left millions of people homeless. 
Now, luckily the dry period is on its way and things look a little sunnier.


Only a month after the worst flooding in a century the country was struck by some days of no-stop rain, which the near-medieval sewage system was unable to absorb, resulting in another severe flooding. The water was knee-deep in the streets of Dhaka, the Government declared a National Holiday as the offices could not be reached; in our house, the water came straight from the outside through the wall and resulted in buckets full of water descending the stairs. It went on until mid-October, no matter how often the Dhaka local population assured us that after the 30th of September, the dry season should start.

Apart from all the water, Bangladesh has another interesting feature: traffic. Bangladesh is the most densely populated country in the world, many people living on a small patch of land, and everybody is going somewhere. The roads are stuffed with buses, cars, baby taxi's, rickshaws and pedestrians.
The car drivers don't respect the rickshaws and vice versa. Everybody drives with the hand on the horn and uses it at least every two minutes, no matter if there is a reason or not (usually not). So the traffic is incredibly noisy. It takes you an hour to drive 10 kilometers in the city. The pictures are taken on a square in the business center of Dhaka, where traffic goes round in an endless circle, day and night.

Rickshaws are a striking feature in Dhaka. There are many of them, maybe more than cars. They can move whenever the cars are stuck and they even will drive when the town is flooded. They are beautifully decorated. It takes a little bit of experience to step in and out gracefully, especially if you are carrying a bag. Bangladeshi people have less trouble and sometimes sit with a family of four on a bench that was meant for two, leaving the poor rickshaw-wallah struggling away to keep his vehicle moving. In the evening the rickshaws don't carry any light, so cars often have to hit their brakes in the very last moments because the rickshaw was hardly visible. Even though in rural area's like Chittagong we have seen rickshaws carrying little oil lamps on the bottom. To say that that would be a safe solution would be over-optimistic, however. 
The rickshaw-wallahs rent the rickshaw from an owner, who normally owns many rickshaws. Because trips are very cheap, they have to do a lot of cycling only to break even their rent. Many rickshaw-wallahs come from little villages and they are usually very poor. 
The month of Ramadan is strictly observed in Bangladesh and everybody is happy when it is time for the Eid-ul-Fitr, the celebration of the end of Ramadan. About one and a half month after that, it is time for the Eid-ul-Azha (Arabic meaning is festival of sacrifice), the second largest Muslim Holiday. The festival lasts about three days. During the festival people celebrate the fact that Abraham, who was ready to offer his son to God, was told that an animal would be enough. 
Therefore, the slaughtering of an animal is obligatory, but there is a choice: it may be a cow, buffalo, camel, goat or lamb. In Bangladesh cows are very popular sacrificable animals; obviously, camels are a little harder to come by. However, the import of camels shows a major increase during those days. The sacrificed animal has to be split in three: one third for the owner, one third for his relatives and one third for the poor.
In the Middle ages there were also human sacrifices; nowadays this is out of the question, even though re-installment of the procedure as well as possible victims have been suggested by unhappy population groups.
Bangladesh has a big population and the large majority is Muslim. As a result, many cows are sold. In special places in Dhaka, you can see temporarily cow markets where thousands of cows wearily await their fate. The owners show their happiness by decorating the animals. It is unknown if the cows are happy too, neither if they enjoy this kind of decoration.

Shahid MinarOn the 21st of February, the Bengali people celebrate Amar Ekushey (in Bangladeshi language this means "Martyr’s Day"). When Pakistan was separated from India in August 1947 (as East and West Pakistan, disconnected by 1,600 kilometers India), the Bengali language, spoken in East Pakistan, the current Bangladesh, was under threat. The Western Pakistani held the political power and decided Urdu should be the national language, even though in East Pakistan the population was far larger.  In 1952, Rafiq, Barkat, Jabbar and Salam, were killed, as part of a group unarmed protesting students, and thus became the martyrs, who are remembered on “Bangla Language Martyr’s Day”. In 1999, the UNESCO proclaimed this day as “International Mother Language Day”, as an incentive to preserve all mother languages. Amar Ekushey has become a symbol for Bangla independence as well. The monument of Shahid Minar was erected on the place where the four students were killed. It represents a mother, protecting her children against the red sun.
Biswa Isjtema is a three-day festival, the second-largest congregation of Muslims on the bank of the Turag river. The name stands for something like "World congress". Not everybody participates: serious Muslims have found that this occasion is not mentioned anywhere in the Koran and therefore, they doubt the value. They think that it is just an opportunity to get together and join in meals and useless gossip. Others however enjoy participation (and the meals and gossip), but if the time has come to go home again, they are the first to board the train.

More Dhaka stories and pictures

More Dhaka stories and pictures