Well, it’s been a tough week.
Bangladesh has had a week of strikes (hartals), blockades, a few bombs and the occasional riot. It’s the anniversary of last year’s elections, and rival political groups have been going head to head. One group refer to 5 January as ‘Victory for Democracy Day’ while the other group insists it is actually ‘Democracy Killing Day’. There have been a few people killed by the police, and lots of busses burnt. I’ve been fortunate to not really be impacted by it directly – working from home most days and avoiding the tricky areas.
Just when I’m getting perilously close to disliking this town, something great happens.
Ignoring my curfew and staggering home from the American Club with a housemate, we hear loud folk music coming from the Gulshan 2 Circle (massive roundabout).
See the back of a temporary stage in the middle of a road– we are welcomed in by a number of men on the street. The street is filled with people sitting in front of the stage, and standing on the pavements either side. All men, crammed together as is the way in the most populous country in the world.
On the stage are a dozen musicians (hand drums, wind instruments, violin, harmoniums) and a few singers. The music is loud and the crowd is paying attention. We are pushed forward and encouraged to sit on the stage. After politely refusing, it is clear that we really are expected to sit on the stage when the singer stops, and beacons us up.
Ok then, when in Rome.
Equal parts awkward and exciting. On stage we shake hands with all around us, lots of smiles. Cups of sweet tea materialise. Hundreds of faces stare back at us.
Bishwa Ijtema started on Friday in the north of Dhaka – a bazillion pilgrims (reports range between 2 and 4 milion people – probably all blokes) from all over the world have come to Dhaka to battle through the blockades and strikes and pray together. The government seems supportive of the event, and has blocked off large roads so that they can be used by the mass of pilgrims. As Bangladesh has the fourth largest muslim population globally, I would like to witness the pilgramage – but it may be best that I don’t. Logistics getting around have been a bit tricky due to the blockades and hartal, so I don’t think I’ll risk it.
It’s been a strange week.
This is in my suburb: