Archive for January, 2010

Sacrifice

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Before I write or show anything more from Eid al-Adha, otherwise known as the “Festival of Sacrifice”, I want to give a strong (fair third) warning that this post will most certainly contain a good deal of violent imagery that I could easily imagine disturbing some people. If you’d like a lighter version of the holiday, you can check out either of the two previous posts about our early morning exploration of the neighborhood and the adorned animals when they were still alive.

I think I should start with a simple account of how things unfolded as the morning progressed. Around 9:00 AM there started to be a lot of activity around the local mosque as men rushed to attend a special prayer. Once that ended it seemed that the sacrifices could begin. Denise, Catie, and I were on the outskirts of the neighborhood at that point and as we turned onto a shady road we could see a hundred feet away or so a group of men tying up a cow and laying it down on its side. We were going to stay there and watch but I asked if we could move because the light wasn’t very good on that street.

So we walked back to one of the main roads where we had seen a lot of animals earlier that morning, and, simply enough, those animals were indeed steadily falling victim to their day’s fate. We walked down the street to watch the closest one which had actually just begun. The men there were tying and bringing down a cow just as we had seen from afar a few minutes earlier. The process was a lot more dramatic up close, as they’d basically bind the cow’s legs while it was standing upright and then tip the cow over onto its side. The thud of giant cow on concrete was loud and already a bit unsettling, but we didn’t have much time to think about that as a minute later the men were holding the cow steady and exposing its neck as another man in special dress approached with a very long sword.

The weight and intensity of the moment that followed deserves a poem, or probably several poems, and to give anything less certainly feels cheap. But I am not a talented (or at least not dedicated) enough writer to do such things right, so I’m left with simple recount. Said plainly, the man bent over the cow, lowered the long sword and cut right into the animal’s neck, and immediately a great deal of blood began to rush out. (The jugular is cut in this process, and as a result the animal is supposed to lose consciousness almost immediately and feel very little pain as it dies.)

You may wonder how close we actually were while this was happening, and I can’t think of a better way to answer that question than to say that at one point when blood spurted out across the concrete towards us (a little too near our feet for comfort), we jumped back in alarm, only to quickly spin around and realize that we had almost backed into a pool of blood that was rapidly forming from another sacrifice that had begun on the other side of the street. I think it was around that point when Denise and Catie started to feel claustrophobic and the need to retreat. They went farther back towards the entrance to the street where they could keep as much distance between themselves and the closest sacrifice as they liked. I was rather overwhelmed myself but I at least had the shielding filter of my camera (which was particularly effective as I had set it to display images on the LCD screen in black and white).

Denise and Catie ended up heading back to the apartment soon after, and I spent the rest of the morning (another couple hours) wandering the streets on my own, watching the various stages of killing and skinning the animals and then separating the meat from the carcass. All the men I met were quite pleased to see me and talk a while, and they seemed happy that I had an interest in the holiday and that I wasn’t just horrified by the sacrifice. Nobody had any problem at all with my taking photographs; on the contrary they would encourage me to photograph their cow as it was worked on. (It was a rather affluent neighborhood, and it appeared that most of the men involved in the actual slaughter and butchery of the animals were hired hands for the day, although some resident younger men and even boys helped in the process here and there.) I had a good time talking with everyone and got pretty well acquainted with a few people. One man whose house I spent a particularly long time outside of invited me to come back that night for the feast with his entire extended family. We exchanged numbers and I told him I’d ask “my wife” and try to make it back, but unfortunately the feast was both at 2AM and also naturally to consist of beef from the day’s sacrifice. Catie and I weren’t really feeling up to face either of these factors after the emotionally tiring day, so we declined as graciously as possible. I was touched by the invitation, and it was just another of the countless examples of how nice Bengali people truly are.

The day was trying at times, but I’m glad I went out and experienced the holiday full on, and to be honest it was one of my favorite days in Bangladesh – photographically but also just generally as I had a lot of opportunities to talk with people and have a meaningful exchange, learning a bit about them as well as their culture. (On the note of culture, if you’d like a more sociological perspective on the holiday I strongly urge you to read Catie’s post about the day.)

I wondered at times throughout the morning whether there was something wrong with me that I wasn’t more troubled by what I was witnessing (and photographing with a telephoto lens). I’m not sure why it didn’t get to me really. Maybe it was the distance provided by my camera, or the overpowering fascination by something so drastically foreign to my normal life, or the positive social experience with friendly local people. Or maybe I am just a bit disturbed to start off with. (Oh well.) In any case, I am only somewhat ashamed to say that I am still planning on going to Five Napkin Burger one of my first days back in NYC.

Some of the following images could easily be described as difficult, and I won’t be offended if you have to refrain from viewing them. I will say though that I tried to shoot and select photos that were actually beautiful or interesting, and not ones that were simply the most gratuitous or shocking. I hope at least that (some) people will find (some) value in the images I’ve chosen to show here, whether visual or cultural.

Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)

Photos taken in Chittagong, Bangladesh on November 28, 2009.

When the animals were still alive

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

As I mentioned in my previous post, Denise Catie and I headed out early on the morning of Eid al-Adha to admire the many cows, goats, and sheep in all their decorated splendor before the sacrifices began. Once we stumbled into a residential neighborhood we had plenty of opportunity to do just that, and our mission was aided by friendly kids who were more than happy to lead us to all the biggest and most impressive cows.

It was hard to look into the animals’ faces knowing that they were all going to be killed in just a couple of hours time. They amounted to such a great volume of life filling the empty streets, and I couldn’t get over the fact that all that energy, that vital mass, and quite literally that organic material was about to be spilt, drained, and finished. It was a heavy notion to say the least. I’m sure my tendencies of projection and anthropomorphism were on overdrive given the charged circumstances, but at times it felt like you could could see in the animals’ eyes an understanding of why they were there and what was about to happen. One cow in particular certainly appeared to have no misconception about the day’s plans as it stubbornly resisted the efforts of a whole group of men to move it down the street to its final resting place.

Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)

Photo taken in Chittagong, Bangladesh on November 28, 2009.

Perhaps it was inspired by the texture of the cows’ hides or the striking contrast of their deep dark eyes, and maybe it helped me to emotionally distance myself from my subjects, but for one reason or another I shot mostly in black and white early that morning. As the day went on and the sacrifices began, I continued to shoot and view my images that way (although I had my camera record duplicate copies in color as well). I think it made the day easier for me to handle as it happened. Blood is not nearly as affecting when it appears as a mild shade of gray on an LCD screen, after all. (Consider this your second fair warning of some imminent violent imagery to come…)

Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)

Photos taken in Chittagong, Bangladesh on November 28, 2009.

Wandering around the neighborhood on Eid al-Adha

Monday, January 18th, 2010

Back at the end of November there was an important Muslim holiday called Eid al-Adha, known in English as the “Festival of Sacrifice”. It is called this because it is traditionally celebrated with the slaughter of an animal: usually a cow or maybe a goat. Catie and I had been told that when this holiday occurs in Chittagong that “the streets run red” with the blood of all the sacrificed animals. Upon hearing this most people at AUW decided to get the heck out of the city for a few days or at least shut themselves up in their apartments temporarily, but quite on the contrary I was very excited to go out and see (and yes, photograph) the festivities for myself. Catie and Denise were up for the experience as well so on the morning of the day of sacrifices we wandered out into the streets to see what we could see.

We started off quite early (around 8AM) and there weren’t very many people out. Rickshaws and CNGs were scarce and all the shops were closed. There was more activity and prayer than normal at the nearby mosque though and we saw a number of men heading that way. Eventually we wandered into a somewhat upscale neighborhood in the hopes that we might be able to see some decorated cows there before the sacrifice. This turned out to be rather easy as on every street there was cow after cow (after goat) after cow each tied up in front of individual homes. We kept walking deeper into this bovine maze until we hit something of a dead end, at which point we were greeted by a large number of people who lived along that street. They were happy to see us but also curious as to why we were wandering about that morning. We communicated to them that we were interested in the holiday and had come out early to admire the cows. We were about to say our goodbyes and continue our aimless wandering, but a couple of young girls got excited about our quest and took it upon themselves to be our guides in finding all the biggest and most impressive cows in the neighborhood. (And I must say, they were most satisfactory guides indeed!)

What with a group of three tall white people and two young Bengali girls strolling about gawking at and taking pictures of cows, it didn’t take long for the snowball effect to occur so that we had an immense following of local Bengali people walking around with us. The kids would amuse themselves at our interest in the cows and the men would beckon us over to photograph them with their particularly impressive animal (or with their family, friends, and neighbors at large).

At one point a boy of about 10 years excitedly waved me over towards a car parked on the side of the street. I wasn’t sure what he wanted but I followed him to the front windshield of the car where he had started to point at something on the dashboard. It turned out to be a little toy dancing flower, and the boy was gesturing at me to take a picture of it. I happily obliged and showed him the image on the back of my camera, and he looked, smiled, and laughed before running back to the group. That moment felt so pure and positive; it reminded me of being a kid and getting my hands on a camera for the first time and promptly “wasting” a whole roll of film photographing my ninja turtles and matchbox cars. I wish I could have followed that boy to all of the other things in his world that he thought would make good photos.

Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)

Photo taken in Chittagong, Bangladesh on November 28, 2009.

This post contains general photos from our exploration throughout the day – of some of the people we met and things we saw – but does not really include any images of animals (living, being killed, or dead). I’m going to save those for another post or two. (Consider this your first fair warning of some imminent violent imagery to come…)

Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 28, 2009)

Photos taken in Chittagong, Bangladesh on November 28, 2009.

Exploring the back-alley Chittagong markets

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Near the end of November on the day before the big sacrifice of Eid al-Adha Catie, Sarah, and I went out looking for cows that had been decorated for the holiday. Earlier while in a CNG we had seen – amongst many others – one that was absolutely covered with pink glitter and flowers, and Catie obviously needed to go back to see it again and take a picture. We wandered about the New Market area of Chittagong for a while, and although we didn’t come across many cows we did stumble upon a giant hidden labyrinth of back-alley markets filled with all sorts of fruit, vegetables, sugarcane, fabrics, clothes, spices, meat, and an unbelievable number of fish (both dead and alive). We were a little intimidated at first but it was a great part of the city and of course in true Bangladeshi fashion everyone was extremely nice and happy to have us come through.

Closer to the center of New Market I also saw the same blind man I had photographed and written about previously. He was in almost the exact same spot, wearing the same clothes, and had the same bag although it looked he had collected some new things as well. But when you look at the pictures side by side you can see that his appearance has changed considerably. His clothes look older and dirtier, and his beard is longer and his hair mussed up, but he’s also noticeably skinnier. The photos were taken just barely over a month apart; I wonder if he had more trouble getting things to eat in November. And I wonder what he looks like now, another month and a half after the last time I saw him.

Chittagong, Bangladesh (Oct 23, 2009)

Photo taken in Chittagong, Bangladesh on October 23, 2009.

Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 27, 2009)

Photo taken in Chittagong, Bangladesh on November 27, 2009.

As I’ve been photographing in Bangladesh I’ve been thinking about ways that I could give back to the people I’ve taken images from, and one of the most immediate ways I thought of was trying to find the people again and give them prints of their photos. I’m not sure whether people here would find much value in such a gift. Unfortunately I’m quite sure that this blind man on the street probably wouldn’t for obvious reasons. Perhaps if I could sell his image I could bring him back money from the sale, but who knows how far in the future that might be and if he’ll still be there then, or where that money would end up going after I gave it to him, and if it would be safe if it were a large sum. Perhaps I could give it to him in installments, or in the form of food. Maybe I could bring someone who spoke Bangla to explain myself to him…

I don’t know… I need to continue to give these things more thought. I just want to be sure that I am always giving back to the people that I am taking from.

Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 27, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 27, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 27, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 27, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 27, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 27, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 27, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 27, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 27, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 27, 2009)

Photos taken in Chittagong, Bangladesh on November 27, 2009.

Catching up on life in Chittagong

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

As I mentioned in my previous post, a lot has happened in the last couple months. I’m afraid that if I don’t maintain some sense of chronology that whatever I skip will fall into the digital cracks forever (sorry Nepal, but that means you’re going to have to wait a little while), so I thought I’d start off with a general potpourri of our day-to-day lives in Chittagong. Included in the group of images below is the inaugural students vs. faculty basketball game, a surprise birthday party for Michelle Zjhra (the Dean of Undergraduate Studies at AUW), a few street shots, and of course a few of Catie (doing what Catie does best: casting looks, casting spells, and enjoying snacks).

Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 14, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 14, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 14, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 14, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 16, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 19, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 19, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 19, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 19, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 19, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 19, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 19, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 22, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 23, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 23, 2009)
Chittagong, Bangladesh (Nov 23, 2009)

Photos taken in Chittagong, Bangladesh between November 14-23, 2009.