The weeks in Bangladesh are always very tiring, especially when I travel al lot within the country. Because every journey from A to B not only takes an incredibly long time, the streets are also loud, full of potholes and dangerous. Anyway, on my last trip after two weeks of research, I was pretty exhausted. But I had promised to take another trip to Bera in the Pabna district. This is where my host family comes from, and they had invited my long ago to stay at their home there. So, as soon as I’m back from the Rohinga camps, I pack my suitcase again. I have two hours, then my journey continues. This time with the intercity bus, because it is only 150 kilometers from the capital Dhaka to Bera – a journey that would take about one and a half to two hours in Germany – in Bangladesh, it took us almost seven hours …
So you can probably imagine how happy I was when I was finally there – in my room with a private bathroom!
My host family’s house is large … actually there are three houses that together form a small courtyard. Because originally the family had lived in a corrugated iron hut, then built a brick house next to it and the current main house is a spacious concrete building. It is on one floor with 5 large bedrooms, all with separate bathrooms, two kitchens, a huge room that is used as living, dining and office room, an unused room and a veranda. Amazingly, the old corrugated iron hut is still used. Especially for cooking, although there is a super modern kitchen in the main house. „The dishes simply taste better when they are cooked on a clay oven,“ explains my host Nasima. And because they want to prepare a really tasty dinner expecially for me, she spends a lot of time in the dark hut, sometimes her three daughters also help her.
Two chickens run free in the small courtyard formed by the three buildings. Seems to be a special breed, they look rather lean, but strut about on their stilt-like legs, even when we come into the yard. Little Nuha is different: she runs away screaming as soon as she sees the animals. She is really panicky. Sure, in Dhaka she only sees chickens in cages. We try to calm her down, but talking about it doesn’t help. Her uncle wants to show her that the chickens are harmless and feeds them. That doesn’t help neither, Nuha still screams as soon as the animals move. Her aunt Trisha then has the redeeming idea: she claps her hands loudly and hisses at the animals. Immediately, she takes them out. Nuha stops screaming and looks interested. And then she claps her hands and hisses. It works. The chickens run away. And the little lady starts to beam all over her face, which still has a few tears in it.
But the most beautiful thing about the whole house is the roof! Wherever I look: everywhere it is green. There is always a little breeze here and through the large trees a shady spot can be found at any time of the day. No smog, no horns – that’s why I’m on the roof as often as possible: early in the morning when everyone is still asleep and the exotic birds serenade me. In the evening when the sky presents itself like a diva in bright colors. And at night when very curious bats come within a meter and you can even hear sounds from the river every now and then. I notice how here on this concrete roof in a small village in the country, all tension and all stress fall away from me.
My host family comes up here too, at least the women. We drink tea together and I use limestone to draw a hopscotch game on the floor. In theory, the four-year-old Nuha soon graps the rules, but you can tell that the city child has enormous deficits in movement: jumping on one leg doesn’t work at all, and with both at the same time she either jumps out over the lines or even tips over. Still, she thinks it’s funny. It’s obvious, she too can relax at her grandma’s house. Because everyone has time, even listen to her and there are so much interesting things to see.
Unfortunately I cannot remember all the names of the trees that grow here and in the garden behind the house. Sure, I can recognize a mango tree now, but there are so many fruits in Bangladesh that I’ve never heard of. And some trees also form fruits that are not for eating at all.
The mahogany tree here, for example. I only know that furniture is made out of it. But I’ve never seen it as a tree. Its fruit is about the size of a mango, but hard, relatively light and somewhat woody. „That’s right,“ says Nisha, “that’s why it is also used for the fire”. And that’s what we do this evening – barbecue-time!
Funny, just this word ‚barbecue‘ triggers a noticeable anticipation in the family, the girls clap their hands and roll over with tips for the marinade. The men are also enthusiastic, drag the big grill to the roof, put a table and more chairs upstairs and spread a large blanket on the floor. But that seems to have been her full contribution, because as soon as the fire is on, Nasima, the lady of the house, takes over the grill. She puts the huge marinated pieces of beef on the grate and tirelessly turns them. Apparently, it is important to her to rotate the pieces of meat in a certain choreography; in any case, she appears concentrated and cannot be distracted by anything. Meanwhile, Nisha rolls out small dough patties that are freshly baked on the side. Her sister opens two glasses. „Pickles“, she calls triumphantly and gets a pleasant „Ahhhhh“ from all sides. I can already try the pickled fruit and vegetable specialty: the vegetables are pickled in hot sauces , the fruit sauce is sweet and hot, very tasty. Ketchup is still on the table, a few alibi cucumber slices are also cut, but that’s it with the bells and whistles, the main attraction is clearly the meat.
And a day later there is another family event: Aysha, the newly married wife of Naser (both on the picture on the right) is celebrating her birthday. And exactly two things are important for this birthday party: a representable cake and the family photos while cutting it. Even the housemaid is allowed to be on the picture, or I should rather say: on the PICTURES. Because every family member has to take a picture of this scene with their own smartphones – of course. This takes a while. Because on these ‚official‘ photos the hair of every woman must be covered. A relatively ernest facial expression also seems to be common for this occasion… only Nisha gets out of line, does nonsense … and so I actually took one of the few photos where everyone smiles and looks a little more relaxed. Then the cake is cut, Aysha feeds everyone a small piece by hand – which of course is always worth a photo – and then something completely unexpected happens: Everyone goes away again! That’s it! No nice get-together, no unwrapping gifts, no dancing, nothing.
I admit that I was a little bit surprised. Although, of course, I have known for a long time that birthdays are of little importance to most Bangladeshi, often not even considered, let alone celebrated. Birthday parties seem to be a rather imported thing from ‚westerners‘, which one likes to copy, especially in the middle class, but only halfheartedly.
****to be continued****