Salam Aleikum

March 3, 2004

Yesterday was Moharram. It is the most important festival of the Shiites in memory of Imam Hussein who was according to the Shiites’ belief the legitimate 3rd Imam (whereas the Sunnis acknowledge Mohammed’s brother-in-law as the 3rd Imam). Hussein was murdered by his enemies during a fight about a fountain and the believers celebrate the anniversary of his death in a procession that goes over more than ten kilometers from the center of Old Dhaka all the way to Dhanmondi. They are dressed up gorgeously and carry colorful flags and floral ornaments. Some whip themselves with chains lined with blades until their backs are drenched in blood. At the end of the procession the flowers and ornaments are thrown into a lake in which then everybody washes themselves.

I went there with Sarah, Silvia, Kabir, Khakuli and Rubel, three of the Pathshala students, to photograph. It was an intense experience. Even though I didn’t witness the whipping, I was impressed by the emotional intensity of the celebration. The people were either totally in trance so that they wouldn’t even notice you, or in total ecstasy so that they would almost run you over. From babies who just made their first steps to Methuselah who was about to make his last steps, people of every age were out and about. With our white skin we stood out like anything and people gathered around us in hordes, calling us “bondhu” (friend) or “bhai” (brother). They shook our hands, asked us about our origins, names and religion and urged us to take their pictures. Especially the children were keen on the click; some of them followed us all through the day and threw themselves in front of the lens every time we wanted to photograph something. After some time we were really fed up and we had to either shoo them away or distract them with tricks to be able to take our shots. One of us actually worked while the others pretended to take pictures of the children.

After all the stress we were quite worn out and took off to have a coconut in the shadow. That’s a local specialty: Young, untimely coconuts, bursting full with milk, chopped open with a machete and drank with a straw. Tastes deliciously, refreshes better than anything else and is good against diarrhea…

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