Eid: The Power of Beef Reigns Supreme in Bangladesh

Image of the Power of Beef.

Album artwork for Pigmy Love Circus’ globally acclaimed “The Power of Beef.”

Eid ul-Adha, also referred to as qurbani Eid (qurbani meaning sacrifice), is the grand-daddy of all holidays in Bangladesh and holds a unique power that reigns supreme over every other holiday known to man: the Power of Beef.

Living in a foreign country allows one to learn a lot about differences in cultures, traditions, and even philosophies that aim to explain the meaning of life and allay our uncertainties about the origin of existence. More importantly, one realizes the many parallels between people and cultures of every land, gaining a profound appreciation for the things that bring us together.

These similarities between East and West are perhaps most noticeable during the Islamic Eid holidays. It is a time when people enjoy spending time with family and loved ones, relishing the ideal of peace on earth, exchanging gifts, watching sport on television, spending money recklessly, traveling in painstaking conditions, and…indulging in massive amounts of meat.

Most importantly, Eid ul-Adha is rich in parable to illustrate life lessons in their most basic forms: Before there is reward, there must be sacrifice.

This theme of sacrifice stems from the holiday’s symbolic reverence toward the Koranic (and biblical) story of the prophet Abraham who, when commanded by God to offer up a sacrifice to prove his loyal reverence, was fully prepared to slit the throat of his first-born son Isaac to appease the omnipotent and somewhat meddlesome creator of man in the story.

Thankfully, the originators of the Eid holiday did not call for the blood of first-born children, but rather for goats, sheep, cattle, or any other tasty animal to be substituted upon the altar of sacrifice. However, unlike Abraham’s story, the sacrificial beast does not escape the knife in real life.

While many Islamic countries witness significant reductions in their goat and sheep populations after qurbani Eid, cattle are the animals of choice to sacrifice in Bangladesh. I’m not sure why, but I think it might have something to do with added pleasure of importing (legally or illegally) sacred cows from India to spill their blood and feast upon the reincarnated relatives of their Indian neighbors. I’m probably wrong, though. All right, I am definitely wrong.

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Cricket Crazy in Dhaka

Image of street vendor in Dhaka before cricket match in Bangladesh.

Yes, it has been a while since I posted anything new here and nearly forgot how to write for fun until I had the fortune to attend a cricket match in Dhaka. That’s when inspiration struck.

Cricket. For people who have actually heard of it as a sport and not as a crop-killing insect or American cell phone service for the elderly, cricket rests high atop the pantheon of the most boring athletic activities known to planet earth.

In the minds of many, or at least mine, cricket welcomes comparisons to other traditionally upper-class games of privilege and snobbery like polo, croquet, or bridge. All are probably enjoyable for the participants, but for the casual spectator of sports, they all fall miserably short in satiating the appetite for witnessing the beauty of the human body falling violently to the turf during a heart-pounding two-minute drive in American football or the thrill of Game 7 in the World Series.

When I was younger, I had heard about cricket but never actually saw the game played. Referred to as a “gentleman’s game,” I knew it had English roots and therefore assumed it was basically lawn bowling with middle-aged, monocle-wearing British chaps smoking pipes and doing something with a ball. Turns out, I was mostly right. At least back then.

Now, I have come to understand that cricket, due to Great Britain’s colonial heritage, is actually a sport that fuels the dreams of kids and adults alike in India, Bangladesh, West Indies, Zimbabwe, South Africa, as well as Australia and New Zealand.

Moreover, cricket is a wildfire that has swept throughout the South Asian subcontinent and become a way of life for well over a billion people.

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Haji Biryani: A Pilgrimage to Fat and Happiness

HajiBiryani-1

Biryani is an age-old dish believed to have been created in the kitchens of Mughal emperors, who demanded only the finest food throughout their empire be gathered and combined into a single dish fit for the Almighty himself. Consisting of fine-grain rice, chopped beef, chicken or goat, and cooked with refined butter and a dash of aromatic spices, the beauty of biryani lies in its simplicity–its greasy, delicious, rib-sticking simplicity.

Tucked away on a narrow, crowded byway in Old Dhaka lies a hidden gem of culinary delight called Haji Biryani. Haji Biryani is perhaps the most famous of all biryani houses in all of Dhaka and sat atop the list of my personal to-do list upon arriving to Bangladesh back in April. After many weeks of procrastination, I finally acted on visions of manifest destiny and set out on my own personal hajj to partake in the heralded mutton biryani served up by the city’s oldest such restaurant.

True to its name, traveling to Haji Biryani requires one to depart on a harrowing journey not unlike the annual Muslim hajj to the sacred center of the Islamic world in Mecca. Getting to the restaurant itself will test your faith, mettle, and force you to overcome physical torment of hunger, claustrophobic crowds and hellacious traffic jams. Could I possibly survive the gauntlet standing between me and the coveted biryani without melting down?

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Wizards with Scissors

Roadside barbershop in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo by Cookiesound.com.

Roadside barbershop in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo by Cookiesound.com.

Barbershops scare me. This is quite obvious if you look at photos of me over the past decade, or even more so if you are familiar with my grooming habits, which are practically non-existent. I have always opted for the path of the Jeff Lebowskis, Grizzly Adams, and Cousin Its of the world, who prefer to view root canals as preferable to the cutting of hair — be it on one’s head, face, armpits, or other hirsute areas on the human male body where evolution has been slow to fully eradicate.

I usually give into my senses and eventually let somebody hack away at my ever-greying locks. This is done almost entirely to save my better half the embarrassment of being wed to a modern day neanderthal. But for me, finding a satisfactory haircut equates to witnessing a glistening unicorn prance down Lollipop Lane while dispensing fresh pints of ice cold IPA from its magical horn. Not impossible, but not all too common either.

More common than a good haircut.

More common than a good haircut.

My distrust in hair cutteries goes back as far as I can remember. Growing up, it was always good ol’ Mom wielding the shears and clippers to keep her boys’ hair at acceptable length. When she wasn’t working her magic behind the chair, it was either myself or my brothers laying waste to my head in the form of closely shaved sides coupled with a jheri curl mullet in the back. This was fine as an awkward teenager, but as an overweight married man and father of one, it has become too difficult to pull off this approach. I began to pay so-called professionals to butcher my hairdo time and time again, ruing the laws of nature that inexplicably allow one’s hair to grow throughout their lifetime.

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Shob Cheye Metal

ShobCheyeMetal

Shob cheye metal. For those of you who are neophytes to the Bengali language (i.e., anybody who is reading this outside of Bangladesh), the headline translates roughly to “more metal than all.” Why is this, you ask? At the end of the long and winding trail that brought my family and I back to Bangladesh, I am pleased to report that heavy metal music is alive and well in the soul of Bengal.

Contrary to what English speakers of planet Earth or dogmatic adherents of monotheistic religions may believe, music is often referred to as the universal language that binds us and brings us together in unfettered harmony and happiness. Nowhere does this sentiment ring truer than among heavy metal aficionados throughout the world, where mere 64th notes, guitar squeals, and blast beats coalesce into a community of initiates who proudly raise the banner of metal music with vigor in every land.

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Your Attention Please, Here’s My Baby

GemmaQueen

In life, there are two kinds of people: those who crave attention and those who receive attention. Then again, there are others like me who relish the freedom of drifting peacefully on the silent backwaters of life without any interruptions, minding one’s own business and left to feed our indulgences.

Then, you have a baby and boom! — the limelight doth shine ever so brightly upon the bundle of joy produced from your own loins. This, however, is not a bad thing, particularly when living in Bangladesh. In fact, it can provide the perfect diversion to maintain a low profile while appeasing the teeming masses of curious passers-by wishing to lay their eyes on a blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby for the first time in their life. Babies — the perfect fashion accessory to complement any occasion, especially in a culture that unequivocally adores infants.

As a foreigner living in Bangladesh, your personal homeostasis is blasted to smithereens the moment you step off the plane. Sometimes, this state of being can even begin when you board the final leg of your trip to Dhaka. At first, I braced myself for the usual line of interrogation from strangers on the street: “what is your name, what is your country, how do you feel in Bangladesh, can you get me visa?”

Admittedly, this rigamorale became annoying several months into our first jaunt back in 2002, so I was preparing my stoic defenses for these moments well before our return earlier this month. Turns out, I had absolutely nothing to worry about. When you have a baby in tow, you can feel safe betting every dollar and asset you own that he or she will become the center of attention in any situation, capturing the hearts and minds of people all across the country.

Meet my baby daughter Gemma — the Heir Apparent Bideshi Queen of Bangladesh.

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Idiot Family Abroad: Back to Bangladesh

Image of me returning to Bangladesh

Much has changed since the last post on this blog. San Francisco gifted away the Super Bowl in February, breaking my drunken heart on our nation’s grandest of holidays; Major League Baseball’s spring training has given way to the 2013 regular season, though yet again, somebody forgot to tell Mike Scioscia and the Los Angeles Angels that these games in April count; oh, and I think NBA basketball is still going on somewhere.

The biggest change? My family and I have recently moved halfway across the world to the global mecca of population density — Bangladesh. I come here firmly entrenched on my lovely wife’s coattails for a refreshing change of having too much time on my hands to waste on writing blog posts, suckling on the teat of the gravy train alongside my infant daughter as we both rely on ol’ mom to provide our proverbial daily bread.

While she slaves away as an international aid worker, I’m left to dwell in an apartment that has quadrupled in size from our measly abode in Washington, DC, while I am in charge of changing a few diapers and administering liquid and solid nourishment to our seven-month-old daughter. So, contrary to the American doctrine that existence beyond its borders is tantamount to living amongst hellfire and brimstone, life is good.

With this, the scope of this blog will change somewhat, so I apologize to the one or two followers out there. Initially, I thought of launching a new travel blog to write about the new misadventures in Bangladesh and beyond, but figured that was too much work and a likely waste of purchasing an additional domain.

What does this mean? It really means that the sights have broadened from slamming so-called sports heroes and toasting good eats in ‘Murica to examining perspectives on political dysfunction in both the U.S. and my new home, which share some alarming similarities. I shall also chronicle the day-to-day events here, which typically amount to about a month’s worth of “excitement” in the U.S. wrapped up in the course of 24 hours…24 hours of mind-boggling bewilderment.

Oh, and I’m sure I’ll write about food at some point (like, all the time).

So if you’re still reading, I promise to continue delivering sub-par material with a slight change in subject matter. Bishmillah rahman-er rahim, amen.

(Yes, Facebook friends, I re-used the photo. Sue me).