Last Friday was, by far, the most surreal day since arriving here in Bangladesh over six months ago.
December 21st was Eid here in Bangladesh. Eid ul-Adha is a religious holiday which is as important to Muslims as Christmas is to Christians. Like Christmas, it’s a time when people get together to spend time with their family. What that means for someone like me – living in Dhaka City – is that most of the city empties out as people head to the countryside and rural villages to spend time with loved ones. It was very weird seeing all these empty streets that are normally filled with bumper to bumper traffic. I was able to get from my uncle’s home to my grandmother’s home in under 10 minutes. Any other day it would have taken anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.
Eid, like Christmas, is also about giving. But, there are no presents under a tree for this holiday. Instead, it’s all about feeding the poor and feeding family. Those who can afford it usually buy a cow, a goat, or lamb. They then divide it so that a minimum of 1/3rd goes to the poor, another third goes to loved ones, and the rest is kept for oneself. Early Friday morning I had gone outside of my home to a very odd sight. Every few feet there was a cow or other farm animal tied to a fence or post. It’s like how you find bicycles in Toronto tied down to almost anything that doesn’t move. Except it was farm animals instead of bikes.
So the busy streets of Dhaka – normally full of the sound of cars honking and rickshaw bells – was eerily silent. Except for all the mooing. What came next though was really something.
As part of Eid, it’s a religious tradition that the family that buys the farm animal divides the animal up themselves. And by “divide” I mean that Dhaka basically became an open-air butcher shop. I have photos but, in good taste, I’m not uploading them. Friday morning started off waking up to the sound of mooing instead of the sound of cars. Friday afternoon that mooing was replaced with the sound of knives cutting. Along the roadside, every few feet, there was someone cutting and slicing. The streets were literally filled with blood. What was even weirder is that those parts of the city that had gated communities had their gates all closed and locked up during the day. Outside those gates stood dozens upon dozens of homeless and poor – hoping to get some of the meat that was being chopped up inside.
As shocking as such a sight was, upon reflecting on it for a couple of days, I think it’s been more good than bad. No wait – don’t close your browser window just yet – hear me out. First off, for me personally, I’ve become more respectful and mindful about where my food comes from. Back home, it’s sometimes easy to forget that a life had to be taken for you to enjoy that steak on your plate or that burger in your hand. After all, the meat from the supermarket comes prepackaged, vacuum sealed, and saran-wrapped. It’s also a refreshing change to see a religious holiday where the gift of giving is not just extended to friends and family – but also to random poor strangers.
Giving meat and beef away to the poor is actually something the poor need. Malnutrition is actually a major problem in Bangladesh. The most common issue with malnutrition is a lack of protein – particularly among the very young and poor. The poor in Bangladesh usually can only afford to buy foods which are high in carbohydrates and low in protein. Some may not even buy food. Before coming to Bangladesh, I saw a news report on BBC World News which showed that a lot of the poor in Dhaka simply boil up leaves they find near their homes and eat that for dinner. For many of the poor that had gathered near the various gated communities, Eid was the first time this year they were going to be able to have a meal with protein.
And since anyone partaking in this tradition has to give a minimum of 1/3rd to the poor – it also makes you more mindful about the plight of poverty. Can you imagine what kind of world we would have if 1/3rd of the presents we were buying during the holidays were to be given away to poor strangers?