46 Cups of Tea

A statistical and image-based reflection on a week in west Bangladesh


After nine straight weeks of teaching, the question was how to fill nine days of vacation. On this occasion I decided to remain in Bangladesh and take the opportunity to explore this country a little further, and having never ventured due west before, that is where I went. The division of Khulna to be precise, which borders India and comprises a number of districts, including Jessore and Khulna.


http://www.lonelyplanet.com/maps/asia/bangladesh/map_of_bangladesh.jpg
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/maps/asia/bangladesh/map_of_bangladesh.jpg

Travelling individually has always felt a little daunting to me, so the prospect of spending the duration of the break navigating an unfamiliar area of Bangladesh alone provoked mixed emotions. Nevertheless, I survived, and I’m here to report in.

I’ll spare the mundane play by play account of what happened and instead present an array of telling statistics. Prior to leaving Chittagong I decided I’d take a pad and pen with me on the trip and keep a tally of the inevitable and the unexpected in equal measure.



So, here it is, the story of my week in Jessore and Khulna in numbers, beginning with the most important and reflective of all…

Cups of tea consumed – 46

Cups of tea I paid for – 20

Cups of tea bought for me by ever hospitable locals – 26



Invites to homes – 10

Invites accepted – 4

Photos taken – 659 (see a select set here – Jessore & Khulna)



Modes of transport used during the trip – 6



Times my unmarried status evoked confused frowns – 37

Times it was suggested I marry in Bangladesh – 21

Business cards received – 4

Business cards distributed – 27

Occasions in which I was asked if I came from Japan – 3

Jibes received regarding England’s woeful Cricket World Cup campaign – 24

Times I was asked to reveal my salary – 12

15th century mosques visited – 6



Hindu temples visited – 7



Here is a list of events which occurred just once, but I deemed worthy enough to scribble down in my notepad…

  • Requested to convert to Islam for marriage purposes
  • Military border parades witnessed


  • Squeezed into a body-hugging Bangladesh cricket shirt and told, “It fits perfectly boss!”
  • Asked if Iranian
  • Told to cancel my hotel booking and sleep in the home of a man I had met just 30 minutes previously
  • After briefly chatting with a man I met earlier in the day, he then text to inform me he was knocking on my hotel room door and requested I open said door…
  • ‘Adventure Parks’ visited that made me want to scream “WHY??!!” at the person who recommended it and assured me it was “very beautiful…”


  • Told I was lying about my age as I couldn’t possibly be as young as I was claiming
  • Told a man he was the least friendliest person I had ever met in Bangladesh after he spent a good five minutes ridiculing my intelligence for not carrying my passport and stating that as the British were “Kings” I am practically a disgrace to the great nation of Britain

And finally, a list of occurrences that initially I had firm intentions of meticulously tracking. Yet, as the hours and days passed, I soon realized it would be impossible to keep an accurate record due to the sheer volume. So, in the end they became uncountable, but no less significant…

  • Asked the question, “Your country?”
  • Confused questions with suspicious facial expressions regarding my reason for being in Jessore/Khulna/Bangladesh
  • Enthusiastically praised for my comprehensive Bangla language proficiency


  • Robustly chastised for my low level of Bangla language proficiency
  • Pondered the meaning of life
  • Wondered if rural Bangladesh is the most beautiful place on earth



  • Wondered why my bus driver was trying to overtake three other buses up ahead
  • Wondered how that 93rd passenger was going to find a space to squeeze into on the already cramped bus, but soon realizing there was space for passengers 94, 95 and 96.

So that concludes a brief look at my week in the west. It was fascinating, eye-opening, and at times a little testing. However, it was completely worth it, and evidence once again of why I often question why more tourists don’t come and explore this golden land.


Selfishly I’m glad they don’t though, because there were times on the trip as I sat on the back of a wagon and we meandered our way down a silent, tree-lined country road in the early evening, just as the sun began to set, that I thought to myself, “I’m totally at peace right now.”






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One People, One Nation, One Destiny.



Sunday, May 5th 2013 was a notable date here in Guyana. It marked the anniversary of an event which played a huge part in shaping the face of the Guyana you find today. Exactly 175 years ago to the day, on May 5th 1838, the very first indentured Indian labourers arrived to work in the sugar plantations of the then British colony of Guyana. They weren’t ‘slaves’ as such, however their workers’ rights were neglected and conditions were often poor. They did however have the right to repatriation in India after five years. Some took up this offer, others decided to make Guyana their permanent home.

Over 200,000 workers in total made the journey from Asia to South America in the 19th century, and possibly the most telling statistic of all is descendants of those immigrant workers now account for 44% of the total population in 2013. The Indo-Guyanese are therefore officially the largest ethnic group in Guyana.

One aspect of this country that has intrigued me most during my time here has been the incredible diversity. For a nation modest in geographical area and with a total population comparable to the city of Leeds (UK), or Austin (Texas), Guyana is a melting pot for such a diverse range of cultures, peoples, languages, and traditions. In addition to the Indo-Guyanese; Afro-Guyanese account for 30% of the population, whilst mixed heritage Guyanese make up 16%.  The Amerindian (indigenous) community accounts for the remaining 10%, aside from small Brazilian/Portuguese and Chinese communities.

This diversity manifests itself in so many aspects of Guyanese society. As I touched upon in a previous blog post, language is certainly a strong reflection, with the presence of English, Creole, Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, and nine Amerindian dialects. Cuisine is another. The popular ‘cookup’ is a Caribbean style dish made of rice, beans, meat, coconut and various vegetables all cooked together in one pot. Curry and roti dishes are readily available and popular, as are Chinese options, including the Guyanese style chow mein. Meat eaters get their fix at various Brazilian barbeques, and Amerindian cuisine is known for the spicy beef or pork stew, Pepperpot – customarily eaten during the Christmas period.

Music and dance is another diverse characteristic of Guyana. Traditional south Asian beats, tablas and sitars, and popular Bollywood songs frequently fill the air. Calypso, Soca, and Reggae are equally prevalent, and a reminder that despite being part of mainland South America, Guyana is very much influenced by its Caribbean connection. Brazilian and traditional South American music is also a common sound.

However, I feel I’ve been struck most by the religious diversity of this country, which is quite evident in Georgetown. Perhaps it’s because my eighteen months prior to Guyana were spent in the predominantly Islamic state of Bangladesh, where 90% of the population identify themselves as Muslim. My religious experiences were therefore defined by the distinct daily call to prayer, the abundance of traditional Islamic dress, and the Mosques of varying shapes and sizes. There is of course a sizeable Hindu community in Bangladesh as well as a modest number of Buddhists. Yet, overall society is defined by the teachings and values of the Qu’ran.


Prashad Nagar Masjid, Georgetown

Prashad Nagar Masjid, Georgetown


Christianity is the most widespread faith in Guyana, but given the history I touched upon earlier in this post, Hinduism is also very visible. Islam has a noticeable presence, despite being less represented in terms of actual followers.

From my front porch if you look to your left you will see a large Seventh Day Adventist Church, and if you look to your right you will see the towering structure of Guyana’s newest and biggest Mosque (currently under construction).


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In the foreground a church and behind this Guyana’s newest mosque.


I decided a few weeks back to take a series of photos that would demonstrate Georgetown’s religious diversity, and I’d like to present these in this blog post.

(The images are best viewed in full screen mode!)

Christianity

I’ll begin with the most followed faith in Guyana. It is estimated that 57% of the population are Christian, of which various denominations are present.  Below is a selection of images showing the churches of varying shapes and sizes across Georgetown, most of which were built during colonial administration and therefore possess a significant degree of historical and architectural charm.


St George's Cathdral, Georgetown



Susamachar Methodist Church, Georgetown

Susamachar Methodist Church, Georgetown


Susamachar Methodist Church


St George's Cathedral, Georgetown

St George’s Anglican Cathedral, Georgetown


Christ Church


Smith Memorial Church, Georgetown

Smith Memorial Church – built in 1844


St Andrew's Kirk

St Andrew’s Kirk, Presbyterian Church – The oldest building in Guyana, built in 1818.


Brickdam Cathedral

Brickdam Cathedral (Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception) – built 1920s


Queenstown Moravian Church


Burn's Memorial Presbyterian Church, Georgetown

Burn’s Memorial Presbyterian Church, Georgetown


Hinduism

Hindus account for 28% of the population, with the presence of Hinduism a result of the vast numbers of Indian immigrants brought to Guyana in the colonial era. Below are photos taken at temples across Georgetown.


Cummings Lodge/Industry Mandir

Cummings Lodge/Industry Mandir, Georgetown


Central Vaidik Mandir

Central Vaidik Mandir, Georgetown


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Radha Krishna Mandir

Radha Krishna Mandir, Georgetown


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Guyana Sanatan Dharma Mahasabha Ashram

Guyana Sanatan Dharma Mahasabha Ashram, founded 1934.


Islam

The exact root of Islam in Guyana is debated. It’s quite possible that it first arrived with a number of the West African slaves. It’s also widely accepted of course that like Hinduism, the presence of Islam is a direct result of 19th century immigration from India.

The first three images below show the new Queenstown Jama Masjid. The original was built in 1895, but succumbed to old age in 2007 and was dismantled. Upon completion it will once again sit proudly as the biggest mosque in Guyana and will be a place of prayer for much of the city’s Muslim population. It sits literally right behind my house, and I have watched its growth with great interest. When I first arrived it was merely a shell, but 10 months on it’s nearing completion and will certainly be a grand structure when finished.

Below this are images taken at other mosques across Georgetown. I’m always more intrigued by the role of Islam in society here, and I think this stems from my time in Bangladesh.


Prashad Nagar Masjid, Georgetown

Prashad Nagar Masjid, Georgetown


Prashad Nagar Masjid, Georgetown

Prashad Nagar Masjid, Georgetown


Queenstown Jama Masjid

Queenstown Jama Masjid


Prashad Nagar Masjid, Georgetown

Prashad Nagar Masjid, Georgetown


Queenstown Jama Masjid

Queenstown Jama Masjid


Queenstown Jama Masjid

Queenstown Jama Masjid


Prashad Nagar Masjid, Georgetown

Prashad Nagar Masjid, Georgetown




LBI Masjid

LBI (La Bonne Intention) Masjid


So there you have it, a selection of places of worship, which are dotted across Georgetown, some of which bear a connection to a bygone era when the foundations of religious faith were being laid in Guyana. My impression has been that generally speaking this is a spiritual society, signified by the vast array of ‘houses of god’, which vary in shape and size.  Within one square mile of my house I believe there are at least ten different places I could visit to connect with god, if I were so inclined. I would therefore hazard a guess that there are at least fifty across the whole of Georgetown.

I could of course have delved much deeper into this subject area, but I was more interested in capturing and presenting the distinctive religious architecture that is displayed right across Georgetown. I am also pretty impressed by the manner in which religious respect seems to maintain a sound level here. Considering you have three significant world religions coexisting very openly side by side in such a concentrated area, maybe other places across the world could learn a few lessons on religious tolerance from Guyana.