Friday, August 10, 2012


Bangladesh, to me as a child of the 80s and 90s, conjured up images of natural disasters and extreme poverty. And while those things do and have happened, the country certainly has more depth to it.

For one, Bangladesh is the home of some influential people. Nobel peace prizer winner Muhammad Yunus is also the founder of Grameen Bank. Jawed Karim is one of the co-founders of YouTube and also developed the anti-fraud system that's used by PayPal. Fazlur Rahman Khan is the father of the "tubular design" and the architect who designed the Sears Tower (I refuse to call it Willis Tower--it will ALWAYS be Sears Tower to me) and the John Hancock Center, both in Chicago, IL. Both Afshan Azad and Shefali Chowdhury were actresses who played in the Harry Potter films. Irene Khan is the current secretary general of Amnesty International (the first women, first Asian, and first Muslim to hold that position).

One of the key symbols of Bangladesh is the Bengal tiger, which delighted my 6-year-old daughter to no end. It's the most numerous of tiger subspecies, even though in 2010, it was placed on the endangered species list.

Located on the Bay of Bengal, the country itself, minus a small border with Myanmar, is almost completely surrounded by the country of India.

Originally, the British included Bangladesh as part of British India, but in 1947, things had changed. The Muslim areas of West Pakistan and East Bengal separated from primarily Hindu India. By 1955, East Bengal became known as East Pakistan. The arrangement wasn't that great since East and West Pakistan were physically separated by India, and eventually East Pakistan gained independence in 1971 and renamed itself Bangladesh.

The official language is Bangla (also known as Bengali), but English is also used. Bengali is not only the official language of Bangladesh, but also the nearby areas in India as well.

The majority of people in Bangladesh are Bengali, and most people practice Islam. While there are a lot of rural areas, the capital Dhaka has over 14 million people, and the second largest city, Chittagong, had around 4 million. (I have this mix track called "Chittagong Chill" that's been a favorite of mine for years. Now I'm gonna have to go listen to it again.)

If there is a list of countries that could use some help, Bangladesh should probably be on there. Having a median age in the early 20s, it's evident this is a result of inadequate sanitation, clean water, susceptibilities to numerous communicable diseases, a high maternal mortality rate, etc.

Much of Bangladesh's culture shares similarities with that of India, and of course it's been influenced by its history and geography as well. But it takes it all in with its own subtleties to make it its own and unites its people. And its this rich history that we're jumping into this week.

Up next: Holidays and Celebrations 

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