Dhaka Chronicles

Appelez-moi Salma sur ARTE partout en Europe

C’est tout à fait par hasard qu’on a découvert hier que Appelez-moi Salma a joué sur ARTE les 9 et 16 novembre dernier! On savait déjà que la vente du film à la chaine franco-allemande avait été officialisée, mais on ne connaissait pas encore les dates de diffusion.

Hélas! on l’a découvert un peu trop tard… mais n’empêche, on est très heureux de savoir que tous les Européens on pu voir le film à la télé! En plus, ARTE en a fait la diffusion sur Internet jusqu’au 21 novembre. Quelqu’un s’est même amusé à copier le film et à mettre les 15 premières minutes sur YouTube.

Gay in Bangladesh

I suggest you have a look at this website. Very nice pictures and stories about homosexuality in Bangladesh. Something we don’t get to see often.

Je vous suggère ce site, qui porte sur l’homosexualité au Bangladesh avec belles photos et témoignages.


Part 4 – Faith in the elite youth

Husain Amer

Husain Amer, a friend from Montreal currently living in China, will be our guest writer for 4 little chronicles about Dhaka inspired by his visit in July.


Our first destination today is another hijra center at the other end of town.  This meant another rickshaw or ‘CNG’ (motorcycle with seats/TokTok powered by Compressed Natural Gas, hence the acronym CNG).  At this point, the charm of riding in these modes of transportation is gone.  They are uncomfortable, bumpy and pretty damn stressful.

It seems that we are always landing on the craziest drivers or perhaps they are all out of their minds…  They turn without looking, cutting off others, bumping into the back of one another and accidents are not uncommon.  Ben told me about one of his rickshaw drivers that got frustrated and started kicking the rickshaw in front of him.

At the second hijra center, we conducted interviews because there were not many hijras that attended the class due to the monsoon rain.  We got to hear a beautiful love story of a rare case where one of the hijras has been accepted by her lover’s family, something very rare in this community.

Our second destination that evening was a famous mosque at, again, a different corner of town.  We were invited by one of the hijras from the first center I got to visit earlier this week.  They had told us some sort of spiritual happenings were gonna take place.  No idea what to expect…

That ‘CNG’ ride felt like an eternity.  We arrived at the entrance of the mosque.  This particular mosque was bigger than most and was the graveyard of a famous Islamic practitioner who had the power to give you riches if you prayed to him.  Many from around Dhaka and Bangladesh travel there on Thursday nights, as Friday is the day of rest for most of the country, and pray for their share of health.

Walking around with Sébastien and Aude, Seb being a 6’4 white man, curly red hair and beard – sharp green eyes, Aude being a fading blond hair small white girl with even more color in her eyes than Seb and I with my curly afro…  No need to say we stuck out like a sore thumb.

Waiting for our hijra host to arrive, we attracted a crowd while standing outside the gates.  We headed inside to where the hijra/gay community hangs out.  By then, we had gathered an orbit of people.  Mostly gay men at first.  It was dark in the courtyard of the mosque and looking around at the circle of giggling short brown men, I couldn’t help but get worried.  I believe Aude had the least to worry about.

To walk around, we had to make a path through the people standing there, looking aimlessly at us.  That wasn’t the only obstacle.  There were people sleeping on the floor, children so small that you could really hurt them if stepped on the right spot.

As we walked, people followed.  More and more were curious and we really couldn’t do anything.  We decided to leave since our situation wasn’t gonna change soon.

We headed home and quickly pimped ourselves up.  Our third destination on my final day in Bangladesh was at the Radisson Hotel were we had been invited to a high end party.  Entry to this party was a hopping 2500 taka = 36 USD.  Quite ridiculous for this country.  But we didn’t pay since we got invited by the man Korvi, the founder of the Jaago foundation.

It’s hard to believe that events like this exist even in the middle of a mayhem city like Dhaka.  At every doorstep of any building, you can’t avoid seeing the poverty, the unbelievably hard workers who do it for scraps.  60% of people in Bangladesh earn less than 1$ a day, but some spend 10$ for a drink at this party…  And this night, I was one of them…

picture taken from the Jaago roof

picture taken from the Jaago roof

Part 3 – Faith in the groom

fatstampHusain Amer, a friend from Montreal currently living in China, will be our guest writer for 4 little chronicles about Dhaka inspired by his visit in July.


Last night, I didn’t get woken up by the Hazan – call to prayer.  I really hoped I would but I guess was too exhausted.

We spent our day in old Dhaka.  The name says it all, it’s Dhaka at its worst.  Perhaps the slums are as equally difficult to live in.  The people living around this area work mainly for what comes into the port, which is the center of old Dhaka.  Each stores carries one item, but it carries tons of it.  Either tons of ginger, potatoes, sugar canes, etc.

We stopped to get a shave, me and Seb.  A blade shave – you know, the old style barbers using a blade to give you a close ass shave.  The guy who shaved me was very proud of himself.  He kept posing for the camera with this ridiculous smile on his face. I didn’t like the way he was manhandling my face during the process.  I hope he doesn’t touch his wife that way…  He was kinda throwing his huge hand and fingers anywhere on my face and maneuvering it around.  Didn’t fell good…  But it was the closest shave I ever had!

I brought the camera along and took some shots on the port.  People there are really friendly, really curious but still respectful.  Before I even took out the camera, we had a crowd of 10 people following us.  Then, when I got installed to shoot my share of the boat traffic going around, I was surrounded by young and old Bangladeshis.  Good thing I had Seb and Aude protecting me from the rain and the surrounding locals.

A bit about Dhaka.  The life here is hard.  To maintain a proper living, it’s good to be able to rely on things like electricity and running water.  I’ve been here for 3 days now and both of those have stopped for a certain period of time.  Amanda has told me that the electricity would go out for 8 hours at a time during really hot temperatures.

The buildings of the city seem to be all rusted and rotten, even though most of the buildings were built 15 years ago.  The constant humidity and heat has rotten the walls so quickly and the city feels old and as if it’s about to crack.

The vegetation isn’t as apparent as I had hoped.  It is there and most of the time the air is fresh but there are some streets with not one tree on it.  Little alleyways of mud and puddles.

I feed the groom a water melon.

Seb and Aude’s neighbour’s son is getting married!  They got invited to the weeding and since I was around, I also got to go!

I had high expectations since I figured this would resemble an Arabic wedding a bit due to the matching religions.

In Bangladesh, they have 3 ceremonies, one for the bride, one for the groom and one where both are present.  This one was the groom’s celebration.  As we entered the moderately big room, we sat and waited for about an hour and a half before the festivities started.  I had a conversation with one of the cousins, hyping me up for a night of fun!

The groom and his family arrived finally and they sat the future husband in the front, surrounded by all sorts of eatables.  For about half an hour, we watched as different guests fed the man while he was trying to pretend he was enjoying the food getting stuffed in his face.  Then diner was ‘served’ a grand selection of 3 items: Rice and meat, sweet rice with what I call “Bangla balls” and vegetables.  We ate to our fill and to my surprise that was it.  People started leaving and we did the same.  But on our way out, some of the family members insisted we feed the groom as well.  So we proceeded to put food into another human’s mouth which we never spoke too, nor was he in a situation were he could not feed himself, nor did I have the intention of making love to him.

It was fun!

Getting a close shave in Old Dhaka.

Getting a close shave in Old Dhaka.

Part 2 – Faith in the new

fatstampHusain Amer, a friend from Montreal currently living in China, will be our guest writer for 4 little chronicles about Dhaka inspired by his visit in July.


What awoke me was something quite magical.  At 4:50, I get woken up by the Hazan, the call to prayer for the mosque on the other side of the lake.  “Allahwho Akbar …”

These were words I haven’t heard in a long time and it felt quite spiritual.  I haven’t prayed in a long time.  I do recite the only piece of the Koran I know “Al Fatiha” – the opening.  It relaxes me and brings me to rest when I am in fear.  I will probably sneak my way into a mosque during my trip and pray, at least once.

In the morning, Seb and Aude had to take care of their visas.  We went to the visa office, which was quite a mess.  There was no one really to give directions.  I saw Seb and Aude switch counters probably 6 times during our 1 hour there.  But they got what they needed and we were on our way!

What came after was something I was waiting for since I’ve heard about Seb and Aude’s project.  Evergreen is the reason Sébastien Rist and Aude Leroux-Lévesque came to Bangladesh in the first place.  In this country populated mainly with Muslim believers and practitioners, there is a small group called the Hijras who are shunned from this society.

To simplify, they are the gays, transvestites and transsexuals of Bangladesh who have formed a support group and 3 learning centers for others like them.  In this center, they get free STD and HIV education and testing.  Seb and Aude have been giving them free English lessons while getting closer to them and earning their trust.  Soon enough they will take out the camera and start following these fascinating individuals.

I arrived to one of the three centers expecting really rowdy, loud and extroverted people.  I was surprised when they first were quite respectful and quiet, curious about my presence, asking me common questions.

The class Seb and Aude had prepared was watching ‘Paris is Buring’, a film about  gays and transsexuals in New York during the 1990s.  A little bit into the film, we asked the class if I could film the class and they didn’t mind.  I took out the camera and started filming. This was quite a feeling.  To be one of the first getting coverage of this community and personalities but at the same time, I was thinking to myself “what will my Dad say…”

They loved the camera as most flashy personalities would.  I got flashed by one of them…  Afterwards, we had two of them dance for the camera.  They really enjoyed themselves.

I said my goodbyes but not without being invited to a spiritual event.  Can’t wait to see what happens there and Yes, I will be bringing my camera!


Three Hijras from the class Seb and Aude taught. The paper reads: "Plz coll me, I am gay" with a phone number...

Three Hijras from the class Seb and Aude taught. The paper reads: "Plz coll me, I am gay" with a phone number...

Part One – Dhaka Chronicles

fatstampHusain Amer, a friend from Montreal currently living in China, will be our guest writer for 4 little chronicles about Dhaka inspired by his visit in July.


As the plane started to lower its altitude, I was able to look at Dhaka from the sky. It seemed  as if the city was flowing on a river.  The lights are low, close to the ground as there are no high rises, and some of them are flickering.  It was as though I was watching fireflies sitting on a lake, while the moon reflected off the water in a dream like fashion.

I got picked up by Sam and Korvi who came along with Seb, giving us a ride back to Seb’s apartment where I will be crashing for the next 4 days.  The city was dark during the ride but the geography is quite refreshing compared to Beijing.  Palm trees and fresh air provided by all the greenery around and the humid wind blowing along.  It was refreshing.

I didn’t want to sleep as I was too excited but did feel the need for some rest.  The next morning, Aude, Seb and I headed out to “New Market”.  On our way there, I got to see the city for the first time as it truly is, not quiet and sparsely populated like the night before but loud and packed with rickshaws and some cars and busses that don’t seem to ever stop, even when dropping off or picking up their customers.

I’ve taken the rickshaw rides 6 times today.  I feel terrible about these short men peddling with all their strength, getting off the bike pulling when arriving at an uphill slop.  The streets are simply packed with them and they are fashionably pimped up with glitter and silver ornaments to…  I guess it adds some style to their ways.

We shopped in the markets for a while and during our visit, Seb and Aude’s tailor spotted them from across the mall and called them to invite us for tea.  My first tea invite for this trip!!  Hurray!!  The tailor could speak some English, which is good compared to the rest of his competitors.  I found it amusing when I asked him what his favorite meal was and he answered “rice and meat”.  I guess I was expecting a name of a certain meal or something.

That night I decided to sleep on the living room floor.  When it comes to fading to the dream world I need sound, noise, a constant stream of something, anything to get me to drift.  Seb’s apartment is perfect for this.  Their balcony overseas a lake and at night, the local Bangladeshis are all around it sipping tea and chatting.  The sound of the rickshaw bells and honks coming from afar definitely got me to flow away nicely, in a trance which I’m sure I will miss once I leave.