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A Bangladeshi new year

Tearfund | 19 Dec 2018

Alpona floor decoration

Whether you’re loudly singing Auld Lang Syne or dropping icecream on the floor (it’s a thing in Switzerland), everyone loves a New Year tradition. Lucy Dunne volunteered in Bangladesh with Tearfund Go last year and experienced a Bangladeshi New Year.                  

It was a warm day in April, I was preparing to celebrate New Year. In Bangladesh, 14 April is Pohela Boishakh, the first day of the Bengali calender and a national holiday. My team and I were lucky enough to celebrate Bangladeshi New Year with our host community.     

Panta-monium               

The day started bright and early with a traditional breakfast of panta – rice which has been soaked in water overnight. We were told it was good for digestion (something that we were told about nearly everything we ate in Bangladesh).

Then we got dressed in our New Year’s outfits. My host mum grabbed a pile of safety pins and began to help me put on my shari. Sharis, the traditional dress for Bangladeshi women, consist of a long length of fabric that is wrapped, folded and pinned around the body. For Pohela Boishakh the traditional shari colour is red, along with a handmade flower crown.

Lucy joins in the festivities

L-R: Lucy (centre) goes walkabout in Shari,; an alpona decoration

The boys from our team wore panjabis, loose long shirts worn over trousers by men on special occasions.

We went out to join the procession; a walk around the community with lots of singing and drumming as everyone came together to begin celebrating. With music blaring out of a big loudspeaker, we were taught some traditional dance moves by the ladies, while snacks and drinks were handed around.           

One alpona, two alpona, three alpona, floor           

Another key tradition for Bangladeshi New Year is not painting the town red, but the floor. Painting patterns onto the ground, known as alpona, is an integral part of New Year celebrations. We spent New Year’s Eve decorating our office floors and trying to avoid our work getting washed away by the huge thunderstorms.

To finish a day of celebrations, our team visited the local Boishakh fair. A hubbub of noise and colour, the fair was full of stalls selling pots and pans, toys and yummy snacks. A personal highlight was riding a man-powered ferris wheel – only in Bangladesh!        

Celebrating the start of the Bengali year was such a privilege and one of the highlights of my three-month placement. The welcome we received from the community and their celebrations sums up an amazing culture of hospitality.         

To find out more about the exciting opportunities to volunteer overseas with Tearfund this year, visit Tearfund Go

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