Why we came up with the idea of making our own yogurt escapes me. Perhaps the subject arose as I’ve been buying sour curd as a substitute for the natural variety I used to eat every day back home in England. Either way Bishwajit said he knew how to make yogurt and the project was born.
He started the very next day, showing me a neat little set of six bone china cups, still in their cardboard box, that he had acquired from somewhere ages ago. These, he said, were perfect. I still couldn’t see it myself. Then, after work he produced a two liter plastic water bottle that he had washed thoroughly. It was when he explained that this was what we were going to use to carry the fresh cows milk from the dairy that I sat up, started to take notice and really listen to what he was saying.
I suppose I should have known better. Bishwajit always does what he says. He’s supported me in every way I’ve asked for help since I started work and we became colleagues at the same NGO. So now, here we were walking down Aurangajeb Road keeping a lookout for a rickshaw to take us to a Dairy Farm…in Dhaka city? Many stopped, but all declined. Most didn’t know where exactly we wanted to go and those that did weren’t prepared to take us. Eventually someone agreed and very soon I found myself traveling through a part of the city that was new to me.
Late afternoon and early evening is always manic, as rush hour creates even more congestion than usual. It didn’t take long however for us to leave the busier roads and bump our way through some of the quieter back streets, eventually joining one of the main routes leading out of the city. This was both busy and dusty, its traffic consisting mostly of buses and lorries heading in and out of Dhaka city.
Buildings thinned out and through the gaps I could see the smoking chimneys of the brick works up ahead. Low squat slums lined the sides of the road with goats and cattle wandering freely. I was hit by the stink of pungent rubbish as we cycled past workers emptying the small metal containers they pull through the city streets collecting waste from flats and shops. An occasional vehicle speeding by created a dust cloud that we collided with. Choking and stinging when it hit our faces we held our breath, closed our eyes and bowed our heads for the few moments until it passed. Dust here is like grit elsewhere.
We continued through the city slum. People were shocked to see me here, and I was shocked to see their circumstance. Both parties dumbly stared back at one another. I had forgotten I was in a rickshaw until Bishwajit instructed the driver to pull over at the side of the road. His relief was evident, the sweat running from his face, his clothes sticking to his body. He was told to wait until we returned and seemed more than happy to do so. He clearly needed a rest and it was unlikely he would pick up another fare easily this far outside the city.
I recognised the familiar smell of fresh milk before I’d taken more than a handful of steps down the short dusty path leading to the dairy. My mother grew up on a farm and as a child myself, from a young age, I had watched many times, fascinated, as cows were milked by hand.
We found several men sitting together in what constituted a mixture of living quarters and farm shop. They immediately poured us a small glass of hot, sweet black tea, and made us welcome. As is usual in Bangladesh, I was almost instantly offered a stool to sit on, and made myself comfortable within moments of arriving. We were here to buy fresh cow’s milk to make yogurt, so Bishwajit got straight down to the business of fixing us a really good price.
Bishwajit haggling at the Dairy Farm
I sipped my tea and waited a while, these things take time. The process of agreeing a price between the local population is far more in-depth than we visitors could possible hope to sustain.
I left the haggling to Bishwajits expert hands, and drifted outside. Peering through a mosquito net strung up across a small doorway I couldn’t believe my eyes. Inches away several enormous black cows quietly sat, chewing gently. I slipped behind the net to stand inside a vast cowshed. Cattle were in the process of being milked, the white frothy liquid collected in shiny metal pales before being pooled together in a larger bucket standing next to my feet. Several tiny calves looked over curiously from where they stood, tethered close beside their mothers.
Inside was surprisingly cool, especially considering the soaring temperatures outside. I stood entranced for minutes: that I was here in the middle of all this I found amazing. Bishwajit joined me. Having finaly agreed a price we waited for our container to be filled, the water replaced by fresh milk, produced only moments before.
Armed with 2 litres of cows milk and a small terracotta bowl of their home made yogurt which we needed to culture the production of our own, we returned to our waiting chariot, the rickshaw driver now fully rested and ready for the homeward journey.