Syrian ‘Big Brother’ finalist Kaysar Dadour becomes unlikely hero in Brazil

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Aleppo-born Kaysar Dadour sought refuge in Brazil in June 2014. (Supplied)
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The city of Belo Horizonte was hosting its first Festival of Syrian and Lebanese Food and Culture and the Brazilians were embracing it wholeheartedly. (Supplied)
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The city of Belo Horizonte was hosting its first Festival of Syrian and Lebanese Food and Culture and the Brazilians were embracing it wholeheartedly. (Supplied)
Updated 26 April 2018
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Syrian ‘Big Brother’ finalist Kaysar Dadour becomes unlikely hero in Brazil

  • Aleppo-born Kaysar Dadour sought refuge in Brazil in June 2014
  • In early April, he became the first foreigner to reach the final of the country’s hit reality TV show “Big Brother Brasil”

BELO HORIZONTE: On an otherwise quiet Saturday morning in April, a shaded street in southeastern Brazil hummed to the sound of Middle Eastern music. The city of Belo Horizonte was hosting its first Festival of Syrian and Lebanese Food and Culture and the Brazilians were embracing it wholeheartedly — much like they have embraced a 28 year-old Syrian refugee for the past three months.

Aleppo-born Kaysar Dadour sought refuge in Brazil in June 2014. In early April, he became the first foreigner to reach the final of the country’s hit reality TV show “Big Brother Brasil.” He eventually finished in second place, racked up more than 2.5 million followers on Instagram, and walked away with US$44,000. He said he plans to use the prize money to extract his parents from the ongoing war in his native country.

A loud, smiley extrovert who changed his hairstyle on a near-weekly basis and charmed viewers with his occasional mispronunciation of Portuguese words, Kaysar worked as a waiter before entering the Big Brother house. He was accused of being disingenuous by some of the other 19 housemates, who insisted nobody could be so happy and energetic all of the time — especially someone who claimed he had lost a girlfriend and an uncle to war and was forced to sleep on the streets in Ukraine after fleeing Aleppo in 2011.

Yet to those fans enjoying shwarmaskibe and esfihas at the food festival, Kaysar proved a positive force, providing a different perspective of a situation they knew only from watching and reading the news.

“I voted for him to win,” said Brigitte Bacha, a dance instructor wearing a white t-shirt with “Peace in Syria” emblazoned across the front. “It is so important that he was on the show, because he showed the reality of the situation there. It was obvious he has a good character. He works hard and has integrated himself into our country. He showed that refugees are just like you and me, but they find themselves in a bad place just now.”

Lili Resende, a Brazilian attending with a Romanian friend, said she had not watched much of the show, but had been supporting Kaysar so that he could afford to save his family from war. “The perception of refugees here is already very good, but I was supporting him and wanting him to win because he and his family have suffered a lot,” said Resende, who shares an apartment building with various Syrians and helps them sell native food products at the local market. 

Brazil has long welcomed refugees from the Middle East. An influx of Lebanese in the late 19th Century resulted in Brazil being home to more Lebanese than any country outside Lebanon. More than 3,000 Syrians have reportedly arrived in recent years. Organizers of Saturday’s festival said they had expected around 3,000 visitors throughout the day, but the final headcount came in at 7,040. Entry was free, but each guest had to donate one kilogram of non-perishable food to a local charity. 

“Arab families gather together to eat, so we thought why not bring together the Brazilian people to eat Arab food together,” said the Consul of Syria for Minas Gerais state, Emir Cadar. As the smell of koftas and shish barak wafted through the air, flyers for Arabic lessons were distributed, vendors sold handmade chessboards, dresses and shisha pipes, and belly dancers swayed and jolted to live Middle Eastern music. 

“We dream of an end to war,” said Cadar — a statement in contrast to the official line that his government broadcast earlier in the day in which it was claimed “the Syrian people are happy” and that the country “is a victim of lies and fake news.”


Dhaka relishes traditional ‘Dhakaia iftar’ in Ramadan

Chawak Bazar Iftar market vendors on a busy Wednesday afternoon. (AN photo)
Updated 26 min 20 sec ago
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Dhaka relishes traditional ‘Dhakaia iftar’ in Ramadan

  • While much has changed in Dhaka, its tasty Ramadan dishes have stayed the same in the 400-year old city established by the Mughal dynasty.
  • The exquisite variety of kebabs attracts food lovers from far and wide, reminding them of the existence of Mughals through different food menus — offering tikka, shutli, jaali, shami, irani and other kinds of kebabs.

DHAKA: “To me it’s like a festival. During Ramadan, all of us friends regularly gather at my house and have the ‘Dhakaia Iftar’ together,” said Abdullah Alamin, 48, a city dweller of old Dhaka.

While much has changed in Dhaka, these tasty dishes have stayed the same in the 400-year old city established by the Mughal dynasty.

“Chawak Bazar Iftar market of old Dhaka has a history of more than 100 years. Many things of the area have changed with the passage of time but the Chawak Bazar Iftar remains unchanged,” said renowned historian Muntasir Mamun, a professor at Dhaka University.

Chawak Bazar became the city center of Dhaka during the Mughal regime in the early-16th century. The iftar bazar is a continuity of the retail market set up since then, Muntasir said.

During Ramadan, people from all over Dhaka get something more to add to their regular iftar menu.

In Chawak Bazar, vendors in makeshift shops offer a variety of iftar items. These include “boro baper polai khai” (only the son of an influential father eats this), shahi jilapi, shahi paratha, beef, chicken, mutton, pigeon, quail roast, keema roll, keema paratha, doi bora, borhani.

The exquisite variety of kebabs attracts food lovers from far and wide, reminding them of the existence of Mughals through different food menus — offering tikka, shutli, jaali, shami, irani and other kinds of kebabs.

Boro baper polai khai is the most popular iftar item among the locals. People from old Dhaka can simply not complete their iftar without having a piece of it. This is an exclusive food of the city made of chicken, minced meat, potatoes, brain, chira, egg, spices and ghee.

“This is a traditional food of old Dhaka. I saw my grandfather enjoying eating boro baper polai khai,” said Hajji Joinal Molla, 79, who has been living in the Lalbag area of old Dhaka for many years.

“We love to treat our special guests with this dish,” Joinal said.

Most of the 200 vendors at the market are second- or third-generation businesses. 

“My 11-year-old son is very fond of shami kebab at Chawak Bazar. Today he has invited some of his friends to our house, which brought me here to this iftar market,” said Shamsuddin Ahmed, 55, a resident of Uttara, new Dhaka.

“These traditional Iftar items have become an integral part of our iftar culture,” Shamsuddin said.