Morjina Begum

Morjina Begum
Photo location: Tangaial, Bangladesh

My entire life had been spent on an island on the Brahmaputra River. I had never seen any vehicles in my 35 years of life, except for boats, ox carts and horse carts. Like me hundreds of women from these islands had never seen any modern vehicles. The men of the islands went out for necessary things but women didn’t need to go anywhere. I, myself, never imagined a city life could look like this. Last year for the first time I left my land in search of making a living with my complete family and came to Dhaka. We took out a loan to move here in the hope that our family could at least eat three meals a day. We had to rebuild our home 5 times before we decided it was time to move. Before coming here, we were surviving by eating a blend of wheat powder with river water once a day. Sometimes we ate a mix of rice and eggplant. If my husband could catch a fish from the river, it was royal food for my family.

I was born on the island of Shakhahatichor in Chilmari district, 400 miles away from Dhaka. Chilmari district has 6 unions, or councils but 4 out of 6 are now in the middle of the river. Our island is one of them. Life is becoming more difficult every year for the people of the islands. People are dying from starvation there. Nothing grows on our islands because of draught. People have nothing to do; no jobs for surviving. There are no agricultural activities for farmers. In recent decades our area has been afflicted by severe droughts. There were not many problems in the previous years because there was adequate water in the Brahmaputra River. Now the water does not flow. The mighty Brahmaputra is the lifeline for our agricultural and our domestic lives, but it is dying every day and taking thousands of lives with it. 

Thousands of islanders are facing a serious food crisis, natural disasters and temperature problems. Every year from mid-September through mid-November, this crisis is extreme. We called the period Mora Kartik, meaning the months of death and disaster. The last time we were there we couldn’t even stay in our hut because of the intolerable cold and wind. Now the season and weather have become unpredictable. Last winter my father died in his old age because he couldn’t tolerate the biting, painful cold any longer. My father used to say: “it’s so cold that tigers are shaking.” He is not the only one; lots of old people die every year from these conditions. During winter this place becomes unbearable yet during summer the heat feels like hell.

Even though we were hungry on our island, we never wanted to move to Dhaka. But we had nothing left but these two hands. Without food or a  job, these hands are incapable of feeding our mouths. So, I listened to my husband and come to Dhaka for work. My husband is a daily laborer and I work as a cook in a canteen where laborers eat every day. I have to work hard the whole day for 3000 taka and food for myself. Sometimes I can take some leftovers for my children. Life is very hard here too but at least we have opportunities for income. We can eat three times a day. My children don’t have to starve for food anymore. That is what I have wanted my whole life.

 Link to ‘Stories from Bangladesh’.