We have been able to cut our journey by taking the sea plane, an essential part of the rescue plans in place to reach these flooded areas when a disaster hits, it is the only one in Bangladesh. We have to travel 1 hour by sea plane followed by another 1 and a half hours by speed boat. Such is the remoteness of these villages.
As we look out of our windows below is like a patchwork quilt of greens and browns, scattered houses and trees. We leave the plane and the heat and humidity hits you; this must be the hottest place I have ever been, the only respite being the breeze as the boat skims the water. The heat is so intense we have to cover our heads and any other uncovered part of our bodies; sweat runs down my back and my clothes stick to me. As we go towards the remote villages we see the occasional boat and the few scattered houses. In contrast to the city and the hustle and bustle, the cars, rickshaws, people and beggars, the river is tranquil and clean and there is a feeling of peace.
As we arrive at our destination dozens of the villagers and their children run out to see us. I am exhausted with the heat and we struggle to climb the muddy banks to get onto the path to the village. We walk along a single track, passing small houses made with mud and leaves. These people have nothing, just a few pots and pans; it takes another 20 minutes walking along the path until we reach the village- everything we do is met with keen interest by the locals.
We walk down a muddy slope and meet Shadeb and Namita, the husband and wife who have agreed to talk with us. All around are the remains of the devastation of the Cyclone Aila, May 2009, that ravaged the village.
The searing heat is making us all wilt and our host invites us sit under the veranda of their home. This house was originally re-built after Cyclone SIDR, 2007 and the mud walls and corrugated roof withstood the second cyclone in May 2009. Namita tells us that her husband was away working when Cyclone Aila hit. Luckily she and her 3 children reached a high place and struggled for 3 days without food or water. They were at the brink of death when Shadeb returned and got them to safety. They lost everything but survived.
We chat with the help of an interpreter, and I get my photos out to see if we can find things in common with our families. Again these lovely, inquisitive people love the photos. They are interested in my sons, but mostly by a photo of my mother. They are so surprised that she is still alive, it is only then that I realise that there are no old people in the village. All around us the villagers stand with their children and I don’t know how they can live in this heat; we are constantly drinking water and wiping our brows.
For all the devastation, this is calm, happy place- the air is so fresh and it is so peaceful. I can truly understand why these people would rather stay and face an uncertain future than go to the city with the filth and noise.
Due to the breakdown of the embankments the salt water has ruined the crops and the paddy fields will not produce because there is too much salt. The villagers are now farming shrimps. Many of the nets for fishing were destroyed and so another source of income has gone.
Suddenly there is great excitement- our sea plane has been able to land nearer the village and everyone is trying to get the best view. We continue back along the track towards the new Save the Children safe play area which was set up in the aftermath of the 2 cyclones that have hit this area over the past 18 months.
This was set up 3 months ago as a place for the village children to spend the day and play and learn while their parents rebuild the villages. The covered shelter is about 4×4 yards and covered with sides. A place to escape from the sun, the floor is covered with matting and there are pictures made by the children on the walls. We watch the children as they play and go inside to join them and play games. I think these children have a far happier life than poor Rubel and Jhuma who now live in Dhaka. At least they don’t have to spend hours in tiny rooms working 12 hours a day and living in the squalor of the slums.
This has been the most tiring of days, the intense heat has taken its toll as we all sit, clothes wet with sweat, hair stuck to our heads. We are truly in awe of these wonderful, resilient people.