It is 5:30am in Kaliyakoir, Gazipur, and Nilufar Yasmin’s patients are waiting already outside, lined up beside a sign that says ‘BRAC Shasthya Shebika’. They are farmers and shopkeepers, and they have come to ‘Doctor Apa’ to get their daily dose of tuberculosis medicine before heading to work.
Jhuma’s home, a small mud house, stands alone on a little raised piece of land in the middle of a vast inland sea. She lives in the haor, a seemingly endless stretch of wetlands in Sunamganj in northern Bangladesh. Everything around her is covered by water. She cannot see land, as far as she looks, for more than half of the year. More children drop out from schools in these areas than anywhere else in the country. 20 million people live in the haor region that spreads across seven districts. Less than 1% finish high school.
From the congested, waterlogged streets of Dhaka to flooded farmlands across the country, Bangladesh has enough problems right here. What is the point in looking to the sky when all it brings is rain? Why on earth are we trying to get to space?
It is a weekday afternoon in Moulvibazar, Rangpur, and the melody of children chanting times tables is wafting through the trees. School is over, but students are gathered under shady trees in the village courtyards for another round of lessons.
But as soon as night falls, she replaces her sari with a colourful salwar kameez and swaps the bucket on her arm for a row of shiny bangles, ready to take the stage. Alpina acts in a popular theatre group that regularly travels across the northern villages of Bangladesh.
Peeking from behind the tin door is Ibrahim’s two-year-old daughter, Amena, in a blue polka dot dress, and a kitten in her arms. Another kitten appears and darts across the courtyard. Ducklings scatter about in panic.
It is difficult to monetise how livestock impacts a household's income, but it certainly increases resilience in vulnerable households. Growing rice or vegetables, especially in time of unpredictable weather and natural disasters, is often a risky venture. However, livestock is easier to take care of. For example, sheep and goats are adaptable assets that are not vulnerable to seasonal changes.
As the western sky grows rosy pink, and the paddy fields on the east turn deep green, hundreds of brown little dots are suddenly seen scrambling in the horizon. Within minutes, a flock of quacking ducks approach the main road, and amongst them, walks a woman in a bright blue saree.
You may have read the news today. A teenager was harassed on her way back from school. A housewife, raped and murdered. Just the other day, you read about the rape of an eight-month-old baby. Do these stories bother you? Or did you fold up the newspaper and sigh in relief thinking, “At least my daughter is safe.”
“What’s there to be afraid of?” they shot back, shrugging their shoulders with cheeky smiles. This was their reaction to Cyclone Roanu, which swept the coast of Bangladesh on 21 May 2016, killing 21 people and destroying 200,000 homes.