Sahia married at 15 and met her husband on their wedding day. She has a great sense of humor, which is evident as soon as she meets us: “He’s a good wife.” “I was lucky but he may have exaggerated a little his status to my parents,” she laughs. “His actual value was slightly higher than his market value.”
She has agreed to speak to us about the way climate change and environmental stress influence people’s lives. She claims that she moved into her husband’s home and in-laws after the wedding. Singapur, a riverside town in central Bangladesh located only a few hundred kilometers from Dhaka, was her new home. After living in this village for a little over a year, she saw her first house collapse into the river.
We found cracks on the floor one day as the land began to be pulled into the water. This was a bad sign. Each day, the cracks grew deeper.
The erosion of riverbanks usually occurs slowly. However, sometimes a large chunk of land falls into the water. Sahia’s first house was destroyed in this way. She began to move their belongings as soon as she realized how deep the cracks in the ground were. The house was gone a few hours later.
Riverbank erosion has rendered the only primary school in Singapur Village unsafe to use. Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson, Author provided
Sahia, her family, and friends moved into the house of her husband’s aunt for a short time. It wasn’t long before the river swallowed up his home, too. Sahia, in an anxious voice, tells me that they moved into a house abandoned after this but are still too close to the river.
Sahia’s husband was a professional fisherman, so they survived on the catch he caught. The family was able to stay until, one day, everything changed.
The river used to have tons of fish, but people stopped eating it when they started dying.
The family was forced to switch careers when their main source of income stopped supporting them. The family decided to migrate to Aliganj to work at a brick plant further upriver.
Sahia explains how her family came to work in the brick plant. Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson. Author provided.
They leave Singpur every year for six months during the rainy seasons to avoid flooding.
We survived six months in Singpur on the money that the man who brought us to the brick factory gave us. We use the money we earn to feed our families. We are usually paid weekly, between 2,000 and 4,000 taka (PS20-40). We managed to save around 1,000 taka (PS10) per week after feeding our family of six. This is the amount of money our family saves each week.
Air pollution and adverse health effects are caused by approximately 6,000 brick factories located in Bangladesh. For the fuel of the furnaces, forests are cut down. Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson, Author provided
The family lives off the savings they have made from the brick factory when they return to Singapore. The brick factory is dangerous. Children miss school to work at the factory, and it’s only a question of time before one gets hurt or sick. They could not support the entire family in a time of crisis with their savings.
The brick factory pays according to the number of bricks that are transported on heads each day. Children miss school and work long hours. Polluted air can affect their mental and physical development. Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson, Author provided
Sahia has had to adjust to a new way of life that is not just physically difficult. She was a typical housewife in Singapur before she started working at the factory. Social stigma has been attached to her because she works outside the home as a female.
Some people observed us and said: “The women are out there working!” What do they understand about work? We hear and see them but no longer fear their words. We need to work in order to survive.
I can tell that she’s watching me. My hair is in a bun, and I’m wearing clothes. Two women who are not very different in many ways but live in two other places. She says:
It is not true that I am so old. The hard work I have done has made me look this way. Did you miss my husband? After meeting my husband, nobody thinks I’m his wife.
Her husband is young. He’s in his early or late twenties. When I met Sahia, I assumed she was about a decade younger than me. We are the same age. She made the sacrifices necessary to support her family.