Bangladesh (Bhola Island)

Posted: 03 Aug 2011 01:30 AM PDT I have finally arrived in Bangladesh and have already been here 14 days, so my apologies for the late update. When I arrived in Dhaka, Bangladesh, I was surprisingly shocked at how nice the airport was given the countries reputation as being the slum of ALL Asia. As I collected my bags, and made my way outside to fetch a cab I was immediately hit with a brick wall of humidity. I am not exaggerating when I say it’s comparable to opening a preheated oven and being engulfed by it’s heat. During the monsoon season temperatures and humidity sore where excessive sweating is the latest fad, but when October and the winter months arrive, the climate calms down to a moderate 25 degrees. With a bit of trouble finding a place stay due to my cab driver not being able to understand my VERY BROKEN Bengali and after many wrong turns, I managed to finally get my barrings to settle in for the night. The next day I headed out bright and early to do a little exploring and to hit up the markets to get the necessary supplies I need to make life a little easier in a new country by buying a new sim card for my mobile, purchasing an up to date city map, locating the fresh fruit, and a cafe’ where I can access the internet. The one thing I was shocked about this country given it’s reputation, is the hospitality. Bangladeshi’s are the most hospitable people I have ever met. Anybody and everyone will help you, being here only 2 weeks I have been put up in people homes, invited to functions, dinners, and even an invited to a family’s vacation. Bangladeshi’s live to please guests, foreigners, and friends of friends. These people don’t have much, but their hearts are the biggest I have ever had the honor of so far experiencing.

After getting all my contacts sorted and feeling a bit overwhelmed from the city, I decided to head south and start working on a series about fishermen. I had initially planned to focus this series mainly on the fishermen in  Sri-Lanka, but decided that Bangladesh would be a great opportunity given Bangladesh’s huge fishing industry and an interesting place in a district called Bhola where islands are disappearing from Bangladesh’s coast lines. I made my way down to Sadarghat (Launch sight in Dhaka) where you catch a overnight ferry that is just a steel haul and 30 cabins that are 5′ x10′ with a bed and a fan. The boat sails at 8:00pm and you arrive at your destination the following morning by about 5 am. I was heading to a town called Barisal and the overnight boat trip was actually quite enjoyable, given the heat the fan did it’s job and I was able to get 5 hours of sleep which is a good here given it’s climate. Once I arrived in Barisal, I checked into a cheap hotel which came to a whopping cost of $4.25 (300 Taka) a night which included my own bathroom, single bed, little couch, a fan and a window to let in the morning light. It’s not much but who said photography is a glamorous job.

That day I managed to catch up on some sleep and head out for the day to photograph the  locals working the docks where all the cargo boats come into Barisal. Photographing in rural areas in Bangladesh can be a challenge as I quickly found out. There is literally a non-existent tourism industry in this country and the only foreigners Bengali’s see are usually in Dhaka or Chittagong working for NGO’s and aid organizations. So when you are spotted in small towns people FLOCK to you like paparazzi flocking to an A-list celebrity. Within minutes you attract a crowd that can range from 10 people to 100 people. When your trying to get candid images you need to be on your toes to capture those moments where you are forced to constantly change your position even coming back to different subjects on 3 or 4 occasions trying escape your following fans. After my day in Barisal I went back to my hotel, dropped my gear off, got some local street food, had the best $1.00 haircut of my life, and came back to read my book “Long Walk To Freedom-Autobiography of Nelson Mandela”… Seriously an EPIC book so far as I am half way through it.

The next morning I woke up at 6:00am grabbed my gear, payed my hotel bill and went outside and caught a rickshaw (Man powered bicycle) to the docks where I would be catching a 2 hour boat ride to Bhola Island. The boat departed at 7:00am and was a beautiful little cruise where you could witness riverside communities fishing, locals washing their cattle, and the just the daily riverside life in rural Bangladesh. Once I arrived on Bhola island I took a 1 hour bus ride to a town called Daulatkhan where I met a very nice local  by the name of Sonjoy who offered to help in my search for the local fishing community. Once we arrived in DaulatKhan he made a few calls, got me set up in a so called guest house where I would be staying and immediately brought me to the fishing authorities to meet and discuss my intentions and plans. Needless to say the meeting went well and I was given the GO to spend as many days with the fisherman, however my intention was to stay on board the fishing boats overnight. There was a slight concern with me spending the night on the Meghna River due to the amount of piracy incidents that happen on the where fishermen are killed for their fish and fishing vessels. Incidents occur 3-4 times a month and the authorities said it would disgrace them if I was in any sort of danger.

Over the next 4 days I had the opportunity to spend a day with Captain Babu and his crew, visit numerous villages along the banks of the Meghna River, swim in swamps, offers to join the officers club, meet the chairman of the district, and watch a 35mm 1970′s Bengali action film in a make shift theater. I will be going back in a weeks time to spend more time on the boats as I had to return to Dhaka to take care of some business. I hope you enjoy the photographs and stay tuned for more…