Beyond the Urban Life
We had no idea that this was to be the most exciting and dreamlike journeys of our lives. It was May 18 when ten of us from Civil Department of BUET along with our respectable teachers Prof. Dr. Md. Shamsul Hoque, Dr. Saiful Alam Siddiquee, Dr. Zia Wadud and Dr. Charisma Farheen Choudhury started from Dhaka. We were invited by LGED, Sunamganj, Sylhet branch, to survey their Block made road project.
The cool breeze was invigorating as we escaped from the hustle and bustle of the city. We reached Sylhet at 9pm. After a quick dinner at a local restaurant we started again towards Sunamganj. It was quite dark as we reached the town. My watch disclosed it was exactly 12 at night. The town looked like an amalgamation of the old and the new. We went to a rest house where we were to stay during the tour. It had more than enough for our comfort and we went to sleep early as we had to wake up early in the morning for the survey work.
At 8 in the morning, Mr. Michael Roy warmly welcomed us on behalf of our host LGED in their office called “Community-Based Resource Management Project (CBRMP)”. Our programme started with a short introductory speech and display of an insightful presentation on the innovative projects of LGED. Sunamganj is one of the poorest districts in Bangladesh. Lack of proper roads and the seasonal flooding that damages them, prevents people from bringing their products to the market, children from attending school, people from getting to the hospital and often farmers from bringing harvested crops home. Roads built by the support of CBRMP have solved this problem in a number of ways. The project involves participation of women in the construction and maintenance, use of blocks instead of reinforced concrete and participation of Labor Contracting Societies (LCS) instead of contractors, which saved the cost of expensive steel and created scope of employment. It is IFAD from where most of the funding came to make this project successful.
After the presentation, we were divided into five groups. In this three-day hectic tour, we managed to visit many upazilas - Tahirpur, Derai, Jamalganj, Bishwambharpur, South Sunamganj, Sunamganj Sadar- and a number of villages.
The sun was friendly and with a gentle breeze to accompany it, we started for Tahirpur in a speedboat at 10 am. It was the monsoon season. The river Surma was brimming with water that rolled and lapped around us in gentle waves. Our boat passed the Shukhai - the branch of the river Surma and the famous Matiar Haor. It doesn't need to be mentioned that Sunamganj is a land of haors, or wetlands, and Matiar is the largest haor of Bangladesh. The Jadukata has an interesting story behind it. The locals say that long ago it was made by a prince for the recovery of his dying mother who dreamt of it. After that, every year a “Punya snan” (sacred bath) is held here on a specific day for the people of Hindu religion. We saw many utility carrying engine boats, tiny boats rowed by children who were hardly 5 or 6 years old ! We saw the picturesque mud houses standing amongst the lush greenery and children playing and bathing carefree in the river water.
We reached Tahirpur in the afternoon. It is a remote area, deprived from all kinds of modern developments. We started our survey and found the villagers very friendly. Most of the villagers work as wage labourers in others’ field during the dry season, while they remain totally unemployed for the rest of the year. Moreover, flooding and poor linkage with the town has made life difficult. This year crop could not be harvested due to severe flooding. In spite of the misery, they find reasons to smile. Block making project provided income to many poor households and it has increased women mobility remarkably and created space for some new job such as CNG driving, rickshaw pulling, etc. It started to rain heavily when we left the Matiar Haor. Finally, we reached the rest house at 9:30 pm, soaked to our bones.
The next day was an eventful day as my friends made the most fascinating journey towards Bishwambharpur, very close to the Khasi mountains bordering 'The land of cloud', Meghalaya. They reached Bishwambharpur at 9 in the morning where eight motorbikes were ready to pick them. There was a stream with a depth of about a foot, which everyone had to cross by feet. It was quite an adventure as the stream had great currents and the more they tried to get near the bank of the stream, the deeper their legs were getting in the sands. After much hardship, they managed to reach the other side of the stream and it was about 1 pm when they reached Chatarkona. They started the survey work quickly, still shivering from the cold. They found some people talking in Assamese. They had come and settled here from India after the World War II. An elderly lady told them about her heart-rending story; she lost her land, and then her home in the floods, and later, lost her only son who was a BDR soldier. After their survey work, my friends rode in closer to the Khasia mountain range. It was truly a sight to behold. The beautiful blue mountains and the curls of floating cloud created a magnificent aura. Once they overcame the initial shock from the sheer beauty of the place, their cameras clicked on as time flew.
Then we all came to the CBRMP Office, where Prof. Md. Shamsul Hoque enlightened us with his resourceful and informative presentation about road safety. A delicious dinner had been arranged by the CBRMP. We started off for Dhaka after taking a last glimpse of our enchanting environment. We reached BUET as the sunshine of a new morning shone down upon us. It was a memorable journey, indeed. There was a sense of triumph that I have never felt before.