The River Taxi
Updated: Dec 21, 2020
Capturing, courage, determination, and resilience.
Bangladesh, the country of extreme life scenes. Weather, traffic, population density, crime, poverty, happiness and sadness, it is all revolutionary and different nothing is moderate. I still remember my first day in the capital of Bangladesh. I had an idea of what to expect, but the reality was quite overwhelming for me. I wanted to explore the life extremes of the city, where else to start my trip better than the Buriganga river? It is 5:30 AM, and as usual, I am awake before my alarm. I read somewhere our bodies release stress hormones gradually during the night, and then our sleep becomes lighter and lighter before we wake up completely. 6:00 AM, I am all packed, camera, lenses, memory cards and extra batteries. Ready to hit the road.
The old Ganges
“ 30,000 people commute daily the 450-meter river distance between the city centre and the residential areas on the other side of the city.”
My local fixer (Rafiqul) told me that Buriganga means "Old Ganges" the name came from the fact that it was once the last stretch of the Ganges before it merges with the Bay of Bengal. It was only 20 minutes' drive before reaching the Sadar Ghat port. There are nearly 30,000 people using sampans to commute the 450-meter distance between the city center and the residential areas on the other side of the city. I have planned my trip for the weekend during early morning hours for two reasons. First, the soft light which is best for photography, but second and most important I wanted to avoid the rush hour for safety reasons . Before the trip, I was told by my Bangladeshi friends, Buriganga is one of the most dangerous waterways on earth, everyday boats get knocked over, small boats go under the big ferries, and people die. They also gave me another safety tip: Wear a mask.
The giant septic tank
Over the years, the Burigana river turned into a giant septic tank, tons of toxic industrial and human waste are dumped daily in the river. The river is announced biologically dead. The pollutants have eaten up all oxygen in the Buriganga making it impossible for fish or any organisms to survive. Amid this environmental misery, there is a human hardship for all the boatmen trying to make a living by carrying thousands of Dhaka's commuters across the busy waters of the Buriganga river.
“If you lose your bravery, then you are finished. This is what keep people going on.”
In the middle of the river, I took a long gaze examining the features of our boatman Rahimul. His dark eyes were red underneath from the constant irritation of toxic fumes, and his face wrinkles looked like battle scars, he earned every one of them over the years rowing the stagnant water of the river. I wanted to learn more about our boatman. I asked Rafiqul to check, how many trips Rahimul makes during the day. Rahimul answered 70 to 80 trips on average, and he added he gets paid three Taka per head (3 cents), the boat can take roughly 5-7 people. When I asked where he lives, he pointed to the middle of the boat.
It is difficult for me to understand , how people like him get the strength to endure such hardship. To do this; you need all your strength and courage. If you lose your bravery, then you are finished. This is what keeps people like Rahimul carry on with their lives, and this is what I wanted to capture in my photos for that day—the courage, determination, and resilience of Burigana boatmen.
Nearly seven years passed since I left Dhaka. I felt changed by the time I spent in Bangladesh; despite my continuous travels, I must admit that I always think about my time there. I always try to make sense of the whole chaotic and extreme life scene, nearly seven years passed, and I still find it difficult to comprehend that scene.