Migration for construction work is an important livelihood for many Bangladeshi men and their families. In this collection of stories from Munshiganj, we take a glimpse of what happens back home when migrants return after long years away. Their tales reflect the uneasy tensions between sacrifice and longing, as well as meanings of the ‘good life’ in our age of mobility. How has migration changed their lives? What hopes do they have for the future?
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Click through the slideshow below to view the photos, read the captions, and meet the families who live and love in Bangladesh.
KAZI ALAMGIR started his wholesale fish trading business in 2002 after a seven-year stint in Singapore as a construction worker. He trades approximately 1,600 to 2,000 kg worth of fish per day, which fetches him over 3,000 taka (SGD $50) in revenue daily. Thinking fondly of his time in Singapore, Kazi’s best memory was the grand Lunar New Year party that his Chinese employer organised for everyone in the company. Besides the sumptuous seafood dinner provided, each employee was also given an ‘ang pao’ (a red envelope containing money) and a small gift to bring home.
Kazi has started a fish hatchery to bring in extra earnings. Only larger ones are picked out for sale to ensure sustainability.
Fishing nets are flung out to dry after a day’s catch.
Kazi has hopes of migrating to the United States to secure a better life for his wife and children. “If they get a good education there,” he says, “then they will have better job prospects.”
Nine years ago, SAMAD DEWAN returned to his hometown in Shamshabad to set up a wholesale business distributing household items at the Shologhar Bazaar. Although business was tough initially, he has managed to establish himself as a successful businessman after several years of hard work.
As the sole retailer at the Shologhar Bazaar, Samad is often kept busy throughout the day with orders and requests from clients. Household items are brought in from a wholesale manufacturer in Dhaka and distributed to local shops in the area.
During his seven-year stint in Singapore, he worked his way from being a general worker to a tower crane signalman, and eventually scaled up the ranks to be promoted to a crane operator. Some buildings he remembers playing a part in constructing include the Punggol fish market, Causeway Point, IMM, and condominiums in River Valley and Ang Mo Kio.
Being back home in Bangladesh means that Samad is able to spend more time with his wife and three daughters.
Although business is going well, Samad has hopes of returning to Singapore to earn more money for his family. “Singapore is still my dream country,” he says. “I do wish to work in Singapore again as my experience there really helped me to develop.”
A toddler playing outside the Shologhar Union Council office opposite the village boat dock as his mother looks over.
A lady rows her houseboat along a tributary of the Dhaleshwari River in Sreenagar.
Many parts of the district are typically flooded during the rainy season, and villagers have to travel by boat to get around.
Betel leaves. Paan is chewed as a palate cleanser. The filling consists of a mixture of cardamom, cloves, and tobacco held together with a toothpick.
Munshiganj is a major migrant-sending district for Singapore-bound workers. It’s 45 km south of the capital city of Dhaka, and its land area is 954.96 sq km — bigger than Singapore.
Munshiganj is historically known as Bikrampur, and has an average literacy rate of 35.8%. Fun fact: it’s the largest producer of potatoes in Bangladesh! Notable figures from Munshiganj include Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, one of the pioneer inventors of the radio, and Brojen Das, the first Asian to swim across the English Channel.
Boys selling vegetables at Tekka Market.
Rickshaws are a common way of getting around Tekka Market. Stick a hand out, and someone will get to you!
A barber carefully trims the beard of his client at the Sreenagar Bazaar in Munshiganj.
Village boys take turns to perform diving stunts at a pond near the J.C. Bose Institute.