When Mahinur moved into her new home, she was elated. She had worked for months digging foundations for a local road and had saved £300 – enough to buy a plot of land. 40 years old and a fisherwoman by trade, a first home on the edge of a river was the perfect location. What Mahinur didn’t know was that one year later, the river would run dry. The drought came suddenly.
By March 2018, not a drop of water remained. Mahinur left her boat and simply walked across the riverbed. The fish lay rotting around her. When I meet Mahinur, the fish have been gone for four months. “We had heavy rainfall and the river filled again overnight,” Mahinur explains. “But there are still no fish.” She wraps her turquoise headscarf tighter round her face and balances the heavy wooden stave of the fishing net on her shoulder as she carries it to the riverbank. Then, fully clothed, she climbs into the river.
The next 20 minutes, she drags the net back and forth, occasionally reaching out a hand to steady herself against the current. Just her head protrudes from the water. When she climbs out, she silently shakes out the contents of the net – one eel the size of a pencil and two fish no bigger than a penny. “At least there’s this!” she exclaims, as she finds a larger fish among the weeds.
The fish flips around as she drops it in the metal bowl. It’s barely two mouthfuls. Once she has changed into dry clothes, she borrows two plastic chairs from a neighbour and we sit a little way from her home. I presume to protect her husband and son from hearing our conversation. “It’s terrible,” she confesses.
“There should be fish in the river now – it’s the right time of year – but there’s nothing. I have no food and no money.” Mahinur tells me that she frequently forgoes meals so her 12-year-old son can eat. “I’m worried that Rabiul will ask me for fish and I have nothing to give him,” she explains, wrapping her arms around herself.
“When he demands something, it has to happen at once or he will start crying or break something. He’ll shout, ‘Give me this!’ Sometimes he hits.”
I’m worried that Rabiul will ask me for fish and I have nothing to give him.