The past month of work has been an eye-opening experience for me as I explore Panigram’s surrounding towns with my fellow interns. My project for this summer is to collect baseline demographic data on these villages in order to better understand the community’s current condition—and its most pressing needs. Since the Bangladeshi government has no demographic information (and not even any maps of the area), it’s up to us to do what in the United States would include census administration, map-making, and social outreach. What our team is working on right now is the surveying: we visit villagers’ homes and go through a list of basic questions about household size, income, health, work, and education. By obtaining a snapshot of the community’s current state, we hope to gauge Panigram’s impact in future years by comparing today’s data to subsequent years’.
Our surveying had a rough start. Trouble with survey questions and translator availability delayed us quite often (and still does), and villagers were not always receptive to our inquiries. In one of the first surveys I conducted, there was a host of misunderstandings between the interviewee, the translator, and me. When we asked about when the 90-year-old interviewee had been married, the translator told us that he was married when he was 70. He was actually married at the age of 20. We then asked about the interviewee’s finances and loans. He had taken out several loans, yet he couldn’t understand what we meant by “interest rate.” That first survey took an hour and a half, but, through countless revisions and clarifications, we have almost halved that time.
By visiting villagers’ houses, we’ve had the opportunity to see firsthand the living conditions they deal with and to hear their opinions about Panigram Resort. I’ll be telling you about a couple specific interviews that show what some members of the community have told us:
During one of our test interviews, Koli accompanied me to a house located about one kilometer from the Panigram worksite. As Koli began to translate the interview questions, we learned that this was a household of 11 people; they all lived in three bedrooms and shared one non-sanitary latrine. Even with such a large family, the monthly household income was only 5,000 Tk, which is roughly 70 US dollars. Their house was very similar to all the ones I’d seen so far—and most of the ones I’d see in the future: it was built on a raised mud platform, its walls were made of brick, and the roof consisted of rusted tin sheets. As we sat and listened, the family’s children eyed us with wonder, and a number of wandering livestock (goats, chickens, and ducks) nibbled at crumbs scattered around our feet.
When Koli began asking about this household’s opinion about Panigram, the conversation suddenly became livelier. Koli and two men talked rapidly back and forth for several minutes, and when he was finally finished, he turned to me and said, “I just asked them what they think about Panigram. They think we’re Christian missionaries.” Kristin had warned us before about the Christian missionary rumor, and I suppose Koli was trying to debunk it. Having nothing further to ask, we smiled, waved goodbye, and moved on to the next house.
The second interesting interview that comes to mind shows how poor village families can be. I had the opportunity to administer my survey to a barbershop owner, whose shop is located at the end of the dirt road on which Panigram Resort borders. His family was so poor that they couldn’t afford medical treatment. As I got to the family health questions, he began to mention a bunch of health problems he had—most of which merited prompt treatment that he did not receive. My translator for the day, Shupria, told me that most villagers would either go to Jessore or Dhaka when they needed treatment. The more severe health problems were sent to Dhaka, but some locals could not afford to go there (Dhaka is a six-hour bus ride away).
When I asked our interviewee about his wife’s illnesses in the past year, he said that her appendix had ruptured, and she was unable to get surgery. Upon hearing this, I stopped the survey and looked at my translator. “Wait. Do you really mean to say that her appendix burst?” I said, making an exploding motion with my hands. Shupria asked him again, and she confirmed that the appendix had, in fact, burst. I had a lot of trouble believing that. In emergency medicine, appendicitis is always a cause for immediate concern, since a burst appendix is typically fatal without surgical intervention, so I couldn’t understand how his wife was still alive. My translator said that his wife was indeed alive—and that it happened a few weeks ago. The family didn’t have enough money for emergency treatment, and now our interviewee’s wife has chronic abdominal problems.
As we continue collecting data, our understanding of the villages’ needs improves. Even without asking up front, we can see how different families feel about our presence in the community—and what their opinion is on Panigram. Some families are standoffish throughout the entire interview: they eye us warily, ask us what we’re doing with Panigram, and wonder why we’re asking these questions. Other families are hospitable and friendly. One of the interviewees invited us into her house and wanted to serve us mango. At times, conducting the survey feels like participating in a lengthy, uncomfortable inquisition. However, we are confident that the data we collect will provide crucial information that will help us help the nearby villagers.