Padma River was different this year in early June.
It was still vast and flowed the same way yet the water level remained far below than usual. So, the residents of Char Kushahata - a riverine island raised around 10 years ago in Padma - were going easy on their cultivation of the high-yielding land.
Every year, by June, most of their lands usually go underwater. But the late arrival of water has extended the cultivation period. Along with the usual Irri or Boro rice, this year they have been cultivating sesame, corn and mustard.
We were going to visit this char to see Wazuddin's school – a private school run by a married couple – and talk with the residents of the new char, a result of the land eroded by the Padma River a long while ago.
Unlike us mainlanders, the char life works differently. Live this life for only a day and you will learn the virtue of patience. One of the many aspects of a char life that is beyond your control is transport.
After we missed the first kheya (boat/trawler), we had to wait for more than two hours for the next one to arrive. You cannot just reserve a kheya for yourself in Antarmor Ghat – the wharf where char-bound trawlers operate. The syndicate of boat owners won't allow it.
When we got off the boat on the edge of an island that the boatman told us was Kushahata, it was mid-day and the heat was unbearable. If the temperature was 37 degrees Celsius, it felt like a lot more with the swamp all around us.
There was not a single tree whose shade could give us comfort. Instead, sharp, sword-like weeds were poking our bodies as we walked through them.
Roughly after 30 minutes of wandering into the heated bushes, we finally spotted the tin-shed houses. One of them was hoisting the national flag and we knew we found the school.
Wazuddin was a garment worker. His wife Rawshan Ara also worked as a garment worker before the couple made Kushahata Char their home.
Until the 1990s, Kushahata was a part of the mainland in Goalanda Upazila of Rajbari district. It was one of the villages eroded by the mighty Padma River in the mid-1990s.
And in that event, Wazuddin, Niamat, Shamela, Mukul, Ikhlas, Anik and many other residents – that we interviewed – became homeless. Some took refuge in different chars, some settled on others' land in mainland Rajbari – many continue to live uncertain lives.
Less than a decade ago when a char rose in Padma, residents identified it as Kushahata and a few hundred of them resettled there. At present, around 130 families live on Char Kushahata.
Deprived of basic amenities like education and health, the residents first launched their school through Brac funding which went on for a year from 2016 to 2017.
From 2018 till May of this year, Wazuddin and Rawshan Ara were running the school in their own yard through the assistance of an NGO named Piact Bangladesh that provided them with textbooks.
It was mostly Wazuddin who conducted classes for over 100 students from dawn to dusk. "We know education is the backbone of a nation. I also have daughters who need education," he said.
"I have been teaching all these children alone, of course with the help of my wife. I earn something between Tk5,000 to Tk8,000 from this school; I cannot run my family with this. So, I have to work extra. Sometimes I do tailoring and work in fields," he added.
Wazuddin's salary comes from the tiny contribution from the char residents.
The family with one student pays Tk150. Those with two students pay Tk100 for each while a third member reads here for free.
The local Upazila Chairman has recently built a tin-shed school for Wazuddin's students and classes have begun from May. However, Rawshan Ara was asked not to teach anymore as she doesn't have an SSC (Secondary School Certificate) degree.
Wazuddin has taken an assistant named Shamela who holds an HSC (Higher Secondary Certificate) degree. He himself has passed SSC.
"I loved teaching and spending time with the children. I still want to teach them," said Rawshan Ara, adding, "It does not feel good to sit idle. I miss those days."
The new recruit Shamela, briefed us about Char Kushahata. "The char residents are illiterate. Our people work in the field. Some people are fishers, some work in others' homes," she said.
"After Padma engulfed their homes, people mostly survived on fishing. They are still the same, but they have made a bit of progress over time," she opined.
The school premise, built on a raised platform made with sand, is also a place for the villagers to gather. We also spotted animals taking shelter from the scorching sun on the verandah.
There are still no basic amenities like a toilet or a fan. There is not a single tree around to shelter Wazuddin and the students from the heat and it has been only two years since the char residents got electricity.
Two village women sitting on the school veranda, however, were not impressed with the electricity service due to load-shedding. "What is the use of electricity if there is load-shedding all the time?" one of them said.
Communication remains a challenge here. Residents have to cross several kilometres through Padma to get basic healthcare, that too at the mercy of the boatmen operating kheyas between Antarmor and Char Kashimnagar.
"We need toilets in our school. We need fans. It is too hot," said a student named Ikhlas Pramanik.
Ikhlas is a student in class five. If he wants to continue his studies, he has to migrate to Rajbari, Aricha or somewhere else as Wazuddin's school only teaches up to class five.
Regardless, these children highly respect Wazuddin, their beloved 'Sir.' The man who picks them up from their home and takes them to school by boat when water floods the char.
"I probably could earn better if I chose a different occupation. But I'm still teaching because I don't want these children to remain illiterate," said Wazuddin.