Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Wonderland Wednesdays - What is a Char?

Here we are at another hump day, so it must be Wonderland Wednesday! What fantastical thing shall I share with you this week? Does anyone know what a char is? (And I'm not talking about a 'cuppa cha')  According to scholars Samanta and Lahiri-Dutt, "Charlands are islands formed in major river systems particularly in the flat deltaic plains such as those in the Bengal delta in eastern India and Bangladesh. The charlands in the lower reaches of the Damodar River in India are prone to frequent floods, shifting river channels and consequent riverbank erosion. In spite of these risks posed by the environment, migrant communities from Bihar and Bangladesh settle in the charlands because the soils are fertile, and because being untitled, they are relatively cheaper than legal lands." What this means is that there are large communities of people who live on 'islands' in the middle of rivers. They are not legally recognised as islands because they are far too small. These people live in quite dangerous conditions because the river can wash away the sand banks, their homes, their crops and indeed their lives at any given time.

This image is from the Pulitzer Center and all credit for the photo goes to Glenn Baker. His caption for the photo reads "This village sits tenuously on a char, or temporary island, in the middle of the massive Jamuna River delta in northern Bangladesh. High water flows from India and the Himalayans poses a constant threat during monsoon season. Residents frequently have to suspend their beds and food from the ceilings to get above the floodwaters, often living like that for weeks. In addition to water, snakes are a problem." When I studied articles and interviews with these char-dwellers, what is apparent is their resilience. Even though their homes and lives are in constant danger, the people do the best they can and tend to be optimistic about life. What is truly amazing is the vast majority of people are unaware of their existence. We take our stable homes for granted and do not not have a true understanding of just how many people in the world live in precarious situations. There are so many different kinds of homes, and we tend to assume that the majority of people live in safe ones. Char-homes are just one of countless examples of how humans can adapt to their surroundings out of necessity. If anyone has an example of other interesting situations of house, home, habitat, or adaptations, I'd love to hear them. I hope you have found your eyes widened just a tiny bit to the curioser and curioser world in which we live and I will be back next week for another Wonderland Wednesday.

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