Victoria Solbert

international sustainable development professional

Field Work and Fasting

By vicsolbert | July 6, 2014 | 0 Comment

Feeding and admiring the size of a farmer's rapidly growing improved tilapia stock.

Fisherman returning from Hail Haor, a unique wetland habitat that will be one giant lake by the end of the monsoon season.

I returned to the beautiful Srimongol, in the North East region of Bangaldesh, for official data collection now that the field survey has been improved and finalized. This time we visited communities in the Lawachara National Park, a moderately hilly forested area famous for gibbons (though I unfortunately did not have time to go looking for any). Also the Hail Haor wildlife sanctuary. The haor ecosystems are seasonal wetlands that host a wide diversity of fish and bird species. Winter is the best time to come to the haors for bird watching as many migratory species come through and fill what remains of the receding waterways. The local communities traditionally relied on the haors for fish, their primary livelihood. Now they are fighting to keep outsiders from over-extracting the fish populations they have worked to protect. Along with assistance in regaining community control of management of the haor, the CREL project is providing fish and vegetable culture training so communities will have more diversified livelihoods and other options besides fishing.

Good discussions with three local vegetable farmers.

For the field work itself I was still dealing with some complications of translation and the American girl attracting crowds, but overall the interviews went much more smoothly. The extra complication for this round of interviews was the beginning of Ramadan. The month of fasting is supposed to be both physically and spiritually cleansing, as well as promoting self-control and empathy for those less fortunate. Muslims eat in the morning before first light has appeared (in Bangladesh this means they must be finished eating by about 3:30am! The time zone here is kind of off) and do not eat or drink anything again until sunset, about 7:00pm. No one of course

Attempting to interview a single farmer in a village near Rema-Kalenga National Park.

expected me to fast, but everyone helping me perform interviews was fasting so I tried to be considerate. I still ate my breakfast at a reasonable 8am before heading off into the field. Since the staff and most of those we interviewed were fasting however, this meant we did not take a lunch break. This was both because it would have only been for me, and to not lose the time because obviously people start losing energy and patience by mid-afternoon so we wanted to get all of the interviews done as early as possible. So we usually finished interviews around 2:30-3 and made it back to the guest house by around 4pm. I would sneak a granola bar or two and some water while in the car between villages.


Pumpkin! The bed I am sitting on is fully stocked with pumpkins underneath being saved for seed. The sweet and awesome field officer, Rotna, behind me.

Now as many of you who know me are well aware, I normally cannot go two hours without eating. So while 8am to 4pm on a granola bar is nothing compared to 3:30 am to 7pm on absolutely nothing, it felt like a fast to me! In reality it was not as bad as I expected (apologies to anyone whom has experience my hangry wrath). The heat and humidity kind of suppresses your appetite anyway, but there is definitely a slow onset of brain fog, and everyone was silent in the car by the time we were driving back. Thank goodness I had my survey questions well written out or I would have had a hard time completing the interviews as it would have just taken me too long to string a coherent thought together. Extra props to my colleagues for doing the hard brain work of translating without any food since 3:30am!

Some traditional Iftar – fried chick peas, rice, jute leaf fritter, corn cake, egg, and a fried sweet bread

The hardest part about the semi-fasting was that once I got back to the guesthouse and gobbled down a bowl of noodles the lethargy and energy crash really set in, and it didn’t feel like my full brain capacity came back until trying to get to sleep. Made it difficult to be as committed to typing up all my notes at the end of each day as I had intended. Overall Ramadan is actually a very festive holiday. Though everyone is fasting during the day, the food markets run a brisk business as everyone splurges on large quantities of good food to share with family in the evening. At sunset the fast is broken with “iftar,” a variety of traditional snack foods. People eat all of these foods throughout the year, but they put a little extra in them for Ramadan (muri, a puffed rice kind of snack mix, has a lot more ingredients for Ramadan, while before it was mostly just…puffed rice). All of the restaurants and food stalls decorate their store fronts with colorful fabric archways, lights and banners, and begin laying out their iftar selections by late afternoon. After evening prayer people flock to the streets for food and shopping. Ramadan ends with the holiday Eid-al-fitr, which is a time for gift giving. It is much like Christmas in the US, so retailers and small shops make a majority of their money for the year during Ramadan.

It was a long and hard week, but I think we managed to come to some agreements with the regional staff on improvements they could make. Now that I am getting back to a normal eating and sleeping cycle, I just hope I won’t realize that in my brain fog my notes and final summary aren’t completely coherent.