“I say, let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky Notes from Underground.
Millions of people on earth would say that words and especially for that reason the small picturesque town Srimangal, in about 190 km away from Dhaka is an important part of this book dedicated to Bangladesh. Tea is the key word here.
The region around Srimangal is hilly and full of picturesque tea, pineapple and rubber plantations. The best time to take a walk is in the morning, when the gardens acquire some kind of mystical look because of the light frog.
In about 150 tea plantations, situated in around 41 000 hectares is produced a big part of the highest quality tea in the world and that is the reason for the region to be named “the tea capital of Bangladesh”.
In Srimangal I met my guide Eusuf, who would be taking care of me in the following weeks, until the end of my stay in Bangladesh. While we were eating rice and some kind of deadly piquant curry in a restaurant, we quickly drew up the plan for the next few days. We scheduled visits of several tea plantations, villages where workers of the tea industry live, villages where the local tribes live (not all of the tribes are employed in the tea industry) the region near to Indian border, Madhabpur lake and a few more interesting locations.
Afterwards, we chatted about the production of tea, which generally consists of the following steps:
1) Plucking – the season for tea leaves gathering lasts 8 months. Workers (mostly women) pluck the small buds and the first two or three young leaves of every tea bush and do that from early morning to late at night, 7 days a week;
2) Appraisal, weighing and transportation – usually, for a working day the tea pluckers fill several big bundles (big bags, especially designed for tea gathering), on the average of 20 to 30 kg. In a fixed time (usually in the afternoon) the women deliver the bundles to a company representative who quickly examines the leaves, weighs the gathered quantity and write down the data in a notebook. Afterwards, women deliver the bundles to the workers in the truck which then will transport the tea leaves to the factories.
3) Processing in factory – here are performed the processes of selection, drying, oxygenating and other treatments. Generally, every 100 kg fresh leaves give around 22 to 25 kg processed tea. I wanted to visit such factory, but they explained to me that I would be allowed to watch only and not to take pictures. It was not clear whether it comes to a professional and trade secret or to avoid troubles related to the working conditions in these factories. I suppose both things are true.
4) Export – the half of the manufactured tea is consumed in the country, and the rest is for export abroad.
People employed in tea industry are not very wealthy. Statistically their number is of about 300 000, and 75% of them are women. The long working day with its “significant” 0,50 $ per day sentences these women to a cheerless life. Very often, the money they earned is not sufficient for them even to buy tea. Some owners would say that workers are provided with accommodation (there are specially built small villages where homeless workers are accommodated), school for the children or even medical attendance. But from any point of view half a dollar per day is half a dollar and this is very little money. Despite the circumstances these women were smiling, chatting merrily with each other, teasing and the whole atmosphere around was not corresponding at all to their sad daily life. I love tea and now, every time when I reach for the cup, in front of me emerges the image of these smiling women.