Along the Kocha river in Bangladesh in the days after Cyclone Cidr, only the moon can stop you from seeing the stars.
I was traveling back from the southern coast on a hired boat (top speed about 2 mph) that earlier in the day took me and my team to the town to Chaltabunia, which had been ripped apart by the wind and the rain. Hundreds of lakeside villages line the riverbanks here. They do not have much, but they do have electricity, or they did. Tonight, there wasn't a single light on for 50 miles. In the dark, the villages were scenes of rebuilding and sadness.
The cyclone hit this area the hardest, not only because the force with which it traveled was equivalent to a strong category 4. It's because this is one of the poorest places on the planet. The U.N. Human Development Index ranks this country 137 out of 177. The per capita GDP is one-sixth of what it is in the United States. And it's one of the most crowded countries in the world.
Shaparjat is one of the countless poor, crowded villages we saw. Residents tried to tell me that thousands of people live there, but it felt like a one-horse town with a few hundred residents. There is a main building used as a school and there are homes tightly packed around walkways and small streams that run through the town. The residents are mostly fisherman, as are the vast majority of people in this area. The Kocha river is only about a five-minute walk. There is nowhere else to go, nothing else to see. Houses, a single building, and the fish swimming in the water. That's all these people have.
After the cyclone, they had even less. I couldn't really tell, but it seemed like many homes had been destroyed. They are or were made of tin and straw and bamboo. Sturdier than you might think, but no match for 150 mile an hour winds. The homes that had been destroyed were so quickly blown away, so completely devastated, there was no evidence of them. No foundations, no heirlooms. Just broken trees and flattened brush and mud. Everywhere there was mud.
At the front of the town, residents had buried the people who died in the storm. There were 10 graves. Each one had 5 bodies in it. Children and the elderly, I was told. Each grave was unmarked, except for small sticks in the ground.
Toward the back of the town, a small bridge had been destroyed, trees covered the walkways, and a woman lay face down in the water. She had died there sometime on Thursday night/Friday morning. Some locals told me there had been many more bodies in the same water in the last few days. But nobody had gotten around to properly burying her.
I chose a spot that seemed to have been the former site of a couple of homes for my on-camera "stand up.". Because we were in a rush, I asked our local fixer, who's been helping me report since I arrived, to conduct an interview with one of the local victims.
As I was writing a few feet away I noticed that the man being interviewed started crying. After a few questions he thanked his interviewee and hung around my computer, where a small gaggle of locals had gathered to watch me edit video and then send it along to London.
As I wrote I got to the part of my piece where I needed to translate what the man said. I asked the fixer, what did he tell you?
The man's name, I was told, was Abujapar Howladar. He was 40 years old. And he had lost two family members in the storm — his two daughters. Murium was 13. Maria was 3.
I stopped writing and looked up. Before today I had only cried while reporting once before — when a Vietnamese minister who had moved to Biloxi, Miss., told me he was ready to die as the waters of Hurricane Katrina trapped him in his church's attic.
Abujapar looked at me. He wore no shirt, and had a small cloth contraption called a lungi that many of the men here wear around their legs. He did not look sad. He actually looked more interested in me and my electronics than anything else. But when I returned his gaze his face changed. He was clearly startled by my tears.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I really am."
A pretty lame line, looking back on it, especially because I was too busy trying to hit a deadline, that I didn't even take the time to talk to him myself.
I would like to have sat down with him and asked him about his daughters. What they looked like, what they enjoyed doing, whether they were close to their parents and what he hoped they would do one day. I would like to have asked Abujapar how he was doing. I'm sorry I never got the chance.
"I'm sorry," I said again. He nodded. At least he understood me.
I'm sorry, Abujapar, that I had to leave your village.
I walked out as the sun went down, and a 15-year-old started talking to me. His English was bad but we had enough words in common that I learned he was studying science in school. Chemistry.
He offered to carry my bag as we hopped along a walkway toward my boat.
As I said goodbye he stuck his hand out. I'll always remember how rough it was.
"I am blessed," he said. "And I am hungry."