Amongst The Rohingya Refugees – Nasser Jetha
We have all been witnessing the immense cruelty and ensuing tragedy meted towards the Rohingyas in Myanmar (Burma). One persistent question haunts my mind. How can I help?
Emotionally affected by the pictures sent by Yusufali of his recent trip to the refugee camp at Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, I knew, without a second thought, I wanted to accompany him on his next trip there, which was in about three weeks from then.
Being the go-getter that he is, with Yusufali there is no time to think or dilly-dally: you are either in or out; time is precious. The awaited five days trip is happening. And so here I am on the EK582 flight to Dhaka from Dubai, a city I have never been to before.
It is incredible how fate connects us to other people and even more amazing that we are heading for the same purpose. Just before boarding, I meet Sohail and Abbas - the two indispensable CAI Trustees doing all the hard work with Yusufali. I could tell that they are from the US with their typical Gringo accents, especially Sohail.
Traffic in Dhaka is insane, with rickshaws maneuvering around, the sounds of horns, people standing on top of moving trains and even a poor mother holding puke from her little boy and throwing it from the window of an overcrowded bus... It all feels surreal for newcomers. Luckily, having had the taste of Mumbai’s insanity before, this was not too much of a surprise to me.
When Yusufali joins us later at the hotel in Dhaka, the energy level suddenly changed; it's like you could feel the presence of the BIG BOSS, in a positive way of course... After a good brief, on the status and trip ahead, we depart for Cox’s Bazar the next day.
Cox’s Bazar is a small city about an hour’s drive from the Rohingya refugee camp. The Seyeman Beach Resort is packed with aid workers, holidaymakers and .... honeymooners!?! (Umm... no comment here). After a few hiccups about our reservations in a busy and noisy reception area, we land up in an ocean view two-bedroom suite. With this fantastic view, no wonder love birds are coming to this popular hotel (mystery solved).
Over lunch we discuss our plans with the local representatives’ CAI is working with, in Bangladesh. I must say Bangladeshis love to eat... fresh fried pomfret fish and some local ladyfish; Sohail can’t resist. On our way to the camp, Abbas needs his dose of coconut water with malai. It seems like my new US buddies are food lovers and persistent on their taste buds.
It has rained heavily the night before, so the roads are muddy and flooded at places. As we carefully mind our steps, suddenly, we see a mass of Rohingya refugees; they are everywhere, mainly women and children. The empty look in the eyes of almost all the children keeps piercing at my heart. I am to discover later these kids are physiologically affected by the gruesome violence of rape, killing, destruction, and fire that gripped their brethren as they fled the mauling Burmese Army. When will this stop?
The rain adds more misery to the refugees existing poor squalor conditions. Children of every age, mothers carrying their little ones, walk barefoot in the sludge. The camp is so big, so I don't know where to look; so many children, so much pain.... Amidst this misery, I see few kids trying to forget their gloom by playing soccer in a soggy rice field, using plastic bags as kites or makeshift toys - plastic bottle with wheels as a toy car - some kids follow us.
Alhamdulillah, there are many well-known international NGOs present, and with the help of the very well disciplined and professional Bangladeshi army, there is now a sense of structured chaos. I take a few pictures of some children and show it to them; at first, they were shy, but then you see them smile. Perhaps it is the first time they see a picture of themselves? Or seeing them after a very long time? May Allah bless them soon with a bright future!
We have our gumboots on, but all the refugees walk barefoot. With the whole experience, realization hits me... how privileged am I!!?! By the end of the five-day trip, I will be back to my comfortable life! I will be affected for a while, but, yet again, once I am back into my daily regimen, these memories will blur! I always forget to count my blessings! What about the refugees? After all, they are also humans! How long will the pain and test last? How much more do they have to endure!?
I feel out of sync... for the next few days, thinking about all these people, especially the poor innocent boys and girls. Some faces have left an impact on me. I can’t get Muhammad Umar out of my mind; the boy maybe six years old but is my guide in the camp and follows me all the time, and this toddler smiling at me with an eye infection. I try to play with him, and all I could think of is my daughter back in Dubai. She is almost the same age...
I ask Allah why this is happening? Why?
And a hadith of the Holy Prophet (s) sways in my mind “It may happen that a servant of Allah gives a loaf of bread in Charity, but it turns out to be great as Mount Uhud to Allah.” Perhaps this test will propel these wretched people to a better tomorrow? Insha’Allah, CAI will be building a few deep-water wells and a makeshift school for 100 orphans. To give them a purpose in life, and not to dwell on their ordeals, teach them basic hygiene, education and a shot at a decent future.
I can only hope and pray.
Afghanistan Photo Blog
Please view wonderful photos and videos by Trustee Sohail Abdullah of our most recent visit to Afghanistan. CAI officially commissioned two brand new medical clinics in remote areas of Kitty and Ahangar in Dykundy Province.
My new novel Phoot! will be available by November 30, 2017, insha'Allah. All proceeds, 100%, will benefit over 500 CAI worldwide orphans in their quest for an excellent education. Please preorder a copy at US$100 each here. Delivered worldwide. Only 228 print copies left. You can read excerpts here. Allah bless.