Dhaka, November 29, 2016 (Alochonaa):
While I was walking inside a Rohingya refugee camp in southern Bangladeshi Cox’s Bazar district on November 26 during covering the news of persecuted Rohingya exodus from Myanmar, I suddenly met lifeless Jane Alam inside a tiny, dark shanty with his mother Nur Begum sitting beside him, crying her heart out for him. Every other shanties were flooded with people but theirs’ was different!
Begum is only 22-year-old. She hails from a Rakhine village called Jambunia where she saw how her husband Mohammad Jamal was killed along with their two children. To serve the human instinct of survival, she escaped to the woody hills with her neighbours in one cloth and no other belongings with the sole relative she had left in this world — her six-month-old son Alam.
The young lady saw how brutally her two children were thrown inside their burning house where she dreamt of having a happy nest. But dreams were wished to be broken! Within four years of her marriage, the tragedy struck her luck. The Myanmar army invaded the village like a group of savage mad dogs and broke every small pieces of happiness she ever thought about.
With zero literacy but strong will to survive with her last resort — her son — Begum rushed to the hills. She thought the neighbouring country could be a fresh start for the two of them. But alas! The army and the administration on both sides kept making their moves on the chess-board.
The mother and son spent 20 nights in the woods. Winter approached pretty quick on the elevated land, thus, the entire village or whatever population that army couldn’t catch and kill were suffering from starvation and lack of proper clothing. When Begum left her house with Alam, the infant was only wearing a vest. The nature didn’t like that!
While her stay at the woods, Begum only had a fist full of rice with a little salt for only three to four days and even that food was shared by couple of her neighbours. Being a breastfeeding mother, malnutrition hit her hard. Her breast milk ran dry. Pneumonia caught Alam and he was continuously coughing and in addition starving was the new enemy.
Meanwhile, thousands of Rohingya people like them already crossed the border and entered Bangladesh. Begum also took her chance to roll the dice trying for some luck. Alam’s condition was deteriorating quickly, ergo, she was desperate. The boatmen who ferried the refugees asked for money from her. She didn’t have it but she refused to give up! She traded herself to the ferrymen to be on the other side of Naf river, because, she knew there was a medical camp where she could take Alam and it’s her only chance.
Satisfied by their primitive urges, the smugglers eventually ferried her across Naf and left her and few other Rohingyas on a muddy shoal on Bangladesh frontier during the darkest hour of night. Begum crossed the waist-deep mud with Alam in her lap and walked across the caraway mangroves to reach a kilometre-spread of paddy fields. Then she found a refugee camp where the Rohingya living in Bangladesh were kind enough to give her a place to stay.
Skeletal Alam was burning with fever and gasping for air. Begum thought she would take her to the medical camp once the sun rose. The sun eventually went up, so did Alam’s guiltless soul. He breathe his last immediately after the Fazr A’dhan (prayer call) was finished.
Begum lamented how she could have kept her son alive and how would she survive alone in this world…
Alam’s body was washed and wrapped in a shroud. Locals of the camp took him to pray for his departed soul to set it free from its sins (!) — probably of being born in the wrong place in a wrong time — and laid the little body to rest on a hill which is a Rohingya refugee graveyard.
Little Alam eventually managed to have the well deserved rest after his short-spanned voyage called life came to a full-stop. He didn’t know politics, his religion, nationality, sins or deeds. He was just one of those thousands.
Well, I didn’t even know him ten minutes ago! I wrote about hundreds of deaths in my career. But somehow I, being a professional reporter, felt my eyes were getting heavy with tears!
May he found peace in the next life. May the angels guide him to the utopia he always deserved. Amen.
*Sam Jahan is a Journalist for AFP in Dhaka
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