PTSD and Fate Hanging in the Balance
This was my last day at the camp!
It was clearer this morning. In the corridor of the store-front leading to the beach in my run this morning, a few lumps of lifeless forms lay, bodies of homeless people sleeping together in a sack keeping themselves warm. A few feet away a family slept below the shelter of a rickshaw under thin blankets and a couple of stray dogs also curled up close to them.
I did my 5K on the beach. As always, there were already people walking the beaches with a few joggers.
I thought since I had been to Obat for the last two days, it would be someone else’s turn. I was already in the van going to Hope Clinic and everyone piled in and only one doctor was getting into the van heading for Obat. The coordinator then asked me whether I would go to Obat, I hesitated since I thought I should say my last goodbye to the people I worked there at Hope Clinic. Also I wished to visit the Malaysian Field Hospital on our way home. I felt torn because I liked to be in the midst of the refugees at Obat.
In the clinic, I was again delegated to one of the last rooms without an exam table. My assigned translator was unceremoniously taken away from me by another volunteer as his was taken away from him. Everyone else was vying for their favorite translator. It wasn’t a smooth morning. I ended with a translator I had never worked with before.
Bibi was a 16-year-old woman, in camp for 4 months. Her house was burned and she ran away with 8 family members ranging in age from 3 years to 70. She said the soldiers were shooting and as she ran, people around her fell as they were hit. She came in complaining that food was tasteless, she was weak and had recurrent nightmares of the scenes she saw when she was running away from Myanmar. She ceaselessly wringing her hands as she spoke.
After she left, Alam, a seven-year-old boy walked in sitting upright on the chair offering the same complaints, I asked him where were his parents and did he come alone. It turned out that he was the brother of Bibi. He said he did not finish his breakfast of rice flavored with oil and I asked him who polished off what he didn’t eat. It was his five-year-old brother. I teased him that his younger brother would soon grow bigger than him if he did not eat. Like his sister, his fingers were busy wrapping and unwrapping around one another as he talked. I offered Bibi my granola bar and Alam some groundnuts which I happened to have in my backpack, they took them willingly and quietly. Then I watched as my translator stood up, reached into his back pocket and took out his wallet, he addressed Alam and I caught the word “chocolate”. He slipped the little boy a bill. Obviously these two souls were horribly and deeply traumatized.
Md A, a 75-year-old man, in the camp for 4 months. He and 7 other family members spent 6 days getting to the border. Once they had to pay 1 million Lakh for 8 people to cross a river which took a half hour. He recalled wading in water up to his neck carrying a baby on his head. Since his escape he had been having pain in his right knee and back, he placed the blame for his pain squarely on the trudging he went through.
We met another man who also related the horrors he saw and now was unable to eat or sleep. His cheeks were sunken but I was not sure whether he had seen his face in a while and realized that he had lost weight, gaunt and perhaps a shadow of his past self.
Quite a number of Rohingya we saw had experienced unspeakable atrocities and suffered from post-traumatic syndrome. We had no place we could refer them for mental health counselling. What little my translator and I did seemed to provide some emotional release when they opened up and shared their stories with us. I could only hope somehow they would have a purpose in life again to spur them on.
We finished clinic surprisingly early, perhaps because there were more of us.
On our way home, we visited the Malaysian Field Hospital and met the coordinator. His eye lit up when he heard I was from Penang, Malaysia. He took us on a tour of the hospital and told us that all the equipment and building materials were flown in from Malaysia by the government. They had an urgent care area and a fast track for emergency cases, an operating theatre, recovery room/ICU and a ward which was the only place not air-conditioned. In the next tent was the pharmacy, the kitchen, a goat and a chicken tied up in the yard ready for the farewell dinner of the staff some of whom would be going home, they volunteer for 2 weeks to a month.
In the evening, I took another route to the beach, the sun was setting, already with the start of the holiday, it was thronged with people.
I would be flying out of Cox’s Bazar tomorrow morning to Dhaka, hopefully the weather would cooperate and the fog would be lifted for the plane to fly out on time.
Unlike the Rohingya, I have a comfortable and stable home to return to but their fate has been and will be hanging in the balance with no place to call their own.
In the evening I scanned the front page of one of the newspapers which recounted an agreement between the Bangladesh and Myanmar governments to repatriate the refugees over a period of two years, an agreement that did not include representatives from UNHCR or members of the Rohingya refugees.
The 6,500 refugees stranded in no man’s land would be the first to be moved into another temporary camp over the border of Myanmar, a situation which would not be as safe as if the camp is over Bangladesh where they would feel more protected from another bout of violence. There had already been protests in the refugee camps against repatriation.