The Nightmares Began
It took us an hour and a half to get to Balukhali Camp. On the way we passed paddy fields, harvested long ago with cows and goats grazing on the remnants of the stalks. It was quite chilly for this part of the world, in the 50s in the morning. The Mariner Drive was pleasant and offered an occasional glimpse of moon boats on the beach through graceful Casuarina trees. Farmers already up and about tending their fields. Markets in the towns we passed were busy, congested with rickshaws, tom-toms, people selling and buying.
The Malaysian contingent put up a field hospital near one of the established camps in the 1990s, Kutupalong Camp. They are equipped to do surgeries. We drove past the camp set up on mounds of hills where there used to be forests, now denuded, studded with orange and blue tarp huts. Lines of refugees queued up for food from WFP. It is said that twice a month, the refugees get a few kilos of rice, salt, dahl and oil.
The Hope Clinic is at the edge of Balukhali Camp. Throngs of refugees were already waiting in the waiting area, next to registration. The pharmacy is very small and poorly lit. Next to it is the treatment and testing room with a stretcher, followed by a series of 5 to 7 rooms, all of them had a bed except rooms 6 and 7.
I was assigned to room 6 at the end of the clinic facing a low-lying field with the latrines in sight. The room was about 5’ by 5’ with a table and three chairs. We were each given a plastic container filled with the most frequently used medications. Russel, my Bengali translator had a B. A. in Finance and wanted to have a break before going for his Masters and he decided to volunteer. He was from Chittagong, 5 hours away.
Some portraits of the patients we saw:
KM's mother, 20 year-old brought him in for respiratory problem. They have been in the camp for 3 months. She lost her husband at the border, shot by a soldier, after they had walked for 25 days to reach there.
RK, 45 y.o woman, 4 months in camp, walked for 14 days to border where a soldier cut her husband’s throat. She is living with her 3 girls and 2 sons.
MK, 35 yo woman with a big goiter, walked for 15 days, missing her oldest son who was never seen when her village was burnt, she has two younger children at the camp.
NH, 60 y o man, in camp for 5 months, home burned, missing one son, He and 9 other children walked 2 days to reach border, would only go back if safe.
Salam, 60 yo man, lived near border, camp 5 months, village burned.
Salman 7 month-old boy, mother 25, father shot dead.
JA, 66 yo man, at camp 4 months. Relatives shot and killed.
SH, 55 yo man, 5 months in camp, nephew shot.
DB, 58 yo woman, at camp for 5 months. She has 4 daughters and 3 sons, saw neighbors slaughtered, shot and killed. Village burned.
Most of the patients have been in the camp from 3 to 5 months. They had to run away in haste taking very little with them, the lucky ones took some valuables and rice. They walked from 1 to 30 days to the border. Almost all witnessed the burning of their own homes and villages. Some had watched loved ones killed or are missing some members. Many were shot by soldiers and slaughtered by villagers with “big knives”. They had little food, some ran out of food after one to two days, some had very young nursing babies, they had to beg for food and some said they ate leaves and drank ground water. The horrific memories of those atrocious days were reflected in their eyes as they told their heart-wrenching stories.