By Maisha Zahir
This letter is an account of my adventure, the most crucial one of my life. I assure you; it’s interesting. Maybe not pleasant, but interesting nonetheless.
It started when I turned twelve, as my mother took me into her arms and revealed that we would move to a better place, with proper accommodation, food, medicine and education. A place where no one would try to attack our homes or be mean to us.
We started for our journey late at night, when the whole world were calm. We were four people in total: My mother, my eldest brother, Rafique and my infant brother, Shanju, along with me. I do not have a father like other children do, but it is because my father is in a better place now. My mother told me that he had been very brave, because he had once protected our whole family when I was only an infant. So God awarded his bravery by taking him to a better place called paradise.
We took our few belongings, and started walking. I noticed more people joining us as we proceeded.
Suddenly, I found myself among a humongous crowd, struggling to stay beside my mother. A huge boat was floating on the water, and people rushed towards it, frantic. I do not know when or how I reached the boat, but I remember running towards my mother, terrified of losing her. A sudden sound blasted through the night air, and the ship started moving.
The next sound I heard was of my mother, shrieking, “MY SON!”
She made an attempt to run, but was stopped by Rafique, whose cheeks were wet with hot tears. It took me a good while to realize what was wrong; Shanju was missing.
He was holding my hand all this long.
A nasty feeling passed through me, and I turned around to see the first heart-wrenching scenario of my adventure. My baby brother was lying on the shore, motionless. He was only a silhouette then, but the unnatural way his body lay was enough for me to estimate the number of tiny bones that had been broken by desperate feet.
Soon, mother was on the floor, her hands tightly grabbing a lanky man’s legs. The man looked at her for a while, and then kicked her out of his way. I started screaming, for which I was rewarded with a slap that forced me into the ground.
He spit on me, and growled, “I do not want any more nuisance from ungrateful prostitutes like you! Shut up and stay where you are, we can’t waste any more time on such garbage.”
I dragged myself to my mother and brother, crying silently for Shanju.
I kept asking her where our bedroom was, with lovely neighbors.
She explained that once we got off this boat, we would meet all the nice people and have a beautiful house. We only had to endure for a few more days.
As I thought of a beautiful home, my eyelids drooped and I drifted into a world which was perfect.
I woke up to the morning sky, my body filled with dirt. Mother was lying beside me, her face pale. Rafique was fanning her with a dirty leaflet, his face twisted into an expression of worry.
“What happened to mother?” I exclaimed, the color draining out of my face. Rafique explained that she was feeling unwell because of the sea, and assured me that she would be alright.
I felt extremely thirsty, so I asked Rafique if he had any water left. He gave me an almost empty bottle of water, which I devoured. Only after my drink did I notice the amount of people around me. There were people everywhere, with very little space for each individual. I suddenly felt claustrophobic, unable to breathe properly.
The next day, my mother vomited. When she asked the boat owners for some medicine, they threw her into her own vomit, kicking her like dirt. When she screamed at the man, he pulled at her hair and dragged her into a room. Cries of terror broke through the whole boat, and a few more women were dragged along the same way.
When mother came back, her clothes were torn and she was bloody. Her eyes were filled with fear and defeat. That night, everybody cried silently, holding their loved ones close.
Over the next few days, things kept getting worse. Food and water was a luxury for us now, which we only got if we behaved properly and did not ask for anything. All of us were starving, and every day, someone or the other would eventually get beaten for crying loudly or asking for water. They would not get food for that entire day.
Rafique and I tried our best to stay quiet, because food was crucial for our mother, whose health was deteriorating every day.
It was probably the 14th or 15th day when mother died. Her body was thrown into the water, without any funeral. I remember my brother protesting, shaking angrily. I also remember my brother getting beaten to pulp, and me jumping in between to save him. I remember excruciating pain, and then, nothing.
I had woken up into a dark room, thirst and hunger screaming inside me. I was wearing different clothes, which were dirty, but without the stench of urine or vomit. I also had a bed, which made me happy. When the door first opened, I had happily squealed, “Rafique! Is this our new home?”
But as the person came closer, I realized it wasn’t Rafique. He smiled at me, but it was not nice at all.
What he did to me after that is not something I can ever explain, but it scarred both my body and my soul. This repeated every day, day and night.
It’s been three months since I came here. Three months of suffering and more to come. I do not know where my brother is, if he is even alive. I do not know if I will ever get out of here, if I will ever get to see the world again. But if I do, I promise I will be a good girl. I will study and help anybody who needs it. I’ll make my mother proud.
Dear world, you are still as beautiful as you were before, right?
This stolen pen will run out of ink any moment, so I shall end it here. Please tell the winds to take this letter to a good place.
Rohingyas are a group of Muslim minority living in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. They are constantly being subjected to abuse, rape and murder. They do not have an identity, and are stateless, because of which it is extremely tough for them to find a place they can call ‘home’. Only 30,000 rohingyas out of an approximate 500,000 are registered.
They are forced to flee from the Rakhine state, and often find themselves at sea, helpless, tricked by human traffickers who promise them a better future but instead make their lives even more miserable. They do not receive proper food, water or sanitation. Death bodies are tossed into the sea waters, young girls sold into prostitution and marriage, and able man sold into labor. They are deprived from basic human rights, barely surviving through torture and murder. The few lucky ones who survive the journey live in refugee camps, unable to study or work. Thousands of them risk their lives and get into these smuggler boats, hoping to go somewhere safe, such as Malaysia, Bangladesh or Thailand. These countries have built refugee camps, but are facing problems managing the influx. Many boats have been turned away by these countries, causing thousands to be stranded at sea. These treacherous boat journeys must be improved, and strong initiatives must be taken against these human traffickers who commit severe crimes of abuse, murder, smuggling and selling of humans and many more unknown to us.
About the Author
Syeda Maisha Zahir
Chief Editor of the Refugees and Racial Minorities department
Maisha is an O level graduate from Chittagong International School. Her interests include reading, writing, music, baking and poetry recitation. She enjoys discussing and learning about world issues.