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Posts Tagged ‘Bangladesh’

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One of many long lines of patients wrap along the tin sheet walls of doctors’ offices in a field clinic near Balukhali Refugee Camp. Photo by Mike Kai

The army officer lifted his gun he had been using as a leaning crutch and walked off down the road after he told the girl just diagnosed with diphtheria she wasn’t allowed to go to the hospital.  The Prime Minister of Turkey was visiting and the Bangladeshi military had installed new checkpoints, restricted traffic, and called out their soldiers in full force to line the streets all the way to Cox’s Bazar, an hours drive away.  Coughing with low energy, the child and family took the news as if they had heard this line of logic before; they didn’t bat an eyelash as the volunteers around them erupted in protest.  Despite the fact that Turkey has a population of around 3.5 million registered refugees themselves, they are donating funds in mass for Rohingya, compelled like Indonesia by the plight of fellow Muslims.

Around 200 patients a day filter through this makeshift medical center on the edge of a massive refugee camp.  Staffed by doctors from an international placement organization called MedGlobal and run by HOPE, a Bangladeshi hospital, the tin roofed structure does indeed provide hope in recovering from some of the worst conditions imaginable.  Two months ago, people were coming in with fresh gunshot wounds.  Respiratory illness and rape are common reasons for visits as well.  Most wait from 3-5 hours to see one of a handful of doctors and nurses paired up with volunteer interpreters after they are registered by the dozen other volunteers who handle the less technical though still important clerical work and triage.  Everyone gets a prescreen for diphtheria as the camps are on official outbreak status with hundreds of suspected cases and 27 deaths as of December 26.

Today, the number of patients were fewer because the military would not let people up the road to seek medical attention and they also ordered the medical center shut down early, even though the Turkish Prime Minister came and left in the early afternoon.  Because of lower numbers, it was easier to sneak away to do a check-up on a woman the medical team was not sure would still be alive.  She was suffering from heart failure and after an assessment the day before, the team concluded she had little time to live.  With nothing to do, but ease her suffering in the final hours, they literally carried her over a broken bamboo bridge and up a hill to her sweltering hot (it’s currently winter in Bangladesh) tarp and bamboo constructed shelter.

The critical problem is that there could have been something done besides just easing her suffering.  In a country with decent medical care, her nurse told me her heart failure was treatable in many ways.  They could drain the fluid that had built up making her heart weak and unable to pump blood properly.  They could repair her lungs, also filled with fluid.  They could get her a heart transplant.  But here, they could not do surgery. Here, the Rohingya are stuck in a restricted area, not even allowed to travel to nearby Coxs Bazar where there is a hospital I casually walked into at the end of the day to get a diphtheria vaccine with no questions asked or money exchanged.

Instead, the scene this 50 year old woman faced as her ultimate reality was to be clinging on to life and literally to the bamboo beam keeping her tent and her torso upright.  Unable to speak or to even open her eyes, one of her seven daughters spoke for her while holding her tightly and another daughter along with her only son waved hand fans to create circulation in the tent so the medical team would be more comfortable.  The men of her family were presumably killed and a heart condition quite often linked to extreme stress that the western world normally sees around mid 60’s and 70’s according to her nurse, had become terminal…but only terminal because of who she is and where she is.  In the true essence of a mother’s love, her chief concern was for her daughters and wishing for them to get married.

It’s sometimes hard to find hope here.  Surrounded by children literally rolling tires with sticks past the medical clinic where people cough, cry, or internalize their pain; it’s impossible to shrug the reality that pain is all around.  As I was thinking back to my childhood of playing with all the toys a kid could want while watching a child pull a plastic bottle he tied a string to as a play-thing right in front of me, my daze was shook by the thunderous crash of a tuk-tuk into a goat on the road behind the medical center.  Three goats scurried off, but a crowd a men gathered and within a minute had chased down the goat that got hit while another man rushed from a nearby shelter with a curved machete and slit the goat’s throat clean to the neck-bone.  “Life just isn’t fair,” I thought to myself as I stood over the goat and watched it twitch its final movements while bleeding out on the soft sand beneath.

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Below is a snippet of background information on the current refugee crisis in Bangladesh and violation of human rights in Myanmar that I wrote for a food crawl fundraiser in November.

Since the current refugee crisis in Bangladesh reached its main point of escalation on August 25, 2017, around 800,000 Rohingyas have fled Myanmar, escaping what the UN labeled “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” After years of being trapped in a stateless district and denied basic human rights, the government carried out a scorched earth campaign, pushing the mostly Muslim minorities across the border as they were brutally murdered and entire villages burned.  Amnesty International has pointed to accusations that the military of Myanmar even planted landmines along the path of exodus from the country.  The Rohingya continue to flee violence by crossing into Bangladesh daily, entering a nation which lacks the infrastructure or capacity to properly care for all the unique needs the situation demands.

While not exactly impartial, I believe it to be a fair assessment of the current situation and one the helps explain the need for immediate action.  When Beijing restaurants were sent this piece, they said they could not print or distribute it or there would be problems for them and problems for me. I had an inkling this might be an issue as I had read articles critical of China for failing to condemn this as a genocide because of commercial interests in Myanmar.  The PRC has an important oil pipeline that runs through their neighboring country and in building new infrastructure for their modern day Silk Road (called the One Belt, One Road Initiative), they don’t want to initiate bad relations.  The bigger problem stems from their seat on the UN Security Council where they have veto power over any condemnation or subsequent action plan.  I hate when the world gets sucked up and spun around in politics while people are suffering.

What further pains me is that this ethnic cleansing is being carried out by a Buddhist majority against a Muslim minority.  Using a perverted interpretation of Buddhist doctrine, they’re justifying and encouraging action against Rohingya by saying they are vermin, cockroaches, lower than the value of life and in need of extermination.  It’s a repeat of the same tactics that people have used throughout all of time to carry out such large-scale atrocities.  Think of Nazi Germany.  Think of Rwanda.  The rhetoric is always the same. I guess it just shocked me to hear this was the stance of Buddhists who I automatically equated with peace and pacifist ways in my head.  In an escalated great irony that no audience would believe was real if this were a Hollywood production, the (essentially) Prime Minister of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.  And now she rules over the outbreak of violence, unable to curb the unspeakable horrors carried out by a ruthless military.

I have the means and desire to help a huge catastrophe in a really small way.  I have no special skills like medical or engineering which are always in high demand in such a crisis, but I can come with some money in my pocket to help provide food, water, and shelter.  I wish I had a better plan, but for now, it is just show up in Cox’s Bazar which is the main concentration of refugees in the country and figure it out from there.  For the months of planning this, everyone I have connected with online and on the ground has advocated for just that, much to the chagrin of my Type A hyper-organized personality.

I’m sure it will be chaotic and frustrating, but no more so than waiting on the political powers that be to sort out long term relief and recovery while trying to stop the violence on the Myanmar side with the speed of molasses in January.  In the time leading up to my flight, I have been reading weekly reports from UNICEF and WHO (click on those links and read the reports, there is so much information). More orphans are coming into Bangladesh.  The funding gap for food is increasing.  Diseases like diphtheria are spreading at alarming rates.  All of this suffering from people who did nothing wrong and fled their homes because that was the only way to avoid death.  The Rohingya were already one of the most marginalized people in the world, denied citizenship, freedom of movement, or even education before the outbreak of violence.  I couldn’t see pictures like the ones below and carry on like everything in the world was happy and fine.

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A Rohingya refugee child washes utensils in the in the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh Source: Reuters

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The Dirt on Dhaka

Dhaka

The Pink Palace in Dhaka: Once a playboy’s mansion for parties and amorous activities, now a crumbling museum-ish structure. 

If there was ever a time I was convinced of the evolutionary advantage of nose hair, it was today.  I looked at the blackened Kleenex at the end of the day and gave thanks to the deep forest growing in my nostrils for stopping some of airborne toxins from ending up in my lungs.  Sitting in traffic, and even walking through traffic, the day became mostly a parkour and Frogger display of skill with breathing equivalent to sucking on a tailpipe.  The think haze in the sky was like Beijing on its worst of days and the instant scratchy discomfort in the back of my throat was a clear indication that the city has problems.

I arrived in Dhaka little before midnight after two flights and three movies that I almost stayed awake throughout.  A man from my pre-booked hostel showed up to pick me up, much to my surprise, without a vehicle, so we walked around the airport haggling with tuk-tuks.  Racing down the jam-packed roads with horns incessantly blaring and all sizes of vehicle clamoring for position in their individual interpretations of what driving lanes are, I wondered how people could say India is worse.  I could stick my fingers out chain link side doors and touch three other vehicles at any given point.

Amazingly arriving at the hostel across from a field of garbage after only scraping three other vehicles and stopping hard enough to slam my face into the passenger/driver cage once, I climbed the stairs past stray cats, purified a liter of water, crawled under my mosquito net and was lulled to sleep by the sounds of barking dogs, police whistles, and planes overhead.  The morning crows of roosters added to the mix to rouse me several hours later to face the first dilemma of the trip: My accommodations for the next three weeks just got cancelled.

I’m not saying it was the best plan to begin with, but I had secured a free stay with a random guy I met on facebook through a small volunteering group.  After weeks of banking on that, he sent me a message out of the blue saying his landlord would not allow him to have someone stay there.  Just as quickly (and sketchily) as he offered his space in an unfurnished apartment with no hot water, it was taken away.  I spent the first four hours of my morning sending out a slew of new messages, posting in different groups, and linking up with handfuls of new contacts through WhatsApp.  Luckily, a new sketchy man agreed to pick me up from the airport and let me stay with him.  After volunteering in Lebanon where the volunteer coordinator sent me the name of the intersection in Beirut to catch a van headed towards Damascus, but telling me to make sure I got out halfway so I didn’t enter Syria, I feel okay where I’m at now.

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