It’s been just over 5 weeks since I came home from Bangladesh. I have new respect for anyone who does humanitarian work (in general), but mostly for those who do this work for years on end. I honestly don’t know if I could do it.
I haven’t contributed more to this blog because every time I try to write about my experience, (or speak about it, for that matter) my words seems beyond inadequate. But hey, they say practice makes perfect, so I’ll push on.
I was told that coming home would be challenging, and that has proven to be more true than I would ever have imagined. Every day I wish I was still there. It seems incredibly dramatic to imply that I have PTSD in any way shape or form. I’ve come across many people with PTSD in my line of work, who have suffered through all kinds of terrible situations. Obviously, much worse than what I experienced. But, I find myself triggered by things throughout the day that take me back to the camp and all that I saw there. Very often, I read articles about the camp, and I feel a sadness creep in that I’m trying to hard to fight. It feels so overwhelming sometimes that I don’t know how to carry that sadness with me and still go about my day.
A few weeks ago I returned home one night from visiting with a friend, grabbed a book, and crawled into bed. I was lying there, thinking of how lucky I was to be able to share some beers with a friend, come home to an incredibly comfy bed, and open a good book. But, I made the mistake of pulling out my phone before I opened the book, and I ended up watching a video that one of the interpreters that I worked with shared on Facebook. The video was the story of a refugee who was shot by the Burmese military while he was fleeing his village. He was shot in the leg, and hid in the jungle for 12 days before other Rohingyas carried him to a hospital somewhere, where his leg was amputated. Then they carried him to Bangladesh, and now he lives in the camp. After watching the video, I put down my phone and tried to pick up my book. I read about a page or two, but couldn’t focus. (A very common problem since coming home.) Why is it that I get to lay in bed reading a book, and he had to lay in the jungle for 12 days after being shot? Why do I get to live in a house with heat and electricity and enough food at any given time to feed several families, and he lives in a hut that is going to blow away or slide down a hill as soon as the monsoon season comes in a few weeks, wondering where his next meal will come from? I can’t make sense of this. The singular difference between me and another girl my age over there is that I was born in a first world country, and she was not. (Well, that, and the fact that I actually know how old I am. Most Rohingya don’t know their exact age. Which makes sense, considering they aren’t allowed any form of ID.) I can’t wrap my head around that senseless privilege. It both motivates and depresses me.
I had very few moments of intense sadness while I was there. Some might think that surprising, since there was constant suffering as far as the eye could see. But one moment in particular stands out. I took a short walk to get some fresh air outside of the dusty clinic one afternoon. Young children had been carrying bundles of firewood atop their heads nonstop for hours, and I wanted a higher vantage point to see where they were getting the wood from. (I was slightly fascinated by where all of the wood came from, as there were no trees left in the camp.) I took a quick walk up the nearest hill to have a look around. Initially, I hadn’t realized that the doctor I was working with that day followed me, and once we reached the top of the hill, he and I stood in silence, taking in our vast surrounding. Off in the distance, we could finally see trees. The silence felt companionable, shared by two people who had spent a lot of time working and living together in a few short weeks. Before we turned to walk back to the clinic, he asked rhetorically, “How in the hell can we do this to each other?” I obviously lack the wisdom to answer a question of that magnitude, so we walked back to the clinic in silence and resumed working. But I’ve thought about that question every single day.
Countless people have tried to answer that question about countless atrocities over countless years of human existence. Sometimes we seem to be making progress, other times it’s not so clear. It’s enough to give anyone a case of the existential blues.