“You are my daughter. I welcome you into our family. Please come back again soon — only after you see my daughter in America.”
For eight months, these words played over in my head. So did the photo that was shared with me. It was a photo of my Rohingya friend’s entire family in Myanmar. The last family photo they would ever take together. She’s now in the US. Her family is all over the world. That photo solidified my decision to pursue a dream of mine that seemed quite impossible. I was inspired to pursue Rohingya Reunions, a collection of adventures dedicated towards connecting family ties across the world.
After dozens of Whatsapp calls and Facebook messages, I pooled together my contacts to reunite with my Rohingya friends’ family members.
Then I go to find them. I’m on a perpetual cycle of Rohingya Reunions. America → Bangladesh → America → repeat. Throw in the occasional Europe trip here and there.
This time I brought along Hailey and Nihab with me. I won’t be the only one eating 5 bowls of chicken curry.
So here is the beginning of Rohingya Reunions: The Bangladesh Chapter.
It was my second day back in Bangladesh. I drove down the familiar dirt road in the bumpy CNG. Things started to look familiar — the food distribution points, the Women Friendly Shelter signs — it was all coming back to me. The last time I saw this family, they gave me a scarf to give to their daughter in America. When I delivered that scarf to her, she collapsed in tears as she held the only remnant of her family. That’s all I was able to give to her. One day, I hope to give her more.
I walked down the familiar road towards their house. I was warmly greeted by the family that made it to Bangladesh in August 2017. I pulled out a photo album from my bag with printed photos of their family members in the States.
I told them about their 12-year-old grandson who shared his story of fleeing Myanmar in front of his entire school. I told them about their 14-year-old granddaughter who won Student of the Month twice in a row. They pulled out the photos that I had given to them 8 months ago. Then the father runs to the back of the room and carries a huge mound of torn, worn down papers and places it before me.
They were documents dating back to the 1920s that he carried from his village in Myanmar. He kept every single document. When he was forced to flee from his burning village, this is what he took with him.
We looked through the documents as he shared his story with us. He had served in the government, but had everything stripped from him. Denied citizenship, red pens scribbled through family names, national cards, all of the documents of his life. He pulled out torn photos and crumbled documents with family names. Every document told a story – and he openly shared with us.
He kept a strict record of names, ages, locations, incidents in his village. Every name written on the paper had a story. He pulled out more and more documents. The stories continued to come.
Shortly after we were presented with this information, Fortify Rights released its report, “Tools of Genocide” that highlighted “National Verification Cards and the Denial of Citizenship of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.” We had primary sources that confirmed all of the evidence presented in this report.
And this was just the beginning of our Rohingya Reunions: The Bangladesh Chapter.
So much more to come.