Gaibandha mother’s struggle to survive as flood turns lives upside-down | 2019-07-23

Gaibandha mother’s struggle to survive as flood turns lives upside-down

23 July, 2019 12:00 AM printer

GAIBANDHA: It was a building of Jubilee Government Primary School in Sadar upazila, where around 450 people had taken shelter by Saturday as their homes got submerged, reports UNB.

As evening fell, Hamida Bibi, an elderly woman of flood-affected Baniyarjan village, appeared at the shelter centre-cum-school and sought shelter in the building which was already overcrowded, leaving hardly any room for newcomers.

People who were already there had their minds made up: room after room, they refused to welcome her, citing lack of space. No, not even for just one more frail, elderly woman who had just lost everything.

In the last classroom-cum-bunker that she tried, a strapping youth named Sumon turned her away, saying, “A total of 46 people of 15 families are staying in this room. Where will you stay?”

That was the last straw for Hamida. Spent, she became speechless as she collapsed outside the room, with nowhere else to go. And that is where she would spend the entire night, hoping against hope that they would take her in. That of course wasn’t to be.

“Please bury me in a grave. They didn’t provide me a little space to sleep, though lots of people have taken shelter there. I spent the whole night sitting in front of the door. All the people inside got eggs and rice but I didn’t get any food. I starved the whole night here,” she rolled off in a miserable monotone.

“It seems that torture in hell is better than my current situation,” she continued to admonish. And yet there she was, living and breathing and feeling, surviving. Even as she looked like death, Hamida embodied instinct for survival. Her whole life had been a story of fighting for survival.

Mokhles Mia, the husband with whom she had four children, died during the Liberation War. Like so many of the war widows, the end of the war in 1971 was only the beginning of a new war for them - this one to raise her children in a fledgling new state where everything was asunder and to do so without a man by her side. Like so many of those mothers, Hamida took stock and she got on with the job, for the sake of her children.

Because that’s what mothers do.

Till the floods came along this year, she had been leading a happy-enough life with her three sons and their families, all three pulling vans to deliver goods for a living. The only daughter was married off to a family in nearby Nuniyagari. On their plot of land, Hamida herself was rearing a good number of cattle. If not opulence, she did have something resembling contentment.

But that all came to an end this summer, as the Alai River - despite being one of the smaller rivers in a district through which the Teesta, Brahmaputra, all flow - kept rising, exceeding the danger mark at one point, then another, till all along and Gaibandha slowly started going under water. The overflowing waters started inundating Gaibandha municipality area. In course of time, vast areas of the district were submerged in water.

At one stage, on July 12, the sons along with their wives were forced to move out, leaving the vans as it went under water. From then onwards, Hamida’s vigil was a lonely one.

By Friday, even her neighbours were all gone, and large parts of Gaibandha were marooned off by floodwater. Hamida knew she had little time, and although she would have preferred to guard her sons’ vans, the chest-deep water forced her hand on Saturday. How she made it to the shelter is a mystery itself.

Ayub Ali, a volunteer with the shelter centre, said about 450 people had taken refuge in the school building. Even the roof and staircases of the building were filled out with people who had lost most earthly belongings.

They were only surviving. And that is enough to hope and build for another day.