Reflections | November 21, 2017

This is unimportant

Wittmeyers
Courtesy of Jay Wittmeyer

This is unimportant.

In a remote corner of one of the world’s most poor and most densely populated countries, sits a small ocean town, Cox’s Bazar. It is highlighted in regional guidebooks as a tourist destination, but that is only because there are so few tourist attractions in Bangladesh that something had to be chosen. “Come to Bangladesh before the tourists do” sums it up.

The town sits on the very southeastern tip of Bangladesh on a thin strip of land. The mountains and paddies of Myanmar are just a few miles away. The beach there is long, but the sand is ugly and the color of the Bay of Bengal is an industrial grayish brown. The area is tropical not in the Caribbean fruit drink sense; it is tropical in the malaria, jungle- rot, python sense.

Cox’s Bazar is unpleasant, but not insignificant, at least to me. My first child, Alysson, was born there in June of 1997, while Sarah and I were serving with Mennonite Central Committee. More precisely, Alysson was born in Malumghat a few miles north of the bazaar in a small Christian hospital run by the Association of Overseas Baptists.

Whether it was the novelty of becoming a parent, the joy of seeing our first child, or the sheer trauma of an extremely difficult delivery, Cox’s Bazar is so deeply etched in my mind, I can almost feel the crunch of roaches under my bare feet to this day.

Sarah’s water broke on a Friday night and she went into labor, but labor did not progress on Saturday. Early Sunday morning our American doctor asked the midwife to step in, an older Bengali woman. She immediately recognized that the amniotic sac was not completely broken, preventing pressure on the cervix and prolonging labor. She ruptured the sac and labor progressed.

In the delivery room, we encountered more challenges. The doctor tried forceps and then reverted to a suction device to attach to our nine-pound infant. After a third and unsuccessful try to form a seal on little Alysson’s head, the room began to grow more desperate.

By now hours had passed. An O. T. tech was called in. Slight in stature and extremely gifted, the tech deftly attached the suction cap and literally pulled our child into this world.

Kutupalong Refugee Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, one of three housing up to 300,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing inter-communal violence in Burma.
Photo by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Kutupalong Refugee Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, one of three housing up to 300,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing inter-communal violence in Burma.

Twenty years later, images of Cox’s Bazar are back in the news. Some 420,000 Rohingyas have been driven from their small farms in Myanmar and forced to seek refuge around Cox’s Bazar. The Rohingyas are a Bangla-speaking, predominantly Muslim, ethnic group that are native to this region.

Few earn $2 a day. This act of ethnic cleansing by Myanmar has left them homeless and hungry and wet and suffering. I cannot look at those photos without remembering our midwife, the nurses, and other medical staff who helped Alysson come into this world and saved my wife from perhaps becoming a maternal mortality statistic. It grieves me deeply to see the suffering in a community that I hold in such high esteem.

While there is so much happening in world today, I want to at least remember that as insignificant as Cox’s Bazar might seem, and as distinct as the story may feel, the Rohingyas are important to God.

Jay Wittmeyer is executive of Global Mission and Service for the Church of the Brethren.