Myanmar is a mess. Years of ethnic and religious warfare have left deep scars in both the Buddhist and Muslim communities there. There have been cries of ethnic cleansing charged against Buddhists, but very few are held responsible for crimes against Muslims.
When an issue is this enormous, it is often hard to think about it in human terms. After all, “violence against Muslims” or “ethnic cleansing” isn’t the same as “my friend was killed.” The perspective shifts when there are faces, names, grief and empathy. I don’t know Shamshu Nahad, but I suppose that, like nearly every woman, she was looking forward to holding her baby in her arms, caressing the child’s cheeks, watching the little changes that happen in the first few weeks after birth. But none of this will happen now.
Hours after Shamshu Nahad gave birth to her second child, a beautiful baby girl, her husband was digging its grave.
The tiny corpse, wrapped in white cloth, was placed on a straw mat and lowered into the moist earth, neighbors and relatives bowing their heads as they quietly recited Muslim prayers.
Like the child’s life, the ceremony was brief, over in a matter of minutes.
Myanmar’s radical Buddhist population has driven many Muslims from their homes, forced them into refugee areas where they have little or no medical care. The ethnic Rohingya Muslims are even denied citizenship under current Myanmar law, leaving them stranded in a literal no-man’s land – they don’t belong where they live, and no one else will take them since they have no citizenship. Nahad was tended to by a midwife during her labor, but this midwife tends to the needs of almost 10,000 others. There was little she could do to help Nahad and her child when she finally arrived.
Nahad could hardly move. Others took her dead daughter to the mosque, walking along the muddy road between long, bamboo camp homes, sidestepping huge puddles left by monsoon rains. Some neighbors joined the procession, while others peeked out from the windows.
When they reached the cemetery, Mohammed Shafiq, the baby’s 25-year-old father, dug into the wet earth with his spade. Other men took over from time to time until the hole was about 1 foot wide, 3 feet long and 3 feet deep.
There were more prayers as the tiny corpse was lowered into the grave and covered with dirt.
Nahad didn’t have a chance to say goodbye.
There are many conflicts in our world. We draw lines between who is good and who is bad, who is right and who is wrong. One religion attempts to push another out; one ethnic group seeks to gain dominance over another. We scan the story and move on to the next one. But for every conflict, every place in the world where violence reigns, for every story, there is life. Even if it is only one small life, briefly here, yet still loved.