Saiful huq Omi, Photojournalist
By Saiful huq Omi
It was just another day. Like any other day – waking up at 5 am, getting into the van, driving to the camp, hours on the road and by the time one is inside the half-hell called camp, a home for the homeless, a place for the stateless, it is almost morning there. And you wait for your people to wake up, like any other photographer; you are the first to see the sun waking up too!
It was a long day. I worked for hours, the sun was not so happy with us – unbearable temperature. I am talking about years back and as long as I remember I thought it was a bad day for photography until the sunset was waiting for me with a lot of surprise.
My guide, my Rohingya colleague, let’s say his name is John, is a very sensitive person. Every time he sees that I did not have a successful day, he knows what to offer. “Lets have a walk by the side of the river, it’s a wonderful river.”
I was walking alone, and I was closer to the river. And there was no one else, other than John. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets. Every time I look at the river, I feel emptiness. I see Burma, which they call Myanmar now, and feel that it is so close yet so far. Burma has been burning for years, Rohingyas have been facing the worst form of inhumanity, and here is ‘us’, on the other side of the border. We just see, and cannot, or just simple do not, do anything.
I looked up as John started to talk to me. “Do you see the other side of the river?” he said. Of course I see it, as it is maybe less than 2 kilometers from here. And then he said something that really changed a lot inside me.
“My home is not far from here, you just cross the river Naaf and there is my home by the riverside. From here it is just two miles, but for me it is like two million miles, a distance I will never be able to cross. My mother is there, my home is there. It is close for someone like you, those who have passports, and who can go anywhere they want. But for us, people like us, it is the forbidden land. How do you feel when you know your mother is there, within 30 minutes away from where you are standing and you know you will never be able to see her again?”
At that very moment, after working for years on the story, after trying to understand the story in every possible way, those few words from John made me take a step back. I realized I would never be him. I realized a photographer can photograph sorrow but it will never be his own. I realized in the twenty first century one of the tallest wall among us is always the invisible thing called ‘border’. I realized in today’s world, when the world is so obsessed by the idea of nation state, one who is thrown out of the system for some reason will always remain in limbo, somewhere hanging in the middle. He or she, no matter how much the individual has suffered, will never have the honor or the dignity to decide his own future.
I felt sad, void, and I took this picture, just one frame. The moment never gave me any chance to take a second frame, nor did I have any strength left. This particular photograph, where John points us to the other side of border, is the heart of my work. I think and I believe in one single frame the story is told!