Family Above All
It is a hot, humid summer’s day in July when Musammat Nazma Khatun sits down in front of the camera. Notun Khiruar Char, in Chilmari, Kurigram is far from any built-up roads, power lines, gas or modern infrastructure of any kind, save for a scant, wavering, single bar of cell phone reception. That is where Nazma lives, however, and so that is where we collected her story.
As she settles into her plastic chair, she fiddles with her shawl and clip on mic, shy about speaking on camera. She takes a breath and starts her story. By the end, she is the one to smile and say, “it’s okay — come meet my kids. I’ll go fetch them”, as we are at a loss for words.
She has 3 healthy, happy daughters; a pre-schooler and two preteens; and a tall, moustached, husband, all of whom share a home. As we take their picture before our next assignment, we cannot help but think hers is a story to remember.
The literal picture of domestic bliss that was now contained in our camera leaves no hint of the trauma that she once suffered years prior. 6 months into her first pregnancy, she suffered from debilitating pain in her belly. Cramps that lasted for days and were so blindingly painful that she had no choice but seek medical attention. That however, was nowhere to be found. Notun Khirua was outside of Friendship’s range back then, and she and her husband had to scrounge up whatever money they could, and loan the rest, to make their way to the nearest town, Kurigram. The doctors there were unequipped to diagnose her and had to refer her to a bigger clinic in Rangpur. Barely clinging on through the pain, she finally made it to the clinic to learn what was causing it. Her unborn child had died in her womb, more than a month prior.
“They evacuated the remains,” she says, matter-of-factly, as if the revelation was not disturbing, “the bits came out all rotten. It had decomposed, that’s what was causing the cramps”.
A stunned silence fills the air, but she sits up and proclaims, “well I have 3 kids now, though so it’s okay. The next time I got pregnant, I just went to Friendship and they took really good care of me. So much so, I had 2 more. They’re all girls though, so my husband and I are trying for a boy. Let’s see” she says, smiling.
“I heard about Friendship from the Friendship Community Medic-aides that had come around. Thank God they did, otherwise I don’t know if my second child would have survived. But here we are. I’m putting them in school, which Friendship is also helping out with.”
We can barely stutter out an apology for what she’s been through, but she smiles and says, “it’s okay — come meet my kids. I’ll go fetch them”. Quickly gathering our equipment, we jog after her as she maternally yells at her kids to come up. Her bewildered husband is confused as to what’s going on, and tries to duck away from the camera before she reels him back into the frame.
We snap a picture as she explains that her eldest had gone to visit her aunt, and we bid our goodbyes. She waves at us as we leave, and her grumpy youngest finally smirks. The little girl clearly likes her privacy.