Poverty Knows No Borders

By: Sanzida Begum

8 June
Her name is Priya and she’s quite beautiful. Our marriage was arranged three months ago, we’ve been married for one and I can honestly say I have fallen in love with this woman. She cooks for me, takes care of me when I’m sick and she’s always there for me when I need to talk. She truly is the perfect wife and I have no idea what she is doing with me, when she could have gotten married to someone who has so much more money than I do, someone who could provide for her and not have to ask her to wait.
I asked her to wait before we have kids. I asked her if we can be safe for now. She agreed to wait a while before having children but I know it pains her to do so. She tells me over and over again, “Sohaib it’s okay. Our family will just have to wait,” but I know she wants to be a mother. She wants to fulfill her duty as a woman. I know it hurts her when her friends ask her when she was going to have a baby. I know it hurts her when her Amma and Baba ask when are their grandchildren going to come along. I can see the pain in her eyes. I can tell from the slump in her shoulders when she pretends to act aggravated and tells her Amma, “Amma you know we decided to wait till we have some more money.”
I  really can’t understand what she settled for a man like me. Priya is such a compassionate, generous and young girl and I can’t understand why she would want to marry a poor man like me. I have made her life so miserable and I can’t believe she’s still with me today. I’m fairly sure if she allowed them to, her parents would have taken her back home a long time ago.


5 August
She’s pregnant and I don’t know what to do. I’ve barely made enough money to even treat Priya with a present since we’ve got married. Most husbands buy their wives gold bangles and necklaces and earring but I still haven’t. The only thing I bought her were the second hand bangles for our wedding. I haven’t even bought her a sari yet. All the saris and gold that she owns were wedding gifts she received from our marriage.
I have to support my Ma, Baba and Priya and we’re already barely getting by. How am I supposed to provide for a child now? How am I supposed to pay for Priya’s medical needs? What do I do? Where do I go?

7 October
She sold her gold. She sold all the gold she received from our wedding with the exception of the bangles I bought her. I can’t believe she did that, but at the same time I can. She’s selfless and would do anything to help me. But I still can’t help but feel ashamed of myself that she did that. It’s my duty as the man of this family to provide. It is my duty as a man to make the money, to make sure we have food on the table and a roof over our head. She’s supposed to take care of our home and our family. That’s her duty. She shouldn’t have sacrificed her possession just because I couldn’t fulfil my duty as a man. I know she’s trying to help but I’m just so angry at myself that she even has to help me in the first place.
Her Baba loaned me some money to get by yesterday. Well rather he gifted it to me, as he says but I have every intention of paying him back. However, I’m not sure how long this bit of money that we have now is going to last. Everything is becoming more and more expensive and all we have is this bit of money, our small village hut and the land.
In our village, families live off the land. Some work. I do both. I run a small store for one of the more important family that lives in my village but the pay is barely enough to get by on. My Ma and Baba take care of our land. They grow crops, which we use for ourselves and sell to the people of our village as well. We have to survive off the land but nowadays that’s not even enough. We haven’t been able to bring in a large enough crop to make the profit we need to survive comfortably these past few months. I just hope this doesn’t last too long. With a baby on the way, I need to make money for my family fast.

11 October
One of my classmates from when I was in school came back from America today. He moved there a few years ago when his American wife applied to take him there. But he came back today with his wife and he had  so many stories to tell. He told me of all the opportunities in America. The endless amount of jobs, all the types of food and all the different types of people that live there.
I let him know of my situation right now. I let him know about Priya’s pregnancy and how we’re struggling to have proper meals. He told me that while he was in America he was sending back eleven thousand takas almost every week for his Ama and Baba, all the while still saving money for him and his wife in America. He told me to go. Do whatever it takes to go.
I can’t go the same way he did. I’m not fortunate enough to have someone in America. My Ma and Baba lives here in Bangladesh where our roots have always been. My wife is here and so is all of her family. I can apply to get a work visa or visiting visa, but I’ll have to wait years and years to hear back but I never will. I won’t ever be able to get a visa to go to America because I’ll always be too poor to afford it.
The only other option is to go how most of my classmates from school went. Through the snakehead.

15 October
I talked to Baba today. He told me I should do it. He told me to go talk to the people who can take me to America. Our family needs the money. He knows that it’s dangerous way to go but we’re desperate. With Priya pregnant, we need the money even more now. My job won’t pay enough and neither will we be able to make enough money off the land. It really is our last option left.
Priya said that it’s up to me. She’s comfortable with how we’re currently living but I could tell this life is difficult for her. She’s just saying it to make me happy. When you’re a poor man struggling to support your family, you’re ready to venture through hell and back just to have the chance to give them a better life. I think of my unborn child, and I want them to have every opportunity as possible. I am willing to go over, through and under borders for my family.

1 November
I met with the men this morning. They all seemed like a great group of men. They offered me chai and biscuits and we talked about cricket. It was as if I was sitting with a group of friends just casually chatting. But then we started talking about it and suddenly everything shifted. It became serious.
They said it will be a difficult journey getting to America. Maybe even dangerous. They told me they don’t know for sure how long it will take for me to get to America. But they did tell me it’s going to be expensive, very expensive. There will be any threats along the way. They told me of people who went but got caught. Some of them still in jail and other were sent back here to Bangladesh. But the risk was on me. They would provide me with a way to America but everything else was on me. I would have to figure out how to get in between countries. And if I do get caught, they can’t do anything for me.
The price for this no guarantee journey: twenty lakh takas.

15 December
I’m ashamed of everything I had to do just to be able to get on that damned plane tomorrow. I talked to the snakeheads, they told me I have to give them half the money before I get on the plane and the rest I can give when I get to America, but if I don’t bad things will happen to my family. I knew they were being serious because these men are corrupted  and would do anything to make money. They had connections to local gang. Ten lakh takas is a lot of money and it's only half of the full price. I had to work extra jobs so that I can pay the snakeheads. But that was taking too long so I had to sell half of my land and that was still hardly enough. I took a large loan from the family that owned the shop I worked at. They’re nice people and gave me the money. I had to borrow money from more friends and family. I swore to them that I would pay them back. I would give them their money back even if I have to struggle in America. Their only response was a sad smile, with a look in their eyes telling me they doubted that I would even make it there even though their mouths reassured me that it was no big deal and I should take my time.
There are many stories of friends and family members trying to get to America, Italy, London and all these other countries. Some make it there and thrive while other struggle to find jobs. Some gets caught and are send back here to Bangladesh, where they not only have to struggle to provide for their family but they also have the threat of getting hurt by the snakeheads if they didn’t give them their money.
And some we never hear from. We don’t know if they get there safely but decided to leave everyone behind, breaking all their promises of helping the family. We don’t even know if they didn’t make it all. The future is uncertain from this point on.

16 December
The plane is headed to land in a country called Bolivia. I’m not sure how long it will take to get there but I’m terrified of getting caught. I met a man on the plane who is going to America like me as well. It’s really weird how smoothly everything went at the airport in Bangladesh. How often do these things really happen? How many people working at the airport knows about what’s going on? Does the pilot know? What about the flight attendants? Do the people at the airport know about it to? How corrupted is everyone in these official positions?
I was talking to Hamza, the man I met on the plane and he said there’s a lot more of us on the plane. That we’re all just sitting very far from each other to not cause suspicion. I saw him look at a few other men all sitting in different rows than us. We agreed to get to America together. Most of the other men are going alone according to Hamza. Right now Hamza is sleeping in the seat next to me, as are most of the other passengers on the plane. I’m praying to Allah that everything will go okay. That I won’t get caught. That I will make it to America safely. That I will be able to send home money. That my future son or daughter will have a life better than mine.

31 December
We’ve been in Bolivia for almost two weeks now. We have ridden the buses, taken taxis, and walked, but we’re still not in the country we’re supposed to go next. When I left my small village back home, I knew I would have to walk through many borders but I didn’t really know how long it would take. I’m exhausted. We try our hardest to keep going and stopping only to sleep. Because money is so tight, Hamza and I try our hardest to find a park where we can sleep. It’s easy to not lose our possessions since all we have is a bag with our money, some clothes and other things we need like our passports, toothbrushes and such. But if there are no parks nearby we’ll try to find a hostel or somewhere cheap we could stay.
Hamza and I also bought a prepaid sim card for Hamza’s phone. We try our hardest not to use it too often. I’ve only called home once. I talked to Priya for less than ten minutes. I asked about her health, my Ma and Baba’s health, her parents health. I asked her if the snakeheads were bothering our family. I let her know I was safe for now and I’ll try to call as often as I can. I warned her against calling the number, a precaution we were told to take by the snakeheads. After hanging up the phone, I was hit with a wave of sadness. What would they do if I didn’t make it? How long will they be worried? How long will they wonder if I’m still safe? How long would it take before they realize I’m gone? I made Hamza promise that if I didn’t make it, he would call my family and let them know. I don’t want them to worry themselves to death.
I’m starting to miss them. I’m starting to miss Ma’s cooking. Priya can cook great food but nothing beats my Ma’s food. She’s the best. I miss playing ludo with my cousins. We may be getting old, but we’ll never be too old for ludo. I miss working on the fields with my Baba. But I have to keep in mind that they’re the reason why I’m going to America. I want to give them a better life. I want my parents to live in ease and not have to work. I want to buy Priya all the gold she had to give up for me. I want to send my children to the best schools. I want them to have a future and not have to be stuck in the village. I want them to have opportunities.

10 January
He’s dead. Hamza is dead.
He’s dead and I did nothing to help him survive.

8 February
I still can’t believe Hamza is dead. The snakehead that we had to meet in Bolivia told us to go through the forest. There were a few other men that were walking with us that we met at the snakehead’s house. It took us so long to walk through the forest as many of the men kept slowing down. Hamza and I should have walked and left them behind but we didn’t. We were all in this together. We got to a body of water that we had to cross. Many of the men died from drowning. They couldn’t swim and the weight of their bags dragged them down. There was one man right in front of me that was struggling to swim and by the time I was able to swim to help him, he had already drowned. We started off as a group of ten and by the time we swam across there were only four left. I have never had to witness that many deaths at once.
We silently walked through the forest because even though all those men had just died right before our eyes, the dangers of the forest were very high and we had to get through as fast as we could. We only walked about ten minutes when suddenly we heard the sound of a gun. We thought maybe someone was hunting in the forest, so we started to walk faster. And that’s when it hit him. He was turning around to say something to me when he got shot. He fell to the ground and I stood frozen on the ground too shocked to move. It wasn’t until the second shot that it finally registered into my mind what was going on. The other two that had survived kept on calling my name. I started running and catched up with the other two men. I turned around and saw Hamza’s helpless body just laying on the ground, a pool of blood starting to form under his head.
One of the men tugged on my arm and we started running. We ran for as long as we could before one of has had to stop to catch our breath. We were surrounded by trees and we had no idea where to go but we knew we couldn’t go back. One of the men suggested we climb a tree and rest on one of the branches there. We knew it was dangerous but the three of us were too exhausted to do anything else.
The next morning we woke up, the image of Hamza on the ground replayed in my head. I couldn’t believe he was gone. Even though I wanted to go back and check if he truly was dead, I knew I couldn’t. I learned the names of the other two men: Mohammad and Junaid. Junaid was planning to go to New York just like me and Mohammad planned to go to a place called Pennsylvania. They both had family in these two places, all I had was a former classmates in New York. But I shouldn’t talk like that. I’m grateful that I at least have someone who can help me.
Mohammed, Junaid and I walked through the forest together. We walked as far as we could before sleep took over. And even when we did sleep, paranoia was eating us alive. After a few nights we decided one of us should be awake while the other two sleep and we’d switch throughout the time that we’re sleeping. It took us nearly a month to walk through the forest. Once we were a safe distance away from the forest, I called Hamza’s family and let them know what happened. The cries that I heard nearly broke my heart. What if it happens to me. What if I’m gone? I pray to Allah that my family will be able to move on quickly and they won’t hurt for too long if I get killed somehow too because the matter of the fact was, the chances of me being killed was incredibly high.
It’s been a long journey so far and we’re still so far from America.

25 February
We finally made it to the second country. It’s called Brazil. The three of us found a really cheap hotel and decided to stay for a night or two and really rest up. It’s been quite a journey getting here from the forest. It feels like I left home ages ago but it truly has only been a little over a couple of months.
I’m really glad that I have the phone that Hamza brought. It still had the prepaid sim inside of it from Bolivia but that sim doesn’t work in Brazil so I had to buy a new one. Once I bought the new on, I called home to see how everyone is doing. Baba answered the phone. I asked him how everyone was. He told me they were all fine. He asked me if I was safe and I told him I was as safe as I possibly could be. He told me everyone was doing well and the baby was growing fast. Priya was staying at her parents house for the week because her Ama had wanted to see her. I let him go since it seemed like he was busy but promised to call as soon as I can. After I got off the phone with him, I called my friend/classmate that lives in New York. He answered after a moment or two. We talked for a bit and he said he was trying his hardest to find a job for me but it’s proving to be difficult because I won’t have all the documents they would need.

2 April
It took us quite a while to get to the airport in Brazil. While we were still in Bangladesh, the snakeheads were able to get us visas to a country called Guatemala. The snakeheads back home gave us an address to a snakehead in Brazil that we would have to meet. We took the bus to the city that the snakehead lives in and walked to his house. Once we got to the house, we knocked on the door.
We were surprised to see that instead of the snakehead being a man, it was in fact a girl. She was probably a few years older than Priya. When the three of us came inside, she offered us food and drinks. We haven’t had a proper meal in so long that we didn’t know how to say no. So she sat us down at her table and we ate while she explained what would happen. She would take us to the airport the next day and at the airport we would meet an immigration officer who would help us get onto the plane and to Guatemala. From there we would have to walk through Guatemala to Mexico and then to America. The American border will prove to be the greatest risk of getting caught so we have to be extra careful.  

4 April
We’re finally in Guatemala. The time at our airport went by really smoothly. There was someone there to pick us up in Brazil. The immigration officer, got us through and he put us on the plane. Then when we got to Guatemala, there was another one waiting for us. He helped us get through something he called customs. It’s weird how this snakehead business is so interconnected. You have the snakeheads in Bangladesh and all the countries in between till you get to America. There’s also the corrupted officials at the visa offices, immigration services, and airports. There’s someone at every single stop of the way. Well it’s time to go start walking again.

20 April
Even when I was home, I knew the trip would truly cost more than twenty lakh. I knew I would need more money for when I’m traveling through broders. That I would have to pay off people because even though they might not be working for the snakeheads, every country had corrupted officials. I knew at one point or another we would get caught and thrown into jail. And I knew that if you get the right one, for a certain amount of money they would let you out. We lost almost half off our money by bribing the police officers in Guatemala. I’m losing more money just to get to a place where I can make money. How does this make sense?

9 May
His name is Abdullah. My son’s name is Abdullah. I missed my first child’s birth. It’s been five months since I left home and I’m still so far away from where I have to get. I’m so tired and I just want to go home. I want to go home to the comforts of my bed, to the comforts of the presence of the people I love. I should have never came. I should have worked harder, got another job, asked to be paid a bit higher. I should have done whatever I could to stay. I just want to go home. I miss them. I miss everything about home.

25 May
We’re almost at the Mexican border according to the snakehead we just met. We had to give them five lakhs before we crossed into Mexico however. Right now I barely had four, so I have to find a job and make up the rest of the money. This is so frustrating. I’m going to have to work my way through Guatemala and then Mexico.
10 June
Junaid and I are in Mexico now. Mohammed left a long time ago. He had the money to pay the snakehead in Guatemala. We’ve been in Mexico for almost a week now. I talked to Priya once more but I told her that since now I’m much closer to America, I shouldn’t call till I get to America. My paranoia of getting caught has heightened since we’ve stepped foot in Mexico. It’s kind of scary how close I am to America but how I might never make it to New York. The snakehead in Guatemala, said that crossing the American border will be very difficult. That’s where most people get caught, I just hope I don’t.
I hope that I didn’t make it this far only to be send back. I hope this isn’t going to be a waste of time and money. I really hope that I didn’t just spend so much money and put myself into debt only to go back.

20 June
Junaid and I just got out of...jail. We didn’t have enough money to bribe the officers like we did in Guatemala. So we had to go to a Mexican jail for two and a half weeks. According to the officers, we still have about another two weeks of walking, taking taxis and busses to get to America. But we’re close. We’re closer than we were before.
13 July
Tomorrow we’re going to cross the border. We met with the final snakehead, who explained that once we get to our final destination, we have two months to give them the rest of the money that we owe them. They know who we’re staying with. They know the address we’re staying at. They know everything. If we don’t pay, the people we care about will get hurt. We’re crossing with two other people. Two mexicans who want to go to America just like us.
I’m getting more and more scared of this border. More scared of the prospect of getting caught. I’m terrified of what’ll happen if I get caught, if I get sent back. I’m terrified of what’ll happen to my family if I can’t make it to New York.
8 September
We got caught. We crossed into a place in America called Texas. We were walking and I turned around to check on Junaid, when suddenly we heard someone yell at us in english to put our hands up. I have watched enough to films to understand what that meant and Junaid and I immediately did as told. I was too scared to move, too scared to even breathe. My heart broke because I figured that would be the end. I would go to jail. I would get send back. My family will be poor. My children wouldn’t have the chances I wanted them too have.
We did go to jail. It was so crowded. There were almost 30 people in the same cell as us. Two days after getting caught we were taken to the airport. I thought I was being sent back home but when we landed a few hours later, I was confused. I knew it should have taken a much longer time to get to Bangladesh but we landed only a few hours after getting on the plane. The police officer took us to another jail. It was slightly less crowded but there were still a lot of people. I learned from someone in the jail, that it’s called an immigration detention center and we’re in a state called Florida. They moved us here because the last jail was too crowded. The people in charge of the jail, got in contact with my friend in New York. We were told that I could get out on bail but that doesn’t mean I could stay in America forever. I would have to get a lawyer and go before a judge. This could take anywhere from one month to several years.
But now I’m in New York. It’s much more difficult to get a job than I was told before. I’ve done many different jobs. I worked in a coffee place called Dunkin Donuts. I’ve worked at grocery shops, gas stations and right now I’m in construction. A lot of the people I work with is like me. We all came here to give our family back home a better life. And we’re all still struggling.
It may be difficult but I’m going to continue to do whatever I can to send them money. I want my son to have a life better than the one I had so he doesn’t have to come to America the way I had to. I don’t want him to have to be separated from his family the way I am right now. I want to be able to go back to the comforts of my village life and have more children with Priya. I want to have all the things I dreamed I would have when I was a child: a family that is safe, never without clothes and food and never has to struggle. So as painful as this journey to America has been, I’m glad I’ve done it. I just hope I get to stay now. Rumor has it, there’s some white guy with an orange face and poofy hair that’s about to become the President. He wants to build walls at American borders to keep the illegal immigrants out.
But what he doesn’t know is that if a person is poor and they are willing to take every chance and risk to get to a better life. A wall isn’t going to stop an impoverished person, because poverty knows no borders.




2 comments

  1. Wow this story is beautiful! You’re an amazing writer MashaAllah !

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Woah, didn't realized I had a comment on this, lol. Thank you so much!!

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