DOHA, Qatar (MindaNews) — We stayed in an open field and didn’t have even a single shelter to protect ourselves from the possible falling bullets because most of the buildings were already closed.
We didn’t have any other choice but to just stay outside. We were like soccer balls running everywhere to safeguard ourselves and family whenever we heard gunfire. Since we left our houses that morning, we always tried to escape from being sandwiched in the encounters between government troops and the MNLF.
At 11:30 in the morning, everyone was extremely starving. Fear, hunger and thirst engulfed all of us, especially the pitiful elderly and children. Qadaar Allaah, when we left our house, my father decided to stay. Had he not stayed there, maybe we would not have something to eat that day because what my father did was, he cooked food then sent it to us with some canned goods and biscuits.
My mother called him to leave the house. When he finally managed to escape, he went directly to the grandstand. Likewise, all of us, later in the afternoon were rescued by the government and sent to the grandstand that had become an evacuation center.
We arrived there exhausted, hungry and thirsty. Everyone desperately waited for some food supply from the government. Thousands of people who evacuated from different affected areas proceeded to the grandstand for shelter.
We stayed there for almost two months. Alhamdu Lillaahi, during our early days there, we were able to receive some food assistance from our friends from Muslim Students Association (MSA). They gave us and other evacuees used clothes.
Personally, I didn’t intend to queue and receive some food assistance from the government because I can see and feel that many people badly needing it than us. Of course, as a Muslima Hijabi/Niqaabi, our situation at the grandstand was so difficult, but we lived with it.
I can remember that when everyone was sleeping, maybe around 2a.m., that’s the time my sister and I would take a bath to refresh ourselves. Just like the other evacuees, we slept on the bleachers under the open sky securely wearing only our abaya to protect and safeguard our body.
During those days, we could see the skies darken from the smoke brought about by houses set on fire in the residential areas turned into battlefields. It depressed us to see billows of smoke rising from the burning houses. My mother would just secretly weep thinking that our house was among them. Our house is so precious for us because it is the source of our living to earn halal income.
Nevertheless, even if we were experiencing those excruciating trials, our faith in Allah never vanished and it even kept us stronger every day. My father continued doing the call for prayer at the grandstand.
One day during out two-month stay there, there was a sudden heavy downpour and gusty winds struck the area. Every evacuee got wet including us and our only belongings that we brought when we left home. It was so heartbreaking for me to see people around us suffering, especially those who are sick, children and weak elderly.
After this incident, my mother decided to leave the grandstand and look for a house for rent where we can temporarily stay. Most of the boarding houses then were either full or they wouldn’t accept us. We finally found one apartment in Baliwasan. The owner of that apartment was so generous because he allowed us to rent the place.
Our neighbors warmly welcomed us. They gave us food and some house stuff. We stayed in that apartment for three months. The owner of that apartment was so kind to the extent that he did not want to receive payment for our rent. Worth remembering, our MSAean friends and colleagues were continuously helping us. Oftentimes, amidst our situations, my father would visit our house in Lustre to check on his pet cats and feed them.
When the situation eased, my parents decided to return to our house in Lustre. That time, only a few residents had returned to their houses. In fact, only three houses in our neighborhood were occupied since most of the houses were razed tit the ground.
Our hard-earned house and small store were totally burned; thus, we must rise again from the ashes. Good thing, my father is a carpenter. He made a temporary room for the four of us to sleep..
My father started a call for prayer in Sta. Barbara Masjid. There were times we could hear the continuous barking of the dogs but Alhamdu Lillaahi, we were all safe.
Our devastating situation then did not stop me from taking my nursing licensure exam. I continued reviewing. Although there were times I couldn’t go to my review center, I tried to catch up on the review.
My mother told me to postpone taking my licensure exam but I told her, I will just try. The only favor I asked them was to include me in their fervent prayers and to not expect that I would pass the exam.
On the day of my licensure exam, I borrowed a school uniform from my friend because mine was burned. When the results of the exam were out, I was so overjoyed to see my name among the successful examinees. My family, especially my parents, were so elated, too. Out of happiness, my mother burst into tears.
The clash between the MNLF and the government troops spread throughout the barangays of Sta. Barbara, Rio Hondo, Sta. Catalina, and parts of Talon-Talon, displaced more than 100,000 people.
These are only a few from the innumerable untold real-life narratives of our people who have been immensely affected by any armed conflict especially in Mindanao. The unwanted impact of armed conflict to the well-being of every affected individual is excruciating.
Everyone is exhausting all possible means in Mindanao or abroad in the hope of giving their families a better life.
Every precious livelihood and hard-earned properties of our people should be
protected and safeguarded. Should we want peace and prosperity to reign, we must not destroy them by any means. Our people invested in these from their own blood and sweat.
I personally believe that war is not the ultimate strategy to settle any type of conflict. We have tried this for decades but this has caused more harm than good.
The strategies to be used shouldn’t result in the devastation of many people’s precious lives and their hard-earned properties. Nothing beats the diplomatic/gracious approach when addressing any dilemma in our lives.
(Mindanawon Abroad is MindaNews’ effort to link up with Mindanawons overseas who would like to share their experiences in their adopted countries. Gamson Jr Mawallil Quijano of Sulu is a registered Radiologic Technologist who works in Doha, Qatar)
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