Fifth Place Photojournalism II – Picture Story/Series
Fifth Place Photojournalism II – Picture Story/Series
Western Kentucky University
Ill come back, Ill come back, Mohamad Sharib Bin Mohamad Ali Miah, 22, assured his mother, Zahidah Begum Binti Ali Miah, before taking off for a swim in Medina Lake near San Antonio, Texas.
She never saw him alive again.
On July 4, 2017, the refugee Rohingya family living in San Antonio, Texas decided to spend time relaxing and celebrating Eid. The holy day that concludes the Islamic month of Ramadan.
What was meant to be a happy day, turned bitter. Mohamad Sharib, had accidentally drowned in the lake.
A New Life:
In the 1980's a huge group of Rohingya families were displaced from Myanmar. Among them were Zahidah, her husband, Mohamad Ali Bin Sultan Ahmed and their daughter. The couple decided to moved to Malaysia thereafter with the remains of a normal life.
Zahidahs family flourished, days turned to months, and months to 23 years. Their small family grew and being to adjust to life in Malaysia.
On August 22, 2015, the family was given the opportunity to move to the United States. They embarked on a new journey once again, this time with their two youngest sons.
Within a year of moving to San Antonio, Texas, her third daughter moved to San Antonio with her husband and two toddler sons. I had found new happiness, Zahidah said.
Life was good, until Tuesday, July 4, 2017.
It was a routine day in Zahidahs household. She was awake by 6 a.m. to make breakfast and chai for her son, Mohamad Shabrib, before he left for his factory job. Her husband, Mohamad Ali, had his day off and Zahidahs younger son, Mohamad Emrans was on summer vacation.
By noon, Mohamad Sharib was back home. He told Zahidah that the factory gave him the rest of the day off for a national holiday. He convinced his family to have a picnic at Medina Lake; a location 55 miles north of San Antonio.
Mid-way through the journey, Zahidah said that she did not want to go to the lake anymore. I wasnt feeling it, she said
Sitting on the floor of her affordable housing in San Antonio, Zahidah Begum Binti Ali Miah raises her hands in prayer. To Allah she requests, take care of my son, and then slowly exhales, help me find peace. August 12, 2017, marked the end of a 40-day mourning period for Mohamad Sharibs family. Ordinarily, Islam calls for three days of mourning. But, for the family, a 40-day observance is a cultural variation in their Muslim faith.
On July 7, 2017, Zahidah requested to see her son one more time after the customary ritual of gusal (bathing and cleaning of the deceased) to say her last goodbye. My son. My good son, Zahidah kept chanting, as her younger son, Mohamad Emran, along with relatives, escorted her out of the morgue.
Routine incantation of the Surah Ya Sin (a set of prayers from the Quran) after the death of a loved one is said to contain blessings and benefit for the deceased in the Islamic culture. Ever since Mohamad Sharib's passing his mother, Zahidah, has been seeking refuge in religious scriptures and prayers. This helps me find peace, Zahidah said.
Male members of Mohamad Sharibs family carry his body to the Islamic cemetery in La Vernia, Texas. Muslim traditions state that women should not witness or partake in the burial ceremony of the funeral. Therefore, as the men buried Mohamad Sharibs body, his mother along with a group of women watched from a distance; reading verses from the Quran and videotaping the funeral.
Zahidah had a special bond with her son, Mohamad Sharib. His untimely death left her traumatized. I will never see him again. My sweet son. My child, she cried, while walking away from the morgue with her son, Mohamad Emran and neighbor Fathima Bin Ilyas. Shortly afterwards, Zahidah fainted.
Mohamad Sharibs death-certificate states that he died of natural causes, drowning, but, his mother believes that it was caused by supernatural activities. There was a forest nearby, she said. Forests have ghosts and spirits who pulled on my sons leg underwater. My son knew how to swim.
Mohamad Ali Bin Sultan Ahmed, Mohamad Sharibs father, believes that only God reigns over life and death. We are all creations of God, Mohamad Ali said. He decides how long we have on earth. Everyone has their own time. Today is Sharib, tomorrow it could be me, and the day after could be my wife.
Mohamad Ali prefers to grieve alone and keeps to himself. During the 40-days of mourning, he spent most of his time outside the house. On the last day, he broke down in tears after looking through photos of his son
Zahidah often finds herself reminiscing about life before Sharibs death. She shows a set of pictures to people when she talks about her son. I did not know we had them, she said. I found them hidden in my clothes drawer. This is all I have of him now.
She shows the set of images to Mohamad Sharibs older sister while talking to her in Malaysia. They did not take very many pictures of themselves in Myanmar or Malaysia, money was limited, and priorities were different. It was only after they started living in the United States that they were able to save money and buy their sons smartphones.
A few weeks after Mohamad Sharibs demise, Zahidah friends convinced her to join a English as a Second Language class provided by Catholic Charity in San Antonio. She thought having a place to go and doing something different for a few hours would relieve her sorrow. But due to recurring insomnia since the accident and deteriorating health, Zahidah finds it difficult to pay attention in class. Mohamad Sharib was scheduled to take his mother for a doctors appointment on July 7, 2017. But, after the tragedy no one had the time to take Zahidah to the hospital for the appointment. She often feels sick, but has not been able to be diagnosed and treated for her symptoms. She now spends most nights lying awake on the couch, flipping through his pictures and reading dua (prayer blessings) for Mohamad Sharib. She slowly rolls through the mornings; sleepless, tired and unable to do household chores.
Laying her head on her husbands lap, Zahidah takes a moment to look over at her grandson to make sure he is asleep. As days pass by and Mohamad Sharib becomes a memory, Zahidah feels his absence in the family. Sharib would always take care of me, she said with tears in her eyes. He would cook food, make tea, give me medicines on time and massage my shoulders when I would feel pain. Now I have no one.
Zahidah endures the pain of the loss by herself. She feels that her husband does not understand her. He tells me to get over it and live for my other son and my grandchildren, she said. But how can I do that?
Faith has been a strong component in Zahidahs family. Faith has been their support through the displacement from their home to the reconstruction of their life in Malaysia and San Antonio.
White prayer abaya (womens prayer robe) and a tasbih (Mulism prayer beads) in hand, Zahidah prays for her son every day, five times a day and sometimes more. I know death is inevitable and it doesnt matter where or which country it happened in, she said. What matters is that he is with God.
Zahidah is constantly haunted by Sharib's presence. He would sit on the steps and talk on the phone with his friends, she said. Zahidah does not want to think that her son is gone. "I tell myself that he is gone for shopping and he will come back," she said as she leaned over the doorframe of her house.
She has been trying to get a job to earn enough money to buy a ticket back to Malaysia. I cannot live here anymore, Zahidah said. I do not want to. I just want to go back home.
I remember Mohamad Sharib the most when I come home from work, because I use the bus, Mohamad Ali said. Sharib would take care of us. He would pick me up so I didnt have to walk home in the dark. I miss him a lot more than I can express. Mohamad Sharibs father works a low paying job at Omni Hotel, located in downtown San Antonio.
Mohamad Sharibs monetary contribution to his family made life easier in Texas. With Mohamad Sharib gone, the family now faces financial distress, especially with their younger son, Emran, still being is school and unable to fully help out.