Sunday, December 2, 2007

Ain't No Sunshine When He's Gone

Yesterday I was able to see Masum (his name is all over the place- no point in using a pseudonym anymore) at the Cheongju Detention Center. We had about 30 minutes together, which I shared with 4 of my closest Korean friends, and he shared with the president and vice-president of the union. That's a lot of people in room for only 30 minutes of face time. But of course, we weren't all in the same room because he and the other two guys were separated from us by metal bars that had a thick layer of glass on either side.

Honestly, Masum looked better yesterday than I've seen him looking in months. When we first met, there was something about him that always stuck with me- the sparkle in his eyes, his mischievous grin, his ability laugh at himself in any situation, his almost child-like open and warm heart. But the last year has been really hard on both of us. The gleam was gone from his eyes, his energy sapped by crisis after crisis, his playful spirit had withered. But yesterday even though he was sitting in a stupid looking jail track suit behind bars and glass, he could still charm the pants off of everyone in the room. The old Masum was back. And I fell in love with him all over again.

It seems that everyone from MTU is being treated really well in jail. They have visitors everyday, decent food, warm clothes, access to a phone, television... They all joked about feeling like they were on vacation, seemed cheerful, maybe even relaxed. Masum and Raju, true to both of their personal styles, have made friends with almost everyone they come into contact with, including many of the guards who are young guys fulfulling the Korean government's military service requirements.

When I talked to Masum on the phone today, however, the mood seemed to change. He said that everyone feels tense because it seems that the government is going to try and forcibly deport them, maybe without any notice to friends or loved ones here in Korea. I don't know exactly how it works, but it seems as though the Korean government is trying to arrange consent from the Bangladeshi and Nepalese embassies, even if they don't have passports, personal belongings or money to buy a plane ticket. It seems possible now that at least two of them could be gone as soon as Wednesday, if not the end of the week.

Masum continues to be very worried about what will happen to him when he arrives in Bangladesh. His personal situation aside, there is a chance that the Korean government will encourage the kind of political harassment that they did to Anwar (the first MTU president who was in jail for more than a year in Korea) when he went home last August. Anwar was detained in Singapore by immigration authorities for questioning (even though he only had a layover there) and then when he arrived in Bangladesh, he was jailed for more than 24 hours and then put on probation for participating in activities abroad that undermine the Bangladeshi state. Anwar has had a few run-ins with Bangladeshi authorities since his return, and only now does it seem that his life is returning to normal. Add to that the fact that most of the MTU activists who have returned to Bangladesh have been stripped of their passports and are not allowed to travel abroad. Which for us, makes for a nearly impossible situation.

So today I am charged with the duty of trying to pack Masum's bag to take home. He really doesn't have that much stuff, but I have no idea what he wants as he hasn't made any specific requests about personal effects. I'm really having trouble doing it. As I started cleaning out the closet, the reality of him not being here with me anymore really started to sink in. I'm not sure if I'm ready to do it, even though it has to be done today. It's hard to see his stuff laying around our house, but I think it'll be even harder with his stuff gone. I don't want to erase the evidence of our life here together. Especially because Masum has been one of the defining parts of my life in Korea. He was one of the first people I met here, it was he introduced me to most of the people that I know. With exception to my work, he has been a part of nearly everything and every relationship I have here.

I'm trying to be more positive about what will happen when Masum goes back to Bangladesh. I have no idea what the cultural or political reality is there, but some Bangladeshi friends have let on that things may not be as serious as we once thought. There is nothing I can do but hope that Mahbub is right, that his personal situation has been exaggerated by emotion and is nothing more than a threat. I'm afraid of hoping too much, but for now it's better than thinking about the fact that we may never see each other again.

In the meantime, on Masum's request, I'm researching the possibilities for emigrating to another country that will be activist-exile-friendly. I don't know if he would be eligible for any kind of refugee status, but I suppose it wouldn't hurt to look into the possibility. There has got to be some country that will take us-- poor, tired and weary...

Cuba, anyone?


Not so little sister said...

I had a dream about Masum last night. He was smiling in it. You know I've never met him before only seen pictures, but he was happy in my dream.

I love you sister. I miss you.

louese said...

canada canada canada canada canada canada canada!!!!!!!

love you,


Rev Dr Mom said...

Is Canada a possibility? Or somewhere in Scandinavia?

I'm glad Masum is being treated well so far. Take care.

Rev Dr Mom said...

I thought I left a comment earlier--don't know what happened to it.

I am glad they are treating Masum okay so far.

Is Canada a possibility?