Our bus trip started on 15th Sept, 1990. We had to reach Jordan to take the flight to India. It was easier said. In actual it meant an ordeal which would last 11 days, 2800 kms - bus via the Iraq border, a couple of days at the refugee camps, flight to Bombay and train to Kerala.
To imagine that the same trip two months back meant a 3 hours flight.
We boarded the bus by noon. Suitcases with very essential clothing and woollens were placed on the top of the bus. The rear end of the bus was stacked with food and water. Along with a gas stove and cylinder, just in case. Even though women, in their never ending quest to feed their families had already cooked and packed all the cuisines they could think of. For us kids, it meant options to choose from.
People were happy. It seemed like a leisurely trip to us kids. It was during that trip, I first came across Archies comics. Must have been my age, but I just couldn’t gather why the 12 year old reading it seemed extremely fascinated by it. We kept moving for days together, only to stop by to answer nature’s call. It was then that someone found out that the exhausted driver was driving with his eyes closed! Now, that is a skill one should admit! However, some smart man from the group volunteered to take over, and we made sure the driver got some sound sleep.
We had to pass through Iraq and travel close to the border to reach Amman. One clear memory I have of Iraq is the huge cut outs of Sadam Hussein placed by the sides of the roads we passed through. There were many check posts and several inspections of the bus. But, Indians were generally treated well by the Iraqi soldiers. We heard it was because Sadam Hussein had great respect for India and held a good relationship with the Indian government, then.
The No Man’s Land:
As we moved on, the buildings and all signs of life gave way to uninhabited and desolate patches of the desert. On the fourth day, we reached a land that looked like a sea of pebbles. It was just a barren land with nothing but large and small pebbles strewn across till one’s eyes could take one. Someone said the Bible has a mention about this place, where it rained rocks.
This was the ‘No man’s land’, one of the UN’s refugee camps we would stay at. Someone said the name came because it dint belong to any country. It was night when we reached and people warned each other about desert snakes. I remember how mom made us walk on her feet so that the snakes could bite her first, just in case.
Now, that’s one thing with mothers. Sometimes, they feel they are super humans and they have the right to get hurt. Even now at 64, she argues that she is stronger than I and that she needs no rest. Well, some things are better left as they are! :)
I faintly remember what happened after we reached the camp. Mom said I fainted due to exhaustion and they cooked rice gruel and fed me. We slept in one of the tents. On the bare rocks. But it dint hurt. At least, it felt nice to feel the ground under you. For days now, we had been hearing the brakes screech and feeling the massive tyres move under us. This was a welcome change.
The next day morning, my elder brother Unniettan (as I call him) and I, decided to inspect the place. There were a lot of empty tents and they provided ample hiding space for me to play hide and seek with him. Moreover, when I couldn’t find a bathroom, I found relief in one of those empty tents. We saw tha place had a lot of shells too, which we stuffed our pockets with. ‘Maybe this place was a sea before’, Unniettan stated matter-of-factly. I felt proud that my brother was so intelligent.
Mom cooked rice for the two days we stayed there. She continued providing supplies to anyone who’d come to her. Milk powder for the new-borns, rice gruel for the elderly, medicines for the wounded. She reminded me of the Indian concept of the Akshaya Pathram, the vessel which kept refilling on its own, as one served from it.
Dad was asked to volunteer to clean up the place. They had the TV crew lined up with their video cameras to cover the life of refugees at camps. I remember walking up to one of the UN representatives and asking for a mattress to sleep on. Maybe they smiled. Maybe they snapped back at me. I don’t know. I guess I did not wait for a reply.
We stayed there for two days, before we started our bus journey again. This time we were headed for another camp, a better one. From there we could catch our flight to India. Soon, we boarded the bus again, and headed for Amman, the capital of Jordan.