Rebecca’s life and Struggle
“Please get me a little water. Don’t run away like that other boy” - Rebecca

Rebecca (22), Ethertex ltd. 5th floor, Sweing operator Line- 2

© Abir Abdullah

by Taslima Akhter

15 April, 2014

Translation Akram Hosain

I am from Niyamatpur, in Naoga, although I live at my in-laws’ in Dinajpur. My father died when I was very young, and I moved to Dhaka soon afterwards. I lost my mother to Rana Plaza - no trace of her was left. I am an only child. My mother’s name was Chan Banu, and we both worked on the sixth floor. She struggled to raise me by herself after my father’s death, working as domestic help for several families. After years of fighting alone, she decided to marry again. Both of her mothers-in-law (from both marriages) - my two grandmothers - also worked at Rana Plaza. Seven of my family members besides myself, also including three cousins and an aunt, used to work at Rana Plaza. Only my aunt and I survived.

We were very poor, which is why my mother and I started working. I was around 12 or 14 at the time. It wasn’t easy to get a job. I went to Dada Garment first. “You’re too young to work here,” they said, unwilling to take me. But I begged and pleaded until they eventually agreed. I began as an apprentice and gradually learnt what the operators did. My mother then got me a job at Rana Plaza where she worked at the time, after around two years at Dada. I’m not sure how old I was when I started at Rana Plaza, but I know I worked there for three and a half years. I don't even know how old I am now. When I was rescued and taken to the hospital I told them I was 22. I don't actually know my age; my brother might know for sure.

I have been married for 4-5 years. I was pregnant once, but had a miscarriage in the fourth month; this was only a few days before the Rana Plaza collapse. I took leave off work for a 2-3 days and decided to stay home and recover. My husband, who worked as a mason, also fell sick at the time and soon became unable to work. Soon we realised that we had nothing to pay our 3,000 taka rent with and, had to buy everyday necessities on credit. We were forced to go back to work. My husband tried to keep me from going to work on the day of the collapse - he said he had heard rumors that there was something wrong with the building. But what was I to do? Everyone else was going. Eid was just around the corner, and if I didn't get paid we wouldn’t be able to pay the house rent or the grocers.

When we arrived, none of us wanted to go inside the factory. We were waiting outside on a nearby field, hoping that they would give us the day off if everybody protested. But they threatened to cut our pay, and so eventually everyone went in. They even threatened to fire us. Everyone in my family went in. My mother and I worked on the same floor. Every day when we went in they would tell us what we had to in the next hour. My mother always ate at 9 AM, but that day I still had one last thing to take care of. She came to me and said, “Ma, let’s have something to eat.” I said, “I still have one piece left. I’ll finish it first. You go ahead.” Moments after she left the lights went out, and then the building came crashing down. Some large beams must have fallen on me. My mother was never seen again.

I was rescued after two days and two nights. I don’t think anyone would have found me if I hadn’t remembered my husband’s phone number. My injuries were so bad that the doctors didn’t see any hope, but they agreed to treat me after a lot of pleading. I was at the Dhaka Pongu Hospital (National Institute of Traumatology and Orthopaedic Rehabilitation) for almost ten months.

When I was trapped there, there were dead bodies scattered all around me. Nobody was alive. I must have fainted after the collapse. When I woke up, all I could tell was everybody was dead. There was barely any air to breathe. I could hear noises from far away. I couldn’t even tell if it was night or day. I suffered a lot; I was so thirsty I had to drink blood - I was bleeding profusely, and so were the bodies surrounding me. But on the second day, when the blood began to dry up, I drank my own urine to survive. A boy had fallen on me, his head smashed and pinned to my right leg by a heavy beam.

Suddenly I saw a boy coming through the hole with a torch. “Please give me some water,” I begged, “I am the only one alive here. Please give me some water. I will die if I have to but just give me some water first. I am so thirsty.” He said, “I’ll bring you water” and left. I don't know if he got scared, but he never came back. After about two hours another boy came with a torch. “Is anyone alive?” he yelled. “Bhai, I'm stuck here. I begged someone to give me water but he left. Please give me water,” I said. I told him how I had been sucking on blood and drinking urine to quench my thirst. “You hang in there. I'm coming.” I said, “Don’t run away like that other boy.” He probably felt sorry for me, because he came back with a bottle of water. People were cutting through ceilings and beams to get in. “Apu, do you think you come out somehow?” he asked. “My legs are trapped under two beams; I can’t get out,” I said. One of my legs was entirely under a beam, while the other was only partly free. He saw my predicament, and said “I can see you now. I don't think I will be able to rescue you from here,”.

Then I gave him my husband’s number, thinking that a mason should know how to break through buildings. My phone was out of charge. So the boy called my husband, who at the time was looking for me everywhere - in hospitals and among the dead. He rushed to the site after getting the call. He got me out eventually, but it wasn’t easy. He used two car jacks to lift the beam that pinned a boy’s head to my right leg. He lifted the beam and pulled on my leg, and it came free. But my left leg remained stuck, and wouldn't come out no matter how hard he tried. So he tied a rope to my leg and pulled really hard. A vein in the leg snapped, and my vagina was torn, gushing out blood. The doctors used about four or five stitches on my vagina but the bleeding wouldn’t stop. The doctors lost all hope of saving me. But my husband kept asking them to do something. He told them that I was an orphan and that my mother was missing. The doctors were moved when they heard how many I had lost in the tragedy, and tried to treat me again. They had to operate on my legs eight times. They thought they would be able to save my right leg and tried several times. But it got infected after every operation, and eventually they had to amputate it.

Who would have thought I would survive? I survived by the grace of Allah, but I still suffering. My mother is still missing, although I heard some DNA samples matched a few days ago. After losing my mother, both my legs and so many loved ones, I have lost the will to return to my village ever again.

Before we got married, my husband and I rented separate rooms in the same building. That was how we got to know each other, and decided to get married. I had dreamt of making something of myself one day. People kept telling us to have children before it was “too late” for me. When my husband heard this he said, “How can we have a child when we can hardly make ends meet? Neither of us is educated. Our child - boy or girl - should have an education, should have clothes to wear. Our child shouldn't live the life he have lived.” And so we thought we would hold out until we had some savings.

Things weren’t bad when we were both working. But now I lost a whole leg, and six inches of the other one. I am living with indescribable pain. But I am still full of gratitude, that Allah gave me the chance to live again, see my brothers and sisters, see the light of day. Sometimes I get angry thinking of Rana. No one would have had to suffer if he had just given us the day off. The government gave around 10 to 15 lakh taka to all the injured. People who had lost one leg received 10 lakh, while those who had lost both got 15. But can you get your legs back with money? I suppose being able to do something with the money is a relief. But even though I lost both my legs, I still got only 10 lakh.
Rebecca (22)
Sewing operator, Line 2, Ethertex, 6th floor Mother: Chan Banu; Father: Anwarul; Husband: Md Mostafizur District: Naoga

Rebecca (22)
Ethertex ltd. 5th floor, Sweing operator Line- 2
Mother- Chan Banu Father_ Anwarul Husband- Mustafijur

Transcripted by Taslima Akhter