My Bersih 3.0 experience — Anabelle R.
APRIL 29 — After discussing it with Aisha, my friend and fellow pharmacist, I had decided the same morning of the rally to go and be part of something I knew would be remembered as the day the Malaysian public wouldn’t be oppressed/intimidated/scared/bullied/lied to anymore.
I hadn’t been a part of the last rally and felt i had missed out on a chance to show my support. I went there to voice out my rights for a fair electoral process, I went there for people who couldn’t be there in person.
I told my parents and while I thought my mom would throw a fit, she didn’t and supported my decision while my 60 year old father decided to join me.
We took a train to Masjid Jamek and met up with Chris, another pharmacist, Aisha, and her two friends. Hundreds and thousands of people had gathered as far as the eye could see, sitting, standing and clapping while chanting Bersih’s slogans.
The sheer number of people took me by surprise, but at the same time empowered me. It was exciting, a true spirit of togetherness.
My father decided to take his own route while my friends and I walked along Jalan Tun Perak hoping to make our way towards the junction where we would be able to see Dataran Merdeka on our left, but there was just too many people.
I tried several times to call my father but only managed to text him at 2.47pm telling him we were going to try get a closer look at the square; he told me he had already seen the barricaded area and had left to get a teh-o at Masjid India.
We then went a different route and went along Jalan TAR and ended up facing the square, still well away from the actual barricades but close enough to see the big red water trucks with FRU emblazoned on the front.
More chanting and yelling for police to open the heavily barricaded square followed, and then, in front of the barricades, on a small truck, we saw Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Lim Kit Siang appear and speak to the crowd.
Everyone was brought to yell “Bersih! Bersih!” and for the police to open the barricades. After that, Anwar got off the truck and I remember turning to Aisha and saying, “Oh wow! He’s going into the crowds”.
Suddenly there was a commotion and we weren’t sure if some people were trying to move the barricades. Standing on my toes, I started to see a big cloud of smoke near the square. And that is when it all went to hell...
Aisha’s friend was kind enough to lend me a cloth as I couldn’t get my top off to wrap around my face. I turned and saw people yelling for us to run away and others saying to move forward.
More tear gas was forming and I could see the water cannons being sprayed at people near the square.
We were still far enough away from all that at the time. I grabbed my phone and started to film what I could, at the same time trying to make my way away from the crowd.
People started to push; women in front of me started yelling at the crowd to stop pushing, and so did I.
Some people were shouting for us to move forward (towards the square) and others, to run away.
After a while, the yells of women begging for people to not push subsided, and it was every man for himself as a cloud of smoke started to form around me.
Suddenly, a surge pushed me forward and almost off my feet. Ii felt myself starting to fall forward. The few things that went through my mind. I wonder how many people it would take to fall on top of me before I suffocate or get seriously injured. Will my parents be able to find me if I get trampled?
Then I started to ask for god to give me strength and straightened myself and pushed forward. My eyes started to burn, my throat. I couldn’t breath, I held my breath, my nose was running, then my skin started to burn from the tear gas.
It felt unlike anything, not hot water, but like acid was peeling my skin or I was standing next to fire but my skin was just fine.
People were still pushing and, somehow, my left sandal came loose. I kicked the right one off, too, because I needed to run.
Nothing is worse than running when you cannot see. Opening my eyes a little at a time, I ran towards the corners of the street hoping I’d find a pocket or a pole I could hide behind.
There was the remnants of an old building, which still had the frame of the front still left and I quickly hid underneath a brick frame covering my head in case people who were sitting on it earlier were to jump on me.
I felt I would pass out; I kept thinking, “When will it stop?”, because I knew i wouldn’t be able to take another hit of that tear gas. I opened my eyes and saw a Malay man with two bottles and asked him for one, hoping he’d give me the one he’d already opened, but he gave me an unopened bottle.
I thanked him. I washed my face with water and wrapped the cloth around my face tighter. I turned around to see a man next to me fall to the ground and start vomiting
All around me, people were running or falling to the ground and vomiting.
I waited a bit more, worrying about my friends, hoping to see one of them run pass me. But I was alone.
It felt like things had died down when I went to look for my sandals. I saw my right one and picked it up.
I saw many shoes and sandals strewn about, even kids’ slippers.
I quickly scanned the area and didn’t see any trucks nearby. But my sanity was screaming: ARE YOU CRAZY? Get the hell out! Stop looking for your damn sandals!
Suddenly, a few feet away from me, I saw a gas canister fall to the ground. I turned and took off running in a random direction.
After a while, I started walking through small alleys with many other people who were still badly affected by the gas.
I put on my right sandal and kept walking, my left foot bare and feeling very icky.
I tried to call my parents and home, but somehow, since the beginning of the rally, many of us couldn’t make calls or check the Web.
I did get through to my boyfriend on an overseas call once to let him know I was OK. My father eventually got through to me and said he was safe and waiting at the St John’s Cathedral.
While walking, a young man asked me for water. He thanked me, and again, in my mind, I thanked the man who gave it to me. I saw another man handing out salts to anyone who needed it.
I thought things were clear when another gas canister flew out of nowhere and into the alley opposite of me. I started running.
The police weren’t just trying to move people away from the square; they were coming after us into those small alleys.
I didn’t see any policemen/riot officers but those gas canisters were enough to make anyone run helter-skelter.
I quickly hid at a corner next to a drain because a crowd started gather at the end of the alley. I was thinking, either get caught in a crowd or be left behind to suffer the gas.
I decided to keep on walking and found a street market (Masjid India) and bought a cheap pair of flip flops and continued on my way.
I then reached the Capital Square shopping mall and ended up losing my bearings, but asked a few people on the way and they were kind enough to point me in the right direction.
When I finally got to the steps of the church entrance, I sat down and saw my father walk towards me. I started to cry... from the shock and fear overwhelming me.
We went inside and sat with a few other people. A Chinese man in front of me turned to me and said, “It’s going to be alright”. He gave me mini strawberry-flavoured Mentos. Ii thanked him.
Then my father and I prayed. I thanked God for keeping me, my father and my friends safe.
Later, we both left the church, with the faint smell of tear gas in the air and the distant roar of crowds behind us, and began a long walk on the outskirts of the city to the Hang Tuah train station that had not been closed.
My friend Aisha had called me to say several stations had been closed. It was frightening to think that people were being surrounded and trapped unable to leave the city.
In front of the Hang Tuah LRT station was an ambulance with volunteers handing out free water. The station, however, was packed with what might have been a 100 people queuing for tickets so we left and walked further down to Pudu Station.
We got on a packed train and with a huge sigh of relief we finally went home safe and unharmed.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.