Marawi crisis: 'It's my first Ramadan far away from family'

ILIGAN CITY, Philippines – Government clashes with local terror groups in Marawi City have torn apart families and friends on Ramadan, a holy month celebrated by Muslims worldwide. 

"It's my first to have my Ramadan far away from my family. We're just having [conversations on the phone]. 'Are you okay?' 'I'm okay,' Mohammad Hayef Mokhtar, 21, told Rappler. 

A student at the Mindanao State University main campus in Marawi, Mokhtar jumped into a dump truck bound for its satellite campus in Iligan City to escape government clashes with local terrorist groups. 

He stayed put inside the campus for several days, hoping the clashes would end soon. But they haven't. When it was time to evacuate, he would have wanted to go home to his relatives in nearby Marantao. But the roads going there are not safe. 

"Sa aming Maranaos, tulad ko, we are not thinking kung natatakot kami o hindi kasi parang nakasanayan na. Hinihintay lang namin na humupa na. But it didn't," he said. 

(Among Maranaos, like me, we are not thinking if we are afraid or not because we're used to it. We were just waiting for the clashes to stop. But they didn't.)

The MSU campus in Iligan City is his home for the meantime. "I'm going to thank this evacuation center. The accommodation is wow. It's like you're at home," he said.

The campus is supportive. They wake up the students for the morning rituals. It is complete with prayers rooms, too. But it's still different celebrating Ramadan with strangers. 

"It is comfortable here but the feeling that you're far away from loved ones is a different thing," said Mokhtar. –