For the Boat People

A few years ago I stood in a cat cafe, yes, a cat cafe, in front of an audience of 20 or so. I spoke and they listened to my story. A story of a people called the Rohingya. Hearts were moved, tears were shed, but no amount of clapping and flash photography did anything for those people I spoke about. Neither will a re-publication of my words then but here are my personal prayers again, for my conscience. They deserve so much more than mere rhyme and song, but surely the real retribution of their oppressors will come, if their sanctuary and refuge won’t in this world.


“A lot of people have asked me how they can help the people of Rohingya. I would like to tell them that most of us are always misunderstood. We’ve faced terrible situations in the past which is why we may not have proper manners. But please try to understand us. We have been treated like animals all our lives. Give us time to become human again.”


I am sorry that you’ve had to apologize for your manners

When really you live in fear of whether you’re going to be taken away

In the middle of the night or even have a chance to see another day

I am sorry that you’ve had to demand time so that you can be human again

When really you want more time to run away into the arms of a safer reality

It is us who need to be human again for putting you in the least of our worries.

I am sorry that there are people who are putting you to account for things

you can’t even afford to think of right now

When all you want, all you need is for the hate to stop

And then you can afford to think about how to speak and dress well to get the job.

I am sorry they held the chains that bind your freedom

And we partook in your slow massacre by holding our silence

busying ourselves with hotter issues, debating on

Whether a dress is gold or blue

Until you turned blue from malnutrition

I am sorry, young one, that you’ve had to grow up before your time

To learn that the world is a cruel place and a playground is not for your kind

And to witness a universal myth debunked to reveal a truth-

The truth that adults don’t know the answer to everything

They don’t have magical powers to make sure there’s food on the table

And they’re not excused from feeling fear in times of danger.

I am sorry that the world finds your story unappealing

I mean you don’t have a holy site for them to want to protect

And not exotic enough of a complexion

Nor were you born with vibrant-coloured eyes to capture the interests of

those who claim to be hungry for unadulterated pixels

And you seem to have no precious resources to offer beneath your soil-

Like gold or oil;

You have nothing to offer

but a mountain of resilience, a fountain of faith, a pair of rough calloused hands and blackened feet

They may have uncovered mass graves, congested with rotting flesh of your men, women and children, but

I swear, you-

Know life better than the best of us

We hide behind plain headlines for you, like ‘boat people’

And blanket titles for your plight like ‘religious strife’ and ‘immigrant crisis’

Generic and simple enough to be forgotten in just the same way you’ve forgotten what home means

In war and genocide, euphemism is key

Created to cushion the senses of first world people so that their first world ears don’t feel pressured with responsibility and accountability to feel basic empathy

There is nothing pure in the word ‘cleansing’ of ethnic cleansing

And since when were the words of a woman who had been locked up once before, of “not recognizing your ethnic name” synonymous to the denial of your sufferings?

You would think she would know what oppression means.

My Rohingya brothers and sisters,

My Rohingya mothers and fathers

The fact that you exist is enough for me to know you deserve to live

The fact that you breathe, smile, feel pain and bleed red is enough for me to know you deserve medicine and aid

The fact that you still proclaim that God is One,

And prostrate down to Earth at least five times a day

As if you could not be any more humble than you already are

And still maintain that covering over your head

Even though you haven’t had anything to eat

Makes me determined that although you are the most dishonoured people on the face of this Earth,

You are the most dignified in His Face

There is no barrier between God and your prayers

And there’s a special place in Heaven for people like you.

I promise you, in your ultimate home you will not be not kicked out, nor displaced nor erased. Your identity will not be questioned, your feet will not be uprooted from your place forcibly like they have countless times before, your homes will not be set ablaze, your veins will not be ripped to satisfy the greed of those who play the game of thrones.

I promise you, your endurance will not be in vain,

there will be no rejection of your kind in a place where injustice is foreign.

Your name will be sung in the hallways of heaven

Your hands and feet will not remember the pain

Because your Lord will avenge for you

And then maybe you can invite us who were supposed to be your saviours to your ultimate home

If you’d forgive us for our cowardice

And lack of action

And we’ll forgive all the people who have caused us pain

Though you would have already forgiven them a long time ago.


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