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.