A Tribute to Differences

作者: Rozy Faiz

She is supposed to be a citizen - Burmese by birth - but she is not.

Sitting in the corner of her new home, she feels a great debt gratitude for her family's very existence. Her rapid heartbeat is calmed by a wind that caresses her cheek. Her face is resolute, her eyes shining. Feeling endlessly blessed, she is at peace. She is a survivor.

She reminisced over the weary, two-month journey at sea. Battered by storms, the engine had died and the vessel was adrift, causing insurmountable fear. It was a journey of unbelievable misery and distress until she eventually arrived on the shores of Malaysia. What heavenly relief!  Not only had she escaped death but she was reunited with her father, labouring in Malaysia for surivial, a father whom she only vaguely remembered.

Four years have passed since she and her mother fled slaughter to become refugees. Along with two other families, her family of four lived in a shared room of a 3-bedroomed house on the outskirts of the city of Kuala Lumpur.

She is 13 and like us, is living through the Covid-19 pandemic too. However, she has witnessed shocking brutality, horrifying catastrophes one upon another and countless deaths left in their wake. She was robbed of a childhood. She has suffered unimaginable and harrowing trauma.

However, here she stands today - 13 years old - a survivor.

One morning, she woke up to a door knock, a sound that terrified her. She began to shake – knee tapping knee - and petrified, she hid behind the curtains. The gatecrashing of uniformed executors momentarily flooded her mind. Suddenly however, she heard the voice of her father, “Terima kasih”. 

As strength crept back in, a peek out of the window revealed a wondrous sight! Fear melted away! She counted car after car full of humanitarian aid, not a lineup of military killing machines. Colourful uniformed staffs were handing over food and groceries baskets to the residents, regardless of race and religion. She glimpsed triangular shaped banana leaf packages. “Nasi Lemak! ” she screamed in giddy excitement. She had fallen in love with it since arriving in Malaysia. 

She remembered this scene! It was her third day of their starvation. Her father, sole provider and protector of the family, was one of the many unemployed victims of the Covid-19 lockdown. Finally, she and her parents had food on their plates. Once again, her little brother could enjoy his bottle full of milk.

She sighed! She wondered and reflected the logic behind humanity and inhumanity. Does humanity exist?

Inhumanity descended upon her community with the arrival of racial hatred like a contagious disease. The infection went deep. She was rooted out of home and displaced by force, as were more than a million others. Of them, many were civil servants.

Despite all this, she is a Rohingya at heart.

The term “new normal” is unfamiliar but the practices and procedures attached are akin to those she was forced to practise in days gone by. As a child she grew up in her ancestral land but in isolation - quarantine like too. Her movement was severely restricted. Moving outside of her hometown was impossible – in the same way that now countries have closed borders to control the virus. She was segregated in school, akin to current social distancing. But those restrictions were aimed only at her people. Only her community.

She had never foreseen that dealing with quarantines, facing the fear of infection and socially distancing oneself from others would become universal experiences. Now, she at least has something in common with the rest of humanity!

Still, it consumes her differently and she remains perplexed. As she has witnessed in Malaysia, lockdown and other restrictions are neither colour nor community-based impositions for a select community, but for all residents.

She sees unity in Malaysia. She sees tolerance in its simplicity as a treasure to cherish. She is forever grateful for having a shelter in this diverse and multiracial yet peaceful country.

Now she knows the language of the country, Bahasa Malaysia. She hears similar aged girls in the neighbourhood singing, “Kita Anak Malaysia” and, “Negara ku”, celebrating Hari Merdeka. She stares at them. As she listens, “Tanah Tumpah darah Ku” catches her attention. This reminds her of her birth land and of the line of her own national anthem once sung: “DOE BOE BOA AMWE SEIT MOE CHIT MYET NOE PAE”, “because of true inheritance, of land from the forefather, we love it”, rings in her ears.


At this point, her heart bleeds. Tears fall.

And so it was, she wrote a letter, imploring her leader. Positivity and understanding and respect for one another’s differences bond communities of colour in Malaysia, ‘Truly Asia’. “Radiate and display attitudes capable of producing rainbows,” she beseeched.

She pleaded that her leader to reenergise intellectual rebellion. “Freedom from fear” could remediate distastes she had been subjected to. It could broaden the minds so they are seen as human once again.

Using her firsthand knowledge, she communicated in writing. Hers was a teenage view with appalling and deplorable experiences. To her, it was intolerance that had maliciously penetrated and ravished her community. It was prejudice on the basis of her ethnicity.

Even so, she realised that her plan to return home solely lay in the language of her leader. She continued, desperate for “words of healing power”, words that could open arms that would embrace her and her people, make way for her to return home! 

She conveyed vivid examples of the aftermath of the infamous Mosque attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. Of and for the victims, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s words had rung out. “They Are Us!” These powerfully effective words comforted the victims, unified the country and were lauded globally.

She dares to anticipate the same empathy from her leader. But. Who will read her letter?

One day she will reach home. This she knows!

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