I knew I was not a criminal, just a simple woman wanting to help starving people.
When our kids were young we spent a fair amount of time at zoos around the world. It was always with mixed emotions for me. Are animals supposed to be caged in? I also remember seeing high security prisons in different counties. Uninviting and foreboding they loom on the horizon making one decide there and then never to become a criminal deserving a life behind those walls. Rarely did I imagine normal moms, dads, kids, teens, uncles, aunts or grandparents having to live behind barbed wires of the same quality as the wires used to protect humans from Grizzlies in the zoo. I never thought that rice farmers, shop keepers, fishermen, teachers and lawyers needed to be kept enclosed the same way serial killers were enclosed on Alcatraz.
We went to spend time with people behind barbed wires today. I knew I was not a criminal, just a simple woman wanting to help starving people. Yet, I needed to brake several rules in order to get to them. Mr. Z is our trusted aid and picked us up fifteen minutes early. His baseball hat was on his head as usual, his sarong was tied tightly around his waist. He smiled a smile stained with red beetle nut juice and let me know not to worry about a thing. We just had to duck when passing check points and only get out of the vehicle when he said so.
We drove on back roads where most would not expect white -faced aid workers. We laid flat on the seat and closed our eyes when told to. We smiled at the police when they saw us. We went the backway out when we needed to use the restroom. We did not show ourselves in public. There were soldiers in the neighborhood and they would be quick to report is if they saw us.
Keep in mind we were not in the area to deal drugs. We were not whitewashing. We were not going to rob a bank, and we were not hired to kill. We were going to meet people who had suffered. We were going to hear their stores. We were going to discuss how we could best help them. For that we had to put ourselves and others in danger.
As I was sitting with several men and women hearing them say things like: “We have no hope anymore,” and:”If what is happening to us is not genocide, then let’s find a different word to describe it.”
I was with people who had once owned an abundance. Now they were begging for food and fighting to stay alive.
I was with the Rohingya, of course. The beautiful, kind-hearted and brave Rohingya whom the government wants dead and is working hard to eradicate. I spent the day with these gentle people and I kept wondering why they are not given the right to live.
I sat with grown men who cried when talking about the desperation in their villages and in their families. I heard them say: “There are never any good news for us. All we ever get is bad news. This makes it difficult to have hope.” I sat with them and felt like my sincere concern wasn’t going to save them. They needed a revolution.
It was ironic that my visit happened on the same day as Myanmar got its first democratically elected government. A joyous occasion for the nation of Myanmar. And one can only hope it will be a victorious season where democracy gets to flourish. The Rohingya I was with today said: “We were not allowed to vote. But if we had been given the opportunity, we would have voted for Suu Kyi. We trust her and we will be patiently waiting for her to bring reforms that will help our people. Let me say this: Aung San Suu Kyi just better live up to the expectations of the Rohingya. They need a reason to hope again.
I saw little girls and boys dreaming of sleighing dragons or of becoming princesses. I thought it was beautiful and recommitted to help make it happen.