Two Poems from I Am a Rohingya
Someone I’m Afraid OfZaki OvaisI’m a hungry star in the sky,covered by jealous clouds.I’m a goldfish plant in the garden,shaded from daylight.I’m a fly in the kitchen, buzzingon the boundary of a blind wall.I’m a chicken under mother’s wing,confined to the narrows of a wattle.I’m a dove on the street of Yangon,jailed in the cage of inhumanity.I’m the water flowing in Mayu river,missing my partner — Air.I’m a human in the universe,denied the most basic rights.I’m someone I’m afraid of. Broken MirrorRo MehroozI wake up to the speaking mirror.To the tragedy, the scareof the hitting bullet.*I cannot dare to lookat the mirror, lookingat the mirror looking back.*The bullet flew towards my head.I ducked down and ran.The bullet smashes the mirror,shards scatter over the floor. (Breathe – )*Today, I see the mirrorIn the taxi window,In the barber's shop.
In April 2019, James Byrne and Shehzar Doja travelled to Bangladesh to work with Rohingya refugees. Their aim was to set up the first ever creative writing workshops in the Cox’s Bazaar camps where over one million people live in perilous conditions. Traumatized and stateless, they each have a story to tell about the horrific scenes they have experienced: the burning down of villages in Arakan, their home in Myanmar; genocide, rape and torture.
I Am a Rohingya, edited by Byrne and Doja, is a poetic response from those who have survived. It is a book that seeks both to celebrate and to document the powerful new voices of Rohingya poetry – voices that are direct, activist, and toughened by what they have had to suffer.
Copyright in the poems © individual poets as named, 2019
Copyright in the Introduction © James Byrne & Shehzar Doja, 2019
Copyright in the present edition © Arc Publications Ltd, 2019
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission.
Zaki Ovais is a new Rohingya poet. He wrote some of his first poems during the workshops (including “I’m someone I’m afraid of”). Zaki is also a community development worker who fled Myanmar.
Ro Mehrooz is a young Rohingya poet, lyricist, computer programmer and activist who has written poems mostly in Rohingya and English, but also a few in Burmese and Urdu. He trains young Rohingya students in computer programming in the refugee camp at Cox’s Bazaar and believes in reading poetry as a way of travelling through the minds of others in the world.
"I Am a Rohingya implores the world to listen to the spirit of a people who have experienced, and continue to experience, some of the worst human rights abuses, but who, even under extreme duress and the constant reality of violence from the Myanmar state, know the spirit and intactness of their voice, their right to be a people and to live in the land that is their home. The suppression of the Rohingya by the machinery of British colonialism, then the military dictatorship, and the failure of post-dictatorship government to arrest the attack on the Rohingya and what is essentially an apartheid condition, have brought the people to speak out of their refugee camps along the border with Bangladesh, to find hope in language and the aurality of their language, to see their poetry on the page, and to make poetry do the work it needs to do so that outsiders can hear, can understand."
—John Kinsella (from the preface to the anthology)
"The Rohingya poets gathered here for the first time in English hold a mirror to the light for the rest of humanity, flashing their poems of misery and warning from the genocidal zone and refugee camp of Cox's Bazaar. Their songs are more accurate than news reports for word of the plight of the most oppressed. These are poems that begin with the fragrance on the bird's handkerchief and end by walking among the mass graves. They write from a dire present to a possible future, wondering in their peril if the world outside was too quiet to hear them. Let the world not be quiet, let the world listen to these poems."