What is in a name? Introducing ‘Ro Pacifist’
“Nothing except writing poems can reduce my stress and sadness”.
The are many poets among the Rohingya refugees ‘temporarily’ living in Cox’s Bazar, Banglasdesh, and the number is growing, especially among the young. Most use pen names, largely doing so as a protection against possible persecution were they to be identified by the Myanmar government which would have power over them in the increasingly unlikely event they were repatriated. That said, there is safety in numbers, and the fact there are more and more Rohingya poets every day publishing on Facebook and elsewhere makes the chance that any one person is singled out less likely. There is very little in their poems of which the world has not already been made painfully aware; the atrocities against the Rohingya are well documented.
These poets sometimes gather in writing groups within the refugee camps, supporting each other’s efforts, all hoping that their words effectively express their emotions and that their sentiments are heard by the outside world. Many I have talked to say that composing poems is a way to identify, clarify, and amplify feelings and memories. The process of writing is in no small part cathartic, allowing for the externalization of internal hurt, confusion, and frustration. It is writing as therapy. It is a means to be heard, and thus have one’s humanity affirmed. To write is to be. And for the stateless Rohingyas, this is an important, perhaps even heroic, act.
To be heard and be affirmed. That is the wish expressed by every poet I have written about in the last few months.
A young writer
I have gotten to know yet another Rohingya writer, Ro Pacifist, a refugee/humanitarian currently working with the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) in Bangladesh. His introduction to me,
“I’m Ro Pacifist, a Rohingya refugee from Myanmar currently surviving in the makeshift settlements of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.”
He goes on,
“When I feel depressed and discontented with our refugee lives, [when I] see my brothers and sisters are facing so many difficulties with so many things and services in living, and [when I] feel like an ocean of sorrow, then I write poems. I would like my heart-felt emotions to be known to the world people. Indeed, nothing (except my writing poems) can reduce my stress and sadness. I feel absolutely good to know that people from outside countries will like to read my poems because they can know my life story and current ongoing situation.”
I asked Ro how people in the refugee camps spend their days. The DRC international and Bangladeshi staff humanitarians have worked with the Rohingya to create meaningful and supportive spaces in the camp where Ro lives. He describes it this way,
“Most young men and a few women are interested in working with humanitarian organization (DRC) through which they believe they can provide support to the community as much as they can. And, there are some NGO facilities like “Aged Friendly Space” for elderly care “Women Friendly Space” for women entertainment and “Child Friendly Space” for child care practice to enjoy playing toys and games. Some old people who are interested in politics like to spend their days by group-gossiping and discussing the repatriation issues.”
I asked, ‘What do romantic relationships look like in camp? how is match-making different in the camps compared to back in Burma?’ He responded,
“If compared to back in Myanmar (Burma), the difference between the match-making in the camp and that in Myanmar (Burma) is that we were in fear of arbitrary torture by Governments in our country, but there is no fear of such an arbitrary torture in the camp and we at least feel free from those kinds of tortures.
I have been to many weddings of my friends and relatives in the camp but it is very different from those we had in Burma. Indeed, we are in the valley of sorrow.”
Working with others helps keep Ro busy, and he has been a teacher of English language and skills to Rohingya students for about one year. He encouraged me to share this photo of his class. He says,
“These are all Rohingya students whom I have been teaching out of my skills and knowledge on education since the first time when we came into Bangladesh. This picture was taken in a celebration, congratulating students with prizes.
What is in a name?
Pen names are chosen for many reasons. Eric Blair chose ‘George Orwell’ because it was a ‘good round English name’, for example. I asked Ro about his pen name, “Ro Pacifist”,
“When the conflict happened in 2012, I was a student and old enough to understand the situation of my country. Since then, I have never seen peace in my homeland. All Rohingya people have been just facing various tortures. I wanted peace for my community and to find how to escape from the tortures. Then, I have become like a peace seeker (pacifist) for my entire community. Finally, as I wished, I updated my name as “Ro Pacifist” which means a peace seeker for Rohingya community. That is how I want people to know me.”
And now for Ro’s emotional poems
Below are four of Ro’s poems, each with his signature touch of short stanzas, many issuing challenges to the reader whom he presumes, accurately so, will be more privileged than he. I find myself reflecting on the fact that I won the life chances lottery and Ro did not, the chance of birth place impacting our lives permanently and profoundly. His poems demand reflection on our shared humanity and on the capricious and sometimes unfair social forces that shape our lives.
“My shelter is my world”
I’m a human being like you
Made up of cells and tissues
With perfect parts of organ in body.
I’m an organism like you
Covered with soft hair or fur
And, Adapted with two hands to touch
I’m a creature of the Almighty like you
With Two legs to step and walk
Two eyes to see
And, two ears to hear and listen.
I’m a warm-blooded vertebrate like you
With same circulation in the heart
same structural nerves in brain
And, skin covered in the entire body
With a tongue to speak
And, a mouth with two lips to say
I’m a dreamer like you
With lots of dreams for future
And, various hopes to achieve in life
I’m like a disabled person
The world is too deaf to hear my voice,
And too weak to offer me a step
Finally, My shelter is my world
That’s is unique to others.
“I’m A Refugee”
In a small shed of bamboo
Fenced with a tarpaulin,
Covered with plastics,
Roofed with some slice of bamboo,
Under the tree-free sunshine,
I’m spending the life as an illegitimate.
It is because I’m a refugee.
From dawn to twilight,
In the rush of carrying,
Kits for shelter, food for meal.
Under the hot hot sun,
I’m spending the life just on surviving,
It is because I’m a refugee.
In very hostile mountains,
With big jungles and wild animals,
I’m set up and shifted from place to place
From twilight to dawn
I can’t take enough sleep
Because of the fear of landslide.
Because of the fear of flood.
I can’t feel enough safe
Because of the traumas in heart.
These are all because I’m a refugee.
“My wish, My dream”
If I were a human like you
I would be granted my rights as for human.
And, I would be grateful to in my eternity, then
If I were a citizen like you,
All inside me would be blooming as a rose.
And, My heart would be complete, then.
If I were independent like you,
I could spend my life as a norm.
And, I would be contented with my life, then.
If I were a free bird like you,
I would fly on cloud nine as an eagle.
And, I would be a healthy bird, then.
If I were a civilian like you,
I could enjoy my life as under a big shade.
And, My life would be a flower garden, then.
If I were a child like you,
I could enjoy my childhood as a prince.
And, I would be free of depression and stress,then.
If I were a student like you,
I could be a graduate and proud as a peacock.
And, I could be a star in the country, then.
If I were a fiance of marriage like you.
I would celebrate my wedding as a happy camper.
And, my cute face would be visible, then.
“Where is my Right?”
You know I am a human being
But, I can’t feel as a human
Because I’m deprived of human rights.
You know I have my own language
But, I’m languageless just like “deaf-mute”.
Because I’m not allowed to use my language.
You know I have my own religion
But, I’m like religionless
Because I’m not allowed to perform my obligations.
You know I have my heart
But, I’m like a heartless
My heart is not allowed to feel due to trauma.
You know I have my state
But, I’m like a stateless
Because I am not allowed to live in my state.
You know I have my eyes
But, I am like a blind
Because I’m not allowed to see what I wish.
You know I have my legs
But, I am like a handicapped
Because I’m blocked from my movements.
You know I have my soul
But, I am like a doll
Because there is no safety security for life
You know I have my ears
But, I am like a deaf
Because they are bursted by explosions
You know I have my tongue
But, I am like a dumb
Because I am not allowed to freely talk.
You know I deserve things like you.
But, I can belong to nothing
I’m deprived of everything.
Because discrimination on me is ongoing.
Final thoughts on responding to the humanitarian imperative
As a sociologist from the ‘minority world’ I am constantly aware of the privileges given to me, a cis, white, educated, male from the United States (I am not stateless…!). Having gotten to know many young Rohingya poets, I sense very clearly their frustration and, in the end, though we come from very different places I feel we share the same humanitarian goals; we shared an urgency to respond to the humanitarian imperative. We want to help create and live in a world where everyone is actively encouraged to reach all of their potentials, physical, intellectual, and spiritual. A world where pathways to dignity are free from hurdles and limitations. A world imagined by the authors of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which begins, “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
As always, please contact me if you have any feedback, comments, or further thoughts.