The story continues for Rahima, an Arakanese refugee mother in the border town of Mae Sot, Thailand… Read part one here
“After that we moved across the country to Moulmein [Mon State], Burma where we found some farmland and started over. But when I was ten, it happened again, some soldiers came and ordered us to leave at once. It was horrible, I remember it well, me and my eight brothers and sisters were crying and screaming, while my father was just frozen stiff and speechless.”
Rahima and I, along with her two children – a boy and a girl, both under five and with shaven heads – sit in a small communal home in Mae Sot’s run-down Muslim quarter. The girl wears a long brown vest that just covers her up, while the boy dons a baby’s dress, both covered in dirt. In the next room two older children are being taught English by a local volunteer, while people storm in and out speaking in rapid Bengali and Thai. 19-year-old Rahima, upright on a wooden chair, is wrapped in a once-beautiful but ragged sarong wearing large hoop earrings and her hair in a bun, holding the air of a mature woman.
Keen to talk she tells me of her family’s second move in 2000, this time to the streets of Mattayar near the ancient city of Mandalay. Soon after arrival, they were forced to take shelter in a railway station with around 50 other homeless families. It was then, at age ten, Rahima effectively became an adult, spending her days searching for food and work, or begging on the streets.
“We had no hut or shelter, we just slept in the main hall of the railway station. We got most of our food from begging and tried so hard to find work. Occasionally people gave us rice to do small jobs but most wouldn’t even look at us. We often went for two or three days without food, sometimes longer, and drank water from puddles and streams.”
When I ask about soldiers in Mattayar, Rahima lets out a long moan and shoots a piercing glance straight thorough me with her wide brown eyes. She takes a long pause and then, after breathing deep, begins to talk quietly drawing me in closer to listen carefully.
“It was horrible. They used to come all the time – to see what they could take. We had nothing, just a few rags and some cardboard. If we had food we ate it quickly but if they found any coins, they just took them. They beat the men and used to try and scare us. There was nowhere to go, no one would take us in or protect us. We were children running away from trained soldiers. We didn’t even try to run.”
Rahima becomes uneasy and I consider changing the subject. Then, looking at the ground for the first time, she speaks again, straining to get the words past her swollen throat.
“They would take all the pretty girls first. My elder sister was taken once for four or five days and then just dropped back one morning. She was different after that. It’s very shameful to talk about these things so when she came back she didn’t tell anyone what had happened, although we asked. In my time there, dozens of women were taken. Not one of them ever told of what had happened.”
JJ Kim, Advocacy Manager
Worldwide Impact Now
To be continued…read part one here