Chukwu Jude Nonso is a First Prize Winner of the Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day Art contest. He lives in Nigeria.
Writing had been a form of activism among young Rohingya scattered across the camps in Bangladesh. It was something that had drawn me to the Rohingya online community, to write a story on Identity and on the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar for the Art Garden Rohingya—the first literary online presence in Rohingya. But on the Sunday afternoon before I started writing, I was glued to my desk watching videos and documentaries of the bloody genocide in Myanmar. It was hard to go on, to watch children watch their parents die, or to say goodbye to the people they’ve lived with and loved all through their lives. To watch their lives changed, and their future and whatever hopes that were left shattered like broken lovers. I cried all through that day, and subsequent days that followed. I didn’t know what to write or make of these stories even when Ro Mon Sur Ali, a genocide survivor chatted me up to know how far I had gone in writing and submitting my short fiction, On The Narrow Road for the Art Garden Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day art contest.
I didn’t want to continue with the Rohingya story; I felt I couldn’t tell it better than the millions of Rohingya refugees who had lived through this traumatizing experience. What did I know, or what could I tell differently? It was something so fragile and sensitive that any failed attempt at it would be a ridicule of the painful experience of the Rohingya genocide survivors. But writing was a form of activism, of fighting for an end to injustice, and to every form of violence and discrimination against the Rohingya people. And this was something I had come to learn in the past few years of listening to the stories of friends who lived in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. I recalled a friend taking me around the camp during a video call sometime last year, showing me tumble-down shacks where he lived with his siblings and other refugees, surviving on humanitarian aids with the hope of returning home someday or having access to basic education and citizenship rights. The following day, after a virtual walk with me in the tree line campus of Nsukka where I schooled, he had said to me, “it’s beautiful over there. I wish I could go to college too. I wish I could dream and see it come true.’’ And yes, the story I had written was inspired by that hope. It was inspired by the growing number of young people in the refugee camp in Bangladesh who had resort to their pens, phones and cameras in telling their stories differently and in fighting against this injustice.
A few weeks after the story I had sent to the Art Garden Rohingya, On the Narrow Road—which was set in Rakhine, and centered on the fear of living in Myanmar as a Rohingya—was accepted, it won the First prize for the Art Garden Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day art contest in the short story category. And at the beginning of this year it was published, it was greeted with dozens of messages from young people across the camps in Bangladesh being grateful I had written about the Rohingya’s ill-treatment, and at the same time surprised I was from Nigeria, and saddened by the fact that little had been done concerning their plights. A young boy whose brother was detained by the Myanmar military had chatted me on a cool evening in January, “They keep coming to the camp, asking us about the situation and about the genocide we had survived. They don’t care about us; all they want is our stories and the photographs of us smiling.” He had said to me referring to some journalists who visited the camp. But what had struck me was the way he had said it. It was like saying to me, “Do you care about us as a people or you just write to contribute to the dozens of literature about the genocide?” Writing and interacting with genocide survivors had made me sensitive to what it meant to live in the fear of what lies ahead or what the future had to offer. This too had been the fear of my friends in Myanmar and those in Bangladesh who had been deprived of a better life, a life where they could be free to school or travel anywhere, or free to identify as full citizens of Myanmar. But most of them hadn’t lost hope in the possibility of a better life, of justice, or the liberty to live freely, not as second class citizens. They had refused to be weighed down by the challenges and insecurities in the camp as they assembled together during winter, laughing and excited over the world cup match in Qatar last year. They had refused to pick up guns to fight, but rather they’d used their voices, pens and cameras to recreate history. A history where a non-violent approach is fueled by the passion to tell their stories differently. And the most beautiful thing about the Rohingya people is their resilience and the power of their unity even in the face of persecutions, hunger, lack of citizenship rights and access to the basic necessities of life. And that alone is beautiful.