“Adversity,” by Neesa Ahmed, is a selection for the Columbia Journal’s Special Issue on Uprising in the art category.
Location: Darul Eslah Academy, Ampang, Malaysia, 2018.
At the refugee centre, Rumana, 4, kept to herself, unlike the other children. When our eyes met, I was shaken by her aura, unable to decipher her expressions. Her being was raging, yet her expression was deadpan. I was drawn to her like a moth to a flame, one so bright that even years later, I find myself making my way to her among the wave of children in the centre as I did that day. When I asked her if I could take her picture, she just stared back at me. One of her peers explained to her what I wanted to do, and she walked outside, leading me. The photograph was one of silence, interspersed by shivers that made my camera quiver. I was so shaken by her pain, even through my lenses. The pain of losing a nation, a life, loved ones, etched into a landscape of impunity, barren. After taking the pictures, I thanked her, but though I smiled she walked away leaving me without words.
Rumana and some of her family members managed to escape the brutality of the Rohingya refugee crisis by means of a small boat. Even during the journey to Malaysia from present day Myanmar, her family lost a few loved ones due to terrible diseases and unsanitary conditions. Years later, I find myself leaning back to Rumana’s defiant look, which led me to question my own complicity in being able to enter and leave the centre where she is restricted. Though her family hopes to return to the Rakhine state, capturing her trauma can do no justice for the lived terror of ongoing dislocation. I wonder where she is now, if she experiences joy in her daily activities, if the rage has been eased in any way, even though I know such a hope is futile. She is the most vulnerable, the forgotten, the silenced. To this day, I wonder about her speech, and what it would say about all the political acts of the nation states that have failed her well-being and will continue to marginalize her presence as a humane person who deserves rights.