The Rohingyas On Land – Compassion

A Muslim Burmese lady was feeding abandoned kittens by the roadside. She declined to have her face photographed.

As I photographed the kittens, a busybody stranger remarked that she’ll be getting massive ‘pahala’ points (based on the concept of receiving blessings as reward for good deeds).

I thought the man’s Malay accent sounded like that of a Bangladeshi migrant living in Malaysia. When I met him later inside a Toto shop, he told me he is Rohingya as well.

The lady seem annoyed by his remark. She declared: “I’m doing it because I can’t bear to see a living thing die of hunger. Not for any reward.”

Compassion. It reminds me of a quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi:

“It ill becomes us to invoke in our daily prayers the blessings of God, the Compassionate, if we in turn will not practice elementary compassion towards our fellow creatures” .

Sony Alpha a7R, ISO 320, f4, 1/200 sec.

The Rohingyas On Land – Lost & Found

We found the kitten in a drain, eventually. The kind man retrieved the fallen stray and it was reunited with the mother.

It was my lucky day. Further down the street, I was to stumble upon another animal lover and witnessed another good deed.

Sony Alpha a7R, ISO 320, f4, 1/200 sec.

The Rohingyas On Land – The Mysterious Hobo

This was the first person to approach me (instead of the other way round). When our paths crossed on the pavement, he stopped me and asked with a smile: “What are you doing here?”.

I think maybe it was because I was the only other person with similar long hair and cap around here. Haha.

As we were about to introduce ourselves, we heard some faint but desperate cries of a kitten. It sounded like as if it was pinned under one of the cars.

Immediately, we went separate ways to look for it.

Sony Alpha a7R, ISO 320, f4, 1/200 sec..

The Rohingyas On Land – Survivor From The British Empire

Before I could even respond, he went on to say “The British; they called it diabetes”. I think he was expecting me to ask about his amputated legs and explained that it was due to diabetic complications.

Not surprising to hear an elderly person speak English as Burma and Bangladesh were once under British rule. I don’t wear a watch but I like his G-Shock watch.

Sony Alpha a7R, ISO 320, f4, 1/60 sec.

The Rohingyas On Land – Street Portrait Of A Lady

Women in the community are enterprising and contribute income to the family where they can. Many can be seen selling food, betel quids and other stuff.

Besides revenue, the corridor kiosks play an important social role. On any Sunday, it is Ladies Day. Girlfriends and female relatives socialise or connect. The street meetings are part of an informal bonding and support system.

This lady was selling the Rohingya version of ‘nasi campur’ (mixed rice). She’s holding a fly swatter. I was photographing an adjacent subject from a distance, when she covered her face with one hand and waved her swatter with the other.

I approached her and she told me she didn’t want to be photographed. Told her I wasn’t even taking her picture and I understand her concerns.

Ended up chatting with her as a result. Her name is Mariam and she is in her 40s. At the end of our conversation, I asked her if I can photograph her. She consented without hesitation, to my surprise.

Moral of the story: You can’t just waltz in and out with a camera, especially in an area where people are wary of outsiders. Spend time getting acquainted with your potential subjects, first.

When you are already acquainted and have explained your intentions, people will share their stories by themselves. Plus; when they are at ease, they look more natural and beautiful in pictures.

PS: The white dot on her eyebrow is remnant of traditional thanaka paste (bedak sejuk). It is a cultural tradition practised by both Muslims and Buddhists in Myanmar.

Sony Alpha a7R, ISO 1000, f4, 1/200 sec.