The suffering of ‘unwanted’ people

This week I returned to my current home in Thailand and to the news headlines about the human tragedy in the Andaman Sea. This tragedy has been going on for many years since I have lived here. The story of suffering starts in Burma (official name – Myanmar) and it affects the whole region of Southeast Asia.

If you watch the news or read the headlines, you will see the boats crowded with starving, desperate people who nobody wants. Nations send their navy ships to pull them back out to sea. Thailand does not want them, Malaysia does not want them, Indonesia does not want them… but the source of tragedy is that their home does not want them. The Rohingya people are a large ethnic group, living in the western state of Rakhine. Most of them live in Burma and their religion is Islam.

International human rights groups describe them as one of the most persecuted people in the world. Since 1982 they are denied citizenship in Burma and the current government continues denying them citizen’s rights. They are not allowed to travel without a permission. There were even previous restrictions on marriage and children – allowed to have only two children, even though not strictly enforced. There has been communal violence in previous years, based on ethnicity and religion and a widespread sentiment in Burma, fueled by a few very nationalistic Buddhist monks, that these people do not belong there.

Thousands of them are forced to live in camps in terrible conditions they are not allowed to leave. In their own country! So, in desperation they attempt to make the dangerous journey across the sea. This becomes another huge tragedy of human trafficking, abuse, corruption and suffering. I will not go into all the details as you can read about it in any major international news source.

The challenges in Burma are complicated but one issue is very simple and clear. As I see the photos of these beautiful people… yes, poor… yes, uneducated… yes, Muslim and not Buddhist or Christian… yes, dark skinned… Rohingya are our neighbors. Human beings created in God’s image with exactly the same value as a Latvian, a German, a Thai, a Karen, a Chinese, a Barman, an Australian, etc.

Who is my neighbor? And do I love my neighbor as myself? Firstly, this is the difficult and important question for the communities in Burma. Secondly, this is a question for the neighboring nations and thirdly, this is a question for all of us. For me as a European, I think of our governments who are willing to ‘close their eyes’ and not bring up these questions in favor of economic trade since Burma is so rich with resources.

Many of my friends in Burma are wrestling with this most important question God asks of us. Also, to help Rohingya people can mean to become persecuted. Even big international NGO’s have been told by Burma government to stay away and not get involved.

This is time for serious and deep soul searching and time for brave and real neighborly love…

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Photo from news headlines

Don’t judge the book by its cover?

In Latvia we like to use another saying “Don’t judge a man by his hat.” It can have different meanings like do not think he is smart or important or trustworthy because he wears a nice hat. Or that a person is not what he wears. Or that we cannot know the hearts of people.

But there are times when I look at someone’s clothes and I do judge them. So, let’s talk about it… Is it right or is it wrong? Actually the clothes that I have problem with are some T-shirts and the messages they advertise. There are times when I read someone’s T-shirt and think, “what in the world? …”

There are lots of markets here in Thailand that target the tourists since it is a very popular holiday destination. Gary and I enjoy many of them, especially the Walking Street in Chiang Mai which is every Sunday evening. Lots of creative and beautiful things for sale. And lots of T-shirts… lots of them…

Many of the shops I don’t even look at since the printed messages are so obscene and vulgar. But people buy them and wear them. Often I think that foreigners while traveling wear clothes that they would never wear in their home country because it would be too offensive.

So, here are TOP 3 shirts on my “DO NOT LIKE; CANNOT STAND; FIND OFFENSIVE” list:

USSR T-shirt

As someone who grew up in the Soviet Union and learns more and more about the evils of totalitarian systems, I have a strong reaction when I see this T-shirt. I remember seeing it while working in Australia and I wanted to go up to this young Australian and ask, “hello, mate… do you have any idea what you are wearing?” I always try to think of what would be an equally offensive or disturbing message to an Australian or any other person. And, of course, I realize he would never want to live in a country like USSR. For one, he would not be able to wear any T-shirt that does not agree with the System.

Equally disturbing to me is a shirt with the Chairman Mao. It has become such a fashion statement. Sometimes he is a Mickey Mouse, sometimes he is cool, and sometimes he is just the Leader. Why do people think that it is fashionable to advertise bad people? If he was still alive, he would probably be very happy for all this world-wide attention, “Look, I am a brand.” Someone who is in the company of likes like Stalin, Hitler and other totalitarian leaders…

And even closer to my current home, this is the one I hate here in Thailand. I think it is such degrading and offensive message and view of self and other people. Unfortunately Thailand has a global reputation of sex tourism, human trafficking, availability and cheapness of sexual ‘services’. And most visitors only see the visible side of it; the invisible is much more ugly, cruel and inhumane. Money and ‘honey’ is destroying people’s lives… It is not something to be proud of or to laugh at.

This makes the whole “Do not judge the book by the cover” challenging.

no money shirt