Where Are You From?
I had never left the country against my will until today
Where are you from?
I don’t know how to answer that question
Without letting the guilt swallow me alive
Without worrying about my sisters and brothers
who are moving from one place to another for safety
Without thinking of those who died and who are behind the bars
Without my heart trembling for longing
and my stomach clenching with grief
The other day, when my doctor asked me
Where you from?
With his broken English and soft Thai accent
Closing my eyes, I started explaining to him
I can’t sleep at night
My brain feels like it is gonna explode
It is like I don’t have enough oxygen to breathe
My heart is beating so fast to the point that is gonna stop
I am choking when I eat
I don’t go outside like I used to
Do you know how to fix me?
He smiled and nodded politely
His eyes wondered why I didn’t answer his question
You have anxiety.
Women your age go through this. Is normal.
No need to worry nah.
I feel displaced and broken.
How is this normal, doc? How?
Where you come from?
He asked again, this time as if for medical reasons
I came from
the land of safety
Surrounded by beautiful people and mountains
who smile at each other
Until their jaws hurt
Where the street is filled with dust, dirt, and busyness
Yet somehow charms with its delicious smell of food
Mont Hinn Khar, Akyaw, Shan Khouk Swal, Lat Phatt Htoke
A city where you can never go hungry, disconnected or cold
A home my ancestors have fought and died for
No, the irony is not lost on me.
When I say, I come from the land of safety
I mean, I come from the land
where I don’t have to explain myself to others
Where I don’t have to cry every night to sleep
Where I don’t have to take anxiety pills to swallow my food
Where I don’t have to answer the question, where are you from?
Instead, I paused and said
“Aaah, Phaama.” he replied with the sound of understanding and pity
Your country and we, same same
Not good people ruling.
I smiled almost wanting to cry
Breathe, you have to breathe every day
for your heart, for your brain, for your body
You no need fixing. You only need breathing. You will be okay nah.
Since then, I have learned that the key to living is breathing
Breathing like it is my job to be alive.
To be alive is my only way to resist.
Ma Nandar is a feminist activist, a storyteller, and a podcaster from Shan State, Myanmar. Her passion for justice and equity started early in life when she began to question the cultural norms in her community that were demeaning women’s and girls’ lives. She is the Founder and Executive Director of the Purple Feminists Group and hosts the podcasts G-Taw Zagar Wyne (in Burmese) and Feminist Talks (in English).
In 2020, she was named to the BBC 100 Women list. She has recently been selected for the CAHR Protective Writing Fellowship at the University of York, UK. In her free time, she enjoys walking, writing, reading, and watching comedies to rest and respite.