Taang Thangho and Taang Liando (not their real names) are brothers. Thangbo is 7, whilst his elder brother is 9. There are the lucky ones. With about 15 others, Thangbo and Liando goes to school run by an NGO in Malaysia. They get picked up everyday and driven back. It soon becomes quite apparent that Thangbo is the spokesman of the two. More outgoing and friendly, unlike his more reserved brother, he answered most of the questions, talking freely and confidently.
When asked about what he likes at school, Thangbo says “I only like playing. We play with toy guns, and then we play baking cakes.” Liando agrees. They learn English and Maths too, but Liando says that “I only like English. I don’t like Maths“.
School ends at 1.30 pm, and I ask them what they do after school. “I study“, Liando says, and out of the corner of my eye I see his mom smile. Thangbo, on the other hand, was more frank. “I watch TV. If mom asks, then I study.”
What else do you do? “We fight. But we don’t really fight, we just act. Whenever we wrestle I win. When my brother tries to pin me down, I use my legs to struggle and win. When my brother grabs me, I use my nails.” It really reminded me of the time I supposedly bit my brother on the back when I was small. I don’t remember it at all, but my brother has the scar to prove it.
“After school, they play all the time,” their mother adds. “I have to ask them to study. They are similar but they are different as well. Liando is quiet, calm, and right handed. Thangbo is very friendly, very energetic and left handed.”
Since they wrestle all the time, I teased them by asking who cries more. “We don’t cry. Only mom does“, Thangbo said.
I looked at the mother. “Is that true?” She nods.
“They both look like their father. Whenever I see my boys, they remind me so much of their father. I feel so lonely. I miss him very much. When I see the boys talk to older people, they act so much like their father. I miss him in every way.” Their father was forced to become a porter for the army. That was seven years ago. “He never came back“, said their mother.
This family just recently came to Malaysia. Prosecuted because of their Christian belief, the mother’s book shop was shut down, the kids were denied entry to school, neighbours ostracised them, and their house was pelted with stones.
But at least for Thangbo, who loves ice cream (any kind) and want to be a soldier and a missionary because a soldier fights bad guys, and Liando who loves fried fish and wants to become an engineer and a missionary because he loves to build, life in Malaysia has some semblance of normality.