The journey from Myanmar to Malaysia took 5 days. Lia Neino (not her real name) undertook this journey with her mother and bigger sister. As I was getting the story of the crossing from the mother, i turned to her and asked if she remembers it. Lia nods, and says “I was afraid and I was very hungry. We eat only once a day”.
Lia comes across as a shy little girl. She spoke little, and when she did, more often than not she would be looking down and drawing imaginary circles on the table with her right index finger at the same time. I get glimpses of what she does and likes. She prefers the food here, and likes fish and vegetables. Lia says she prefers it here because she can stay with her dad and the whole family. She has a few friends here – children that she meets every Sunday at church. She says her best friends are Bethany, and Siah Siah, and Jen Jen.
Do you have any friends at home? I enquired. Lia shakes her head. No. Even though they share an apartment with 16 other Myanmarese refugees, none of them are in her age group. She has 1 doll that she plays with, and she watches TV. Her favourite program is “Mr Bean”.
Her mother adds “Sometimes I cut out puzzles, and I teach her how to read and write the Zo language. Sometimes we play snakes and ladders, and sometimes I tell her stories.”
“But I’m bored staying at home. I want to go to Jusco and ride a car,” referring to a shopping complex which has small coin operated cars for children.
She doesn’t get to go out often, because her mother is afraid that they will be arrested. The family went out to the KLCC shopping centre 4 months ago but “police in yellow hats were asking people about their ID and passport. I was so afraid. I heard that RELA will still arrest you even if you have a UNHCR card.” They have not been to a shopping centre since.
When she grows up, Lia wants to be a doctor. “I pity sick people. That’s why I want to give treatment to them”. According to her mother, Lia is not the quiet, shy person in front of me now. “She is very talkative. She is open and frank. The elder sister does what I tell her to, but she is always saying “why are you asking me to do this? She is like me,” the mother says, smiling.