Sleep well, Koulabear March 8, 2007Posted by elizabethwong in Human Rights, Malaysia, Note2Self, RIP.
Koula Koumis, (1977-2007)
Family member of Suaram
Human rights activist extraordinaire
(This post shall remain at the top until 12 March, 2007)
(Dated: 6 March, 2007) It has been a very hard 48 hours for our office.
Exactly 48 hours ago, at 1.42 am, I received a call from Shan, our Secretariat member
“This better be good.”
It took Shan some 5 minutes to tell me that Koula had passed away in a road accident. My mind rejected the news for some reason, racing from the thought of a by-election, Samy Vellu, to calling Teresa Kok. It was only when Shan said, ‘our Koula‘, that it finally sanked in.
It has since been a haze of phone calls, SMSs and emails. We had 3 people from the Secretariat abroad at that time, and it wasn’t easy to break the news to so faraway. Toni called back and kept saying, “I can’t believe it…can’t believe it.”
Koula is the second person in our ‘family’ who’s left us in these past six month, after Tan.
Her siblings flew in from London on Sunday. From there, we went to see Koula’s partner, Roland, who was recuperating from the accident. To say they were distraught was an understatement. We then headed to the University Hospital Mortuary, where the caretaker was kind enough to let us see Koula. Some of the Suaram folks and friends had gathered, including our former staffers, Nurul and Gowri. Brinda came later.
Monday was spent trying to contact the family to get their final approval for a short service outside the mortuary in the evening. The verbal consent came at 5 pm for the 7.30 pm service. Ivy took charge of the flowers, candles and guestbook while Seng Guan found an Orthodox priest to conduct the ceremony.
When we arrived at the site, I was stunned to find more than fifty people had already gathered. By the time the service was underway, there must had been more than a hundred present, of her friends, Roland’s friends and colleagues, refugees, human rights activists, students and other NGOs. Our former staffers, Zappa, Li Ling, Brinda and Nurul turned up too. Yap, the Executive Director of Suaram had just landed in Malaysia and got there in time.
Dr. Kua Kia Soong, former Member of Parliament and founder of Suaram, spoke of how Koula would return to London in springtime, where the flowers would be blooming and cherry blossoms carpet the grounds where she would finally lie in peace. He told us how Koula, who had only been in Malaysia for a year, had touched our lives, especially those of the refugees.
And of her goodness that still dazzles us.
This goodness, this purity that emanates from her is so lacking in most of us. She was only a volunteer but kept our rigorous work hours and days. She livened the entire office, lifted our spirits, made our work colourful with her smiles and loud jokes. And dazzle us she did, that now our days feel dark and dank.
It makes me wonder, if god takes those he favours early, what then can be said of those of us left behind?
I remember the first time we took her to a demonstration almost a year ago. It was one of the earlier protests against the fuel hike. I kept telling her to observe from afar; that if anyone of us were arrested that she should just act as if she didn’t know us; and that if she wanted, she could stay inside Suria KLCC. But she wanted to see us in action up close and and stuck by us, exclaiming excitedly, “There are so many people!”
Her work with refugees is nothing short of astounding. She’s always been kind and gentle with them. Once, I sat in the office when a group of Rohingya women arrived to meet her regarding their children being kicked out from school. After her meeting I’d asked her, “Why didn’t you tell them that there’s very little that we can do before they came in?”
She replied, “They just need someone to talk to.”
Za Uk, our Burmese intern who worked closest with her, had come dressed in his Sunday best to the service – a dark suit, dark tie and shirt. He hadn’t stopped crying since he heard the news. He went up to say a few words about Koula, and between heavy sobs, told us how he couldn’t bear the thought of returning to the office and not seeing her there. He called her – ‘Sister’ – which is a tremendous honour.
Yap, fresh from his flight back, struggled to find the words between deep breaths, as he clutched his left chest, trying to say something to the crowd. The lines on his face sank even deeper as he held back his tears. I’d known Yap for more than a decade now, and I’d not seen him in this state.
Nary a dry eye in that small space where we had congregated; our ‘macho’ attitude that has seen us through heated meetings with Inspector-generals of Police and face-offs with hundreds of well-armed Federal Reserve Units, had all but dissolved, standing in front of our Koula.
Politikus quoted a line from Star Wars, “We honour the dead by living”.
It was ironic that on Monday morning as the stock market executed another nosedive, Kampung Berembang was once again besieged by police, RELA and bulldozers. Koula had gone there previously to visit and as usual, spread her good cheer around, and made many new friends.
I am proud – no, a whole lot more than proud – that the Suaram machinery went straight to work. Trying to stop makeshift homes from being demolished. Trying to stop the police from arresting residents. Trying to save people from being beaten with batons. Trying to make the police and developer accountable to due process. The last thing she would want us to do is sit around and mope. I can almost hear her yelling in the office, “Guys!! Get your butts out there!”
For Koula, we honour her by fighting. To make Malaysia a better place, so that we may all live. And live with dignity.
I’m sorry I still owe you an outing for a fancy haircut and a homemade lemon cheesecake. But for now – sleep well, sweet dreams. Koulabear.
(Vocals: Toni Kasim; Guitars: Jerry Foo, Elizabeth Wong; Editor: Sam Hui. Recorded: Dec 2006, complete with warts and all)
Photo credit: (1) Yeoh Seng Guan (2) & (3) unknown
(This is still a WIP – Work In Progress)