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sleeping in the jungle is better

This small footpath, it seems, led to nowhere. Hardly wide enough for one person, it is overgrown with grass taller than me, on both sides. The path snakes onwards and sometimes we had to crouch to get through the places overgrown with creepers. In this bush labyrinth, are scattered some fifteen huts. These huts, built from pieces of discarded wood, plywood and plastic sheeting, are hardly any bigger than the tent that I use to go camping with. They are built on short stilts to raise the floor of the wet ground, but the roof has to be lower than the grass in order to be invisible. I had to crawl into them.

This is where Nai Bali Thow, now pushing on 39, sleeps with his wife and 15 year old son. This is where they sleep, every single night for the past 2 years. They are too afraid of raids from the police and immigration to sleep anywhere else.

“Is sleeping in the jungle better than staying in your village back in Mon State?”

Yes!” Nai Bali said. “Yes!” Nodding his head at the same time.

Even though we have to sleep in the jungle, in the morning I can wake up and go to work and get money. Back in my village, there is not enough to eat. Back there, we work, two people, very hard, but still it is not enough for our small family. We work so hard, but the soldiers take more than half of what we earn.”

Nai Bali had to flee his village in Mon State, Myanmar, when soldiers came and took his rubber plantation because they wanted to build a military camp.

They had guns. They said “this is not your land, this is our land.” But my family has owned this land for two generations…”

After that day, Nai Bali was too afraid to go back to his plantation. Two weeks later, borrowing cash from money lenders, he ran with his family to the border, where he eventually made his way to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Now the whole family, including his young son, work in factories, each earning about RM20 a day.

And yes, sleeping in the jungle is better.

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