Taang Namtal is an 18 year old Zomi boy. He comes from a village that is so small that it doesn’t have a high school. So Namtal schools at the nearest town. During weekends, he would walk the whole day to get back to his village. One Saturday, on his way back, he was stopped by soldiers who took him to the nearby army camp. They wanted him to become a soldier.
“But I don’t want to become a soldier. They were forcing me to do it.”
“So what do you want to be then”, I asked?
“I want to study. I want to study science. I want to become an engineer. I like construction“.
So one day, when the soldiers on guard duty was drunk, BA escaped and ran to his uncle’s house. His uncle sent him straight to Rangoon to stay with his auntie.
“I only knew her name but not her address.”
For 3 days Namtal slept at the railway station, looking for people that looked like Zoomi to ask for help. Eventually he found a Zomi that knew where his aunty lived. BA, armed with her address, took a taxi there.
“My mother told me to stay in Rangoon because the army were still looking for me. The army “lost” me so they really had to find me.”
Even though Namtal didn’t know anybody in Malaysia, his aunt arranged for him to go there.
“She told me “don’t worry, you will be interviewed by the UN and sent to a third country like the United States. It is better for you to go“”.
In Malaysia, his broker sent him to the UNHCR office. BA stayed outside the gates the whole day. He didn’t know how to go in or who to see. Neither did he know how to get back. When the UNHCR office closed, he was left alone outside. One of the guards managed to find out that he was Zomi and so contacted the Zomi Association, who then sent him to stay in one of their jungle camps. He has been staying here for 4 months.
“How is life in Malaysia”, I asked?
“I don’t know“, Namtal replied. “I have never been out of the jungle.”
Life, it seems, is hard. Everyday Namtal gathers firewood, boils water, helps with the cooking, and picks leaves from the jungle as food. He also takes his turn at sentry duty – most the the people at the camp have yet to be interviewed by the UNHCR and so have no papers or protection. They are afraid of raids by RELA and the immigration. Only a few of the camp residents have managed to find work. They depend on donations of rice and food by local charitable organisations and NGOs. But even that is not enough.
“Sometimes we eat only lunch, no dinner. Or breakfast, but no lunch or dinner“.