OA says she is 45 years old, but looks easily 10 years older. Double checking, I ask what year she was born towards the end of the interview. “1965”, she says. So she really is 45. But sitting next to LA who is only 3 years her junior, she looks old enough to be the mother.
Her family and relatives were involved in student’s movement in the late 1980s. As a result, her relatives were arrested and her elder brother died during interrogation. Although she was not involved, the government suspected her of being a sympathiser and the military used to call on her often, day or night.
Leaving behind her husband and four children, she fled to Pattani in Thailand, where for 9 years she worked in a fishing village, cleaning and preparing dried fish. She had lots of skin problems as a result of her job. Hearing from others that there is a UNHCR office in Malaysia, and looking for a better life, she saved money to pay an agent to bring her to Malaysia. The agent sent her to a rubber plantation. She stayed there for six months, earning RM10 a day to collect and process the rubber sap from the trees, working from 8 am to 6 pm. She only worked on the days the rubber needed collecting, which wasn’t every day. There, OA together with 4 other Myanmarese slept on the ground under a plastic sheet. She moved a month ago when she heard about another place from visitors, and is now living with LA. She has been trying to find a job this past month, so now she spends her days helping with the cooking and cleaning.
“Things are better here. I have not had enough sleep for the past 6 months. We were always scared of arrest or robbers. Now I have enough sleep”.
“The most important thing, is security”.