I am amazed. Amazed that she is still sitting in front of me, telling me her story in her soft voice, punctuated once in a while with tears and sobs, but still here, still full of spirit.
She will be only 26 years old this year. Born on the fourteenth of June 1998, LL is the middle child of five – the oldest and youngest being boys, and the middle three girls. Her parents are farmers, and so she worked the land, planting paddy in her village in Arakan State, Myanmar. LL has fine straight hair up to her shoulders, and today she has it centre parted, and pinned on the right side with a delicate pin of two small crystal flowers to prevent her hair from falling across her face. She has strikingly fine features, and her face is framed by two striking crescent shaped eyebrows and thin lips.
She married when she was 19, and only a few years after that, her husband had to flee Myanmar after refusing to work as forced labour and fought with the military. She too had been conscripted several times to build roads, where from between 2-4 weeks, she had to work from 8 am to 5 pm without pay, without food, and without water. The workers had to carry their own food and water.
Afraid of the insecurity and continued forced labour, LL decided that she too would flee Myanmar, and in November 2005 crossed into Ranong in Thailand and made her way towards Malaysia, eventually arriving in Taiping where she had relatives.
It was around this time that her father and mother passed away in quick succession. The father after a long illness and paralysis from a stroke, and the mother from cancer. Being poor farmers, they could not afford hospital treatment.
For two months LL tried to find work in Taiping but failed. Eventually, she managed to contact her husband, who came from Kuantan and brought her to KL, where they stayed in Selayang. Still, she could not find work and for 5 months they both survived on the husband’s wages. When she finally found work, it was with her husband peeling and sorting prawns at the wet market before it was frozen and distributed. It was hard work. Working 12 hour days, from 4 am till 4pm, LL was paid the princely sum of RM25 (approx. EUR or USD ).
They lived in a small room provided by the employer. “it was this big“, LL said, gesticulating as her arm drew a line across our already small interview room. In this tiny little room, no more than the size of my brother’s bathroom, was “…where we slept, we sat and we cooked“. (more…)