Kachin


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Seng Ja (not her real name), a 34 year old woman is Kachin, but married a Zomi. This is why the Zomi Association accepted her. She is one of a handful of women living in a jungle camp in Malaysia organised by the Zomi Association.

We were living in Shan State. My husband was forced to be a porter for the military. He got back home safe, but soon after he fell sick and died. After he died, one day, his friends came and asked if they could spend the night. I recognised them – they were his schoolmates, so I said yes. The next morning they left early, about 4 o’clock in the morning. At 6 o’clock, some soldiers came looking for me at my house. I was at the well taking water. They didn’t know I was the one they were looking for. They told my neighbours that some rebels stayed at my house. I ran.” (more…)

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I know Tu Aung (not his real name) because he works for an organisation in KL. I’ve seen him numerous times, poked fun at him, said the “hello how are yous” and “good bye take cares”. But this is the first time I’ve actually sat down with him and asked him to tell me his story.

Tu Aung is soft spoken, and together with his small stature and rimless glasses, give him a totally approachable demeanour. Its only when you look closely at his eyes do you see the fierce determination that hides just beneath the surface.

It is with this determination that he explains, in this way and then that, how the small community of Kachins in Malaysia need protection above all else. How him and his organisation are focusing on this issue. And to drive his point home, he shows pictures of a Kachin woman who was victim of an attempted rape by her employer. The woman was three months pregnant at that time, explains Tu Aung, and we find ourselves laughing nervously at the apparent incongruity of it all. I wonder what would be an appropriate response, but I don’t know myself. I think I am laughing partly to save myself from feeling too much. Better to laugh at the videos of car and bike crashes than to sit down and consider what it must have felt like.

I have never known Tu Aung apart from what he does here in Malaysia, being a community leader of sorts. So I am surprised when he tells of his degree in electrical engineering. Majoring in process and control systems, and microwave systems, he says, and then adds, laughingly, but I think god wants me to be a process engineer.

You can see him light up when he talks about engineering, about what he learnt and the few years he worked at an engineering firm in the capital city of Rangoon. About logic controllers and control boards and the machines that needed them – CNC machines and steel rolling machines. About how they always had to repair circuit boards rather than replace them due to lack of money. About how the boards would be 4 deep and they would still have to try and figure out how to repair them. He spoke about the time when they designed, from scratch, a control board for airport landing lights, and for a moment you could see him being transported back in time, talking animatedly about currents and voltage and controllers.

Its all Greek to me, but I could both see and feel his passion.

So why run to Malaysia? Why throw it all away?

The (Myanmar) police took my friends away. (more…)

Ja Tu (not his real name) is only 17 years old. When his father died, he had to stop school to help his mother farm their land. They grew rice, peanuts and corn on their farm in Kachin State in Myanmar. He would wake up early in the morning, eat breakfast prepared by his mother, and then join her in the fields, where he worked till sunset. He would then go back, bathe, have dinner and then sleep. Every Sunday they would go to Church in the morning, and in the afternoon he would join his friends and they would play various games with a ball woven out of bamboo strips (we call it a takraw ball in Malaysia).

One day, his friends wanted to walk to the nearest town to buy provisions and so they asked him to join them. A few miles out of their village, they were stopped by soldiers who took all of them to an army camp. That was how they were forced to join the army. (more…)

Lu Aung (not her real name) arrived in Malaysia 5 months ago. She is only 16 years old. Her family didn’t know anybody in Malaysia, but sent her here. Why? Why would someone send their own daughter to a place where people spoke a different language, where she would be without documents, without protection, without income? Why?

“We were praying one night when a monk and soldiers broke down our door, shouted at my mother to stop praying and threw our bible out of our window. My brother spoke up, so they beat him again and again and again. The soldiers hit my brother’s head with their rifle butts. Again and again and again”. (more…)

“I didn’t want to come to Malaysia. I wanted to stay with my parents and go to school”.

Mai Mai (not her real name) is just 15 years old. She arrived in Malaysia less than 10 days ago. When I asked her why she came to Malaysia, she said “problems with soldiers”. A few minutes later, after asking about her journey to Malaysia, I asked again, about what the problems with the soldiers were. All she said was “It’s too much to explain. I don’t know how…” and left it at that. Eventually, the story emerged.

“My parents are farmers. They plant rice. Every day, me and my bigger sister walk to our parent’s farm to bring them food. One day 3 soldiers stopped us. Two soldiers took my sister away. They came back after about an hour. She was crying. They told us not to tell anyone or else they would harm us. We went to our parents. We were both crying. They kept asking us what happened”. (more…)

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I have just said goodbye to the 3 Kachin mothers that came, 2 of them to accompany the one that I interviewed. As I saw them leave the room, slowly, with their small children in tow, I cannot imagine what the future will hold for them tomorrow.

Hkawn Ja (not her real name) never once let go of her 9 month old son. During the interview, she always held him close. And she is an amazingly good mother. Her son never once cried. The few times he started crying, Hkawn Ja would immediately fret, standing up and walking around, or offer her breast to her baby. She is so well attuned to her son’s needs, as if she could read her mind.

Halfway through the interview, we were offered some cut apples and mangoes. At nine months, I could see the two bottom teeth already, and so the baby was munching on a piece of apple. After a while, Hkawn Ja took the piece of apple from his hand, and with her forefinger fished out a reasonably big chunk out from his mouth. And she continued to fish out more bits of apple from his mouth – He’s been biting chunks out of the apple but not chewing or swallowing – preferring instead to suck play with it. The way she did it was full of tenderness, talking slowly and softly to the baby all the time.

Born in May 1965, Hkawn Ja will be 42 soon. She fled Myanmar a long time ago. She was a student leader during her 2nd year in university. Involved in protests and demonstrations, she ran to a remote village after the military took over in 1985. There she stayed for a few years, until she was given the opportunity to travel to the Philippines to further her studies. She wanted very much to return to her homeland, and it was very apparent in the interview. “Conditions may be bad, but it is still our home. I want to go back”. (more…)

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Awng Seng’s (not his real name) story is not something that is easy to listen to. Running away from the military in Myanmar when he was only 21, he was sold to a fishing boat in Thailand, where for 2 years he was a slave, watching others like him being murdered in cold blood.

I have heard stories of men being sold to fishing boats before, but I have never heard anything in detail, and this story left me numb. (more…)