Christopher J. Walker reflects on how, when people work together, a solution might be found to the military repression in Myanmar.
This post is the thirtieth installment in an ongoing series, Chronicle of a Coup, comprised of reports written from within Myanmar by Christopher J. Walker (a pseudonym), a longtime resident, which together sketch one person’s first-hand account of the weeks and months following the February 1, 2021, military coup. A selection of his reports will be posted weekly, every Friday. A chronological archive is also available here.
Tea Circle is grateful to Christopher for sharing his personal account of life under military rule in Myanmar. Recognizing that his voice is one of many, we encourage other authors to submit their own accounts.
Thanks to all | August 18, 2021
I will forever remember the man lying before us, stricken with COVID-19 and desperately struggling to draw every breath. It was early morning. His loved ones looked on in a state of panic and anticipation. His blood oxygen level was so low that it was a wonder he made it through the night. Our companions were combing the streets, from township to township, for even the smallest tank of oxygen. It arrived unexpectedly, a single small tank, a kind of regulator, a plastic face mask and some plastic tubing. We needed to quickly figure out how to hook it up, how much oxygen to give and, critically, how long it would last.
There was no doctor to turn to because most were in hiding for fear of being arrested by the junta; others were busy helping elsewhere. I rushed off to try and call a doctor, and it was my great good fortune to be able to speak with two of them in Canada, where it was late at night. After receiving instructions from them, I ran back to the home of our friend. In the meantime, everything had been assembled, the mask placed over his face, the oxygen turned on. Ever so slowly, it became easier for him to breathe more comfortably. I wish that each of you could have looked on as I did and saw his face blush as the oxygen seeped into his bloodstream.
A young man who lived across from us had been shot in the back by soldiers. Beyond trying to stop the bleeding, how would we possibly know what to do? Others worked the phones to find a doctor, who urged us to take him elsewhere to have the bullets removed. But how to get him out of our quarter without the soldiers noticing, which would surely have resulted in multiple arrests and his imprisonment and death from loss of blood.
In urban warfare, local residents have a logistical advantage because of their knowledge of the terrain. Our neighbourhood defence team quickly went into action and devised a plan. In less than an hour he had been safely extracted and taken to a nearby underground clinic where the bullets were successfully removed. Throughout his recovery we were able to support him and his family. Many around us are ready to help as best they can, but it is only because of the help that they receive from others that they can do so.
A woman for whom the military has been searching intently for six months phoned recently to ask for assistance. We were able to help her move from safe house to safe house, and now she is in another country beyond their reach. However, she is suffering from an apparent recurrence of colon cancer and needs to move again for different reasons. For a month or more we have been seeking the medical help that she requires, but have been impeded by the military dominance of our daily life. Still, we take to the phones frequently to arrange for her continued safety. Calls like hers come multiple times every day, and our colleagues, despite great risks, are always at the ready to help.
We have brought food and medicines into poorer areas many times, usually every couple of weeks, and now have a network and system in place that serves us well. To some people, we give considerably more than a two-week supply. We explain to them that what we bring belongs to them now. We remind them that others might have needs greater than theirs, that they might consider donating some of their food to others who are even less fortunate. These people are quite poor and have likely never had the experience of donating anywhere, other than perhaps to their local monastery. So, as well as receiving a bag of rice and some vegetables, in giving they also get merits.
For reasons of security, the events described above give only an indication of the ways in which help goes from one to another.
One evening a close confidant and I stood in my entryway after a particularly difficult and taxing day, when so many had been in need of help. I was mentally exhausted and saddened by all that had transpired. She turned to me and remarked how lucky we were. A bit stunned, I asked why—to which she replied, “It is only because of our friends that we’re able to help. What could we possibly do if not for them?”
So, so very true. Our friends have changed or saved the lives of many. There are hundreds and likely thousands of people in need who, if they could, would affirm in agreement, “Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!”
Enough! | August 20, 2021
The people of Myanmar continue to resist the military regime as best they can and at immeasurable cost. Most government and transport workers, teachers, doctors and nurses, and many, many others are on strike. And now the COVID-19 epidemic is ravaging the populace. Vaccinations, oxygen, medical supplies and empty hospital beds have all along been nearly nonexistent. Even sufficient foodstuffs are becoming harder to find as prices begin to soar. Banks have introduced limits on withdrawals, so cash also is in short supply. Meanwhile, the military offers no assistance. On the contrary, arbitrary restrictions and violence perpetrated by them against civilians have become commonplace, and the concern now, as evidenced by recent events, is that the military is preparing a much larger and deadlier offensive in numerous areas throughout the country.
The people are now facing a catastrophic third wave of the COVID virus, and the military is clearly attempting to take advantage of the pandemic by weaponizing it. Lockdowns, which have been instituted in key areas of the country, particularly in Mandalay and Yangon, as well as in numerous ethnic areas, are now being used to further identify, arrest, and imprison those who continue to resist. Many more soldiers and military vehicles have recently moved into both the Yangon and Mandalay regions, so there is little doubt that people’s suffering will only increase.
In this rapidly deteriorating situation, there is a dire need for many things, with a primary focus on food for the poor. Also badly needed are medicines, medical and surgical supplies, oxygen, oxygen generators, electrical generators, and support for the thousands of incarcerated political prisoners and for the war-torn ethnic areas. The list goes on and on. Fortunately, there are still ways to get money into the country that will allow people to stockpile necessary items, but the window to do so is clearly closing. As I write, the military is taking further steps to exert even greater control over many of the items mentioned above as the value of the local currency continues on a downward trajectory.
What has happened here over the past six months has been a travesty in terms of basic human rights, and cannot be allowed to continue. That the regime disregards the will of 85 per cent of the voters, imprisons most of the elected officials, and tortures and kills its own citizens, should not, and cannot, be allowed to continue. Governments, governmental organizations and multinational corporations have not done nearly enough to put an end to this ruthless dictatorship. It is now time for the people of the world to stand up and say that such ruthlessness can no longer be tolerated in Myanmar or in any other country.
Wistful thinking | August 24, 2021
I’m sitting and having a coffee. It’s peaceful at 5:00 in the morning. Others will soon be waking up, and as they begin to open their eyes they will, like me, be wondering how so much could have gone so wrong so quickly.
Last night the executive committee of our local security group met once again to discuss our quarter’s future needs in the coming months. It was quite sobering and a bit depressing. It has always been my belief that there could yet be a peaceful way out of this nightmare, though it often seems that that train has already left the station. Still, I am confident that I and others will continue to keep nurturing that belief. I also derive hope from thinking that the solution doesn’t necessarily have to be an all-or-nothing civil war. Perhaps it could be resolved peacefully, akin to much of Nelson Mandela’s work in South Africa.
If recent research is to be accepted—and I’m a subscriber—a rebellion will almost always be successful if between 4 and 10 per cent of the population is behind it. I am unable to recall hearing any of our friends and supporters mention any sort of rebellion in which 85 per cent of a population attempted to overthrow a powerful stratocracy like the Tatmadaw. But think of the amazing power that 85 per cent of the people possess! I’m afraid, however, that big numbers alone are not enough. What’s missing is leadership. What is needed is someone who can galvanize and effectively unite the people, a Suu Kyi for the 21st century.
Which got me to thinking about the young people, who are giving so much, including hope. I want to thank them for all that they have done and will continue to do. As time moves along, perhaps we can find even more ways to support one another until out of their ranks a leader emerges.
Christopher J Walker (pseudonym) has called Myanmar home for a number of years. He thanks his friend and editor Mathieu Lukas for his assistance in preparing these reports for safe and timely publication.