Christopher J. Walker describes an instance of the random dangers encountered in Myanmar due to military repression.
Editor’s Note: This post is the nineteenth 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 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.
Remember to duck | June 10, 2021Embed from Getty Images
I vividly remember a day two months ago when soldiers were rampaging through our quarter, cursing and swearing, randomly firing their weapons and hurling stun grenades. When things eventually quietened down I decided to risk going out on my balcony to see whether they had departed. As I stepped out the door three bullets cut through the air a few centimetres in front of me. Shocked, I froze in place, and instead of dropping to the floor I merely exclaimed, “What the hell?”
Later, when I related this incident to a friend, he playfully advised, “Next time, remember to duck.” Since then, it’s been a standing joke between us. Now, with the sole intention of pre-empting future smirks and denying him another opportunity to gloat, I want to confess that, yes, mon ami, I should have ducked! And that brings me to last night.
For the past week tension has again escalated in our quarter as soldiers repeatedly hunt for demonstration organizers, participants in the civil disobedience movement, fighters in the People’s Defence Force, members of the National League for Democracy, and other activists. Constantly fearing what these marauding soldiers might do next, and despite our pronounced state of exhaustion, we have all been experiencing sleepless nights.
Last night, though, for a couple of hours I slept soundly—at least until midnight when my housemate May began shaking me. She had been alerted by our neighbourhood security volunteers that soldiers had entered our quarter. I immediately jumped up and ran to the balcony. Peering cautiously over its low outer wall, I saw, not too far away, an army truck with a police van behind it. However, there was no sign of either soldiers or police. Oddly, although it was hard to tell in the dark, there seemed to be someone crouched in the street in front of the truck. In my haste to get to the balcony I had neglected my spectacles, so I wrongly assumed it was a wounded or badly beaten neighbour. I searched further up the street but saw nothing other than the usual parked cars. Where was the hunting party?
I turned my attention back to the shadowy figure in the street. Squinting, I saw him move. Then I noticed that he was actually in the standard firing position, with one knee resting on the ground. He seemed to be aiming a handgun.
Time stopped. In a soundless vacuum I watched with utmost clarity as a projectile rotating through the intervening space advanced resolutely toward my head. I was completely mesmerized by the slow inevitability of its motion. Again I forgot to duck! Instead, I managed to throw my hands in front of my face as the missile slammed home. It smashed into the back of my right hand and glanced off my forehead with considerable, but not lethal, force. Stunned by the impact, I unconsciously reacted. At the top of my lungs, I screamed, “What the fuck are you doing?!?”
Before I fully realized what had happened, other hands were pulling me backward into the relative safety of my apartment. On the street I heard the shooter cursing me, threatening to come and get me, to teach me some respect. It didn’t take long to comprehend that I had been hit with a projectile fired not from a pistol, but probably from a Wrist-Rocket, a kind of hi-tech slingshot. My anger, however, was not in the least assuaged by this welcome realization. There was no reason for him to have shot at me. Up to now a soldier or policeman would have merely shouted at me to go inside, but this time there was no such warning.
After a minute or two, as I began to cool down, I noticed the terror in May’s eyes. My shouting and swearing in the middle of the night had naturally awakened the neighbours. And unbeknownst to us, residents up and down the street, who minutes before had been in bed, were now positioned at the windows of their unlit apartments observing the ruckus in the street below.
May was being besieged by their incoming phone calls, warning us that the policeman who shot me was at the steel entry gate of our apartment building, trying to break in. Then she got word that another man, presumably a senior officer, had appeared at the front of the building and was shouting at my pursuer, ordering him to return to the vehicles that he was supposed to be guarding. He wasn’t having it; all he wanted was to get at me. After some yelling back and forth, the officer prevailed and the shooter, dejected, walked back to the trucks.
Only later did we learn that the detachment of soldiers and police had come with the intention of snatching and arresting someone in a surprise midnight raid. They had been creeping up the street in the shadows, when at the sound of the screaming they froze in their tracks. Not knowing what was going on, but realizing that the whole neighbourhood would now be awake, they were suddenly painfully exposed and thrown on the defensive. Slowly and carefully they began to spread out, their rifles pointed in every direction, and made their way back to their trucks at the bottom of the street. While the senior officers discussed what to do, the soldiers stood encircling the vehicles with their rifles lifted toward the surrounding apartments
In the dead quiet of the night, some of the neighbours were able to overhear their conversation, but for security reasons I cannot go into it. Ultimately, having lost the element of surprise, the soldiers decided to abandon their mission. Warily, and with purposeful vigilance, they one by one got back into their vehicles, and, with their rifles pointing out from the sides, a gunner at the front with his rifle resting on the roof, and two others at the tailgate, they beat a frustrated retreat.
May, fearful that the soldiers would return, phoned our trusted Mole who works in the office of the okkahta, our quarter’s military-appointed administrator, and related to her in detail what had happened. Her response was to remark with a laugh that it was about time someone challenged those drunken bullies. But she assured May that she would look into it, and find out what they had been up to.
When I awoke late this morning I had a painful right wrist, which, luckily, had absorbed most of the impact, and a tender bruise over my right eye. What hurts more, however, is the memory of the terror in May’s eyes last night and the anger that I feel toward the policeman who randomly, needlessly and thoughtlessly bushwhacked me. I learned today that this guy is a known drunkard and the cause of many local altercations. Because of his mindless action, his squad was unable to complete its mission and their quarry no doubt escaped—which affords me some self-righteous satisfaction.
I am so very weary of these thugs with their AK-47s going about their daily atrocities and somehow imagining themselves to be courageous fighters for the unity of the nation. The people know better.
As I sit here typing, I hear the growl of an approaching police wagon patrolling our quarter. I go to the balcony to have a look. As it slowly rumbles by below, the man at the tailgate glares upward, his eyes boring into me until the vehicle turns the corner. At my feet lies a jagged pebble. But there is nothing I can do. So many thoughts and emotions crowd my mind. Among them bob the sensible, unheeded words of my friend: “Next time remember to duck.”
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.