KSN (pseudonym) writes about a moment in which they find themselves.
This post was originally published on January 12, 2022. Read the Burmese version here.
I have not been back home even though I have a place to call home. As anyone can face unimaginable conditions under these circumstances, I’ve been influenced by my thirst of going home. Since the 1st of February, 2021 when the military staged a coup, they have abducted and murdered the people. Those we meet in the daylight start to disappear overnight. It has been some time since I have not met my father who went into hiding.
Late June was the nascent stage of the third wave of COVID-19 which was full of suffering. Uncertainties loomed over our days amid full-blown urban warfare. The word “D-Day” clung to people’s minds and narratives. So, the military tightened its grip on logistics flows right in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. Distanced travelling was more scrutinized. I was not sure if my safety was to be concerned or not. Since I was the one who photographed protests since the coup, I was barely noticed by many people. My safety was either to be worried or not. Everyone else is facing similar situations. I wanted to bring my camera anyway but did not dare to bring the big camera. I was worried that I might be interrogated if I were to pass some checkpoints. Therefore, I just brought my small camera. Never in my life have I experienced such complexities planning to go home. I went home through some irregular paths.
I arrived home on 29th June. I vividly remembered all the roaring sounds of guns firing into the air. On the 30th, the following day was declared “D Day”, the military wanted to threaten the people. There must have been more than 100 gunshots since 9:40 pm through the whole night. I had to duck down as my bedroom was right next to the main road. My mother was meditating as usual. Even when I reminded her to duck herself down due to the gunshots, she did not even show a shred of worry. My nephew next to me was also counting the number of gunshots. I was the only one on the bed, frozen.
I experienced gunshots in Yangon but this was my first time hearing the continuous gunshots as if they were from a machine gun. I was in trepidation, to be honest. Now, the war has come to every part of the nation. This was truly a new experience for urban dwellers who had never had any exposure to armed struggles, violence, and lack of security in their daily lives. Only then did these people start to foster empathy to their very core. They said it was the first time the army fired in the cities, but these atrocities were common in villages. When I visited my grandmother’s village, I asked my grandmothers and aunties about their emotions towards gunshots. My 60-year-old aunt said with a grin, “I was very afraid at first, but I no longer cared once they started to do it every now and then.” They grew paddies and beans and lived in peace throughout their ancestry and entire lives. It was quite an uncommon experience witnessing all of these. However, it appeared to be that now both urban and rural populations became familiar with the violence. I was the only one trying to settle both physically and mentally. Violence was everywhere, in cities, and in villages.
I did not have any activities to do today. I always had something to do when I resided in the capital. I feel that everything became a distance once I returned to my hometown. I got heavier and duller as I did not have any risks to take. I became more anxious. Although my body was relaxed, the levels of stress got even more deteriorated. The third wave of COVID-19 was starting to get out of control in the cities. Tensions increased over lack of access to oxygen and running out of oxygen. Prices of oxygen cylinders and equipment went through the roof. It became harder to buy some fundamental medications.
My town had been under lockdown since the first week of July. Only one person per household could leave from 6:00 to 10:00 am. To do so, we needed a paper documenting that we were allowed to go grocery shopping, signed by our ward administrator. We were checked at both gates of the market whether we had the note. Everyone was in a rush during these five hours. The shopkeepers started to panic at 10:00 am shouting to their customers to come and buy as if they were giving them for free. Other teashops and groceries closed at 11:00 am. Those who worked at our home completed their work in the evenings, thus, they could not be sent home. If they were caught going out in the evening, they must pay 10,000 MMK or sometimes more as a fine. If they were fined, their daily wages could disappear. Therefore, my mother had to prepare three meals a day for 3 or 4 people. When a period of lockdown was approaching the end, it was extended. So, after about two weeks, my mother’s staff decided to go home in the evenings through alleys and narrow streets in our neighbourhood to dodge the checkpoints. When I found the news about requiring shepherds a letter to herd their sheep and cattle, I was amused and wanted to laugh. Dictators, how stupid they were!
It has been three generations inheriting the bitter hardships of dictatorship. On 1st February, I revisited the memories of my father’s prophecy when I was young. He said, “My son…your life will get so much better when you grow up. Work hard”. Yet, the situation remained gloomy. When I became an adult, my father also said “My daughter, study hard. When you grow up, you will definitely face a brighter era.” Still, there was no brighter future. My brother had babies. Nonetheless, my father kept on saying that his grandchildren would live in better conditions. He was arrested on 1st February, it was my 33rd birthday. Also, 2021 marked the 30th anniversary of the 8888 revolution. How could I laugh at these events?
The poet Aung Chaint passed away on 9th August 2021. He died of some disease but losing him during this devastating time broke my heart. We had several poets who were abducted and killed by the military. My friend from the arts industry told me that some of his colleagues had passed away due to depression and not having enough money to pay for medications.
According to the record developed by one of my artist friends, there were more than 140 artists including authors and poets who were killed by the military. I adored them greatly. All the articles, books, and poets of those who went through the horrific regimes and 1988 started to make more sense to me, particularly during this time. I only realized the meanings of the eyes of those I loved dearly and those who loved me. They looked at us with eyes full of love, expectations, and values. When I met with the revolutionaries who were younger than me, such feelings grew inside me. Can it be an agony tied to the eras that we lived in? The words “I won’t kill you. I am going to take your heart out alive,” from Sayar Aung Khin Myint’ poem, “the years that didn’t exist” echoed in my mind currently.
In every era, youth bear a great amount of responsibility at the forefront for the mistakes they did not commit. This is being named as “taking responsibility of the ear” and “responsible generations”. These terms are widespread in Myanmar’s society and people cheer them up. However, these terms suffocated me and gave me pressure. I could not breathe well. Our individual lives and freedom were robbed. If I could choose, I would travel along Kachin and Ayeyarwarddy rivers to do research and write. I wanted to settle down in my hometown. Yet, all of these imaginations did not make any sense right now. We must put out the blazing fire first.
It even feels like a privilege to live with one’s parents now. I have this burning desire to resist this privilege. I want to live with my parents and to be honest, I still long for it. However, my mind is tragic. I do not feel any joy. I am extremely agitated and feel ashamed for my friends who are enduring all the hardships of my current existence. I am confident that I do not stop. I only do what fulfills me and makes me jovial. I must analyze myself. I let myself choose my own path.
One of my friends died on the night of 5th September 2021. We only met again during the coup. When I received the phone call at midnight informing me about his death, I did not cry. I knew something. I knew that he had left his power to me, and I must continue to carry them. I left home on the 24th of September, 2021.
This post was translated by Tea Circle’s Translation team.