Life Story for the Special Initiative “Living the Coup: Collective Diary of Daily Life in Myanmar” by SEA Junction and Partners.
|Challenges of A Displaced Housewife
I am 35 years old, and I am from Demoso, Karenni State. I am married to a guy from a village in the western part of Hpruso, Karenni State. We have four children and lived in Demoso before the coup. When we were in Demoso, my husband sometimes paid visits to his family. I am just an ordinary woman and housewife. I normally spent my days doing household chores and taking care of my 4 sons. When I heard the news about the military coup, I did not feel anything special, and I was like “it is not my business and it is just politics”. I even reckoned that politics should only be concerned by men and politicians. However, as people came out to protest and deliver speeches on the road, I began to notice that the military had arrested President and Daw Aung San Su Kyi and that they would rule the country again after 10 years, which was not what I desired, and I became frustrated with the military.
Then, I left my sons at my mom’s home in Demoso to participate in protests every day. The military is becoming increasingly cruel day by day, such as beating young protestors and firing guns at protestors. In addition, soldiers arrested people at night, and it made me scared. When the fighting started in Demoso, we fled to my husband’s village since my husband insisted to live with his family. His parents and siblings loved me and my children. In the beginning, my husband still earned some money as salary so we could rent a taxi and go back with a full load of food to his village, where it took almost a day to get there. When we arrived there, my parents-in-law and his siblings warmly welcomed us.
We lived with my parents-in-law in their two-story house, and I cooked for them. After one week of living with them, my parents-in-law set up some rules for me on putting oil in the curries and the types of food we ate and fed the children. They said to not feed eggs to my children and to eat only vegetable soup and pounded chilies instead. I did not listen to them since I, myself, bought the required food from the city, and then I thought my kids need to have at least fried eggs. But this is not a big deal. When I was with them, I did household chores as usual. They told me to work on their farm along the mountain. They said that people in their village appreciate only if women can work on the farm, which was the opposite of what I was doing at their home. From their point of view, staying at home and working only on household chores doesn’t make sense for a woman. My sons are 1 year, 3 years, 4 years, and 7 years old, and they still need my care. I asked them whether taking care of my children and doing household chores were also not jobs. I was surprised after I heard their response, saying the things I am doing at their home are not assumed as jobs.
My parents-in-law are very conservative and told me to wash men’s clothes separately because they accept the idea that men are superior to women. My husband went hunting almost every day, but, most of the time, he came back with bare hands. He had lived in the city for a long time and is unfamiliar with the tactics, as well as lacking the necessary skills to hunt. However, I was blamed for my husband’s inability.
One day, I’d got a period, and the sanitary pads I brought from the city were gone. Donors are not coming yet so I went around the village and asked for pads. Luckily, I got 3 from displaced colleagues but that was not enough so my underwear and longyi (sarong) were tainted. Therefore, I washed and dried them on the fence. The neighbor lady saw my longyi and told me to take it back since drying women’s underwear and longyi on the front fence makes men who go hunting unlucky. They even said that I was being rude for doing so. It’s strange for me but I did not complain and did what she said.
Living with my in-law in their village was very challenging but I put up with them because we have a limited number of options as our home in Demoso was destroyed by the military. Another strange thing I found in the village is that when landowners provide free meals to the workers, women are treated only for lunch whereas men are for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When I asked the reasons, they said men are men. Literally, women work harder than men, but this is just a custom. If women break the traditions, it is believed that they or their family members would be in trouble.
By the time my husband went to Loikaw to look for work, my in-laws drove me and my children out, claiming that their savings were gradually dwindling because we are living with them. In addition, they even accused us that we are going to take over their lands although they knew that I was not interested in farming. The food we bought in the city was running out, prices for everything are going up, and my husband has no earnings anymore.
My parents-in-law even told me that they could make me do whatever they wanted because they bought me with silver coins (i.e traditionally paid by a groom when he asked for permission to the bride’s parents for marriage). They forced me to work in farming and husking the rice (they still manually peel the rice from the paddy in the village) against my will despite the fact that the rice I bought had not finished yet. What they wanted is a hard-working daughter-in-law who especially works on the farms, making rice wine (Khaung Yay) for them. I couldn’t stand them anymore, so I gave silver coins back to my parents-in-law and asked some displaced people I knew to help us look for a house. With their help, I rented a house and lived there with my children. When my husband came back, he hit me, which is the first time in our married life, and accused me of being rude to his parents. Having a wife who cannot work in farming makes him low among his friends. We argue every day.
It is very challenging to live in such a chaotic, collapsed, and lawless situation (a kind of failed state) in Myanmar. It affects a family’s unity, happiness, economy, and social status. There is no peace everywhere, not only in the family but in our minds as well as among relatives. I believe that the problems will be lessened once the country is back to normal. This experience taught me that politics is for everyone in the country.
“Living the Coup: Collective Diary of Daily Life in Myanmar” is a special initiative of SEA Junction in collaboration with Asia Justice Rights (AJAR) to document how people are living in present-day Myanmar and their coping with daily security, economic and health challenges. We are asking for short stories in the form of written, photo essays or art illustration, in Burmese Language (to be later translated into English) or in English. For more background and other stories click here.
SEA Junction, established under the Thai non-profit organization Foundation for Southeast Asia Studies (ForSEA), aims to foster understanding and appreciation of Southeast Asia in all its socio-cultural dimensions- from arts and lifestyles to economy and development. Conveniently located at Room 408 of the Bangkok Arts and Culture Center or BACC (across MBK, BTS National Stadium), SEA Junction facilitates public access to knowledge resources and exchanges among students, practitioners and Southeast Asia lovers. For more information see www.seajunction.org, join the Facebook group: http://www.facebook.com/groups/1693058870976440/ and follow us on twitter and Instagram @seajunction
Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR)
AJAR is a non-profit organization, based in Jakarta, Indonesia, whose aim is to contribute to the strengthening of human rights and the alleviation of entrenched impunity in the Asia-Pacific region. Its work focuses on countries involved in transition from a context of mass human rights violations to democracy, where it strives to build cultures based on accountability, justice and a willingness to learn from the root causes of human rights violations to help prevent the recurrence of state-sanctioned human rights violations. For more information, see https://asia-ajar.org.