Written Story for the Special Initiative “Living the Coup: Collective Diary of Daily Life in Myanmar” by SEA Junction and Partners.
|Title:||The Day I Felt the Scent of Death|
|Storyteller:||Htet Aung (Pseudonym)|
It was as if a lightning stroke next to me and a terrifying loud sound exploded inside my ear. I felt that my heart stopped a while. My whole body responded to the sound with a sudden shake and then shivering for a moment until I tried to bring my conscience back. Only then, I could figure out what happened.
A sound grenade was fired by a soldier into the dark sky and a dozen of soldiers aimed at their rifles to the windows of the apartments in a small lane in Yangon’s downtown area. I was standing behind a window of a top-floor room and carefully looking down to the street to evaluate the situation. All the apartments went dark and silent, because the residents shut down the lights, or they would quickly become the target of the soldiers shooting randomly. Because of the light of a street lump pole spraying on the tarred road, I could see some soldiers standing on the street while others raiding a room by breaking the door in the 5th floor of an apartment. They aimed their rifles to every direction and shouting to shoot someone if they saw them peeping at them.
“Shut down all the lights and go inside, or shoot you!” shouted by the soldiers on the street. The reason to order the residents to shut down the electricity light was that if someone secretly took a photo or video of what they were doing in the street, they could easily search the light of the mobile phone in the darkness and shot the target as they did in the battlefield.
Though being aware of the danger, I slightly opened a glass window and took a peep at them. One peeps after another. Out of a sudden, a sound grenade explosion was done, and done again.
I did not know whether the soldiers could find and arrest those they wanted. The residents in the closest distance to the soldiers seemed to be busy inside their rooms texting messages to their neighbors, informing what happened around them, guessing who the soldiers were searching for. Like a speed of light, my nephew received a text message with the names of four youths that they wanted, but very fortunately, none of them were at their homes that night. After two hours of violent search, the blood-thirsty soldiers left. The time was 1:30 a.m.
That whole night, I laid down on my bed, but could not sleep. Whenever the dogs bark on the street, I got up and looked down to the street though it was back to the silence and quickness. A sudden wakeup made me realize that a new dawn came with a soft sun-ray beam intruding into the glass window. I felt my body was rather stiff.
Having a long background of political activism and experiencing a decade-long hardships as a political prisoner in the notorious prisons, I was determined that this time I must escape from the junta’s arrest, or I would have died in their hands. With this determination, I left my small apartment room soon after the coup on February 1, 2021 and hid in a relative’s apartment that I thought safer than my own room. In fact, nowhere was safe.
My hideout was at the top floor of the ten-story apartment and it had a very small square-type hole from which I could climb to the rooftop of the apartment to escape from the possible arrest. Expecting that, I trained myself to quickly climb up the rusty iron ladder to the rooftop within a few minutes. The ladder was usually installed as an emergency fire exit in the kitchen of every apartment in Myanmar.
Every night, I slept with a small black bag beside my pillow. If any, I could grab it and ran with it that included some cash, a mobile phone and a battery charger, my ID card and some medicines that I used to take. I experienced such close terrifying moments at least three times in the street where my hideout was located, but later the sounds of explosions and military trucks chasing the resistance youths in the surroundings were countless and got used to it.
Fortunately, till the first five months of the coup, what I expected did not come true. So, taking a slim chance, I moved to a safer place away from my loved ones who couldn’t do anything, but just praying for my safety.
One day, I saw a shocking news appearing on my Facebook timeline. Five youth including a girl jumped from the rooftop of a tall building after they knew they could not escape from the soldiers raiding their hideout. All died.
I expected such an incident and did an exercise to escape from a rooftop exit. Thinking the fate of the youths, I asked myself: What I would have done if I were there. Suddenly, I felt the scent of death.
“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.