Commentary: Longing for my home


(Mizzima) – On the 14th Waxing of Kasone, the moon looks down on our refugee camp and splashes its light upon us. The breeze blowing from Noe Boe Mountain just after the rain brings the scented smell of earth. I recollect Myoma Nyein’s ‘Let’s stay two of us alone under the moonlight’, thinking of the Maha Myaing forest and the reflection of moonlight in the Irrawaddy.

But there’s no chit-chat under the moonlight here. There’s no spacious ground for us to freely enjoy. There’s no one roaming after 9 o’clock in the night as a standing curfew is imposed. Everybody in the refugee camp has to stay in their huts. Some try to fall asleep, while some who cannot sleep try to interpret the lyrics of Myoma Nyein’s ‘Two of us alone’. In this way, the entire refugee camp is silent and quiet and eventually falls asleep as the full moon slowly rises.

Under such moonlight my son and I once slept on a riverboat on the Chindwin after visiting Kalemyo prison to meet my imprisoned husband. The waves on the river rocked the boat which lulled to sleep my son. Though my son fell asleep I could not sleep on that night because of worrying about my beloved husband languishing in jail and our future. I cried silently. The thought of being unable to look at the moon and my husband from the same roof deeply hurt me. The full moon of Tazaungmone (November) only worsened my pining and longing.

Small huts lined the banks of the Chindwin in the reed forest; the lanterns on fishing boats flickering in the dark. Zats (theatrical companies) were performing their dances and drama so the boatmen informed us that we would make a stopover to enjoy the festival. Passengers heartily welcomed the news. But the deeply wearied mother and son could not enjoy the Zats. I stayed to spend the night on the boat along with the old women.

In the monsoon season, travelling the Chindwin is perilous because of the notorious whirlpools. Boatmen run their engines slowly when they reach these whirlpools and passengers pray to gods and deities for their lives, feeding all the water creatures inhabiting the depths to insure safe passage. Though fearsome of swelling water in the rainy season, the river is lovely. A baritone Zat performer sang in a sad voice and his song reached our boat, carried by the autumn breeze. The song was ‘Letwei Thone Dara’.

In the wilderness even the sun’s rays can’t penetrate, live in sadness and depression
Tall trees, big trees and under all of these trees
Whoever enters this wilderness will be in fear and be thrilled
Misty and cloudy everywhere
I’m longing for my home and the palace.

The song made all of us on the boat cry. When dawn broke our motorboat departed the small village. Then the boatman sang ‘Letwei Thone Dara’ again. Amidst laughter, passengers told him the motor was not driven by diesel but by tears flowing from the passengers listening to his sweet and sad song.

But years later, when I reached the refugee camp, I realized that life is interwoven by what we want it to be, what we do not want it to be, what is impossible and what is not impossible.

In our new life all news is essential for us. We have to listen to the news on our situation, the opinions of donor countries and the political situation in our home country.

One news report said refugees in Thailand since 1983 have become a burden for donors around the world. So, after the 2010 general election all refugees will be sent back to their home country. As this news directly is concerned the fate and destiny of all refugees staying in the camp, the news quickly spread. After hearing this news, people had to consider if they should continue mending their homes. They said to each other, ‘Let me stay next door to you in Naypyitaw (the new capital built by the generals) when we are repatriated. Let us not part ways.’

Meanwhile, resettlement interviews are an examination of entire lives. Answers in these examinations and sudden changes of laws in third countries can put the resettlement process on hold without any prior notice. Some unlucky refugees are confronted with fingerprints matching those of criminals in third countries. Then they have to wait until all pending cases can be cleared if they are ever to be resettled.

I once said every time I receive refugee benefits I feel my dignity and self-esteem torn apart, given as a price for these benefits. I had to wait over a year to get food rations in this camp. I feel extremely sorry whenever my life is priced with a packet of rice and a liter of cooking oil. Though we are getting rice, oil and charcoal as food rations, we have to find meat and vegetables ourselves.
We cannot work outside the camp and there are few chances to work inside the camp. A young Pa-O lady remarked, “After some time living in this way, life becomes similar to a cow in the cow shed, which forgets how to work.” So our only way out is from asking for help from friends resettled in third countries. The whole camp is noisy with phone calls made to parents, relatives and friends sending their SOS messages.

The meat available in our refugee camp is frozen meat, while vegetables are scarce and expensive. Sometimes we long for eating freshwater fish and fruits. There are no seasonal fruits and vegetables here. We cannot know the season by seeing the seasonal flowers.

We used to live under the shade of our parents and relatives in our homes. Our country has priceless natural resources. Our countrymen have patriotism. Refugees are looking forward to the restoration of democracy in Burma and the release of all political prisoners including our democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. After toppling the military dictatorship we shall march together to our new country built on genuine democracy. And these are the aspirations of all people in our country, not only us refugees.
The most pining thing on our minds are the pagodas in our land. On auspicious occasions we visited these pagodas and performed meritorious deeds. But in this refugee life we have no pagodas, no gilded archways, no bells under the htis (umbrellas on top of pagodas) and no lion statues guarding over the entrances.

While we are living away from our traditions we awake to the report of gunfire at wee hours instead of sweet drumbeats and song. Everybody is scared. We have heard such gunfire many times in our country too, during the Rangoon University massacre, 8888 uprising and Saffron Revolution.

We have nowhere to flee to from this camp. We have to wait until the day breaks to enquire about the gunfire. We cannot beat gongs in this camp to alert friends and neighbors. We cannot call out for help from here.

Under the moonlit clear sky of Kasone I travel in my mind everywhere. Fist travelling on the Chindwin River and then walking in the Sagaing mountain range, visiting Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon and the Maha Myat Muni gilded Buddha in Mandalay. I am lying in the small hut built in this refugee camp in the deep forest surrounded by many mountains accessible only by crossing many mountains and river valleys. This is the Mae Zar of neither Letwei Thone Dara nor writer Dagon Tarya. This is my own Mae Zar.

Pining to my home town far away from here
Father of yours who pampered you
Now living in this remote land as punishment for the sins committed in my past life.

I again hear this song in my mind that once deeply moved my heart when travelling in a boat on the Chindwin River.
If I could, I would have returned to my county long before.

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