Cherry

ယခုဆောင်းပါးကို မြန်မာဘာသာဖြင့် ဖတ်ရှုရန် ဤနေရာတွင် နှိပ်ပါ

Cite as: 
The Memoir of Cherry. (2022). Independent Journal of Burmese Scholarship, 1. https://ijbs.online/?page_id=3548

You can call me Cherry. I’m 29 years old, from Taunggyi originally, and married to a corporal who left the navy and joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). We first met back in 2008 in Pyinmana. My future husband was keen on me and started paying attention to me. I was only sixteen years old. We started spending time together for about a week before my parents noticed and beat me. We eloped, married and that was that. Now we have four kids together, aged thirteen, eight, five and three.

My husband’s father was in the military. He did not have a good experience. He actually left the army himself. He told my husband, “You don’t know about military life. I know about it. Don’t join the army”. But my husband thought differently when he encountered a recruiting team after we were married… It looked like he was going to go through and become an infantry soldier. My father-in-law and I both panicked and I begged the recruiters not to put my husband in the army. One of the recruiters put me in contact with a navy clerk, who I paid a lot of money to, and he made sure my husband went into the navy instead of the army.

My man had a few different roles but was working with computers before he left and joined the CDM. First he was assigned to Rakhine State, where I had my first three children, and then to Mawlamyine Township, where I had my last. In total, I have lived inside military compounds for thirteen years; nearly all the time I have been married and almost half of my life. It can be tough on the inside for dependents like me; you can’t follow your dreams, you can only do some private business, like sewing. There are a lot of military demands, like ‘volunteer’ work, shooting lessons, physical and security training. These only increased after the military coup, with kids as young as thirteen being forced to learn. I once said that if I wanted to undertake military training, I would have joined the army myself. Action was taken against me for that.

Although the military is close-knit, people do not always help you. When I had my first child, I had to undergo surgery during the birth. It was expensive and cost more than my husband’s yearly salary. We couldn’t afford it, so the staff made my newborn and I stay in the hospital for a week after the birth. They barred me from leaving. Our battalion commander at that time knew about the problem but only chastised us, telling my husband and I that we should have saved up more money. Save up over a year’s salary? Really?

I only got out in the end because another patient in the hospital had a miscarriage and kindly decided to pay our bill. Their misfortune benefited us.

Life could be very busy in the compound, especially when there was an important person visiting. The extra, unpaid work I had to do included digging soil, cooking, that kind of thing. I had to do a lot more of it after my husband got in trouble in 2015. He was struggling in the navy and decided to go away without leave. He went and worked on private boats for a whole year. At the time my friends and I reached out to him and convinced him to come back. We told him it would not be good for us and for his children, that they would be looked down upon. In the end he came back. There was no formal punishment applied to him, but informally we were both assigned extra unpaid work. Sometimes we couldn’t take care of our children because we were both busy with the extra work.

In the 2020 elections I wanted to vote for the National League for Democracy (NLD), but my husband convinced me to vote for the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). He said, “The USDP will lose anyway”. We were forced to rehearse voting in the compound for literally weeks. We were told by our superiors that we should vote USDP and definitely not NLD or other parties, all of which were substituted with fruits. Watermelon was NLD, oranges were USDP, bananas were the Karen party, etc.

“Don’t vote for watermelons or we will punish you,” they said.

Of course, Aung San Suu Kyi won, and I was very happy. Then the coup happened. I could not believe it.

“How is this even possible when the NLD won such a landslide?” I asked my husband. He just said, “They can do it”. I thought, this is over. It will be like 1988. But my mouth formed the words, “They can’t do it again”.

Well, the military still hasn’t transferred power back to the people, more than a year later. Some of the people in our battalion were happy about the coup. They said the military should be in control for a thousand years. I argued with them.

We were lucky in one sense, in that the battalion commander and other high-ranking people at the base in Mawlamyine at the time of the coup liked us. In February, soon after the coup, my husband was sent to Yangon. I said to him, “Fine, go to Yangon. But don’t do anything wrong”. He had to wear a bulletproof vest while he was there. He rang me and said, “Darling, I feel awful. People are spitting on us when they see our uniform. We are outcasts. The military should not shoot at protesters only holding signboards, but they are. I have to get out of here”. At one point he was nearby when the military detonated a bomb. The situation was bad but I was scared. I objected to any rash moves. I remembered when my husband left the military the first time and that action’s consequences.

“Remember we have four kids,” I told him, “don’t do anything stupid”. At that time quite a few soldiers were defecting. It was big news. “I am going to go,” my husband told me. I told him to wait again. “We don’t have any connections,” I implored him. He stayed inside, but was deployed to Myeik briefly, and saw three protesters killed there. He cried and then I cried when he returned and told me about it.

Life was miserable then. My husband and I quarreled often and he was put under watch. He rarely ate, saying the food was the tears of the public. Then one day he left on patrol and disappeared. After a week he called me and told me he “had to go and do something”. I was like, “OK…”—I mean I had no idea. The staff in the military compound were questioning me more and more, but my husband told me nothing, so I could tell them nothing. I didn’t know if he had really left the navy or not. Finally, after a month, colleagues confirmed to me that he had joined the CDM, based on inside information they heard from Nay Pyi Taw. I was relieved. But even then, it took a while for him to get in contact with me. Only then was I like, “phew”.

When my husband disappeared from our compound, a bunch of others did too. Five other women and one man left. People in the compound speculated that my husband had eloped with one of these women. It suited me just fine! I told them, “If he left me, I will just go to my home,” and thought it would be good cover for escaping. There was a period of time when Nay Pyi Taw knew he had joined CDM, and I knew, but the people in the military compound did not know—but it didn’t last forever. Once they found out, I talked to a lance corporal I was close to.

“If he really joined the CDM, you should follow him. Never come back to Myanmar proper until there is peace,” he instructed me. He arranged for my departure from the compound, but there was resistance from one officer in particular. He tried to stop me from leaving. The lance corporal had to intervene personally. He asked the officer, “Will you take responsibility for the living and education of this woman and her four children?” To which the officer replied, “I will not get such a headache for these useless people”. The lance corporal said, “You have to let them go then. They are in trouble. Let them go or demote me”.

Getting out physically was hardly a smooth process. They refused to let my children and I leave by car. One officer sent us off, then another, then we were put on a boat under supervision of five sailors and soldiers. Another woman was coming with me; her husband had also fled the navy. She told me, “Now I am outside, if I do the three-finger salute, these men might kill me”. There was a storm while we were at sea. I said to one of the soldiers escorting us that if we fell overboard and had to ask for help from civilians, they might not come to our aid, so unpopular had the military become. Now I look back and think I could have been shot for such a comment.

We reached Yangon, I went to a friend’s house, then on to my husband’s sister’s house in Pyay Town. We worked online to set up all the connections, I gathered my children, and we set off for the liberated areas out of control of the military. There were so many checkpoints, but I lied constantly, and we arrived without too much trouble. I just kept telling my kids that we could eat rice when we reached their father. I plied them with snacks when they complained. I’m much happier now we are free from the army. If we were still there, our children would be cloistered away from society, looked down upon and discriminated against. I try to stay positive and look forward to a better future.