Like Crabs in a Basket, Part One

Mya Yee Nandar from Burma studying at the University of Hawaii at Hilo shares a full length feature article she wrote herself. She provides an insight of her country’s history, from her brother’s death, to her thoughts on how her country can move forward. This is part one of her article.

Introduction

Crabs are running hurriedly to and fro in order to escape from the basket which is sitting in the market. Facing eventual certain death, their cries and yells for help are filled with horror in this hopelessly repressed situation. One strong Crab starts to climb by hooking his paws into the woven bamboo. The rest of them start to mimic what he did. Once the first one reaches the lid of the bamboo basket, those following pull his legs in order to deny him his freedom. This jealousy, insecurity, inequality, oppressiveness, powerlessness, and denial of freedom are the basic patterns of our daily life.

Visiting my brother

It was a very hot summer. I felt that it was hotter than ever. The heat was burning my left cheek and the sun was overpowering. I could feel the blistering rays of the sun making the hairs on my legs stand up. I couldn’t help wondering if there would be any hair left. My grandmother and I were struggling to walk in the sun, struggling under the weight of the heavy baskets of clothes and food. This precious burden was for my brother, whom we knew was anxiously waiting for it.

“We are nearly there, my girl” my grandmother said. “We can have something to eat while we are waiting in the queue.” As we approached the building, the first shade I could find was under the entrance. It was painted with white lime.

My grandmother immediately walked in to the front office to register us as visitors. She was given a plastic token in return.

Burma is bordered by China, Thailand, India, Laos, and Bangladesh.
Burma is bordered by China, Thailand, India, Laos, and Bangladesh.

“We’re lucky, there are only eight people in front of us.” she said. “Let’s eat quickly.” She had brought a cup of sweet tea and a bowl of rice. She mixed them in a bowl and we shoveled sweet tea rice one spoon after another just to have enough sugar in our brain. After that, we carried our load and placed it underneath the tamarind tree. She sorted out the items for my brother, his friends and the prison guard.

Around fifteen minutes later, a man wearing a dark green uniform shouted out my brother’s name and my father’s immediately after. So we quickly ran through the entrance to the office. As usual they searched us thoroughly. These body checks were always very demeaning with the guards not having any manners at all.

Granny Mi hated this moment, but we had to pretend to be friendly and generous. She gave a bunch of cheroots to the guard, the price that we had to pay to make sure we could take the warm meal we had prepared to my brother. My mother had cooked day and night to make sure we had enough food for him to last until the next month before we could visit him again.

The horrible memory of the prison will be with me for the rest of my life. The first time I visited my brother I still remember how dark it seemed. The prisoners were all herded into a meeting hall. I was immediately struck by the smells, sights and the loud noise of the iron chains.

The prisoners, including my brother, stood on one side and the visitors the other. An ugly wall of rusty iron bars divided us. There was no way we could slip anything extra to them; we couldn’t even touch each other.

I was saddened by what I saw. My brother was dressed in white prison clothes, hardly able to walk because of the iron shackles around his feet. The entire scene broke my heart. I did my best to smile. Although I was crying inside, I put on the broadest smile I could. He looked very young to me – too young to be in prison. He was only sixteen years old the first time he was arrested. Now this was his second time in prison. This time he was serving two years: his only crime, to want democracy.

Read Nandar's previous article where she explains how she decided to study in the U.S.
Read Nandar’s previous article where she explains how she decided to study in the U.S. Click the photo.

Gran showed my brother the warm potato curry and rice that we had cooked for him, and then handed it to the guard who would give it to him for lunch after we had left. We also gave the guard the rations and medicines we had brought with us which were to last until we could visit again in a month’s time. This included sweaters for when he gets cold at night and cheroots to use to bribe for other things he might need. Once we even brought a cane ball, Chinlone, a kind of traditional game, so that during exercise time he could play it with his friends – other political prisoners.

During the 1988 crisis when students challenged the dictatorship, my brother became involved in the pro-democracy movement as a student leader. From then until nine years ago, he was jailed seven times and served several years inside. He was very strong-willed. I have heard lots of stories about him from his friends, most of them showing how very courageous he was. My brother would constantly discuss the importance of freedom and human rights. More importantly, he acted upon his beliefs.

Brave and fearless, he was completely committed to his chosen mission. My only brother died in December 2004. He died in hospital from a brain hemorrhage, the result of constant beatings in prison. Ironically it was called the Peoples’ Hospital – but in reality it was a dingy, dark, and desperate place, an indication of the value the government placed on the people. At least he is now at peace.

Burma: Civil War, Child Soldiers, Slavery, Human Trafficking

The first six decades

Over the past six decades, Burma, also known as Myanmar, has seen the worst: civil war, child soldiers, slavery, human trafficking, and the lack of even the most basic freedoms including freedom of speech. Burma is situated almost in the middle of Asia; in fact 40% of all the people in the world live in the countries which share our borders. That is almost 3 billion people. Burma has a rich culture which dates back at least 2,500 years. We are also rich in natural resources such as rubies, jade, sapphires, gold, teakwood, oil and gas. Unfortunately, we’re not so rich where it counts for most people – wealth and income. These unstable 60 years have left Burma near the bottom of the world in education and health care.

1988 Uprising

In response to the 1988 uprising which resulted in the death of thousands of students, the brutal dictatorship was replaced by brutal military rule. Thousands more people were arrested, abused or killed; countless families were torn apart. The little freedom of speech gained in ’88 completely disappeared. A pall of doom blanketed the country. The military used any means at its disposal to brain wash the population into believing that they were the saviors of the nation. The worst part was that we were becoming a nation divided. Anyone who capitulated or cooperated with the military were praised and cheerfully rewarded. The Military and Chinese immigrants, at least those who were willing to do the military’s bidding, became the first class citizens in Burma.

The moral lessons that we had studied in school were proving to be pointless in this new repressive society. There was no such thing as a fair judgment; no rule of law; no ethics.

2008 ConflictFree all Political Prisoners copy

In 2008, while the top military brass and their families were strolling on the red carpet and making merit by gilding temples with gold and making offerings with blood stained money, over 140,000 people were killed by the destruction wrought by Cyclone Nargis. It is likely that many of these people could have been saved, but the military denied that the cyclone had done any significant damage and arrested anyone who tried to come to the aid of the victims. When emergency international aid supplies were waiting on the Burmese border, I remember the spokesperson for the military junta saying, “We have enough frogs for people to eat. We don’t need your fancy chocolate.” The military Junta rejected aid from all over the world and let the people starve and die .They believed that once outsiders come in, they would witness the deteriorated economic situation and oppressiveness and leak the news to the world, thus humiliating them as leaders and threatening their power. The U.S. Navy positioned a huge hospital ship off the coast but it was never allowed to treat anyone. Because of this cold-hearted negligence, the survivors from the actual storm eventually died due to malnutrition, dysentery and malaria.

Come back tomorrow to continue reading Nandar’s view of her country and the effects the past conflicts has had on Burmese society.

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