Powerful Voices of Witness: Fighting for Freedom from Burma's Brutal Military
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The following is an excerpt from Nowhere to Be Home: Narratives from Survivors of Burma's Military Regime compiled and edited by Maggie Lemere and Zoë West, published by McSweeney's.
BIRTHPLACE: Kutkai Township, Burma
INTERVIEWED IN: Mae Sot, Thailand
Byin Pu met us in a tall wooden house that a half dozen American NGO workers rent on the Thailand-Burma border. The interpreter for our interview picked her upon the back of his motorbike and brought her to meet us, as a spinal injury prevents Byin Pu from being able to drive. As a child, Byin Pu dreamed of one day becoming a school teacher, but instead of pursuing her education, she quit attending school and went to China to work when she was just fifteen. In China, Byin Pu met a difficult set of circumstances, including exploitation and an attempted assault, and found herself fighting for her freedom. After a serious injury incurred during one harrowing incident, Byin Pu came to the Thailand-Burma border for medical care.
I Felt Like She Was My Child
When I was fifteen, I decided that I really wanted to help my family and support my younger brother to go to school. I had worked as a house servant in Kutkai for two months, but I only earned 5,000 kyats each month. My friends told me that I could go to China and work as a housemaid -- I could take care of a baby and do housework and earn 30,000 kyats in one month. Then my elder brother Naw told me that his wife's aunt in Shweli, China needed someone to help with her children. In December of 2002, I left Kutkai and went to China. Naw accompanied me. The journey from Kutkai to Shweli is about 100 miles. First we took a bus from Kutkai to Muse, passing the 105-mile checkpoint gate. Since we didn't have ID cards, we took a ten-minute boat ride from Muse to cross the river into Shweli. After we reached Shweli, it took us over an hour to walk to the house.
By this time, I had already used all my money to travel.
The house owner's name was Awng Li and his wife's name was Seng Nu, and they were Kachin. In the beginning, they said that my only job was to take care of their six-month-old baby girl, Lu Mai, and their son, Brang Aung. But there were guests coming all the time, so I had to prepare the guest room; I would sleep on the chairs in the dining room.
We would usually all eat together in the house, but most of the time the baby was crying while everyone was eating breakfast or lunch, so I had to take care of her. When I came back from caring for the baby and looked at the table, there was usually very little food remaining.
The baby's parents were never home. The father was always traveling for business, and the mother also spent all her time traveling or playing dominoes. That made me angry.
Whenever the baby slept during the day, I had to clean the whole house, wash all the clothes, and do all of the cooking. I had no chance to rest. Whenever she cried during the night, I had to get up and prepare more formula. Sometimes I would collapse from exhaustion.
My whole body smelled like the baby and I felt like it was really my child. At the time I was so young and I didn't have a boyfriend, but I felt like I was a mother.