International Campaign for Freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Still Waiting For Zaw

Every day everyone's waiting for “one day”.
................................................................................................................................................
1997
Yu was waiting for “one day”.
It had been nearly a decade. Since Zaw left home in 1990 Yu had been waiting. She was waiting to be with him again - at least to meet him without an iron mesh or bar and concrete block between. She believed one day she would meet him concretely in the open air, not untouchably at the murky, muggy, interview room in Insein prison.
Zaw had been sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment in 1990, and another 12 years' imprisonment in 1996 for his steadfast commitment in democracy. Yu agreed that what Zaw had done for his people was right. She never missed an opportunity to meet him fortnightly at Insein prison. Only fifteen minutes every two week was nowhere near enough for them to talk through all the issues - their three children, their parents, the financial and social affairs of their own family and friends. So Yu always felt dissatisfied after meeting him. She was forever waiting for one day when she could meet and talk him for never-ending hours and hours.
Yu realized Zaw wouldn't be released early before finishing his full prison term. So she only hoped she could meet him one time without any hurdles in between: no warden, no iron bars, no concrete blocks. She wanted to grip Zaw's warm and welcoming hands, grasp Zaw's broad and trusty shoulders, and to glimpse every bit of Zaw's puny, and increasingly flabby body to spot the traces of torture. That was her ever-lasting and never-fulfilling wish.
Yu was waiting for that one day when she could be in touch with Zaw.
................................................................................................................................................

Zaw too was waiting for “one day”.
It seemed like more than a hundred years ago, since he'd been detained in Mandalay and sent to the infamous Insein prison after a month at interrogation center. A hundred years spent waiting to meet Yu. Twenty four hours normally lasts for twenty four hours, but for him, twenty-four equated ninety six. One earsplitting strike of the main jail gong every fifteen minutes, throughout twenty-four hours, expanded the length of his dreadful day.
In solitary confinement Zaw imagined himself in Yu's womb. The womb was lit with a forty-watt bulb and with the warmth of things Yu had sent - two blankets, two towels, food and clothes. Starlight fell over every city, every country and all people. But a brick wall blocked his only window, which was reinforced by a double layer of wood stakes and iron bars. Barbed wire garlanded the wall like a giant’s crown. Zaw had two pots - one for drinking water and one for washing water - and two bowls, a small one to use as a plate at mealtimes and as a cup at bath-time and a big one to use as a toilet.
Zaw wanted to grip Yu's gentle yet supporting hands, to grasp her slim and loyal arms, and to glimpse her frail and increasingly flabby body, to examine her for signs of sickness. Zaw already knew Yu's spiritual health was above average. But he wondered about her lonely struggle for their family. Zaw wanted to show his adoration to Yu concretely. That was his ever-enduring and never-fulfilling wish.
Zaw was waiting for one day when he could be in touch with Yu.
.................................................................................................................................................
One day in late 1997 there was an announcement about the changes of the title and of some of the members of the State Law and Order Restoration Council, or SLORC. Regime change brought the State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC, and a reshuffle of almost all but the powerful three men. This provoked a lot of wishful thinking. Perhaps a general amnesty for all political prisoners, or a general reduction of prison terms for both criminals and political prisoners.
Together Yu and Zaw separately thought the long awaited “one day” might be coming soon.
..............................................................................................................................................
One day soon after the SPDC took power, Yu heard that instead of a general amnesty, the political prisoners would be transferred from Insein to other distant prisons. Yu was ever the optimist. Zaw might be transferred to Mandalay prison and she would no longer have travel nearly 400 miles every two weeks to meet him. She waited to hear about his transfer information from the network of families of political prisoners.
Zaw had also heard about the potential transfer of political prisoners to prisons in Upper Burma. He wished he could be transferred to Mandalay prison. He tried to send a message about the transfer to Yu, and waited to hear whether he would be transferred closer to Yu.
.................................................................................................................................................
“Zaw and other political prisoners will arrive at Mandalay station tomorrow morning on their way to the far north of Burma." The smuggled information reached Yu late one evening. “Be positive" she reassured herself. Though she would have to travel to meet Zaw in another prison, she could still dream of the chance to meet Zaw concretely in the open air. She was sure Zaw would look for her at the station the next morning. She was still hoping that “one day” might have come.
Yu couldn't wait for next morning to arrive. That night was the longest night in her entire life. She didn't sleep a wink, but her sheets were wrinkled. She left the light on so she would see the clock easily. She was waiting for tomorrow.
................................................................................................................................................
“Yu might be waiting for me at Mandalay station tomorrow if she got the news.” Zaw definitely knew what Yu would do. Though he wasn't sure about his potential destination, he knew the train would stop at Mandalay station for a while and they might be transferred to another coach to continue the journey. So he could meet Yu at the station. Zaw was still hoping for his “one day” dream.
The night, packed together with 75 people on the rickety wooden floor of a decrepit coach, was like nothing he had experienced before in his entire life. The train drifted exhaustedly forward into deep darkness of the night. The coach was also dark and no one could see either the surroundings or each other. Zaw's plump thigh was flat under his friend's heavy chest, and a student's skinny ankle was just under Zaw's unbending head. The smell of urine made all of them shut their mouth. Zaw was waiting for dawn. He was waiting for tomorrow.
................................................................................................................................................
Yu choose Platform 3 to wait on since a local train never entered the two main platforms. She had brought a packet of biscuits, fruits and bottles of juice. She tried to relax on the bench, but with a beating heart.
“Zaw! I'll be forever with you wherever you are. People all over the world will also be with you all, all the political activists who've made their sacrifices. Don't worry about me and our family. I will take care of them well. Just try to stay healthy. Be strong.” A stream of words and phrases blocked her throat. She did not talk to her other friends or family members of other political prisoners. An Express train arrived at Platform 1 and waves of commuters flooded the whole station within minutes. Yu sighed and gazed beyond the scene. That is not Zaw's train, she was sure.
Yu was still waiting.
................................................................................................................................................
Soon after sunrise Zaw chose the left side of the coach to see Platform 3 where Yu would wait for him, as they knew the station was arranged. Zaw was thirsty because they used all three water pots in the coach, both for drinking and for washing. He hoped Yu had brought some food and drink, although he wouldn't mind if she had brought nothing, providing he could meet her.
“Yu! I'll be always with you wherever I am. We all also proudly recognize the other kind of sacrifice you and the rest of the families have already made. Don't worry about me. I am still going strong. Just take care of yourself and our children. Be strong.” Zaw practiced his words in a whisper. He sat silent between the others, gazing out at golden sunshine and green fields which he hadn't seen for nearly a decade. He listened attentively to the entry siren of the train.
Zaw was still waiting.
................................................................................................................................................
The long-awaited train had just arrived. Yu forgot all her companions and the family members of other political prisoners. Her eyes scanned the hundred windows of the 12 to13 coaches - ordinary class and upper class. She passed over white, yellow, black, familiar, strange, smiling, ignoring, anxious and other expressive faces. Where was Zaw? Her eyes welled up with tears.
There was a coach like a mail carriage. Iron mesh and bars covered the only two windows. These windows were also occupied by a bunch of different heads. There was not enough light inside the coach for someone outside looking in to see clearly. Where was Zaw? Yu blinked to clear tears to clearly see her Zaw.
Her throat was filled with her pounding heart. Her call echoed in her chest. Yu wished Zaw could see and call her since she couldn't produce a sound from her mouth. She was still missing Zaw. And she was still waiting for a call from Zaw.
................................................................................................................................................
The train had just arrived at Platform 3. Zaw and his friends were suddenly confronted by crowds of their family members. Their unadapted eyes couldn't spot even the most familiar faces in the open air. Their noses were pressed flat against the iron mesh and their heads were crushed against each other at the two windows on the platform side. Zaw's head was stick among the others. He squinted to see more clearly. But waving hands and shaking heads stopped him from identifying whose faces and hands were whose. Where was Yu?
Zaw eventually found Yu standing still to his far right. She was seemed to be unable to bear this scene and briefly loosing consciousness. Zaw thought he should give her some time for regain her balance. Zaw could still wait for a few seconds.
................................................................................................................................................
Yu came round again. She her hands over her eyes and looked for Zaw's face.
There he was. His broad shoulders - now hunched up to get more space at the window. His ever-smiling face though it was stained with a mysterious mood.
Yu smiled sweetly at him when she knew he was staring at her. “Zaw! I'm here.” But that was only a soundless echo in her chest.
“Keep out of here! Just stay still on the platform! If not, we'll drag out. They will come down on to the track and go to another coach over there. Don't get closer than you already are!”
The familiar noise from an experienced warden cut across their echoes. Yu was held back by her friends nearby. The warder's hand slapped the air in front of Yu.
Yu realized she would have to wait again.
................................................................................................................................................
Zaw's hands were trapped under other's waists. “Please . . .” He tried to raise his hands. He couldn't.
He tried to smile brilliantly behind the iron mesh. He felt pain, but did not know how, or why, perhaps because they were all trying to stand in front of the window. “Yu! I'm here.” But his call disappeared under the other sparkling shrill voices.
“Get out of here! Just stand one behind another. And then you queue on the track in front of the coach over there. Don't say anything!”
The familiar commands of an experienced warden cut across their echoes. All of them tried to line up one after the other. The grating sound of the iron shackles connected to their waists sounded like a horn to get them to keep silent.
Zaw prepared again to wait for more minutes.
................................................................................................................................................
Frail living toys in filthy white prison uniforms crept one after another on to the track in the open air. Zaw was indistinguishable among them. Each carried a bulky bag on his back, a bed roll in one hand, a food carrier in the other and a pair of iron chains on both feet. They all tried to wave, show thumbs up, say something. But they were carrying too much staff and the guarding wardens herded them, warned them off. That was how Zaw looked in the open air.
Yu was suddenly struck paralyzed, blind, deaf and dumb.
Zaw was gradually worn-out, bandy-legged, bent-headed, and hump-backed.
“Where are they sending you?”
A bright and conscious voice woke up the whole platform. Other questions echoed. Everyone became anxious to get this information. Zaw and friends didn't even know where they were going, they were walking senselessly, pausing for a while until the warders warned them with a blast of whistle.
“Myitkyina” a warden answered curtly.
Myitkyina is the capital of Kachin state, 250 miles from Mandalay. The road from Mandalay is terrible and the railway is also unreliable, sometimes taking 72 hours by train. Planes only fly twice a week and cost the skies for ordinary people.
Yu measured the distance between her and Zaw. It might be about 30 feet. A little closer. If they would let her, she could help Zaw by carrying his bag and carrier, she could grasp Zaw's hands, and hug him - no matter what the others thought. But . . . . . for now, Yu just gripped firmly the plastic bag of food and drink for Zaw.
Zaw was still confused as to whether he should stand back from the line, drop every thing on the track, and open both his arms to greet Yu who would definitely run to his chest in seconds, no matter what the wardens would do to him later for that.
“Hey…look. That's a lot of prisoners. Perhaps drug addicts or murderers. Let's keep away from this platform.”
A thoughtless remark pierced Yu's eardrums. “No, my husband is a medical doctor and a member of parliament. They all are political prisoners and they sacrificed their freedom and dignity for the benefit of all Myanmar citizens, including you,” she said in her head and heart. But she couldn't say those words out loud. Yu was almost paralyzed, blind and dumb.
Zaw suddenly stopped. He had switched his hands to carry things more easily. He concentrated on both Yu and the carrying. Zaw thought Yu seemed perplexed to see these embarrassing scenes.
Yu eventually realized what she should do.
“Here! I would like to give this - food and drink - for my husband Zaw.”
“Oh, wait a minute. Yes, Ok, I'll give your parcel to him.”
He quickly took the parcel from Yu and asked “Who's your husband?”
“Over there with the yellow bag on his back. Look, he just stopped and looked at us now. Do you see him?”
“Uh, oh yes, I see.”
“Please tell him I miss him and to take care . . . .” Before Yu finished her sentence the warden left.
Zaw thought Yu had asked the guard for something and was pointing to him. So he stopped for a while, pretending to fix the iron foot chain to move easier.
“Here you are. That's from your wife. She misses you she said.”
“Please tell her about our destination is Myitkyina.”
“She already knows.”
The warden left to arrange the seating plan on their new coach. Zaw noticed they were close to the new coach. He might lose his last chance to see Yu concretely in the open air. He wanted to do something for Yu. He dropped everything he was carrying on to the track and started to wave both hands simultaneously. The rest of his friends followed his example. “Silence! Shut up! Just keep walking, pick your things back up.” But they didn't care, or even hear.
Yu determined to wave both her hands too. Was this all she could do? She was now meeting him in theopen air. She had hoped she might do something for Zaw apart from giving him food and drink.
In the mean time Zaw picked his things up again and offered a goodbye smile with strong self-confident eyes to Yu. Then he crawled up into another coach like into a lair. Yu's eyes full of longing were glued to his back. She looked for a guard nearby.
“Please help me. And tell him I will come and see him at Myitkyina prison soon.”
“You won't be allowed to meet him at Myitkyina prison until the end of this month, I think. But don't worry. He has enough food and other things. As you can see, their bags are bulky.”
“Until end of this month?” Yu repeated, doubting.
“Yes. Why not? It's usual for transferred prisoners to be kept without any interview with anyone for at least two weeks. You must wait a while,” the warder just explained, normally.
Of course, it had become normal to hear that word, “waiting” since Zaw was arrested.
................................................................................................................................................
2004
Yu is still waiting in Mandalay.
Zaw is still waiting in Myitkyina.
Every day everyone is still waiting in prison, and at home.
This story based on the true story of my father and mother. It was written by famous writer Ma Thida (san chaung).You can also read the original version of this story in the following website.
www.uiowa.edu/~iwp/WRIT/documents/MaThidapost-ready.doc -

Free Dr.Zaw Myint Maung

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As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi proclaimed,

As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi proclaimed,
"Justice is a dream. But it is a dream we are determined to realize."