1. 2.
I was sitting on the sofa one Sunday morning when the phone rang. I didn’t want to get up. I just wanted to do nothing. I finally grabbed the phone, and it was Ko Kyaw Shwe, a friend also lives in Pittsburgh.“I’ve been so busy with my work and personal problems, that this is the first chance I’ve had to call,” he said.
His voice was indeed tired. I asked him whether he was sick; “Unhappy,” he said. “I had sent a video camera to Burma with a trustworthy person. My younger brother took the camera and shot video at a relative’s ahlu (a ceremony to collect offerings for monks). He was arrested because he didn’t have license to take video. Now he is in detention center!”
Oh my God! I thought. In Burma people even don’t have the freedom to take video at a relative’s ahlu? “Is the situation really that bad, Ko Kyaw Shwe?” My voice shook.
“I must tell you, it’s worse than that,” he voice was trembling, too. “My village in upper Burma has 70 or 80 houses. We typically plant bean and sesame, and after the harvest, we have ahlu. My small village used to busy the whole year. But now, the village is a ghost town. The farms have been seized; land owners are landless. My other younger brother is included in those who have had their land confiscated.
“As you know up-country is so hot you can’t farm after 10 a.m. People get up early and go to farm as early as 3 or 4 a.m. Before the sun becomes a torch at 9 or 10 a.m., the farmers come back home. At about 5 in the evening, when the heat relents, they go back and farm for another four or five hours, then call it a day…That’s how our lives have been forever.
“But these days, army units have been posted at villages. The Union Solidarity and Development Association’s Swan Arrshins (who are backed by the military government) harrass the villagers. Now, women who go to the fields early or come home late are raped. Rebellious men who respond back are reported or waylaid. The villagers don’t dare go to the fields. The village has become as a cemetery.”
I murmured “Oh God!” throughout the whole phone conversation. What was happening in Burma? People used to help others, and make friends so easily. The villages used to reverberate with the rhymes of saing (Burmese orchestra) and drums. Burmese used to say that blood is thicker than water, but now they are bullying each other, filing complaints against each other, becoming informants and sending their fellow villagers to jail.
Most Burmese are poor and uneducated. They don’t realize that the government is playing “divide and conquer.” In this situation, people are oppressed by government-created loathing and suspicion. If people are fighting among one another, they have no time to consider the issues facing the nation as a whole.
The inability to associate freely prevents people from looking at the real situation and agreeing on a response. People are adrift in a sea of trouble.
As I learn more about what’s happening in Burma, I yearn to change life for the people there, and end my pleasant, lazy Sundays here in Pittsburgh.

Translated by San San Tin
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One Saturday morning while I am walking around my new Pittsburgh neighborhood, I buy a human-sized mirror for a dollar at a yard sale. My sons buy toys and a dinosaur—only 50 cents for each!
Walking in the streets where colorful flowers are blooming, wandering in the park where there’s a playground, going to the yard sale where I can buy quality goods at low prices, I always think it be very great if my relatives and friends were with me now. Whenever I arrive at a pleasant and joyful place, I see my friends from Burma in my mind’s eye and I am overwhelmed by yearning. My happiness becomes incomplete.
Before I go to bed, I check my e-mail and end up spending the whole night at the computer. Nighttime in the United States is daytime in Burma, isn’t it? While chatting with a friend from Sanchaung (a middle class township in Rangoon division), she informs me that her mother-in-law has passed away.
“What happened?” I ask, and then my heart aches as she tells me the story.
After a rainstorm in Rangoon, the waters flooded for hours. Nobody maintains the drainage system, so the water can find no way out. The roads become ponds. Beneath the ponds are sidewalks that were built in British colonial period over 100 years ago. Some are broken, some are cracked, some have holes.
My friend’s mother-in-law was coming back from the market early that morning. The rain was neither light nor heavy. She stepped on the broken sidewalk and just disappeared. Three days later, her body was found blocking the mouth of a canal where it flowed into the Rangoon River. I can’t stop thinking about how many have died in such tragedies.
Another friend e-mails “Hello.” He is working at an NGO and frequently takes trips to countryside. He is younger than me, so he starts his e-mail with the traditional address to an older woman: “Ahma,” he writes, “I can’t stand it anymore.”
“What’s the matter?” I ask.
He doesn’t beat around the bush: “People are starving in the villages.”
I have to wait for his reply; he is typing for a good while. At last his reply shows up, long and painful. “The weather is chaotic; the prices of seeds, fertilizer, and cultivation are all expensive. At the same time that farmers are facing these difficulties, the regime seizes their land so that they become landless farmers. If someone complains about the situation, he is arrested. So people suffer painfully in silence. People don’t have enough food and they are being suppressed. They are angry; they are living in hell.”
Just reading his words, so full of evil pain, I wonder if he is writing in tears. I am suffering, too, since I don’t know how to console him.
On Saturday I get a chance to talk with my mother through gTalk. I ask about her neighbor.
“She doesn’t live here anymore,” my mother replies. “She is going back to her village.”
I am surprised and worried. Her neighbor often suffers heart problems and has to be rushed to the clinic or a hospital. There are no clinics, no hospitals and no medical doctors in the village. If she has a heart problem, what will she do?
I share my worries, but my mother says, “Even if she stays in Rangoon, she doesn’t have money for medical expenses. If she gets ill and is hospitalized, the hospital can provide only the bed, she has to buy everything else. Since she can’t afford to go to a clinic or hospital, living in a village is less expensive. She says she’ll just sit and wait for the day of death.”
I have no words to say. I can only feel sad. What can I do?
Then I think about my friend informing me about death of her mother-in-law, and how many have died because of lack of money for medical treatment.
And I think about how many have been waiting for the day they have to die.

Translated by San San Tin 


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                                 Photo by Wathan 
Neighbors Bearing Bushes

While living in my village in Burma, I enjoyed offering our home-grown flowers to our house shrine and eating the peas and gourds we grew for dinner.  Near our village, the fields were full of rice, sunflowers, chilies and peanuts. We caught our fish in Maletto Creek. Farming and fishing were the staples of our village life.
After I got married, my husband and I moved about five times from one place to another. Because of our financial state of affairs, we weren’t able to afford a place with extra space to garden.
It wasn’t until 2007 that we managed to buy a little house, which, fortunately, came with a small patch of land about 14 by 5 feet in front. I began to grow so many plants—some in pots and some in the ground—I could barely turn around in my tiny garden.
Now I live in a row house in America. It’s owned by the City of Asylum/Pittsbugh. The house has a spacious backyard, including a small, concrete basketball court and a lawn about twenty square feet. Behind the basketball court is a patch of land.
Spring has arrived in the city and the stores are full of seed packages, potted plants and flowers. Eyeing that patch of land behind the basketball court, my old disease of gardening has reoccurred.
“You can start a garden in the backyard if you want, you know,” said Henry Reese, founder of City of Asylum/Pittsburgh. He’s our neighbor next door as well.
“Is that right? I would love to, I am very fond of gardening,” I said.
“We will help you with it,” Henry replied with a supportive smile.
The next day, the bell rang and it was Henry at the door, holding a small potted rose bush. “This is from my neighbor,” he said. “She wants to give it to you because you are interested in gardening,”
A sudden rush of happiness came to me from the loveliness of the roses and the warmth of my neighbors.

The Trouble with Weeds

I had been gazing at my new American backyard, longing to be able to garden as I used to in Burma. My neighbor, Henry, brought me a rose bush that another neighbor gave me because she heard I was interested in gardening. Henry runs City of Asylum/Pittsburgh, the organization where I am now the writer-in-residence.

About three or four days later, Henry appeared bringing two people and some equipment. “I brought these two gentlemen to clean up the backyard so that you can start a garden,” Henry explained.
The two removed the bushes and shrubs and repaired the fence bordering the property. When this was done, they tilled the ground to ready it for planting.
In the first week of April 2009, Henry sent me an e-mail saying that Jana, one of my neighbors across the street, wanted to visit me to discuss gardening. On April 16, Jana arrived with her gardening tools.
There were still some bushes left in the backyard and weeds had already started to grow in the tilled areas. Jana said, “The first thing we need to do before planting is to remove the weeds.” As she was talking, she began to pull some plants out, explaining that some of the bushes are wild flowers and some are just pure nuisance.
“This is the worst one,” she said, pointing to a creeper. “Its roots are white and long. The roots move into other plants’ roots and destroy them.  They consume the nutrients of the soil. We need to basically get rid of them.”
The weeds she was pointing to looked like our Kazunywet, a hollow-stemmed water spinach that grows wild anywhere there is water. It is a good vegetable for the poor to live on.
But this weed’s stems were not hollow. Jana poked the trowel deep into the ground and pulled out its lengthy white root. “If some parts of the roots are left, it will quickly grow back,” she said.
Pointing to some other plants, she said, “I am not going to pull those. They are wild flowers and soon they are going to blossom.”
On that day, we planted seeds to grow lettuce, turnips and green peas. Jana then said that in ten days or so, they would start to sprout.
I watered the area where the seeds were on rainless days. I put stones and sticks around for markings to make sure my two sons would not accidently step on them. Then, I had to go to New York for a week. I called my sons every day to make sure they watered the garden.
Upon my arrival back home in Pittsburgh, I put away my luggage, ate, and then rushed to the backyard to see my little plants. I was so thrilled to see these little green things in the ground.
To my shock, the little green things were those terrible creeping weeds! I had thoroughly cleared those weeds before I went to New York. Without resting from my trip I picked up the three-pronged garden fork and began to dig hard to get rid of the white roots.
It had only taken a week, I thought, for the second generation of weeds to surface.

A Change of Seasons

My very first trip to America was in 2007 to participate in the International Writing Program held at the University of Iowa.  Here I am, again, in America for the second time. I arrived the second week of March 2009 as a writer in residency at City of Asylum/ Pittsburgh. On this trip, I was allowed to bring my family with me, including my artist husband and two sons.
The plane ride from Rangoon to Pittsburgh, with layovers at various airports, took almost forty hours. When we left Burma, the March heat was in full might. When we eventually reached the Pittsburgh airport, the lingering winter suddenly drilled in our veins. We, the children of a hot land, trembled from the unfathomable cold. My two sons suffered severe allergic reactions causing them to bleed from their noses and through their mouths.
About two weeks later, the cold noticeably waned and everything—including my sons—began to act better, feel better and look better. The beauty of spring warmly welcomed us with an amiable display. The naked branches of the trees started to bear fledging leaves. Other trees were exclusively covered with tiny buds. About ten days later, the buds blossomed, choking the trees with beautiful flowers.

Spring in Pittsburgh—it was an unforeseen wonder to my eyes.

                                                                          Photo by Wathan                           
The Root of Everlasting Happiness

As the Pittsburgh spring finally arrived, I began to see some stores displaying packages of vegetable seeds and bags of soil and fertilizers. Sometimes, on the sidewalks, I saw shops selling colorful and strikingly beautiful flowers.
Perhaps because I was brought up in Maletto, a small village in Burma’s delta region, I have a great interest in gardening. In front of our long-legged house, there is a mango and a coconut tree that my mother planted.
During one rainy season, as I was bathing in the Maletto Creek which flows behind our house, a small plant floated by. I took it home, padded it with some coconut husk and tied it with a Thinoo rope to the trunk of our coconut tree. It rained almost every day, and my orphan scion grew quite well. At the beginning of summer, three or four stalks with buds appeared. I was so happy to see them.
One morning, I woke up and opened the front door to see the coconut tree. I clapped my hands and cried out “Dear God!” There they were: Four stalks of ruby red orchids in bloom.
Suddenly a motto I learned when I was a child came to mind, “Grow trees for everlasting happiness.”

Destroying to Protect Creation

About ten days later after battling the weeds in my garden, I began to see the little reddish sprouts of lettuce. The green peas were perhaps shy at the beginning; just one or two came out.
Since I had never seen a turnip plant, it was difficult to know which sprouts were turnips and which ones were weeds. Then again, I saw places where the seeds I had laid were germinating. What a pleasant mood they put me in!
Since it rained every two or three days, I did not have to give special care to the garden. However, my daily task was to fervently dig out the ever-growing, useless creepers with my three-pronged fork. They are fast to grow, and fast to destroy other plants. Some must have fallen as I carried the uprooted ones to the garbage, because the next day I found the roots were already clinging to the surface of the ground.
Every day, I wrestled with these pests. The weeds were not only ready to rise from death, they were also difficult kill. My neighbors and passersby must have been thinking, “This woman, stooping on her knees every day, is doing serious gardening!” They did not know I was pulling out plants, not planting them.
My saga turned into jubilation as I saw the little plants finally grow larger and larger each day. It improved my outlook as I realized that cultivating goodness includes protecting the process of growth. My weeding efforts were essential to the welfare of my garden.
The wild flowers that Jana did not pull out are now in full blossom with beautiful purple flowers. The lettuce is now about an inch high. The turnips and the green peas are growing well.  And the lone beet grown from one we bought at the supermarket, is now fluttering with leaves.
In the evening when my sons come home from school, we go to the garden.  The two of them connect the long hose to the faucet to water the plants. I, holding the three-pronged trowel, am ready for the search and destroy mission. As much as I will enjoy the bounties that are to come from my garden, I am at present enjoying the role of the terminator of the wicked weeds.

Translated by Aung Aung Taik
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                               Illustrated by Than Htay Maung

  She washed out her brush and regarded her painting critically: definitely a lot of blues. Bluegray monsoon clouds over the rippling waters of a river; on the far bank, dark green mountain ranges; a blur of red sky just at the top right edge. That last ray of fading sun fell on the lone boatman rowing against the current, the muscles of his arms standing out in relief in the light. A gloomy and dark painting overall, but she had wanted exactly that. It might storm, it might rain, and one might have to row against the current, but then, all one needs is the strength to row.

She went to wash her hands at the sink, running her wet fingers through her hair, retying the handkerchief fastened around her hair.
"Aren't you done yet?"
The night watchman called from the door. In the silence of the late evening his voice boomed out. She gave a tired but contented smile.
"Yes, I'm just about done, I'll be out in a minute."
"Its past nine, already. I thought you didn't notice the time; the others have all locked up and gone, you're the only one left," he said.
She took up her things, gave a glance at her painting, and went out of the door, smiling 0at the old man.
"Good night!"
As soon as she was out of the building, the icy breeze refreshed her in an instant.
She breathed deeply. In the darkness she could see the lighted golden stupa of the Shwedagon Pagoda.

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(ပန္းခ်ီ - သန္းေဌးေမာင္)
ေဖေဖာ္၀ါရီ ၂၇၊ ၂၀၁၀

အသက္ေလးဆယ္အရြယ္ ငယ္သူငယ္ခ်င္းနဲ႕
အြန္လိုင္းေပၚမွာခ်က္(chat) ျဖစ္ေတာ့
ေပ်ာက္ဆုံးခဲ့ရတာဟ" တဲ့
သူငယ္ခ်င္းမက ျဗဳန္းစားၾကီးေျပာတယ္။

ဒါဆို ဆယ္ေက်ာ္သက္လြန္ဘဝေတြကေရာ ဆိုေတာ့
"အဟက္- အဟက္-အဟက္"
ျမန္မာအသံထြက္ကို အဂၤလိပ္လို ႐ိုက္ျပျပီးမွ
ဒါေပမဲ့- လုပ္စရာလဲနည္းနည္းေတာ့ ရွိပါတယ္တဲ့။

မ်က္ေတာင္ကို မာစာကရာနဲ႕ေကာ့
မိတ္ကပ္ပါးပါး လိမ္း၊ ႏႈတ္ခမ္းနီရဲရဲဆိုး
မ်က္လံုးတခ်က္စင္း ၾကည့္လိုက္ရုံနဲ႕
(သူတို႔ရဲ့) လက္ငင္းအေျခအေနကို အကဲခပ္ႏိုင္ေအာင္
ေလ့က်င့္ရတာကေတာ့ သိပ္မလြယ္။

သူ႕ေလာက္ေတာ့ ငါ မဝေသးဘူးထင္ပါရဲ့
ငါ့ထက္ သူက ပိုေခ်ာင္လည္ပုံရတာေတာ့အမွန္ပဲ
သူ႕လည္တိုင္က ပုလဲ အေရာင္လဲမညီပါလား
ရာျဖတ္တာဝန္ကိုထမ္းေဆာင္ရတာက အလုပ္တခု။

ရပ္ကြက္ခ်င္းကပ္ရက္က အသိနဲ႕တိုးျပန္ေတာ့
ဒီေန႕- အဲဒီဖက္ မီးလာရက္ ေနာ္
အမေလး … မေအာ္ပါနဲ႔ မယ္မင္းၾကီးမရယ္
မီးလာခ်ိန္ကို ေျခာက္နာရီေက်ာ္သြားလို႕
အခု မီးပ်က္ရမဲ့အခ်ိန္ ျပန္ေရာက္သြားျပီဟဲ့ … တဲ့
လ်ပ္စစ္မီးကိုစာဖြဲ႕ရတဲ့ အဲဒီအခ်ိန္မ်ိဳးမွာလည္း
ေမတၱာပို႔ တပုဒ္ေလာက္ေတာ့ ရြတ္ျဖစ္တာပဲေလ။

ညေန ႏွစ္နာရီေက်ာ္ေက်ာ္ ဆိုရင္ေတာ့
ဧည့္ခန္းက တယ္လီဖုန္းစင္ဆီ အေရာက္သြားရသတဲ့
အိမ္မက္အတြက္က ဟိုဖက္ဒိုင္ …
နမိတ္ေကာက္လို႔ရတာက အလယ္ဒိုင္ …
ဘုန္းၾကီးဂဏန္းက ဒီဖက္ဒိုင္ …
အိမ္ေရွ႕အုန္းပင္ေပၚကို အမဲေရာင္ငွက္ လာနားတဲ့အတြက္က …

ဟာ- လိုင္းက်သြားျပန္ျပီ …
သူ႕ဒိုင္ေတြနံမည္ေတာင္ မစုံေသး
ဂ်ီေမးစာရင္းက မီးေလး နီလိုက္ စိမ္းလိုက္ ေပ်ာက္သြားလိုက္

ဆယ္မိနစ္ေလာက္ၾကာေတာ့ ျပန္လင္းလာ
မနက္ဖန္ခါ လကုန္ရက္
FEC နဲ႕လစာထြက္တဲ့စက္ရုံေတြဆီသြား
ျမန္မာေငြသားနဲ႕လဲရတာ အကိုက္သားဟ
အိုး …  စာသားေတာင္ မဆုံးေသး

က်မက ျမန္မာျပည္ထဲကသူငယ္ခ်င္းနဲ႔
မီးေလးကလဲ နီလိုက္ စိမ္းလိုက္ ေပ်ာက္သြားလိုက္နဲ႔ၾကားထဲ
သူလဲမကၽြမ္းက်င္တဲ့ အဂၤလိပ္စာကို
ဘာသာျပန္စဥ္းစားရတဲ့ က်မကလဲ မေတာက္တေခါက္ဆိုေတာ့
သူဆိုလိုခ်င္တာေတြ လြဲခ်င္ လြဲမွာပဲ။

ဒါေပမဲ့ …
ဆယ္ေက်ာ္သက္ဘဝ ေပ်ာက္ဆုံးခဲ့ရတာ …
ေပ်ာက္ဆုံးေနဆဲ …
အိမ္မက္ …
ဘုန္းၾကီး …
အံုးပင္ေပၚကအမဲေရာင္ငွက္ …
အစိမ္းေရာင္အရြက္နဲ႔ ျမန္မာေငြသား …
ဘာသာျပန္မမွားဘူး ထင္တာပါပဲ။                   ။

(Feb 24, 2010)
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(ပန္းခ်ီ - သန္းေဌးေမာင္)

မုန္တိုင္းလဲ မစဲႏိုင္ေသးတာ။

ခရီးႏွင္ေနေသာစိတ္က မိုင္ေပါင္းမ်ားစြာ
ျဂိဳဟ္ကဘာ ေနရာအႏွံ႕
ေက်နပ္လိုမႈ ျခင္းအေပါက္ထဲစုထည့္
ဗလာမ်ားစြာကိုသာ သယ္ေဆာင္လာခဲ့မွန္းသိတယ္။

ခရီးဆက္ရမွ ေနေပ်ာ္မွာ
 သြားေလရာ ျမင္ေလရာ
ဆာေလာင္ေသာအာ႐ုံနဲ ့႐ွာေဖြ
ထိုက္တန္ေသာ ေနထိုင္႐ွင္သန္ျခင္းတစ္ခုခု
မစြန္ ့လႊတ္ခ်င္ဖြယ္ တြယ္မက္မႈ တစ္ခုခု
 ျငင္းဆိုမရေသာတန္ဖိုး တစ္ခုခု။    

 ဒီတစ္ညလည္း ...
ေက်နပ္ဖြယ္ မိနစ္တခ်ိဳ  ့ဖန္တီးလို
ေဝဖန္ေဆြးေႏြးၾကလိမ္ ့ဦးမည္  


ဂ်န္နဝါရီ ၁၂ ၊၂ဝ၁ဝ
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