Reflecting On The Past & The Future: An Incomplete Joy

by Brian Honigman    /  November 1, 2009  / No comments

Khet Mar

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.”

“Really?”
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.

Click here to read Khet Mar’s bio.

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