By Su Yati*
I will start my story with how I became a civil servant before I share my thoughts on how I feel about the military coup in Myanmar.
My name is Su Yati, and I used to work as a senior clerk at Myanmar Railways Transportation Department. I had to work harder than everyone to get my promotion, so I am proud of my achievement. I worked as a senior clerk for the last 16 years before I join the Civil Disobedience Movement.
I have 24 years of service at Myanmar Railways, and I moved to two cities during my time there. I did not start my career as a clerk. My first job was working as an office cleaner at Myanmar Railways Ywar Htaung branch office. I had to go to the office early in the morning back then, and I had to do all the chores like dusting chairs and tables, mopping the floor, and cleaning drinking cups before everyone arrived. I would go back home to take a quick shower afterward, and I would be back at the office before 9:30 am to help the clerks with anything they needed.
It was not easy being an office cleaner. It was a physically, mentally demanding job, but I enjoyed it because of my coworkers. There were six of us who were in charge of cleaning the office, and we were the youngest ones at the office. Everyone treated us like their juniors, and our seniors were kind to us. They would usually treat us snacks on payday, and those were the good days.
Time flew by, and we got an opportunity for promotion after two years. Five of the other office cleaners joined before I did, and they already had at least two years of service by then. They were eligible to sit for an exam for a junior clerk position, and they were planning to take it together. I was a month shy of working there for two years, so I could not sit for the exam at that time. The exam was going to take place in Yangon, and it was inconvenient for them to travel there since they did not have any friends or relatives there. I decided to help them by asking my aunt in Yangon to host them while they were there. She was the wife of Major Ba Thaw, who wrote the novel “Battleship 103”.
The saying ‘what goes around comes around is true. I helped my coworkers out of the goodness of my heart, and someone offered to help me when I needed it the most. My coworkers made an appointment to meet an officer at Myanmar Railways headquarters in Yangon to confirm that they were taking the exam, and I went along with them. The officer asked me why I did not take the exam, so I explained that I was not eligible since I needed one more month to complete my two years of service. I did not know what he was thinking at that moment, but he brought another application form and asked me to fill it out. I gladly did so, and I submitted my application with my coworkers that day.
I finally got a chance to take the exam for the junior clerk position. My friends and I celebrated by visiting Thaketa Amusement Park afterward. We rode electric cars and roller coasters. We also visited Thanlyin Yay Lal Kyauk Tan Pagoda, which we had never been to before. We said goodbye to Yangon the very next day, and we went back home on a train.
The exam results came out soon after we got back from Yangon. One of my coworkers passed the exam and got the promotion right away. I also passed the exam, but I was put on a waitlist. Soon after, a position for a junior clerk opened up at Kalaw, Taungoo, and Yangon divisional offices. Anyone on the waitlist could apply for them, but no one wanted to move. I also did not like the idea of leaving my hometown, but I am a risktaker, and I wanted to give it a shot. I decided to talk to my family about the plan I had in mind, but they were hesitant to let me go. I am the youngest in my family, and they did not want me to live somewhere far away from them. My older brother finally suggested that my parents could go along with me if I made up my mind about transferring. He said, “We will be fine here. Our sister is more important. Please go along with her if she really wants to go.”
I informed the head office that I would be moving to Kalaw divisional office, and we started moving in December. I remembered telling myself that I could withstand the cold in Sagaing, and I should be fine in Kalaw. I packed all my belongings, and I left Sagaing for Kalaw with my parents and some friends on a train. We stayed for a night at Tharzi station for transit, and we caught an early morning train out of Tharzi and headed to Yat Sout the next day. It started to get very cold when we reached Hlaing Tat, and I had no idea it would be that cold. I am afraid of the cold, and, looking back, I could not believe that I spent five years in Kalaw.
I made five good friends in Kalaw, and I had a wonderful time there. Kalaw is a mountain town surrounded by pinewood trees, cherry trees, damson trees, dahlias, and fresh cornfields. The locals are also warm and friendly. The most memorable moment I had in Kalaw was going to Tazaungdaing Lantern Festival. Taunggyi has its own Tazaungdaing Lantern Festival, but I prefer the festival in Kalaw.
My mother never got used to the cold weather in Kalaw. It is a lovely place to live in, but winters can be unforgiving. I started to look for an opportunity to transfer, and I decided to take another exam to get a promotion. I passed the exam much to my surprise, and I got the promotion I wanted. While I was happy to receive the news about my promotion, it saddened me that I would be leaving my friends behind. I left Kalaw for the ancient city of Bagan soon afterward.
My friends helped me and my parents move out of our home, and they sent us off to the train station. It was a bittersweet day for all of us. We could not find a place right away in Bagan, so we had to stay with our friends for a while. It wasn’t long before my mother got sick. She could not stand the heat after traveling from somewhere cold. We went to the clinic, and the doctor noticed that my mother’s blood pressure kept dropping. The doctor diagnosed my mother with leukemia. She left us soon afterward. I lived in Bagan for five years, and I got an opportunity to transfer back to my hometown. My mother wanted all of us to move back home, but she was not with us anymore when we finally did. She would be happy to learn that we came home after all these years.
February 1st, 2021 arrived. The internet connection was down, and I knew something was not right. I did not expect the junta to arrest Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the President. What Min Aung Hlaing did was despicable, unbelievable, and to say that I was furious would be an understatement. I am not familiar with politics, so I tried to listen to what everyone said and what was going on in the news.
I stopped going to the office at that time. I joined the protests and regurgitated the protest chants until my throat hurt. We talked about joining the Civil Disobedience Movement and refusing to work for the administration appointed by the junta. We also decided to continue with our peaceful protests. I thought about the consequences I would face if I joined CDM. I could lose my job, I could be forced to move out of government housing, and I could be forced to pay back the long-term loans issued by the civilian government.
Soon after, a young girl from Nay Pyi Taw called Mya Thwae Thwae Khaing was shot and killed by the junta’s security forces. I am a mother too, so I understand how devastated her mother might have felt. The pain and sadness she felt are unimaginable, but the pain I felt is nothing trivial too. It will stay with me for a long time.
Another girl who was shot and killed by the security forces was called Kyal Sin. Just like me, she only had her father, and I cannot imagine what her father had to go through. It would be an understatement to say that he has my utmost sympathy. I kept thinking what if it was my son in her place, and I was terrified by the thought of it.
Mya Thwae Thwae Khaing and Kyal Sin sacrificed their lives for our country.
What happened to these girls made me question if I could help my country. I have an 87-year-old father, a widowed sister, an unmarried sister, a widowed brother, and two small children. I wonder what would happen to them if I joined CDM. I finally made up my mind, and I decided to go ahead and join CDM.
My father supported my decision, but little did I know that he had some doubts. I later learned that he was worried about what I would do for a living if I lost my job and we had to move out of the government housing. I am the breadwinner in my family, and my family relies on me. How are they going to survive if I do not pull myself together? I felt very sorry for my father, and I felt guilty for the choice I have made.
My father was haunted by these thoughts, and he was not happy anymore. He was already 87 years old, and he did not have a lot of time left. He was devastated when he got the news that I received a termination letter from work. He was burdened with a lot of stress after receiving the bad news, and he passed away suddenly on July 30th, 2021. I do not know how to express how I felt in words. I despise Min Aung Hlaing very much. I want to crush him until he is reduced to powder. My father did not want to die, and he could have lived longer. I used to pray that he lived for another 20 years, but my prayers were not answered.
I guess it is true that trouble always comes in threes. My brother was arrested shortly after I received my termination letter, and after my father passed away. My brother, who is a widow, was forcefully arrested by 15 soldiers with guns around 10 pm on August 3rd for allegedly contacting the local PDFs. He was also tortured when he got arrested, but he, fortunately, came back home after 15 days. I am also a CDM civil servant, and I was in constant fear of being arrested, but I decided not to move away immediately.
We had it better than other CDM civil servants because of the help we received from our senior officer. He did not participate in the CDM, but he did protect his juniors who joined CDM. It, however, did not last long. He got promoted and moved to Naypyitaw. We felt discouraged when he left us, but there was nothing we could do about it.
Now, another officer took over his position. I received a letter to move out of the government housing on February 19th. I did not want to associate with them, so I moved out without saying another word. I could not even describe the feeling I had at that time.
Nevertheless, we will continue to fight without giving up. This is my oath to all my brothers and sisters in the Spring Revolution.
*This story is first published at art4cdm Facebook page on this link here. art4cdm is an online community that provides a system of care and a safe space for civil servants from Myanmar who joined the Civil Disobedience Movement. Information about them can be found on their wordpress site here. They can also be found at Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.