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Voices from the underground – Part 3

Guest contributor

Waso

When I crossed the Moei River and stepped into Thailand, a soldier aimed a gun at my sister and me. But I knew that they wouldn’t kill us. If we were in Myanmar and it was a Burma Army soldier or pro-regime militia, I am sure they wouldn’t have let us go. My sister told me we had to persevere, even if we were arrested and jailed on either side of the Thai-Myanmar border. 

I am Waso, a primary school teacher. I gave up my teaching position and joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) in 2021 after the military staged its coup and overthrew our elected government. The entire scenario crossing the border into Thailand reminded me of the time I tried to get my passport at the Myanmar Immigration Office in Yangon. 

Officers took me into the investigation room. They had my national identification card with them. I was asked many questions and told to return to work politely then threatened if I did not do so. They told me that I would have my passport only if I went back to work. Once I got home, I shivered with fear back. I was worried that the officers would share this information with the police, then I would be arrested, tortured, or even killed.

This is the reason I crossed into Thailand illegally without any passport. I knew that the Thai soldiers wouldn’t kill me. When I was arrested and taken to a police station in Mae Sot, my mind was racing. I thought back to three years ago, when my dream was to get a scholarship and study abroad. I never thought my first time abroad since the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2021 military coup, was going to be as an undocumented Myanmar national entering Thailand. 

I joined Federal FM after receiving a removal letter from my school. I was unemployed, so I wanted to fight back against the military in a non-violent way. I always wanted to be a writer. At first, I volunteered like everyone else, and then I became a radio producer. I now write and produce two radio programs and short audio essays for Federal FM.

While in Myanmar, I kept two mobile phones. I left my main one at home while the other one I took with me when I went outside. This was so I could hand it over to soldiers at military checkpoints, where they demand to see people’s phones. All this was a charade I played pretending not to be involved in the resistance to military rule.

I also worked for the National Unity Government (NUG) online school. But when one of my colleagues from Federal FM was arrested, I had to leave home and go underground. My sister and I had to stay at safe houses, which offer respite from the soldiers searching homes for anyone standing against a return to military rule. Once arrested, they most certainly are tortured, and sometimes killed.

I did return home to see my family before I fled Myanmar to Thailand. That night I couldn’t sleep. My life after the military coup became very insecure. I could be arrested at any time. I didn’t want to put my family at-risk. I couldn’t do any work. Members from Federal FM helped my sister and I to reach the Thai-Myanmar border. We were extremely lucky to have crossed safely into Thailand and thankful that we were released from custody with assistance from friends in Mae Sot.

I am now happy to say that I’m safe in Thailand. I was promoted to associate editor at Federal FM. I love writing and producing radio programs. I am planning to create more in the future. I’ve started writing Public Service Announcements (PSAs) on how to avoid airstrikes and landmines. But I do miss my former life and career as a primary teacher in Myanmar. 

Thailand’s political situation is not very stable, but it’s far more developed than my country. Of course, I love my country as my family is there. I still have problems sleeping at night. But now I compare my life with those fallen heroes who sacrificed their lives to protect us from the military. I feel guilty because I survived. So, now I will do my best to fight them so that one day I can return home with my sister and reunite our family. All I’ve ever wanted was to live a peaceful life in my country.

Waso is a pseudonym used by a teacher and broadcaster working at Federal FM, a pirate-turned-community radio station broadcasting online and in Karenni State.

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