Myanmar Diary

Myanmar Diary: Eleven Months of Sleeping Under Strange Roofs

By Naing Moe 28 January 2022

Editor’s noteTo give readers a fuller sense of life under Myanmar’s military regime, in this series we present the firsthand experiences of someone enduring these harsh Burmese days.

The new year has brought me a new hideout. Initially at least, my only new year’s wish was that it might keep me as safe as its predecessors did.

It is my fourth hideout in nearly 11 months. I doubt this life will change as long as the military regime led by Min Aung Hlaing maintains its grip on power. These two things—my personal safety and the existence of Min Aung Hlaing as leader—are directly related. If he and his regime were to vanish for whatever reason, I would be free to walk out of my “den.”

But that’s true not only for me, of course. The connection exists for every citizen of Myanmar. If MAH were gone—dead or alive—the country would return to normal. If the killings he has been committing over the past 11 months, since shortly after his coup d’état on Feb. 1, 2021, were brought to an end, citizens could feel safe again, and those who have gone into hiding or left for exile would be safe to return home. (Note: I will use “MAH” for Min Aung Hlaing; most Myanmar people refer to him using his Burmese initials, pronounced “Ma-Ah-La.” Unfortunately for the coup leader, these initials also stand for “motherf…” in Burmese. No wonder people have so heartily embraced this shorthand!) 

I soon thought of another new year’s wish, however. It would be to see MAH vanish from this land. No, he should disappear from this Earth, as he is an evil presence who brings nothing good, not only for this country, but also for the world. That’s a perfect new year’s wish that goes beyond the desires of one individual and is made on behalf of everyone. It’s a wish I certainly share with all of my fellow countrymen, from northern Kachin to southern Tanintharyi, and from eastern Kayah to western Chin.

At the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, I should have sent this wish to all my friends: “May 2022 be the year that MAH vanishes for all of us, and for our motherland Myanmar!”

I will never forget the day I left my home out of fear for my safety. It was March 8, 2021, 36 days after MAH staged his coup. Cruel killings, arbitrary arrests, brutal crackdowns and manhunts for anti-coup protesters and regime critics by his troops across the country were already forcing many to go into hiding or to make plans to flee the country.

I no longer felt safe either, given my activities—things not looked on kindly by the regime. Friends and family members urged me not to stay at home.

While I was having lunch at home on that day, a message from one of my friends popped up on my phone: “Do you need a safe house?”

“Yes,” I replied.

We chose an inconspicuous meeting point. He advised me not to go straight there, to make sure no one was following me. He was worried my house was already being watched.

At around 4 p.m., we met at the designated place. I slipped into his car with my backpack, which contained only a notebook and some clothing. He asked me to lie down on the back seat. It took about 15 minutes to reach our destination. My friend even cautioned me to sneak into the house from the garage so as not to be spotted from neighboring houses.

For our safety, he listed a number of dos and don’ts, then helped me cover the windows of the bedroom I would be sleeping in with blankets so that no light could be seen from outside.

Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t fall asleep on my first night in the hideout. I tried not to think about how many more sleepless nights I would endure in the coming days, months or years.

Whenever I needed to go out, my friend checked the neighboring houses first so that I could slip into the car unnoticed.

Under the roof of that hideout, every conversation was political; we spoke of nothing but the political situation and how it might develop, whether negatively or positively. Each day brought nothing but bad news—more killings and arrests by MAH’s troops. Our anger and emotions boiled under that roof.

On March 24 I moved to my second hideout. Life grew even more unstable and unpredictable. It was unwise to stay in any one place for long. The atmosphere was one of constant uncertainty

The owner of my second hideout showed me where I should conceal myself in his compound, should the authorities ever come to check. He suggested climbing into an attic or clambering up onto the roof from an attic window. A big pile of leaves behind the house presented another possibility; he said I could throw myself deep into it and cover myself with the dry foliage.

I wasn’t sure if I could really manage either of his ideas, if push came to shove. Luckily, I never had to put that plan into action. It wasn’t until I moved to a third hideout just over one month later that I experienced a close call.

One afternoon in early June,  there was a big explosion nearby. I immediately knew it must have been a bomb blast. I ran to the verandah to observe the scene outside. I heard another explosion and saw smoke billowing from a location down the road.

I ran back into my room and got down, my head almost on the floor. As I did I noticed shards of glass on the carpet; soon I found a small hole in my apartment’s window. Caused by a piece of shrapnel, the hole was head-high and right where I had been standing while looking down earlier.

The windowpane after being hit by shrapnel. / Supplied

If I had not moved, I could have been killed. I was lucky. I again checked out the scene down on the street. Soldiers and police had blocked the road and were shouting at drivers to turn their cars around. They continued to scour the area where the explosions occurred for hours.

Now, almost a year after the coup, I’ve grown accustomed to hearing bomb blasts from my hideouts, or in my bed at night. Sleepless nights are nothing strange anymore—though, having said that, I have developed the ability to fall asleep in strange beds to the sound of bomb blasts and gunfire in the distance.

I suppose that means I’ve become used to such things. But these are things no one should ever grow accustomed to. Nights now are never the same as they were before the February coup.

To date, I’ve spent more than 300 nights in temporary beds in various hideouts, away from my home. For the time being, it seems, I must call these makeshift quarters home.

What I have no way of knowing is how many more nights I will have to try to sleep on these beds…

With that, I wish you good night!

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