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Online Essay


(By Cham Toik)

When I think of her, I first remember a soft and sweet voice trying to wake me up.  Her daily routine began at 7 a.m. in the morning, the same time as BBS (Burma Broadcasting Service) started their morning radio program.  Being the only son of a successful businessman in the community, I was a spoilt and lazy boy in primary school in Mon State of southern Burma .  On those mornings, I normally closed my eyes and turned my face down on the pillow to avoid the sunlight almost for an hour, until 8 o’clock.  From my comfortable bed in the newly built wooden house, I constantly heard her voice, “Oh my baby, let’s wake up.  It’s time to get up,” like a Kaowao songbird singing in the early spring of our rainforest.  She patiently tiptoed back to my bedroom and encouraged me with her gentle voice to get up almost every day.  Despite being a busy housewife and taking care of all external and internal family matters, she was my perpetual alarm clock.

She attuned herself to my small sorrows too. I remember, I was named “Mr. Radio” by our neighbor, Nai Ein, because when my father traveled for trading and could not come home on the lonely monsoon nights, I constantly cried like Thachin Gyi (a long classical Burmese song); then, she always comforted me.

Everybody in our community acknowledged that she was a hard- working woman.  With the energy of an automaton, she woke up early in the morning, cleaned our house and store, put every thing in order and cooked breakfast and lunch for all of us.  While waiting for customers, she never let the time pass idly, but did something else; for instance, cutting betel nuts or organizing other things for our family and the grocery store. And when she was not inside the house, we always saw her working in the garden, watering the plants or feeding the pets. 

In high school, when I returned home to Mon State from Mandalay in central Burma during the summer holidays, I began to investigate the perceptions of my mother, for I occasionally heard people say, “You are your mother”.  Then I asked my relatives about her.  Every body told me that they rarely saw her get angry.  I repeatedly heard that she was open-minded and spoke frankly, although softly.  All the neighbours saw her as a hard-working, gentle lady with a positive attitude.  She never had arguments with others, but presented herself with a smile.  Even now, I fully agree with them because I actually have never, in my whole life, heard her shout or yell, or use bad words to me or anyone else. The only way one can realize that she is angry is that her usually placid face turns red.

Being raised as a typical Mon national in Ye, southern Burma , the first thing I learned from her was discipline and respect. All these years, I have remembered what she told us each night about our ancestors and Lord Buddha.  At our bedtime, she imparted to us the manner in which we should behave in society and adjust to any environment, before we even started formal education at the primary school.  She was our private tutor, who taught us the value of good citizenship and a tradition to respect parents, teachers and elders.   

I still remember the night when some robbers intruded into our house.  A gang of armed men banged their guns and slammed the door, announcing their entry like unexpected night shoppers in our unguarded store.  Like a rat that heedlessly runs from a cat at random, our father jumped out of the house, leaving me and my younger sister behind.  But our mother, the captain of a hundred armies, firmly remained strong for us and talked to the robbers, asking them not to endanger our lives.  The gang only took the money from our business and left us safe on that cold winter night. 

When our father left us; my sisters and I were raised by a strong, committed single woman – our mother.  Incredibly, she never blamed others, but always supported us with a good income, keeping our family abreast of others.  Apart from managing all the business, she normally changed our clothes, combed our hair and gave us a shower almost every day.  Our neighbors said she was always ready to help others in need and eager to keep our surroundings clean.  She was Visakha, the lady in the legend who always showed generosity and never hesitated to donate (give Dhana) to the poor, the temples and other social agencies, as she enjoyed tirelessly volunteering in the village’s various community development programs.

In my travels away from her, I have encountered many difficulties and struggles.  While a dissident student leader, a guerrilla (freedom fighter) of the New Mon State Party in the jungle, an activist and a community leader, I easily learned how to face terrible dangers bravely, stay calm and solve the problem without emotion.  I often met coarse and rude people -people who tried to destroy my goals, who threatened my security and who abused my rights. Yet I could adjust to the circumstances, control myself, and react appropriately.  Some people say this is a priceless characteristic and spirit, which I have inherited from her.

While I studied at Rangoon University , I was black-listed for political activities, after publishing a newsletter that expressed our opinions.  The Military Intelligence Service (MIS) men were searching for me everywhere on the campus and in the city.  They arrested my friends and inhumanly tortured them.  Even when I sometimes met them face-to-face, I invariably escaped from these brutal spies by staying calm and pretending to be a different person.  People say that I inherited from my mother an ability to calm myself and to stay cool at the critical moment.  My mother never was frustrated nor ran away, but in a chaotic situation faced reality bravely… as a heroine.

Now we are thousands of miles apart; but the good traditions I reluctantly learned in my childhood have become a protocol for me to be a responsible human being.  I have gradually improved and enjoyed my life as the person I am, but I also realize that my present position could not have been achieved without the ideals I learned from my mother.  Like other mothers in this world, her important role is not well- recognized, but is instead frequently forgotten.   Just as it is true that without a mother, a general cannot be born, nor can a leader exist, I would not be myself without her.  She stands as a symbol of courage, passion and commitment, and deserves to be honored on this day and all others.

Dedicated to all women on this International Women’s Day, March 8, 2005.


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