Marriage & being a mother

After I left school I married Gabriel. I met my husband in the village.  He arrived from Burma after me and we went to the same school. My husband lived in another village called Huai Seau Tao, so after the wedding I moved to my husband’s village to live with his parents.  There were four people in our new family.

About one month after my wedding my parents started to build their new house in my old village and my father-in-law wanted to help them to build the new house. In the morning he went with someone to go to my old village, but on the way some police took him to the police station and then put him in prison for 12 days. He also had to paid some money to the police to allow him to come back home. This is because we are refugees and we do not have any Thai papers so we are not allowed to go out of our village. I felt very sad during that time because I'm the new one in the family and I couldn't do anything to help him.

One year later my daughter was born. I was so happy to be her mother. I gave her a Thai name, but her grandmother gave her a Kayan traditional name, Mu Thun . So now we are five people in my family. My daughter has started to go to nursery school now.


Surviving through tourism

I used to be a shopkeeper and also weave scarves, bags and clothes. I had a small shop and sold souvenirs to tourists in the village.  There is only me able to earn a little money for my family.
Many tourists asked why they must pay to come in our village.  Even my friends have to pay to come to see me. We do not want people to pay, but it is not us who make people pay.  There are three places in Mae Hong Son which tourists can visit to see Kayan ‘long-neck’ people. In the rainy season there are very few tourists so we cannot earn money.  We have to go to the jungle to get bamboo shoots to eat. It is difficult for the men because the tourists aren’t interested in them and they cannot earn money for their families.  That is why I want my daughter and I to be educated. I like to be Kayan, but some time I don’t like very low education, no freedom, no experience, bad situation, and no unity. I would like to continue my education but how, because I have to earn money for my family and I don’t know where I can study?

For this reason we welcomed tourists.  We like to speak with them and explain about our life.  I didn’t get angry even when tourists called me a ‘long neck’ or treated me badly. In our old village we were not allowed to tell them the truth about anything. They just wanted us to smile always.

I was still friendly to the tourists. They help us to earn a little money to improve our community.  This way we feel more proud to help ourselves.

Hope for a better future

I want all the people in my village to study and get more chance. If one day my education is good I will help my village to teach others anything as able as I can. I hope that all will go well in my future.

Taking the rings off!

Then my life changed. In September 2006 I took my rings off!  At first I felt very light and very tired. It felt like I had forgotten something! My neck ached and was very uncomfortable, but it got better soon.

When I took them off I thought I would put them back on in a few months because I still love my tradition, but now I'm not sure. If I put the rings back on I will have no opportunities to improve my life or travel anywhere. I also like that people do not stare at me when I am on the street or at the market. I can also drive the motorbike now. My husband is also very happy because now people do not stare and he wants me to have more freedom. The rings are like a prison sometimes.

I took them off because the Thai woman who controlled my old village did not want me to study and work. She wanted me to stay all the time in the village with the tourists. She said she would not give me any money even if I still wear the rings. She said she will also take my shop away. She said she will not pay the money for my food. After I took the rings off she said I must not talk to any foreigners. She does not want them to know we can take the rings off.  She told everyone we have to keep them on all our lives, but that is not true. About ten girls have taken them of because they want to study in the refugee camp.

I don’t want to be shown to tourists any more.  Someone made a postcard of me feeding my baby.  They sell this postcard everywhere. I feel ashamed but I cannot do anything to stop this.  Now I took the rings off because I don’t want to be treated like this any more.  I want respect.  I don’t want people to stare at me as if I am strange any more.  I love my tradition, but our tradition is not about tourists.  Our tradition is to live in our villages growing our own food and being left alone to lead a free life.

“The young people understand me. They do not want to spend their lives posing for photographs, but the old people are frightened. They think we will starve if we take off the rings. If we don’t wear the rings we don’t get any money and we cannot find other jobs in the town”.  We have to get special permission and a work permit and this is difficult and expensive and there aren’t many jobs we can do.  Sometimes NGOs will let us work for them if we have a Green Card but some people do not have any ID cards, only refugee registration documents.

We Move to Huay Pu Keng

I do not know what will happen in the future because the local authorities wanted us to move to a new place near the Burmese border. At first everyone was very sad because they didn’t want to go anywhere. We knew it would be hard work to build a new house, kitchen and toilets. However the Thai authorities then said that we did not have to go, but if we went we would have a chance to develop and improve our life. They also said that if we didn’t like it then after a few months we could move into the refugee camp.  The Governor wrote to us and promised us many things, including a school, a road, and a bridge across the river, but our life is very difficult.

There is very little water and firewood in the new place and it is very far away so not many tourists come because you can only get there by boat.  We do not have a road so we have to pay to cross the river and the tourists won’t walk to our village because it is too far, so we cannot sell things from our shops.  We do not receive any salary.  We can grow some vegetables, but there is no space to grow rice, so we have to ask NGOs and other donors to give us rice every month  We are also worried because the hospital is very far away and we have a clinic, but it does not have enough medicine.

My daughter used to go to a Thai kindergarten and I want her to learn Thai, but in the new Huay Pu Keng village we don’t have any Thai teachers so she cries and does not want to go there. There is only one good thing about moving to the new place; we have no money but we are freer. No one controls us any more.  Even though it is difficult we do not want to return to our old life; we want to improve our situation.

I like living in Mae Hong Son. Now I have been here for many years I feel like it is my country. Now I want to build a better future for all the Kayan people.