Ashes and Tears: The Interviews
Interview 7: Titus Mahkaw
Male, age 37.
From: Myitkyina, Kachin State.
Occupation: pastor and Bible college teacher.
Education: Bachelor of Divinity.
Religion: Fundamentalist Baptist.
Left Burma: October 2000.
Q: Why did you leave Burma?
A: Because there were some religious matters, some expressions. We cannot move on our own, we cannot freely express the good news. We cannot move as we like, not free even in religious affairs. We could not finish building the men's dorm. You cannot even build a toilet or restroom. The problem is, you cannot question anything, "what is the matter," you cannot raise the question.
Q: Were you able to celebrate holidays in 1998-1999.
A: That was not a problem, to celebrate Christmas or Easter.
Q: Could you have Bible study any time?
A: Bible study was OK, but we could not go out for further study, cannot go abroad. If you are a pastor, you cannot move for study. Because we preach the freedom. What the Bible says, we have to preach. But we are not free in Burma, and when we preach it is always about freedom, so it's against the law of the military.
Q: Do you see Biblical reminders of the experience in Burma?
A: I feel like the Israelite people, when they were the slaves under the Egyptians, they were always crying to God, "save us" and then God released them from their bondage, something we are facing like that. Because we have to cry always, "God help us with the situation happening here." We cannot move as we like, that means no freedom. Of course the Bible tells us that we are free, from the bondage of sins or anything, but we feel that we are not free in Burma.
Q: Did the government military people ever come to your church?
A: Sometimes there is a guard, when they are patrolling. They will hinder in the night time, after nine o'clock, they won't allow persons on the street. That means only in the daytime we can work within the village or the area. They will stop people and whatever they like, they will do that, at night. Anything except Buddhism, all the religions are restricted. Muslim or other religions [are restricted]. Most popular are the Baptists, in our place, so we cannot move as we like. Islam, they cannot move also. What they say is, "all the Burmese should be the Buddhists. If you are not Buddhist, you do not belong to Burma." The authorities, they say that, the military junta.
Q: Did the members of your church have to give money to the authorities?
A: Of course. To the church members who have some money, a little bit rich people, they used to demand, [the authorities] will mention some case like they are repairing the bridge or the road side, "so you put in some money." All the festivals, especially for the water festival and others, they would just go, maybe a group of people would collect the money. They use the word "donate." If you do not give it, you will be sent to work, like farming or something. They won't come, the military directly, they will appoint some persons to come and collect it. It's happening even now, and beforehand.
Q: Did the people in Myitkyina have to work for the army?
A: Especially for the porters, carrying all those when they're traveling. And to prepare their army posts. They force the people to dig, to bring the bamboo and wood. Compulsory, each house one person should come. That work should be done.
Q: Did you or your family have to do work for them?
A: Of course, always. All the people are working. Within this day or hour, you have to finish all the labor. You don't send the children, the adults should come, so you can finish. They don't care about who is not well or something. I myself faced that, when I was coming back from the Gospel tour, [walking from Chinese border] there's one military post, so when we arrived there, they just stopped us. Including me we were seven persons that day, in September 1998. The officer of the post, he said "you just go and get ten bamboo, each one. Don't ask 'where's a knife,' 'where's the bamboo,' 'how to get,' 'how to carry,' 'where's the bullock cart.' You don't ask anything. Just I need each one, ten bamboo, go and carry and bring it here, just that. Go." He said like this. It was on Sunday. I'm a pastor, so I didn't do anything. I just went and sat there under the orange tree, I had one or two oranges, while the six persons were cutting the bamboo. I also gave them the oranges. When we came back, all six persons carried the bamboo, because on Sunday I shouldn't do anything, especially for me, as I usually preach on Sunday. But the official didn't ask me anything.
Q: In Myitkyina, were there drug or alcohol problems?
A: Number 4 [heroin] narcotic, the white opium, that is popular in our place, they are using that one continuously. As long as my knowledge is concerned, all the military officers, the highest officials, they are the base of that opium, because they order people to do. Even, I was the pastor in Hpakant, jade area, the very restricted area, and the opium they just carried with trucks, big trucks. Plenty of those things. They will just sit one of the officials at the head of their cars, so no one can question it. As long as you are giving money, you can do whatever you like. There is no law in Burma. Only money. What the Burmese military want, they do. There is no law.
Q: When were you in Hpakant?
A: '88 to 2000. '94 to '96 I was in Myitkyina, then I was asked to be a pastor in Hpakant. Then they called me back to the Bible College. Then I was newly ordained, and then back to Hpakant.
Q: What was the situation of the workers at Hpakant?
A: In Hpakant, now everybody, meaning those who have the money, they own companies, so they will just apply to the government, they will give maybe 100,000 of money, so they will get permission. And another person will give 2 million, and they will again give permit. Within a year, the person who gives more money, they will just give permit. They are just raising money, so the most highest amount, again and again they will give like that. There are two kinds of laborers. Some, there's like a salary, per month maybe 10,000 or something. For others, when the jade comes, maybe one million, so the boss will get half and laborers, half. Maybe ten persons laboring there, so the boss will be the one, the boss will be there providing all the food and all the tools and things, when the jade is gotten, the boss will get half and then his labor camp, they will share.
Q: About how many people are working around the Hpakant mines?
A: I'm not sure. Many. A lot. They come from the whole of Burma. Several places. All kinds of people. Now especially even from China. The Chinese, even if they don't speak Burmese or Kachin, they will come in because they give the money when they pass through the [customs] gate.
Q: Has it changed since when you were first there?
A: Oh yeah, now it is changing. Up to '93, there was a lot of people, because people from outside cannot come in. And also there were not that much machines. But by this time, as a company, they will work with machines like a backhoe, and bulldozers, so many, many machines. And the [bosses] will come directly and they will take away, so all the labor will be not as much as before. Less people.
Q: Has the environment in that area changed since you started?
A: Yeah, because always digging the mountains, the hill areas, they will just dig down, the mountains will become flat, the way of streams will change, whatever they want. Supposing the stream is going like this, so they want to dig here, they will just [divert] it to another way.
Q: In Hpakant is there a narcotics problem?
A: Yeah, most popular in Hpakant. All kinds of people, anybody.
Q: How do they use it?
A: Injection. Smoking [opium] is not popular. The "ya ma" -- the tablet, that you burn it and breathe it in, that is the most popular now. The number 4, they just get injection. Smoking [opium] is a long time back.
Q: Do they have their own needles for injection?
A: I suppose that they have their own. And also there is maybe some center for having that injection, shop, business center.
Q: Have you heard anything about HIV/AIDS in the Hpakant area?
A: Yeah, that is very [prevalent], even in Myitkyina or Hpakant. I have had many experiences to care for that kind of sickness. We can't do anything for those who are suffering from the AIDS, we just encourage and pray for them.
Q: What is the health care in Hpakant like?
A: Of course they have hospital, clinics, many. But you have to pay much amount. If you pay in Myitkyina maybe 100, [in Hpakant] it will be 300. Even in the government hospital, it's the same as the outside clinic, you have to pay money there also. If you don't pay money, you cannot be cured. You cannot have even one injection of penicillin. By this time, I'm really surprised that even in the hospital in Myitkyina and also Hpakant, you have to pay 15 kyat to use the toilet. Even if you go to throw away the urine [bedpan] in that place, you have to pay 15 kyat.
Q: Are there prostitution or gambling problems in Hpakant?
A: Yeah. The police will come, and if they give money, the police will go away. So they can do as they like. As long as they are providing money, they can do whatever prostitutions or narcotics.
Q: Where do the prostitutes in Hpakant come from?
A: I suppose that most of them come from several places in Burma.
Q: In Hpakant, is the economic situation getting better or not?
A: I think the economic level is going down, because there are not as many people [working] as before. So everything, I think is going down. Unemployment and all the machines, and also they don't get anymore the precious [jade stones] like before.
Q: In Hpakant, were there foreigners besides those from China?
A: I didn't see Westerners, but most of the bosses were Chinese, Hong Kong. If they don't know how to speak, it doesn't matter, they will just sit down and there will be a translator, something like that, and then they can order what they want, and then they just go back, that's all.
Q: Anything else regarding religious issues?
A: Before, we were free, how to build the church, whatever the design, we could build it. Now they say, "you cannot build it in a cross design, the chapel." You cannot build anything about religion, you cannot preach about your freedom. The Gospel is to make everybody free, so they don't like the Gospel. That is the thing we are facing now. We don't have the chance to go out and study, that means that they just don't want us increasing in the knowledge of the Bible.