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“Enormously readable - a little piece of your heart will be left in Burma”,
“An Extraordinary Journey”,
Mail on Sunday
“Without a scrap of self-pity and with a fair dollop of humour, 28-year-old Phan describes a life mostly spent running for cover”,
Mail on Sunday
“A cleanly written testimony to an unending apocalypse… The horrors described are all too real”,
Little Daughter - A memoir of survival in Burma and the west
The following extract describes when Zoya was 14 years old and the Burmese Army attacked her village. She and her family were forced to flee. They hid in the jungle for weeks before finding their way to a refugee camp in Thailand, where she lived before coming to the UK.
“‘Little Daughter! Little Daughter! Come quick! Come quick!’
It was my mother. We rushed down the hill, only to find her frantically stuffing possessions into bags. She glanced around at me, a wild look in her eyes.
‘We’re under attack!’ she cried. ‘Quickly! Pack your bag! We have to run!’
Immediately she said that I heard a horrible screaming whine from the far side of the village, and a mortar shell crashed into the forest. My friend seemed frozen in panic.
‘Quick! Run! Run!’ my mother cried at her. ‘Find your family! Run!’
Without another word my friend rushed off down the path along the lake. I glanced around myself in shock and confusion. How could the enemy be here? Now? In the midst of my Year Nine exams? What should I do? What should I pack?
‘Don’t just stand there!’ my mother yelled. ‘Where’s your bag? The one we fled with before? Get packing! Get packing!’
My mother’s harsh words shocked me into action. With the crash of the mortar shells growing louder and louder, I started throwing things into my black rucksack. There was the crackle of gunfire now, a noise that I had wished never to hear again. It was coming closer and closer, and I could hear voices from the far side of the lake crying out in terror.
I glanced up. A crowd of people was surging through the village. Men, women and children were running for their lives towards the direction of the Thai border. Children were crying and wailing as they stumbled and fell. Parents screamed at them and dragged them to their feet, the little ones sobbing in bewilderment. How could this be happening, I wondered. How could it be happening again?
The noise of the fighting drew closer still. I heaved up my bag and slung it on to my shoulders. Oh my God, I told myself, if they catch me my life will be over. Say Say had told us what had happened to the women at Papun who were captured. The SLORC soldiers would rape us all. I was rooted to the spot with terror.
‘Are you ready?’ my mother yelled. ‘Are you ready? Let’s go!’
She grabbed a cooking pot and stuffed some cold rice into each of our mouths to give us some energy. The she shoved me out of the door.
‘Everyone – GO!’ my mother yelled as if she was commanding a military unit. ‘GO! No stopping until we reach the border!’
Slone, Bwa Bwa, Aunty Black, my mother and I ran from the house and into chaos. There were almost a thousand people in the village and they were all running to find their families or grab their possessions. People were running in every direction shouting and screaming. Animals were bellowing or squealing in panic. Children were screaming and crying, the crackle of gunfire rose above the uproar, and then there would come the crack-BOOM of the mortar bombs landing, like every glass window in the world had shattered at once. Sometimes there was just one, sometimes three – one after the other. With everyone running they turned the dry earth into a suffocating dust that I could barely see through. I was terrified.
Bwa Bwa and Slone were in front of me, Aunty Black behind me, and my mother last, pushing us ahead. Another mortar bomb landed, so close and so loud I fell to the ground. ‘UP, MOVE!’ ordered my mother and I climbed to my feet and ran on.
Every now and then I lost sight of Bwa Bwa, and I was scared I would never see her again. The dust got so bad it was almost like night. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t see, my legs were aching with running, my lungs burning, my whole body shaking with fear. I just knew I had to keep going or I’d be killed. If we slowed down my mother would yell ‘MOVE!’ and we’d run faster again.
Another mortar bomb landed, scaring me so much I fell to the ground again. It was so loud my ears popped and then I could not hear properly. “MOVE!” yelled my mother and again I was up and running. I wanted to cry but knew I couldn’t. I had to keep running.
All around us were people running, but there were so many families with several small children. The parents could not carry them all. Tiny children were stumbling through the dust, screaming with fear, pushed on by their parents who had babies or younger children in their arms. I wanted to help but I couldn’t. I was too weak to carry them, and my mother wouldn’t have let me. She had her own children to protect and she was determined to save us.
My bag was so heavy I took it off my back and rested it on my head as I ran. My whole body ached. I desperately wanted to rest but knew I couldn’t. I knew if the Burmese Army caught me I would be raped. I knew I would be tortured, I could imagine the soldiers beating me. I kept running. Boom, another mortar exploded and I was on the ground once more. I scrabbled around in the dust trying to find my bag, ‘MOVE!’ yelled my mother again and I ran on.
We were lucky our family were together. We passed men desperately shouting the names of their wives and children. Old people separated from their families, crying out for help. And still there was the dust, the explosions, the gunfire, animals and people screaming. I couldn’t believe it was happening. Just one hour before everything had been peaceful.
Finally we reached the edge of the jungle and the road that would lead us to safety in Thailand. It could only have taken thirty minutes to get there, but it had seemed like forever. We stopped running and stumbled on to the dirt road. Everyone was jammed together into the small space. The air was still full of dust.
There were more explosions and gunfire in the village now. KNLA soldiers had rushed to the village to stop the Burmese Army and give us time to escape. But we knew the KNLA were outnumbered, and we were still scared the Burmese Army would come after us.
It started to get dark as we walked down the road. It was uneven and had ruts from cars and carts on it. I kept stumbling and falling, hurting my knees. One time I tripped and twisted my ankle, making every step painful. But every time my mother was there, urging us on, and on we went.
Hundreds of us walked in the darkness hoping to reach safety. No one spoke. We were too shocked, too exhausted, and too scared to make a sound in case it brought the Burmese Army to us. We could not use torches either for fear they alerted our attackers. The only noise was of people’s feet on the road and the crying of children and babies. The crying never stopped.”
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