Are you Cinderella?
Wait, let me rephrase my question. Do you rush home before the clock ticks 12 on your bar hopping night out with friends?
If yes, there’s no denying that you’re a Cinderella.
Since the early day of COVID-19, we have been living under the nighttime curfew. Although Myanmar was not under a strict lockdown, we had to adjust our ways of life during these past few months. It was a major adjustment we had to make when the world paused and time froze. We had no choice but to stay in our homes to keep ourselves safe. For about a month, we lived with a strict nighttime curfew from 10 pm to 4 am.
Now the world starts to operate again, or at least in our part of the world, and things start to reopen. Businesses resume which means shopping malls, restaurants and bars open again. Our lives start to go back to normal again. (We speculated about a “new normal” yet it looks like we are going back to the old normal. Anyway that’s another story.) Despite the openings here and there, we are still living with a few relaxed restrictions, and an ongoing nighttime curfew: from 12 am to 4 pm.
For many of us from big cities like Yangon, our normal lives are not designed for nighttime curfew. Unlike New York City, Yangon does sleep at some point but definitely not as early as 10 pm or 12 am. On my birthday in May, we drove around the city, cut my birthday cake at the back of our car. Before we knew it, the clock ticked 9 pm and we had to rush back home. Now with bars and restaurants opening, we have become Cinderellas, rushing to our houses before midnight. I’m sure many young people are fed up with nighttime curfew which has been imposed for more than four months now. You can read all about it on our Facebook as we complain. It’s totally uncool that we cannot hang out with our friends, or visit our families as long as we wanted. Very inconvenient indeed!
Little did we know is that nighttime curfew is normal for many people in some parts of our country: staying inside their homes from 9 pm until the day break at 5 in the morning. In Yangon, we could do many things after 9 pm: we could still go to karaoke or bars, or if you were a workaholic, you could stay back and work at the office. But things are completely different in Rakhine State. You must not be on the streets after 9 pm or else you could get arrested. The state government imposes the curfew due to “security reasons” because of the ongoing conflict between the military and the Arakan Army.
One might wonder what else you could do after 9 pm in the countryside instead of staying at home. Sure, life is slow in the least developed state of the country, but we must acknowledge that people in those areas are still people. They all deserve the freedom and security that we have in big cities.
I experienced the 9 pm curfew during my 3-day work trip to Minbya last year. My colleagues and I tried to follow the curfew in the first two days. We always went back to our hotel on time after dinner at a nearby restaurant. It was all fine until the last night of the trip. We ended up staying until 8.30 pm at the office where we could only get accessed to the Internet to finish up our reports. We had to wrap up our work and decided to buy take out dinner at the restaurant near our hotel. Unfortunately, the chef took quite some time to cook for 5 people’s meals. Five minutes to 9 pm, we all rushed back to our hotel which was ten minutes’ walk from the restaurant. It started to drizzle as we left the restaurant. There was nobody on the streets although we could hear some chatter inside the houses. Speeding my short legs, a couple of strayed dogs barked at me once or twice. Luckily, we managed to get back to the hotel just in time! Yet, the rush, the worry and the feeling of being unsafe in empty streets were all too exhausting for me.
I only stayed in Minbya for three nights but it gave me a whole new perspective on safety and freedom. While we are living as we please in Yangon, people in Minbya live with certain limitations. These limitations impact their livelihoods too. People such as boat navigators, steamed chickpea sellers and wet market vendors can operate their work as early as possible but with the curfew, they have to wait until 5 am to go out in the streets. Boat trip schedules have also been pushed behind. Having to adjust their ways of life, the curfew limits not only their freedom but also their livelihoods. Us in Yangon had to make such adjustment when the COVID-19 hit, so the earliest would be late March this year. But for those in Rakhine State, they have been living that way for more than a year now. Everyone wants to be free, and everyone wants to be safe. Unfortunately, thousands of our people in conflict areas are still living in fear and restrictions. Although we are living under the same flag, the freedom we have is different.
Whenever I want to fuss about the nighttime curfew at midnight, I remind myself what it was like in Minbya. I tell myself that what I claim to be “inconvenient” is what people call “normal” in Minbya. When you are too privileged, you only live in a bubble and fail to see different variations of reality of others.
I wonder what Cinderella would be doing at 9 pm in the story… Probably she was dancing the night away with Prince Charming, forgetting the pumpkin carriage, her reality and the curfew.