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from the November 2017 issue

The Sound of Snow

In this short essay, Burmese activist Khet Mar finds herself caught in storms raging in both the US and Myanmar.

Listen to Khet Mar reading "The Sound of Snow" in Burmese.


I woke up one late night in March to the sounds of howling wind and tree branches banging on my bedside windowpanes. As I rose from bed, lifted the curtain, and looked outside, I watched the saltlike snow as it hissed across ryegrass in the backyard lawn. There was an extraordinary blizzard moaning down the streets of Maryland with nothing to stop it but a few ash trees planted by the roadsides.

I didn’t have to go to work in the early morning. But, I didn’t feel like crawling back into bed. Instead, I closed my eyes for a few minutes. My mind was transfixed by the awful banging coming from the windowpanes. I was unable to think of anything else except the similar sounds that woke me up one rainy December morning a year earlier. That night, thoughts of cracking gunshots and a pool of blood had bothered me. Tonight was a little different.

I sat at my desk and signed in on my computer. Some breaking news about Burma was still unfolding on the social websites. Just like December, the news in March was tainted with a loud crack and the color red. But, this time, the loud crack came not from a gun but from police cracking human skulls and bones with their billy clubs. This time, I saw not the the red of blood flowing from the bullet-ridden head of a woman farmer but that of red armbands worn by riot police and militant thugs. I saw horrifying images of armed men who were brutally beating back a crowd of students peacefully demonstrating. The officers were barking out orders while police and armed thugs violently assaulted the students and onlookers. Terrified students screamed and wept as they ran for their lives.

As these sound of ear-splitting shouts of agony in my native land came back to me, the only real thing I could hear at that moment in my neighborhood in Maryland was the endlessly falling snow. The only color I could see through my window was the white of blankets of snow. Tree branches, rooftops, cars, roads, everything I could see was submerged beneath the heavy snow.

Although the physical world around me was white, the emotional world around me was red. While snow was striking the windowpanes, my ears could only hear the sound of screaming and crying from a distant land.

How could these men with their medieval mindset drag, punch, slap, and batter young girls their same age? How could I forget their ugly faces contorted with hate and anger as they dragged the young girls away? These questions boggled my mind. My blood boiled.

The students had done nothing more than protest against a so-called National Education Act, a law that had been drawn up unilaterally and guaranteed neither equal opportunities for all students nor uninterrupted pursuit of education. They were not even demanding the law be repealed, merely asking for it to be amended. When their request was turned down by the authorities, they expressed their disappointment with peaceful demonstrations. Should their nonviolent action be considered a punishable crime and subject to a brutal crackdown by the authorities? Should those who asked the armed men not to use force against the students also be considered criminals and then cruelly beaten and arrested?

The police and the armed thugs who failed to respect citizens' rights of freedom of expression were also the victims of a failed education system. The whole country had fallen victim to a political system that could not provide a decent education for its citizens.

The blizzard was expected to continue throughout the night. As the night sky grew darker, the barbarity that rained down over the former capital city would finally subside. The wind had not let up and the snow continued tapping at my windowpanes. I was powerless to do anything but clench my fists, angry and hopeless, and wait for the blizzard to end.

The blizzard might give in by the crack of dawn, I thought, but our collective suffering would not be over anytime soon. All we wanted was to put an end to the cycle of violence and misery. We no longer wanted to hold our breath, clench our jaws, and wait for the worst. All we wanted was peace and human dignity.

The sounds of a wild blizzard in the West would subside and a clear blue sky would reappear soon. And though it seemed nearly impossible, I dared at that moment to hope that my motherland in the East would also see a light that would shatter the many injustices that had subdued my country for far too long.


© Khet Mar. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2017 by Maung Maung Myint. All rights reserved.

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