Trishaw life is not easy one
Especially for this woman. 4 PHOE WA
THE wheels slow to a stop just outside the school gates. Glad to see that school has not yet begun, the eager girls jump out of the trishaw seats, pay the fare and head inside. The driver sighs before yelling after them to remember to wait outside patiently at the end of the day to get picked up, and then makes sure no school books have been left behind. The ride was for some neighbourhood children but the interaction is as natural for driver Daw Khin Myint as it might be with her own kids.
It was the fourth trip that morning for Daw Khin Myint. She took a shopkeeper to Thin Gan Gyun Market at 6am, then took some ladies to their workplace. Then it was off to B ward before coming back for her children. Having already covered a lot of ground on the heavy bike, Daw Khin Myint complains of knee pain when she re-mounts and tries to push off from out the front of the school. She decides to go home for a lie-down before venturing back out. “I can’t do any more. That is enough for this morning.” Daw Khin Myint says, shaking her head.
At 43-years-old, Daw Khin Myint has been working as trishaw driver for about four years. It was no easy decision to take up this lowest of paying vocations which is frequently accompanied by makeshift living. Her story is a heartbreaking one. Before she was on the road, it was her husband, Ko Japan, who was the trishaw driver. Some years ago, their young family was struck with three devastating child deaths which drove Ko Japan into a deep depression which he mediated with heavy alcohol use. He quickly abandoned work in favour of constant drinking and loitering around their neighbourhood. So, there was Daw Khin Myint at home with an absent husband, more children to feed and a trishaw parked out the front. She decided she had to do whatever was going to work.
“I was afraid every day that the police were going to take (my husband) away. I had to go out searching for him in the local wards and that meant being away from my children. I really pity my children that I can’t be there for them,” she says through tears.
The healing process for the family, and for Ko Japan in particular, has been long and slow. With help from Daw Khin Myint, Ko Japan is cared for at home and is on a medical programme to reduce his alcohol dependency. The years of abuse have taken their toll, however, and he remains in ill health, spending most of his time in bed entertained solely by mobile phone games. The financial stress is ever present and the family ekes by on the little money Daw Khin Myint is able to earn on the trishaw.
The woman and the trishaw It’s tough, she says, competing in stamina with the male drivers who are bigger and usually living single. “The trishaw men would laugh when they saw me, saying that I would not be able to keep up with the job for long”. The people in the ward also gave her funny looks, but with her perseverance they have gotten used to the sight. “I was so amazed because she is working a man’s job, it is hard work and even the men can struggle,” explains Daw Win Maw, a neighbour. As for their family situation, Daw Khin Myint says she doesn’t appreciate people gossiping. “Some people criticise my husband but they don’t understand our situation. I tell him to ignore it,” she says.
Daw Khin Myint’s main fairs are the market, getting women to their local workplaces and then the school in the morning and at the end of classes. The mothers trust a woman trishaw driver more, so business is better there. Men are not her primary clients, either because they are wary of being driven by a woman or because it’s easier on Daw Khin Myint to have lighter passengers. Driving men makes her feel a bit shy, though she will take the fares of elderly men. With Ko Japan’s health slowly improving, more of the trishaw work is being shared, but for the time being, the majority of the work is hers to do.
The motivation is for her remaining children to gain literacy and an education. Daw Khin Myint is not educated, but sees the potential in her own children and will work for as long as it takes to make sure they can earn a wage comfortably, using their knowledge. They are currently in monastic education. Daw Khin Myint says they sometimes request time away from school to help their mother in her work, but this only leads her to feel shame. “I’m only doing this work because I don’t have options,” she tells them. She pushes her children to focus on their studies.
Even with the best motivation, the work remains hard. Aches, pains and sun stroke are a constant menace. Daw Khin Myint must nap in the afternoon to maintain her energy to get through the day, but that does not make the exercise bleak. “I don’t know when I will achieve the goals I am working towards, but those days will come”.
Daw Khin Myint on her trishaw.