The recovery 10 years after
It was on the night of March 2, 2008. The wind started to roar outside of U Soe Than’s house. At 5pm the full gust of the storm had arrived, and it engulfed everything on its path.
U Soe Than lived in La Wine village, Bogale Township in the Ayeyarwady delta. Being just a few kilometers from the Andaman Sea, Bogale bore the full brunt of Cyclone Nargis. The storm claimed the lives of over 130,000 people in 2008.
Within just a few hours, U Soe Than lost his home, furniture and belongings – like tens of thousands throughout the delta region.
Now 65 years old, U Soe Than is still struggling to recover from that dreadful storm. In Bogale he used to earn a living from fishing and chopping wood, but now he works as a trishaw driver on the outskirts of Yangon, miles away from his village. He is the oldest rider at the trishaw meeting point and has been pedaling for over three years.
When he’s not busy he finds himself dwelling on the painful memory of Cyclone Nargis, and the day his life was changed forever.
In the aftermath of the cyclone, when the tide ebbed away, the surviving families could not even row their boats out to the river because of the dead bodies floating around them.
The cyclone grounded household items, chairs and tables on the nearby Mein Ma Hla Island.
The survivors took refuge at a monastery for a day, where they lived without food until being ferried to Maubin. As the country – and the world – was coming to grips with what had happened to Southern Myanmar, they sheltered at Maubin for 45 days.
“After the cyclone, people donated fabric to help rebuild our houses. They gave us some money and fishing nets. The fishing nets weren’t that usable and we could not even buy a boat motor with the donations. It wasn’t easy living in Bogale after the storm, and many of us had to completely change our lives,” he said.
Adapting to life after the storm wasn’t easy, and many people moved to the city. U Soe Than chose to remain with a few friends in Bogale, as he was afraid of life in the big city. He was most afraid of the traffic in the city, and getting into a car accident, so he decided to stay in his village for another three years.
However, his life in the village was unsustainable and he struggled to make ends meet. When he would cut firewood on Mein Ma Hla Island, forest rangers would fine him K10,000 to K20,000 for illegally cutting wood.
After 3 years, he finally made his way to Yangon where he lived with his wife and four children. He started working as a trishaw driver.
U Soe Than pays K30,000 to park his trishaw at a trishaw gate on 5th Street, Yuzana Garden City. He deposited K20, 000 to rent the trishaw and repays the owner K1500 every day.
He can only carry one passenger at a time due to his age, but transports passengers across the township to earn around K4000 to K5000 a day.
“I am not afraid of being tired. I am afraid of starvation. I do not need to work for possessions but for food,” U Soe Than said.