Neither night nor day

At a dumpsite outside Mae Sot in northwestern Thailand, there’s been built about two hundred bamboo huts. In one of the small huts, Daw Yi Than and her daughter Pan Phyu listen to an old, fuzzy radio. They sit where the fourth wall of the hut would be if there was one, staring into the field. Through the smoke they barely distinguish the burning pile of garbage from the ground and sky.

– We came here in search for a better life, Daw Yi Than says. They are illegal immigrants from Karen State in Myanmar. She and her family of seven have been in Thailand for more than ten years, most of the time at the dumpsite. Only mother and daughter still stay at their home, the rest of the family lives further away from the smoke. – Pan Phyu doesn’t want to leave; she can’t sleep anywhere else, Daw Yi Than explains. Her daughter fell ill when she was younger, and she regularly has memory loss, not even remembering her own mother.

The people living here earn money by collecting recyclable materials and selling them on. It’s the middle of the dry season, and the dumpsite has caught fire. Now their only source of income is going up in toxic smoke. They have nowhere to go, so they stay and attempt to fight the rapidly spreading fire. The sun is shut out by a silent sea of smoke. Coughing shadows still sift through the smoldering trash, which has left both adults and children with burns. The group of houses closest to the fire resembles a ghost town, only animals remain. The owners chose to leave their houses behind and live in the forest while they wait for the fires to cease.

In the evening the wind turns around, and the smoke blows away from Pan Phyu and her mother’s house. The rest of the family has been visiting and is about to leave for the night while mother and daughter will stay behind in the small hut with three walls.

by André Berntsen

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