The More We Suffer, The More We Love: A pandemic story

A Muslim taxi driver in Yangon recounts how his community helped and took care of everyone during the pandemic.
U Aye Min

Myanmar came toe to toe with the COVID pandemic at the end of March 2020.

In prevention of the spread, every school was immediately put into shutdown. The privilege to continue education online was reserved only for those with a strong financial background while most other students have been torn away from the classroom.

My name is U Aye Min. I am a Muslim. I have been driving a taxi in Yangon for around 7 years now. During the COVID period, my income has dropped by half as passengers have become fewer than before. But I can still support my family as I don’t have to pay rent for the car and the house. Like myself, other Muslims of Burmese origins have a business of their own as it is not easy for them to land a high-ranking job either in a public department or a private company owned by someone of a different faith. Those without their own business have to take jobs in enterprises run by Muslims. So, while COVID affected 90% of small enterprises, most Muslims running their own business could sail through the storm in relative ease without a lot of trouble. Some passengers close to me shared their experiences during the COVID period and I’d like to relay them as much as I remember.

Muhammad, one of my regular passengers, a 44-year-old Muslim father, who runs a pharmacy store, built a playground in his backyard for his two sons deprived of their freedom to play outside and with friends at school. A wise man and breadwinner of the family, Muhammad said, “In times like this, I have come to realize family outweighs everything.” He tries to get home by 6 in the evening to spend time with family and buys his sons new toys every month to play with.

Most Muslim parents pull their children out of school even before high school is finished and teach them a vocational skill or how to earn money. So, most Muslims may be undereducated but do not end up in poverty. Because of this economic status, they have the ability to donate money to and volunteer at COVID Prevention Facilities and quarantine centers. With all pagodas, mosques and churches closed during the COVID period, religious practices have been confined to homes but everyone in Myanmar is together in this fight against COVID. Since barricades have been placed on many roads to stop strangers from entering the neighborhood, transportation has become somewhat inconvenient but people haven’t stopped helping and taking care of one another.

Muhammad, being an experienced, wise man, purchased and amassed surgical masks and hand sanitizers after hearing news about a new Coronavirus spreading from China to other countries, even before the first case in Myanmar. He reaped a lot of benefits from selling those items and other medications in May of 2020. While mask and hand sanitizer prices have skyrocketed to a point of fifteen-fold from their original prices, he managed to share 200 packs of masks and 100 units of sanitizers with his friends, relatives and neighbors. He also donated equipment and medications to COVID Facilities and quarantine centers in his neighborhood. His wife donated rice and cooking oil to 500 households in need, in addition to providing daily meals for 10 persons at quarantine centers. Some Muslims including Muhammad noticed that religious discrimination has dwindled during the COVID period. “A silver lining to this cloud,” remarked Muhammad. He continued, “Even if my income has declined, I’ll still make donations for COVID response and help out my neighborhood. I don’t want anyone to face this misfortune anymore.” Muhammad is looking forward to prayers at the mosque with his sons and travelling to upper Myanmar with his family after COVID.

“In times like this, I have come to realize family outweighs everything.”

Muslims entered Myanmar as merchants, migrants, servants to the royal family, prisoners of war, refugees and victims of slavery. Some Muslims claim their ancestors once held prestigious positions in ancient Burma as high officials, port authorities, mayors and traditional healers. However, the exact year of Muslims’ arrival in the country cannot be determined. In the 1600s, Muslims were assigned as archers in the ranks of Arakanese King Sandathudamma (1625-1684) and they became the Kaman, one of the 135 ethnics in Myanmar. The current population of Myanmar Muslims are the descendants of various ethnicities who settled and intermarried with local Burmese and many ethnic Myanmar groups such as, Rakhine, Shan, Karen, and Mon. Muslims in Myanmar made their living alongside others without suffering from religious discrimination and racism until 1962.

A young Muslim lady, daughter of one of my regular passengers, passed her matriculations during the COVID period and is eager to join the University of Medicine. But at the moment, even her relationship with friends is not going well. She intends to work as a doctor at a charitable Muslim hospital. In her childhood, some parents of a different faith forbade their children from visiting her home to play. Now, she believes that one day when she becomes a doctor, she will take care of and heal people without discrimination to forge strong relationships and trust with non-Muslim individuals. She says, “Mutual respect and helping out is essential to abolish religious discrimination.” She, just like Muhammad, has noticed the usual religious discrimination and hate speech on Facebook has dwindled during the COVID period. She says, “All of us Myanmar citizens are facing a lot of obstacles because of COVID. Muslims, just like members of other religions, are taking part in COVID response and prevention with all our hearts by making donations and volunteering.”

Her father, an engineer, runs a clock shop downtown. He doesn’t wear a mask while talking to his customer and it is a health hazard as the virus could infect him and other family members for this want of proper precaution against the pandemic. The business isn’t going well and they could barely afford the rent for the shop. As the clock shop could run out of business anytime, she is considering opening a food stall by the road with her mother. She claims, “The responsibility to bear the weight of the family falls upon the eldest child.” If the need arises for her to take care of her family by running a food stall, her ambition to become a doctor will be next to impossible.

Utilizing the health knowledge gained from the internet, she always sprays any items brought home by her parents with disinfectant to prevent her 84-year-old grandmother and two younger brothers from catching the disease. She uses social networks to share her health knowledge with friends and those in her circle. She spends time with her grandmother and two brothers by watching English movies and cartoons as they are required to stay at home. She takes pity on her youngest brother who is always startled by knocks on the door thinking strangers have come. She says, “I think my youngest brother has become afraid of people as it’s been a long time since he last played outside or went to school.”

She hopes the pandemic ends swiftly before her father’s clock shop runs out of business. “Only then we and others could be financially well and shape our futures as we will,” she says. She also hopes the void of religious discrimination during the COVID period lasts beyond the pandemic.

Every Myanmar citizen including Muslims are still praying and working hard for this pandemic to end and the nation to embrace peace in the near future.

— July 2021

“Mutual respect and helping out is essential to abolish religious discrimination.”

This story is commissioned by Innovation for Change – East Asia’s. It is part of a project called COVID-19 Stories from the Margins. Through the project, the hub equipped six individuals from marginalized communities in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, and Vietnam with skills to share their own experiences and lessons from the pandemic.


‘The More We Suffer, The More We Love’ Chinese version
苦难越多,爱越多: 新冠疫情故事

‘The More We Suffer, The More We Love’ Korean version
고통스러울수록 더 사랑하게 된다: 판데믹 이야기


This story is originally written in Burmese by U Aye Min (pseudonym).

Translated to English by Noel.

U aye Min is a Muslim-minority taxi driver based in Yangon, Myanmar, who is writing under a pseudonym.


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