Sai Hsai (not his real name), who just turned 15 last month, from a village 25 miles west of Shan State North’s Mongmit (Moemeik) township, is well known by everyone from his village and surrounding villages.
One might wonder whether it is because he is a superman or a good boy to his parents, or he has won the lottery that he is known by every single person.
Actually, he is well known notoriously because of his addiction to opium until he is called “King of Opium Eaters.” He extremely loves to take Khakhu, which is very popular among people in this region. Khakhu is a mixture of opium and minced poppy pod shreds with some edible creeper. People smoke it with bamboo water pot.
“He can take the same amount as elder people. All the money he has earned, he just spends on opium. He is always thinking how to earn money to buy opium,” complained his grandmother, Nai Kham, in an angry tone.
Sai Hsai does any kind of work to get the money to buy opium. In the farming time, he loads on his back with paddy plants or firewood or anything people asked him to work to earn, she said.
He dropped out of the school since he was 10 due to several reasons. He just got to Grade Four. He lost both his parents when he was 8. He then stayed with his grandmother (Nai Kham).However, a few months ago; he was driven out from his grandmother’s house because of stealing and selling out the tea steamer. That steamer had been making such amount of income for the family.
“If there is no job for him, he would steal from me and from the other members of the family to exchange with opium. I am now flat broke because of him,” recalled the grandma furiously.
“At present he is just stealing from his relatives. But we can’t say that he won’t steal from others in the future. When he had no job and no chance of stealing, he finally sold out his own clothes for opium. Now he is just wearing rags. No one wants to buy new clothes for him because he always sold them whenever people gave him,” said Nang Hawm, one of Sai Hsai’s aunts.
Sai Hsai is now staying with a 60 year old woman called Nai La (not real name) who is selling many kinds of drug such as Yaba and Khakhu. Nai La is also a drug eater. Like Sai Hsai, a number of young people are addicted to opium as well. Youths are heading to this place as Sai Hsai is. It is crowded with people both adults and even teenagers from all over the villages, she said.
“If you want to look for men or young guys, you just go to that house. You will surely find them there. Almost every man from our village is addicted to drugs,” said Nang Hawm whose 14 year old son is also using opium.
“Sometimes my son even does not come home to sleep. I don’t know how to stop him using drug unless authorities get tough,” she added.
According to local people there, everyone can plant and sell opium if they pay money to the authority as much as required, resulting in the increase of opium addicts and poppy plantations.
Mongmit is also one of the townships still growing poppy. But most of the poppy plantations are seen in nearby townships like Mantong and Namhsan which are under the control of a ceasefire-turned- militia unit Palaung State Liberation Army (PSLA) led by Ta Ai Mong.
“If you can pay them [the authorities], they won’t come to destroy your poppy fields unless its sap has already been taken,” said a poppy farmer who asked not to be named. “They [the authorities] have two opportunities each season to get money: when people ask for permission to grow opium and when people ask them to destroy the fields.”
According to Shan Drug Watch’s 2010 report, documented by Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN), the number of poppy fields has increased in every part of Shan State in the 2010-2011 poppy seasons.
The report says one of the reasons for increase in poppy plantations is because of campaign promises by candidates from the junta-backed Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP) better known as the “Lion Party”. The candidates said people who voted for their party would be allowed to cultivate poppy freely.
Another reason is local militia groups were given more authority than ceasefire groups to become involved in the drug trade as they are part of the regime’s anti-insurgency apparatus.
In southern Shan State, poppy plantations can be seen in Panglong, Loilem, Taunggyi, Hopong, Mawkmai and Panglawng townships. Some of those townships are under the control of Burma Army and some are under the control of the ceasefire-turned-militia unit Pa-O National Organization (PNO). Likewise, plantations in northern Shan State are seen in Muse, Namkham, Kutkhai, Kokang, Mangton, Namsan and Mongmit under the control of regime-backed militia units such as Palaung State Liberation Army (PSLA), Kachin Democratic Army (KDA) and Panhsay Kyaw Myint.
As a result, the increase in opium production in Shan State has led to increasing rates of the opium and heroin addictions in local communities.
‘Since there has been no end of the opium plantation and no restrictions on the drug trade, there will be not a single way to stop or rehabilitate the drug addicts like Sai Hsai in this life,” a 70 year old man smoking a cigar said.
“I am really worried about the future of our children after seeing Sai Hsai,” said the old man. “Every day I see those drug users looking gradually like thin monkeys including Sai Hsai. Before that, he was a good looking boy like his parents.”
The old man continued talking about Sai Hsai until he recalled about how and what made Sai Hsai’s parents left him so early.
“Sai Hsai’s father was famous because he was handsome and a good guitar player. He had many kinds of friends both good and bad people. Later he became addicted to Khakhu, Yaba and drug injections,” he said.
Finally Sai Hsai’s father died of drug injection and his mother from HIV/AIDS, according to the old man.
And I wonder: if the poppy fields are still grown all around the mountains and hills in the Shan State and drugs are still freely allowed to be traded as vegetables, whether Sai Hsai is going to end his life the same way like his father or he will have a different ending?