Muang, Pattani _ Timah was a lively, talkative, and very funny woman. Her willpower and sunny demeanor shone through her niqab which covered her from top to toe except her eyes. There was so much positive energy I had to go over my notes to check whether this was the same person whose husband and daughter were killed in a drive-by shooting almost two years ago.
My colleague from partner organization, Deep South Coordination Center (DSCC), was also surprised. Timah he met last year always looked depressed, lifeless, and on the verge of tearful breakdown upon hearing anything even remotely about the conflict between Muslim insurgency and authorities in this restive Muslim-dominated South.
The sudden death of her husband and daughter in early 2010 has torn Timah in pieces. Nothing could bring her out of grievances until last year, thanks to strong, unwavering support from family and friends in the community.
I was warned not to ask Timah about them as she was still traumatized so our talk focused on her work and income which has increased since November last year after she had received a 5,000-baht ($161.29) grant from Oxfam through DSCC.
But it was Timah who started talking about them, recounting how they were killed and what they were like, the conversation between her and her husband, their faith in Islam, God, and life. The list went on.
“The trauma is there but I know life goes on. I can’t keep dwelling on the past anymore because my other two kids are still here,” said the 41-year-old cosmetics direct salesperson. “They’re my focus in life now.”
The grant project is a joint collaboration funded by the European Union with an aim to help women directly and indirectly affected by the killing get back on their feet particularly those who became the family’s breadwinners. It also seek to develop capacity of key local civil society groups including women to be better positioned to engage local government, and act as peace building agents.
Located 1,055km south of Bangkok, Pattani is one of the three Muslim-dominated provinces plagued by violent incidents including daily shootings and bombings of mainly government officials, soldiers, police, and Buddhist monks. The violence was dated back more than four decades ago when Islamic movement groups seek independence from Thailand on grounds of different cultural, social, and religious roots.
However, the attacks have become indiscriminating with both Muslim and Buddhist Thais falling prey to what authorities said was the work of not just insurgency groups but those who gained vested interests from creating the conflict as well. More than 5,254 people have been killed and 9,035 injured in the past seven years. At least 5,000 children were orphaned and 3,000 women widowed from the killings. This did not include those whose husbands survived but crippled.
Like other cases, Timah received compensation from different authorities totaling 500,000 baht ($16,129) and separate scholarship for her children. She bought a house with the money which she rents out at 1,000 baht ($32.25) a month _ less than enough to live comfortably due to her huge medical bills.
“Although I get monthly allowance from the government, I wanted to earn steady income so I had savings…the grant has increased my income opportunity. The profit margin is bigger because I could buy the cosmetics in bulk and sell at the same prices. It also allows me to get more samples. I got more orders when customers could test the products.”
As we chatted, Timah took out a 1.5-litre water bottle and a piggy bank that resembles a boiler. Inside were coins and banknotes. “One is for donations and the other for a trip with my kids on their summer school break,” Timah told me, her eyes brimming with anticipation.
“I have more customers from 10 to 30. The profits have increased from ten percent to 20 percent. With only 180 baht ($5.8) daily expenses a day for three of us, saving money is easier and quicker. I’m also saving for Haj.”
Timah admitted these goals are what kept her strong. “Currently, I’m ok. Not totally happy. On the surface I look happy but deep down, I’m only half of myself. The other half went away with my husband and my girl. But my will power is 100% from my children and my relatives.”
Asked if the day she would be completely healed would come, Timah’s eyes smiled at me. She did not know either but believed things happened for a reason and she was open for any opportunities life would bring.
“There is a teaching that the world is just a passage and it takes courage to reach your goals….Like this grant, it’s small but still better than nothing. Whether it’s sustainable, it’s all up to me. I think I’m ready to take up life’s challenges now.”
Strangely enough, I felt quite happy as we left her house despite so little information about the grant’s merits given the amount of time we spent with her. My mission was to find out about the grant’s positive impacts but her husband, her daughter and their love dominated our conversation.
It took me some time to realize the happiness came from my patience in letting her talk about her pain. By not trying to just get my work done, I unknowingly let her heal the pain. It turned out to be greater honor and bigger achievement than getting this success story done itself.