Thursday, September 27, 2007
Last year Ed and I were lucky enough to visit Burma for a couple of weeks. After weighing up the pros and cons of going and all the valid arguments both ways we bit the bullet and decided to go (particularly as it was at the inviation of Lek the elephant lady from Thailand.) Obviously while we were there we were keen to avoid spending our money with the vile dictatorship and found it very simple to do so when we got there by staying in small local operations and doing regular local things.
I wasn't sure how the Burmese people would take to us being in their country but I couldn't have been more suprised. Most of the people we met were very friendly and so happy that we had come to Burma. They were eager to talk and quite desperate for news of the rest of the world. Despite being cut off from the world for so long and being so desperately poor I was suprised to discover most people were fluent in a second language (usually English) and loved to read - yet most were limited to secondhand books and magazines left over from the 70's available in the market. But as much as people liked to talk there was always fear. One trishaw driver we caught a ride with started to talk about how much he hated the government before stopping and saying "I'm sorry I cannot talk anymore - there are too many ears on the streets." When we asked our guide about the Government moving the capital out of Rangoon almost overnight he replied 'we can't talk about it here....we'll talk about it when we're in the jungle". To use the internet was an elaborate affair where one would have to very subtly ask for access to yahoo or hotmail because they, like nearly everything are also banned.
It's so sad to see the footage of familar places around Rangoon in chaos and people running from gunfire and who knows how many people whisked off never to be seen again. One comedian we met did 8 years hard labour breaking rocks just for making a joke about the dictators so god knows what will happen to the protesters. To me it seems that most Burmese people don't want that much, they just want to be able to make a decent living, read what they want, travel where they want, talk and have opinions without fear. It's a shame such an amazing, interesting and vibrant country is being stifled thanks to a few. One guy we met even told us that he wished that "George Bush would come..like he did in Iraq." Pretty desperate when you wish that I would say, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I for one have my fingers crossed that change is in the air.