Emma Thompson's Burma / Myanmar Diary: Part seventeen

Tuesday, May 1, 2012 - 13:14

Time to leave Myanmar. There’s too much to write about, too much to consider, too much to admire, too much to grieve over. 

This morning we take a bus to Ming Galar don township on the outskirts of Rangoon and visit an organization called AFXB, which may become an ActionAid partner. It’s stunningly impressive, addressing virtually every problem on the ground including HIV / Aids, which affects young people the most. Assessing rates of HIV here is extremely difficult because there are no tests available. And we can only imagine the levels of stigmatization in a country devoid of information on the subject. They have 250 people receiving ARV’s from the Global Fund.

File 7524Here they run prevention programmes, vocational training, micro-finance businesses, night courses, and they teach young people how to speak up for themselves. Not only that, they teach parents how to listen.

Their organizer explains that in Burma, children are meant to be seen and not heard. They train children to understand their parents and negotiate with them. This kind of schooling breaks every cultural norm. It’s an inspiring space, filled with activity – I come across a group of teenagers talking about reproductive health.

Someone’s teaching people how to clap. Why? I ask.

It’s a form of collectivism. It builds confidence and belief in group power, I am told. An interesting starting-block, more revealing of the previous levels of repression than anything else.

We go on a final visit, a tour of the central market, which is a truly glorious bazaar. Tindy buys me an ebony bracelet decorated with golden elephants. I buy horse-hair candle-holders, slim, pliable containers painted a shining gold within, every object a testament to the great artistry that exists in this country. As Tindy says, everyone seems to be an artist here. A ragged vendor comes up to me brandishing a copy of Orwell’s Burmese Days. I buy it.

File 7514

We eat husband-and-wife snacks and look our last upon the teeming streets.

Of all my visits, I’ve never loved a country more. Tindy is equally sad to be leaving. “These people,” he keeps saying, “these people are extraordinary.”

On the plane I start the Orwell – typically damming indictment of British racism during colonial days which astonishes and shames.

There’s a love here now between the resident Brits and the Myanmars that incarnates the possibility of change. Orwell’s story no longer exists.

It makes me hope that the junta’s story will also one day disappear and become part of history sold to pink-faced tourists on the streets.

As we lift off, I realize I’ve still got jet lag.


File 7516Tindy. Leaving on a jet plane.