Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Burmused.

I've not covered this much here, but I've been following the news of Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi recent detention due to the ridiculous actions of American tourist John William Yettaw. Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace price winner and democracy advocate, has been under house arrest for the past several years for opposing the military junta. Op-Ed's in Washington Post and this article by Voice of America do a good job of summarizing the democracy activist, and her current trial for "violating house arrest" when Mr. Yettaw decided it would be a good idea to swim the moat for a visit (Suu Kyi does not know him). But she faces an additional 5 years of jail time because he felt he urgently needed to talk with her.

I have alot of opinions about the thoughtlessness of this man, but that's not the point of this post.

I am in DC this week, attending a seminar for work on aid, development and conflict. I had lunch with a Burmese gentleman today, and I asked him about the trial. He was not optimistic. He explained that the miltary junta keeps such tight controls over everything that if one wants to have a meeting of over five people, they must get government approval (verified by google). Can you imagine that? This extends to work, play, school, religious gatherings, as well as political rally's (if they have such a thing). This would even extend to such professional seminars similar to what we are both currently attending.

Wow.

Because this was his first trip to the US, I asked him what his first impression was. His response was "Everything is very green here. In Burma, there are few trees. People cut them down to sell."

DC is a beautifully green place, with many public spaces, so I couldn't deny him that. But it wasn't what I expected. I expected something along the lines of free press, being able to say whatever he wanted, read what he wanted, gather a group of over five friends together and party til dawn without permission. Didn't he feel "free-er"?

Nope, he felt cleaner. The air smelled good.

I guess it's the small things - that which we so often take for granted - which makes the biggest difference.

2 comments:

andria said...

A colleague at a public library does an adult program called Conversations in English, where recent immigrants get together and just speak English to each other. He always starts each new session with the question, "How is America the most different from yor home country." Most common answer: "The lights always work, and stay on when you turn them on."

yup.

AnthroGirl said...

Mine was that there was rarely any power shortage, or that you almost never ever stop getting running water. That in my mind is what separates America so much more from my home country. Also...people's lawns tend to be so well manicured.