Dear Myanmar

A letter from South Africa …

Dear Myanmar

You stand where we stood, 21 years ago.

You hold ‘free and fair’ elections on 8 November 2015. Results dribble in. Often, by foot! Even from far mountain and dense jungle townships. Election workers carry sealed boxes. And on 23 November your Day arrives. “The Lady”, your Aung San Suu Kyi, wins 80% of contested votes!

Harry and I knock on your border on 5 December. You open and democracy still sits dreamlike on your faces.

You sweep us off our feet! Our ‘alikeness’ chokes us up. Albeit 21 years apart.

Myanmar and South Africa. South Africa and Myanmar.

Myanmar gains independence from Britain in 1948. So does South Africa. Myanmar suffers 50 years of military rule; South Africa, 46 years of apartheid. Aung Sang Suu Kyi, your “The Lady” leads a resistance movement, the NLD. Nelson Mandela, our “u Tata” (our father) leads the ANC. The Lady spends 15 out of 21 years under house arrest; u Tata 27 years in prison. Aung San Suu Kyi is the Nobel Peace Prize Winner in 1991; Nelson Mandela in 1993! The Lady and uTata both pursue a patient activism. They usher in peaceful but qualified transitions. In Myanmar, the military drafted constitution reserves 25 % of seats for unelected military representatives. In SA, a sunset clause allows for a coalition government for 5 years. Aung San Suu Kyi takes the reins at the age of 70; Nelson Mandela at 75! And, they both inherit impossible situations! Myanmar has a label ‘most corrupt’. The Military permeates every single government department. South Africa has a label ‘most unequal’. There are separate administrations for different race groups. Myanmar has 8 ethnic groups. Some groups are privileged, others are not. South Africa has 11 ethnic groups. A minority group is advantaged, the rest is not.

It is a hell of a mess to begin with …. Myanmar and South Africa. South Africa and Myanmar.

We, South Africa, are 21 years old today. And we have done some things fantastically right. And we have done some things terribly wrong.

As we ride I rack my brain! For a simple, single lesson for you, Myanmar. A ‘million’ things boil and bubble. BUT damn! No ‘single’ thing blasts to the top. Just an endless list of – BUTS –

Rectify past wrongs, BUT reconcile a future. Formulate new policy, BUT implement quickly. Advantage the ‘previously’ disadvantaged, BUT hold close the ‘previously’ advantaged. Subsidies help, BUT beware the consequence of dependence. Attend to crises, BUT focus on priorities. Enable development, BUT keep government lean. Build new infrastructure BUT maintain the old.

Demands compete in shrill screams. Give ‘not too little’. Take ‘not too much’! The Mother of ALL Balancing Acts. The sweet spot is ever elusive.

– Wobble – Adjust – Quiver – Fall – Pick Up – Square – Tremble – Settle –

There is no simple, single lesson, Myanmar. There is no roadmap. There is no beginning, no end. There is no special, no miracle, and no magic. There is JUST hard work. Heed every word and question every action, every single day.

Re-think, re-do, and RE-MEMBER. Yes Myanmar, I suppose, REMEMBER …. It is a hell of a mess you begin with.

So, it is with a knot in our tummies and a lump in our throats that we wish you …. Hamba Kakuhle, Myanmar (Go Well, Myanmar).

From South Africa, with love

A note: Aung Sung Suu Kyi describes living under a military regime in her book; ‘Freedom from Fear’, as … ‘When the present is deprived of meaningfulness and holds no hope for the future. When fear is the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure.

Today she ushers in Freedom from Fear.

Aung San Suu Kyi, like her father before her, has been hard at work for the freedom of the people of Myanmar for two decades.

Aung San Suu Kyi, like her father before her, has been hard at work for the freedom of the people of Myanmar for two decades.

 

The Lady and NLD win 80% of contested votes. The result is declared on 23 November.

The Lady and NLD win 80% of contested votes. The result is declared on 23 November.

 

We arrive at the border on 5 December and are  touched by this noticeboard in the Customs Office. It takes quite a bit of reading!

We arrive at the border on 5 December and are touched by this noticeboard in the Customs Office. It takes quite a bit of reading!

 

Suu Kyi asks the Myanmar people to delay their celebrations until April 2016 ... as the NLD commences with delicate negotiations with the Military representatives.

Suu Kyi asks the Myanmar people to delay their celebrations until April 2016 … as the NLD commences with delicate negotiations with the Military representatives.

 

But we feel the exuberance in the air ....

But we feel the exuberance in the air ….

 

.... and in the streets !

…. and in the streets !

 

... and in hundreds of faces ...

… and in hundreds of faces …

 

... of adults ...

… of adults …

 

... of girls ...

… of girls …

 

... of boys ...

… of boys …

 

... of children ...

… of children …

 

...

 

...

 

And here some prepare for Christmas in their winter woolies in 30 degrees! Fancy! Carol Singers in the small rural village of Ann in Buddhist Myanmar.

And here some prepare for Christmas in their winter woolies in 30 degrees! Fancy! Carol Singers in the small rural village of Ann in Buddhist Myanmar.

 

The majority are rural subsistence farmers. They are among the poorest in Asia. In 2011 the Economist reports 24% of national spend is military, only 4% education.

 

They live in typical homes like these in the countryside.

They live in typical homes like these in the countryside.

 

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And men and women work the fields.

And men and women work the fields.

 

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Others are subsistence fishermen and harvest the rivers and seas.

Others are subsistence fishermen and harvest the rivers and seas.

 

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And at local markets everywhere they sell their wares.

And at local markets everywhere they sell their wares.

 

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Monkey nuts being roasted on the back of this bike.

Monkey nuts being roasted on the back of this bike.

 

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Here is a market of artwork ... and we are so chuffed with our purchase!

Here is a market of artwork … and we are so chuffed with our purchase!

 

And I get into such trouble with this lady for not pronouncing her name correctly.

And I get into such trouble with this lady for not pronouncing her name correctly.

 

...

 

...

 

... see old batteries are used as scale weights at this market ....

… see old batteries are used as scale weights at this market ….

 

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And wherever I look, I see Myanmar women smoking.

And wherever I look, I see Myanmar women smoking.

 

Big fat cigars!

Big fat cigars!

 

And pipes. And I LOVE it - there is a beautiful assertiveness there.

And pipes. And I LOVE it – there is a beautiful assertiveness there.

 

This lady, smoking with Peter, owns the cattle she herds! Yes, Aung San Suu Kyi, thank YOU, women stand proud in the land of THE LADY.

This lady, smoking with fellow biker Peter, owns the cattle she herds! Yes, Aung San Suu Kyi, thank YOU, women stand proud in the land of THE LADY.

 

14 Responses to Dear Myanmar

  1. Colin Pienaar

    Cool post. The woman can really handle their tabacco.
    Colin and Debbie Pienaar Durban

  2. Mad Rider

    Wise words. Godspeed to Myanmar (& Sa)

  3. Tommy Thompson

    As always, a nice read!

  4. Jack K

    Wow – What a letter or should I say speech -Linda I wish you were in our Government – you tick all the right boxes
    Fantastic pictures of lovely people – you are both blessed

    Jack

  5. Jan and Gail

    Lovely photos, lovely people that do the best with everyting around them. Well done.

  6. Wendy & Amelia

    Fantastic letter and happy pictures!! Lets hold thumbs that they can move forward positively and peacefully!!!

  7. Gail Paton/Henning

    Wish you could carry on forever.. safe travels xxx

  8. Dawid

    Great perspectives! SA is slightly messier than when you left, but then again hope springs eternally. Maybe, just maybe, we have reached another turning point. Still, we have so much to be grateful for. Your posts and photographs are really inspiring and filled to the brim with food for thought – many thanks. Keep safe.

  9. Anonymous

    another one I need to look up on the map………………
    Thanks for sharing

  10. NoddyK

    may peace prosper for Myanmar. Great letter Linda.

  11. Anonymous

    May peace prosper for Myanmar. Great “letter”.

  12. Jim and Muriel

    Another WOW here——-all so well written and illustrated to help us to understand what goes on there-a HUGE thank you ! Keep safe please !

  13. John Lanham

    Lovely post. Thank you.

  14. Janice

    love “being a part” of your journey!

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