myanmar

Burmese Elephant Camp

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My house in Rangoon

When I was five I lived in Rangoon, Burma.

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That year we took a trip up the Irrawaddy River on a boat that had a small cabin area, but was mostly open-air, with people packed onto it like sardines. We travelled to an elephant camp on Lake Indawgy, about 120 miles southwest of Myitkyna near the Chinese border.  The boat stopped occasionally so people could get on and off which gave us a chance to visit a village or buy something from peddlers. We quickly decided exiting the vessel wasn’t worth the trouble because we had to either wade off the boat or try our luck on a treacherous plank.

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There were six people in our group and everybody dined with the British captain in his private dining room except me because I was too young to be allowed to sit with the adults. All I remember eating were vanilla wafers and Lipton’s dried tomato soup. Yum.

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At elephant camp, we stayed in tents and slept on cots with mosquito nets. I remember it was miles to the outhouse – at night we had to go with a flashlight down a rutted mud road—very scary for a five year old!  We watched timber being cut by workers and then hauled by the elephants into the river where it flowed downstream. The elephants all wore wooden bells that were hand-made and had a unique melody. At night the elephants were left to wander the forest, and in the morning the handlers could find their elephants from the sound of the bells.

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While kids in the States were probably learning to ride their tricycles, one afternoon I learned to ride an elephant. In order to get up onto its back, we climbed onto its knee and then to its shoulder and up its neck, behind the ears. We were supposed to go down the same way. My mother was impatient and decided it would be quicker to slide down the back, instead of waiting her turn for the elephant’s knee. You should have seen the look on her face. Elephants have long, stiff hair that stung her as she slid down. The highlight of the trip was one of the elephants had just given birth to twins and we spent hours watching them play.

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Burma

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar — Dressed in flowing purple silk, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi climbed the stone steps of Parliament here Wednesday, delicate and serene in the face of a mob of photographers as she prepared to create a milestone for her country.

After two decades of persecution as Myanmar’s most prominent dissident, she and nearly three dozen members of her party, the National League for Democracy, took the parliamentary oath of office.

New York Times


Can you believe it?  Pinch me!  After 19 years in house arrest, parted from her family, unable to be at her husband’s deathbed, unable to accept the Nobel Peace prize, she is taking her seat in Parliament!  Amazing.

This is my pet issue.  I was born in Rangoon, Burma before the coup and after Suu Kyi’s father was assassinated.  I have this idyllic view of Burma.  The innocent, beautiful, magical place where I spent the first years of my life.  Growing up if I was angry with my parents, my big threat was that I would declare Burmese citizenship and move to Burma.  That showed them!!

I went to see the newly released movie “The Lady” about Suu Kyi the other day.  In Burma she is known everywhere as “The Lady”, their hope.  The movie was a three tissue tear jerker.  I cried through the whole thing.  Partly because it was emotional for me personally but it is really such a sad story.  I think everybody should go see it!  Not because it is a great film or particularly well made, although the scenery and the acting are both very nice, but because it is a real story about extraordinary courage under dire circumstances.

Today she took her seat in Parliament.  It is the beginning.  The pressure for change cannot ease now.

If you are interesting in learning more:

US Campaign for Burma

Related Post:  The Lady