Where do I start with this one?
It has been so long since I have written about “i live here”, a grass-roots organisation that is changing the lives of displaced persons around the world through awareness, art, publishing stories of these people and through projects that seek to develop sustainable living through permaculture and education.
This one is hard to write. The last one (which was written in April 2011 I might add, and can be read here) fell from my fingertips like a title wave of emotion and feeling. After reading the second book in the anthology book of “i live here” a collection of stories and images from places in this world many of us can’t fathom in our nightmares, that is kinda where I am at.
Unable to fathom the fortunes of these people.
The words in this piece may offend some, not because I swear (which I don’t) but because the resulting imagery in your mind my be confronting. You’ve been warned.
Book 2: Burma
Burma, also known as Myanmar has one of it’s borders alongside Thailand, and this is the setting for much of the book.
There are two parts to this post for me : 1) is about how I reacted to the book and 2) is how little I knew about what was going on.
I’m just not sure what order to start in.
I think the two topics will intertwine as I go, but I might start with knowledge – the lack there of.
I don’t really watch much news. I should I guess, everyone always says I should but alas I just don’t. I don’t turn it on and watch it in the evening, I don’t pick up a newspaper every morning, and if the radio isn’t on I don’t hear it there either. What is happening in Burma has been going on for decades. I don’t even think I have heard much about it on the news in the past anyway, nor did I learn anything about it in school. Although I’m not sure what class what have been suitable to learn about civil unrest and ethic genocide. Maybe I was in the wrong one.
Which kind of links back to my other subject, my reaction. With no former knowledge of what is happening in Burma, I opened the pages of Book 2 to be confronted by words and images of rape, prostitution, human trafficking, child soldiers, and genocide, most of which based on the aim to erase a race of people. The Karen.
I have never been raped. I have never been tortured. I have never been sold for money or even beaten. The only fight I’ve ever been in was in primary school with a girl named Catherine that was what can only be called a “cat-fight” with hair-pulling and scratching (I don’t know why it started or how it ended, and the whole thing did not impact my life and is irrelevant to my existence). I’ve never had to defend my right to be alive. I feel to this very day that I have the right to live and to live the life I choose.
While reading the book I’m a little horrified to say I was actually on holidays, on a beach. The irony of this did not escape me. Hardly! More like it was weighing down on me. I felt I should be reading the book in a dark corner, so I didn’t feel guilty. My life, while born into a hard-working family – and I am hard-working myself – is privileged compared to many, especially these people. I never went without food or a bath or clean clothes. I did not have to run through a jungle for days and weeks to escape from soldiers trying to kill me just for being born.
How could I possibly grasp what I was reading? Sure I understand the words, because I’m also well-educated (another perk of my being born in “the right country” – a reference to my last post) but I can’t understand this life. I cannot fathom the life of woman who was sold over the border into Thailand under the pretence of becoming a cleaner, only to be forced into prostitution, forced to forfeit much of her first years earnings to the couple that ran the brothel to pay for getting her there, and then continue to pay them over the years she is there. In her words: “They sell us like animals and then we spend a couple of years paying them for selling us like animals.” I cannot for a moment imagine what she went through when made to have an abortion, done in an unclean house, with a stick and forced to bleed. How can I possibly relate to that? What am I supposed to do with this knowledge?
I read many more such stories. Stories of boys being stolen from the streets and forced to join the military or be put in prison, trained to kill, and if they are not strong enough to yield the weapons, forced to carry heavy bags of supplies up and down hills from place to place all day long, sworn at, beaten, barely fed.
The anthology of “i live here” is now a few years old – 2008-2009, which in our fast paced modern day world of day to day blogging and moment to moment news seems so long ago. I bet it doesn’t seem that long ago to the people of this world. And 4 years ago isn’t long when you realised all the things I am talking about were happening then. Does this not seem like archaic society? Not even a society. I don’t understand a land where people are treated this way.
The media I have read since reading the book has stated that in the last few years the country has made major movements toward eradicating all of this. But I am not naive enough to think that all the things I read about aren’t happening any more. That after an entire existence of war that a country can change so completely in 4 years.
So what can we do? We can we do sitting in front of our computer screens and smart phones? Well believe it or not, the act of becoming more aware is a great first step. Opening our eyes to what is happening in our world, we all share it. Sharing the awareness is another step – spread the knowledge. Write about your own experiences or a humanitarian group that inspires you.
Mikarla Teague, Australian ambassador for “i live here” says:
“no-one can do everything, but everyone can do something”
If you would like more information on the history of Burma/Myanmar you needn’t look further than google. If you would like more information on “i live here” – who they are and what they are about, if you would like to make a donation, get involved or purchase the anthology for yourself please visit their website here.
What can you do? Be thankful for what you have. Look around you and remember to tell your loved ones how much you care, and how lucky you are each and everyday. I’m thankful to you, everyone of you that takes time out of your day to read this. Thank you.