Thursday, December 31, 2015

Myanmar - end of the year!

traducerea în limba română va urma...
With the end of the year approaching I have a few thoughts about the country, its recent past and its future.

Today the best word to characterise the country is CHANGE. It is a characteristic of developing countries and it should happen. Nevertheless pace in which change in Myanmar takes place is so high!

Here we are, one year and a half after we arrived and settled in a country which kept so few of the initial features we discovered mid June 2014. Opening a small parenthesis here, it was indeed very good that I decided to finalise my book and print it very fast after one year. Even now, many things which are described in the book have changed in part. I hope however  that it will remain an interesting read over the years. 

Politically, Myanmar was very often on the international front page this year, especially regarding the first democratic vote which took place in more than two decades, on the 8th of November. Given the clear election results, the country seems to be on its way to a better future. Nevertheless the complicated reform process will take time to bear visible results and this will put the patience of Myanmar's people to the test. As everywhere in the world, in developing and transition countries, the people hope for democracy and all the freedoms which come along with this. However, probably even more important for them is the social and economic development, at least, for the future of their children.

Indeed the economy is booming, no doubt about it. Change is happening everywhere, in every sector. From tourism to extractive industries, from construction to telecommunications. Recently the Yangon Stock Exchange was launched in a lavish ceremony with the first companies preparing to be listed at the beginning of next year. In the short term this agitation will bring little or nothing in terms of tangible benefits for the majority of the people. I fear the rich will become richer and the poor will remain in the same situation. Like a low-income friend told me some time ago: in this country the rich are too rich and the poor are too poor! And the six-grades hard working young lady was so right.

But there is hope and the vast majority of people are still showing the same kindness. And I am happy about it. Of course, they are now far more used to foreigners, less people ask you to make a picture with them, less and less are staring at you. Instead, they are happy to see you and smile trying to start a conversion even if it is in the Myanmar language. This happened to me lately in the circular train during a train ride which I enjoyed with one of our friends who is visiting Myanmar for the first time. I believe there is a lot of trust in people from outside, from the Western world, but also a lot of expectation. People's hopes are high and seeing so many foreigners and tourist strengthen their belief in a better future for their country. Environmental protection, the equal distribution of wealth resulting from the country's immense natural resources are but some of the items which are high on the agenda, as is the peace process. After the change of Government in April 2016 these burning issues will require the urgent attention of Myanmar's authorities. 

Even if environmentalists, both from inside and outside the country, rung the alarm bells long time ago nothing had more impact than seeing the Lady, Aung San Suu Kyi, picking up trash in one village. Of course, everywhere where she is making public appearances the media follows in a frenzy. She is an icon and is almost revered by the people in Myanmar. Putting aside the fact that it was more for her public image, the gesture I believe meant so much and had a huge impact for the people and potentially for changing their behaviour. Following this I saw on television other public officials showing the same example in their area. Now I have a reason more to tell the Myanmar people with whom I interact that they should preserve their country's natural environment and for instance not throw trash on the street and to take example from the Lady. It was not the case a few months back when being with a local friend she casually threw away on the street the candy paper in a gesture so naturally that I felt my observation would be out of place and even strange. 

But, I also seem to have lost my hopes for that Myanmar could one day become an eco-tourism destination like many had hoped that Myanmar would become. In a recent trip around the country, at the start of the tourist season, I was worried at the sight of scores of buses at the U Bein bridge in Amarapura (forget it, you will not be able to find a boat for the sunset; they are booked by the tourist agencies well in advance) and in Bagan. It is due to lack of infrastructure that the buses park close to the lake and bridge in Amarapura and the hotels lack capacity to host everyone. But what I hope is, in the future, at least that some areas may be included in some of the international protection programmes so that their natural beauty and richness is preserved for the generations to come, like the unique Mergui Archipelago in Southern Myanmar. 

We are living safe in Yangon and able to travel now, without any special permits, in most of the country. But we must not forget that there are still armed conflicts between the government and some of the ethnic groups. Before the elections a peace agreement was signed with some of them. But fights still occur in the country. Recently, in our visit to the Shan state, we saw the fighter jets flying overhead and later we heard that bombs had been dropped. We cannot forget the hardships and cruelty which come along for the locals in these areas, most of them displaced, especially for the most vulnerable ones children and women, from trafficking to rape to disease and child birth fatalities. 

Pages can be written about Myanmar's past and future but I limit myself to the things dear to my heart: education. Without education there is no future for the country as so many like to point out. So many things come to my mind that I need to stop a few minutes to think. I recall the stories from the "On the road to Mandalay" book which tells the stories of  children which have to drop out of school to work because either parents fell sick or their fathers left their families. I think about my smiling girl in Ava selling jade necklaces to tourists (whose picture I took a while ago), I think about girls who give up school so that their brothers can continue studying as they need to earn the necessary income as housemaids to support the family. I think about the teashop children seeing them work the whole day and even being sometimes served by them in downtown Yangon. And these children are not a few. And some are not children anymore. What will it happen with them in the future? The sad thing is that they do not have many perspectives for a better future. And even more saddening is the fact that they wish to study but have no possibilities or none are offered to them. There are no Government evening schools which they could attend! Without attending school they cannot get a diploma or certificate and they cannot develop their skills. Some small children are kindly taken in by private, monastic and NGOs facilities and learnt how to write and read. I really hope that for the future government this will be a top priority and funds will be put aside to reopen the evening schools all over the country or at least, in the beginning, in the big cities where most of the children and young adults are coming to look for work.

I end this article wishing all Myanmar people a bright, democratic and equal rights future! Never stop dreaming and may all your wishes come true! Happy New Year, Myanmar!

Sunset over Irrawaddy in Bagan, 30.12.2015

1 comment:

  1. Good morning how are you?

    My name is Emilio, I am a Spanish boy and I live in a town near to Madrid. I am a very interested person in knowing things so different as the culture, the way of life of the inhabitants of our planet, the fauna, the flora, and the landscapes of all the countries of the world etc. in summary, I am a person that enjoys traveling, learning and respecting people's diversity from all over the world.

    I would love to travel and meet in person all the aspects above mentioned, but unfortunately as this is very expensive and my purchasing power is quite small, so I devised a way to travel with the imagination in every corner of our planet. A few years ago I started a collection of used stamps because trough them, you can see pictures about fauna, flora, monuments, landscapes etc. from all the countries. As every day is more and more difficult to get stamps, some years ago I started a new collection in order to get traditional letters addressed to me in which my goal was to get at least 1 letter from each country in the world. This modest goal is feasible to reach in the most part of countries, but unfortunately it’s impossible to achieve in other various territories for several reasons, either because they are countries at war, either because they are countries with extreme poverty or because for whatever reason the postal system is not functioning properly.

    For all this I would ask you one small favor:
    Would you be so kind as to send me a letter by traditional mail from Myanmar? I understand perfectly that you think that your blog is not the appropriate place to ask this, and even, is very probably that you ignore my letter, but I would call your attention to the difficulty involved in getting a letter from that country, and also I don’t know anyone neither where to write in Myanmar in order to increase my collection. a letter for me is like a little souvenir, like if I have had visited that territory with my imagination and at same time, the arrival of the letters from a country is a sign of peace and normality and an original way to promote a country in the world. My postal address is the following one:

    Emilio Fernandez Esteban
    Avenida Juan de la Cierva, 44
    28902 Getafe (Madrid)

    If you wish, you can visit my blog where you can see the pictures of all the letters that I have received from whole World.

    Finally I would like to thank the attention given to this letter, and whether you can help me or not, I send my best wishes for peace, health and happiness for you, your family and all your dear beings.

    Yours Sincerely

    Emilio Fernandez