Wednesday, January 21, 2009

There's no pedestrian crossings, there's a couple of zebra crossings here and there but they're just meaningless stripes across the road, they may even be zebras, who made the death wish to get to the other side. So when you're waiting for the steady stream of traffic to end, the last thing you want is for the last car to go slowly because they're looking at Abacus and saying "Baby!" to you out the window, allowing the distant cars behind it to catch up. Gah!

Abacus, I think, has finally cracked the whole reaching and grabbing thing. I did a lot of practice with her today and she's pretty much mastered the left hand and is getting the hang of the right hand too. 

Danielle's student, the one she found at a local restaurant, is making such awesome progress. He can read now, and put a jumbled sentence into order, and recognise words. He really loves it too, he's an eager student who never wants class to end. We really want for him to go to a school because he is so bright, but the cafe owner tells us he doesn't want to go to school, that he wants to work and make money. In a way though, what 12 year old wouldn't want to be grown up? Can the adults in his world really charge him with the responsibility of his future, it seems a little manipulative to me, to say "It's his choice, what can we do?". But that is just a cultural difference, there are a set of morals which are not wrong so much as part of a world completely removed for our own, and the cafe owners may very well be trying to do what's best for him. Today Danielle is going to ask him about it through an interpretor, who is a friend of ours.

Yesterday we went to watch the chinese drummers, which pound and crash through the evening air every night. I anticipated seeing about a hundred Chinese people with a hundred drums and cymbols, but we found only a single drummer, who was surrounded by four other people holding cymbols, they were all about 12. I can't believe the sound they produce.

Today we walked in search of the swimming pool. Such tasks are never as easy as you think. It was really hot today, the type of heat that makes you dizzy and drains your energy. The shade, if you could find it, seemed to reduce the temperature by 10 degrees. We knew the pool was somewhere off the main road, we asked directions, with Danielle pantomiming swimming by using freestyle arm movements. They pointed us down into the maze of suburbia, whose concrete walls only add to the ominous labyrinthine feel. We came across dogs which we chased off with sticks, we now have two sticks in the pram, after finding ourselves stickless when faced by a racist dog on our way to Burma, I want a long one, that I can keep sheathed on the side of the pram. One of the dogs charged us, but it was merely trying to get passed to bark at us from behind, in a calculated bullrushian move. We weaved through the meandering streets, where behind the gates of the suburban houses we saw the wooden dome baskets, which house prize roosters. But the maze spat us back out on the main street, with no sign of a pool so, defeated, we returned home.

What follows is about Burma and students and stuff, so if you're not into that sort of thing...also it is only what I've heard through various sources since arriving here, I don't have evidence, direct quotes or facts. 
So listen, the Burma thing is not so clear cut, there isn't just a government against its people. Burma is a united country of states, each distinguished by its specific ethnicity. If you meet someone you suspect is from Burma, you shouldn't say, "Are you Burmese?", because the Burmese are just one ethnic group within Burma. The sad thing is, that the Government is ethnically Burmese, which creates  tension between the Burmese and the other ethnicities. If you ask a Karen person if they're Burmese, they could be pretty offended. 
You see the students in Mae Sot, they're here to better their lives, most want to go on to university and with their knowledge transition Burma toward democracy. But these tensions run between the ethnicities. And it goes both ways, a lot of Burmese feel guilt for what's happened, and a lot of students have an abyss of hatred for the Burmese, who's people may well have exterminated their loved ones. The most successful insurgency is the KNU (Karen National Union), the Karen, who have never identified as being part of Burma, were promised a separate Karen nation when the British ceded rule. Since the SPDC took control, that idea was quashed and they have faced systematic genocide. If they were succesful in ousting the current regime would they take retribution upon the Burmese? It may seem cynical, but the seeds are visible. But listen, there are both Christian and Buddhist Karen (and others). And as the government is Buddhist they formed an alliance with the Buddhist Karen fighters to get information on the Christian Karen fighters, in return for the Buddhist Karens saftey (which, like the Grand Mufti's alliance with the nazis, could only be a reprieve, until there are no christian Karen left). 
And the students can be naive, but it's not their fault. They have been deprived of basic human rights, lived in fear of pogroms and had no freedom of speech nor exercise in critical thought. But when confronted with homosexuality, half a class laughed hysterically,while the other half wanted to kill them. And so where do human rights stand? And the kids, they have stories of child abuse at the hands of their fathers. Their fathers, who are mostly members of the democracy party, inflicted lessons on them, which sometimes took two dozen stitches to close, they smile or laugh and say "I'll never do that again." They talk fondly of it. They respect their elders through fear, "It's normal!", they smile cheerfully. While their imprisoned Prime Minister's primary message of "freedom from fear", is about as symbolic as Christs teachings to the warring Catholics and Protestants. If their idea of respect is fear, then why not respect their government? It is surely one of the most feared in the world. And what brand of democracy is in store for Burma, if their abusive fathers ever win power ? But this is just the state of everything, the world I mean, try and keep all the dimensions of the problem in your head, when you're trying to argue a point and your brain will implode. All I can say is that doing something here is better than doing nothing, the other concepts will hopefully follow, but isn't that just neocolonialism? I must have missed a dimension. The Burmese want external help to do things their way and the outside wants to help only if they can do it with western ideas. No liberal westerner would want to teach a class of westerners who hate gay people, or would stand by and listen to a student sanction their parents abuse, but here those ideas are tollerated as an essentially intricate part of the chaos. When you hear the stories they've written, of jailed parents, of people lost to the cyclone, or simply into the blackhole of Burma, how can any of your ideas make sense? And spare a thought too, for the teacher marking those stories who has to say "Well, actually, it should be 'My entire family was killed by Nargis', not 'My entire family is killed..." "Instead of, 'I hope I can seeing father again', try 'I hope I can see my father again'. Or, when going through names of occupations, when a child student asks "What job title is given to someone who steals people to sell them for money?" "A human traffiker.", "What is someone who asks for money on the street?" "A beggar." Such questions are banal to these children by the ubiquity of their exemplars.
But still, doing something is better than doing nothing. It has to be. 


Anonymous said...

are you going to bring your racist dog fending stick home? it will be pretty sad when you leave, maybe you should excalibur it near the dog gang hangout. k.

tzschot said...

i'll leave it with a sign saying free racist dog fending stick

atmosphrericks said...

its all so messed up.