“I feel I want to fight for democracy. But I think we had better make a longer plan. We cannot go to the streets and get shot again. There is no one left to die.” – Video journalist Joshua, in Burma VJ
I sat in the cinema with tears streaming down my face. Tears, chased by quiet sobs, because the story flickering on the big screen made us relive that familiar surge of hope against all odds, the tales of optimism in the face of oppression, and the utter crushing disappointment when the bubble is burst yet again – the story, the endless story, of Burma.
But Burma VJ is not just another story. It may be pixels on a screen, it may be chock full of controversial reenactments, but for someone who remembers her friends from Burma, this is real life. A real life that hit far too painfully close to home when I saw a dear friend, retired photojournalist Law Eh Soe, on screen, “accidentally” caught on video as he braved it all to capture those by now famous photographs that told the world of the acts of extraordinary courage in Rangoon in 2007 – the story of the Saffron Revolution.
In 1999, I went to Yangon for a college community service project. We were told never to talk about politics with the people we met in Myanmar. I had only the vaguest of notions about the potential implications, and an even shallower understanding of contemporary Myanmar politics, but I heeded our teacher’s advice, and so found myself scowling at the university student from another team when he was so foolhardy as to ask our local liason, a young man barely out of his teens, on his thoughts about the junta, and got nothing but tears for an answer. It was to be two whole years later, along the Thai-Burma border, where words flow freer, that I began to get a clearer picture of this country I had witnessed, but not understood.
A research project in a Karenni refugee camp introduced me to many friends who wanted to share their stories. Please tell your friends about our situation, they’d say. Anyone who will listen. Every single soul who empathises; who cares, counts. Tell them our story. Do not forget us. We are still here. We are still suffering. And so on it went, and we left overwhelmed and depressed, unsure of what we could possibly do to make any difference, and in our desperation, we poured our energy into a little awareness and income-generation project, and while that helped in its own tiny way, it was not enough; and it always seems like it will never be enough.
“Please use your liberty to promote ours”, the lady, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi once said. And this rallying call was echoed in a voice shaking with emotion, by a Burmese lady during the discussion session after MARUAH‘s Burma VJ screening.
Yes, it is heartbreaking to hear; it is frustrating to care, yet feel completely powerless to do anything. While it may not seem like much, ensuring that we know the facts on the issues surrounding Burma matters:
Because what we tell our governments about what we think of their engagement with Burma, matters.
Because what we tell the companies about what we think of their investments in Burma, matters.
Find out and speak up.
But perhaps what matters most of all, is assuring another person that they matter. My dear friends, though none of us knows when this may end, know this – we have not forgotten you.