Blogging for Burma

Since Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar last month, I am reminded daily of the country that left an indelible impression on a twenty-two year old me. Today I’m rechristening my personal blog with the first post of a series I’m calling “Blogging for Burma”. My purpose is threefold:

  1. Context – I spent most of the month of August 2005 in Myanmar. While this in no way qualifies me as an expert on this country, I feel that my experiences can help add some context to the discussion on Myanmar in the wake of the disaster.
  2. Catharsis – It’s been three years and I think it’s long overdue that I solidify an experience that has undeniably shaped the way I perceive the world today.
  3. Charity – To balance the selfishness of #2, I’ve decided that I am going take this opportunity to help raise money for the victims of Cyclone Nargis.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to post anecdotes about my travels in Burma and relate those back to lessons I’ve learned. I’m not sure exactly how many there will be, but right now I’ve got five or so cooking.

You may be thinking I’m a little late, right? I can’t deny that this post was supposed to go out weeks ago, but I think this is still a good time. Just as the tragedy is slipping off the front page, I hope I can do my part to reinvigorate the conversation.

A disclaimer: Most of the time I spent in Myanmar was not in the region affected by cyclone Nargis. Travel in Myanmar is highly restricted. I did spend some time in Yangon, but the Irrawady Delta, the area hardest hit by the cyclone, was completely off limits, so I can merely speak from the few parts I was able to visit.

Without further ado, the first lesson…

Orange Sludge

I was lucky enough to go on a three day hike through the foothills near Kalaw in northern Myanmar. Guided by Mr. Kaye (pronounced “key”), I hiked through a jungle densley interwoven with sunflowers, rice paddies, mango fields, and small villages, all connected by the worst roads I’ve ever seen.

Mr. Kaye lead the way on a road near Kalaw

The most vivid image burnt into the back of my brain is that of orange tinted clay that covers most of the ground in Myanmar and a large part of Southeast Asia. It’s pictureque against the backdrop of lush jungle and neatly laid rows of rice paddies, but in monsoon season (May to October) this stuff turns into orange sludge, simultaneously combining the two worst characteristics in a surface that is meant to be traveled on — sticky like tar and slippery like ice. Walking is battle, not to mention walking with a pot of water or bucket full of rice.

To the left is a picture of a pretty typical back country road that I saw on my travels. You can see why the situation is so desperate in the Irrawaddy Delta. When you combine one of the worst infrastructures in the world with a natural disaster like Cyclcone Nargis, you end up with a logistical nightmare.

Here are a few more roads I came across:


Road near Kalaw#2

Road near Kalaw #3

Nicer Road near Inle Lake

Road Near Yangon

The point: Infrastructure is tremendously important.

I took that for granted for a long time, spoiled by Route 80. Now I stop and marvel that I can take that one highway clear across the country from my new home in San Francisco to Exit 37 in New Jersey.

Donate

I know it’s difficult to relate to a far off tragedy, but I believe that a little bit of money can literally save hundreds, if not thousands of lives. Please donate to the relief effort and help me reach my goal of $5000. I’ve kicked it off with a personal donation of $500.

To donate just click “donate” on the sidebar or click here. All donations go to Doctors Without Borders, a fantastic non-profit. You can read about their effort in Myanmar here.

  • Bob Dobbs

    Why donate if their evil government is just going to keep all the goodies for themselves? :(

  • http://mixwit.com Michael Christoff

    That's a valid point, but aid is starting to seep in. I think at this point the Burmese government is not going to be able to stop it. There is some progress:

    http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/06/11/asia/mya

    ….and an urgent need:

    “A call for $201 million brought only $82 million in donations by June 9, the UN said in a statement.”

    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601080

    I'd much rather risk my money going into the hands of the Burmese government rather than failing to act.

  • Bob Dobbs

    Why donate if their evil government is just going to keep all the goodies for themselves? :(

  • http://mixwit.com Michael Christoff

    That's a valid point, but aid is starting to seep in. I think at this point the Burmese government is not going to be able to stop it. There is some progress:

    http://www.iht.com/articles/20

    ….and an urgent need:

    “A call for $201 million brought only $82 million in donations by June 9, the UN said in a statement.”

    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/

    I'd much rather risk my money going into the hands of the Burmese government rather than failing to act.

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