On June 11, The Irrawaddy, an independent media outlet in Myanmar, ran a story about the Free Burma Rangers being banned from Myanmar by the Tatmadaw (Burma Army). It included several quotes from military spokesperson Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun. The article immediately circulated around the FBR office, with reactions ranging from surprise to outright laughter.
A few weeks ago I got some new assignments in reporting and publications! I've wanted to get into the information department for a while, but it was pretty full last year and didn't have any extra work. Now a few volunteers have left and there's also more to do. Late March, another volunteer handed off KIA incident reporting to me, and another asked me to help redesign an old website.
"For a million villagers in Burma, running is not a choice." That’s the tagline on the posters for Run for Relief, FBR’s annual fundraising 5k. Every March, runners participate in a 5k to raise money and awareness for Burmese refugees. You can run with sneakers or, as suggested, with flipflops - to remember refugees who have to flee from their villagers every year with flipflops or even no shoes at all. For the ethnics, of course, running is not a choice.
"Half an hour before sunset, the burning starts." This is a short story I wrote last year when burning season started in Chiang Mai, and I regret to say that the smoke is just as bad as ever. Last year I was housesitting someone else's place on the outskirts of the city, and from where I stood, I couldn't see Doi Suthep mountain - 5498 feet tall - from 6 miles away.
When I arrive at the office in the morning, I head out to the kitchen first and get a cup of coffee. I hang around and chat with everyone else in the main room for half an hour, or sometimes an hour. And when everyone finally starts working, I head upstairs. Upstairs is where I truly belong. The tech office is there. But calling it an office might be a misnomer, because "office" suggests a kind of orderliness that, well, this room doesn't have.
Larry turned to me and said, “So, what do you know about conflict in Burma?” “Er, not much,” I said. “I know that the ethnic groups are fighting with the Burma Army, and it’s over resources and jade and stuff, but I don’t know much else besides that. They used to be a British colony and ever since they became independent they’ve been having civil wars, and it’s a military dictatorship.” That’s Burma in a nutshell... painted in the broad strokes of a kindergartener using finger paint. Larry nodded, and then, for the next hour, told me everything I wanted to know about where the conflict had come from and why it was happening.
The Free Burma Rangers attracts a wide variety of characters. Most tend to be Christian and many are ex-military, but volunteers span the gamut of religions, nationalities, political ideologies, and occupations. We're all held together by a common goal: to help free the oppressed in Burma. But I can definitely say, there's never a dull moment meeting people in the office.