Thursday, June 19, 2008
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Villagers, mostly ethnic minorities, are being forced to build army camps in exchange for small amounts of food, and in some areas ethnic minorities are being ignored altogether. There are also many reports that the army is forbidding people to bury or dispose of the dead left after the cyclone over a month ago. The idea I guess is that they want the people to leave the area and move on, although one thing I have learned here is that it is futile to try and figure out why crazy people do the things they do.
And even while over a million go hungry amid the death and destruction left behind by Cyclone Nargis, this bunch of pompous generals are still launching attacks against the ethnic minorities along its borders. Just last week the military attacked Karen villages in Papun district, forcing over 1000 civilians into hiding in the jungles.
Overall, I spent two weeks working with an organization in Rangoon that shall go unnamed for their ongoing security. These guys are doing a great job of dealing with the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, even though they are hampered at every turn by the government. We were able to train and equip a group of over 30 Burmese nationals, consisting of doctors and nurses to go out to the affected areas where no foreigner is able to go. These teams were able to provide and are still providing necessary medicine, food and shelter to thousands of victims of the cyclone and the oppression of their own government. By far the real heroes of this tragedy, the Burmese people themselves have pulled together and are doing the best they can to help the 1.5 million people affected. I was just happy to be a small part of helping them do a great job.
The majority of my time was spent writing stuff for reports and publication, as well as helping in the office with IT stuff and training, and any other jobs that needed doing. As a big white guy, I was never able to actually reach the delta area where the need is the greatest. Our international staff were confined to the city, no one was allowed past the first army checkpoint. The possibility to get smuggled in was open at one point, but in the end, I felt it better not to go this route, as I would only get deported, whereas anyone caught helping would be arrested and imprisoned.
It was a great to see how things work in a situation like this, and seeing the way the Burmese junta works was a real eye opener. I am very grateful for the opportunity to have gone, I learned so much from those brave people on the ground in Rangoon. These incredible people impressed me every day with their ability to deal with the terrible situation with grace and empathy. The sad fact is, they have way too much practice, they have been dealing with the callous evil of the junta for fifty years. One young woman that I will never forget lost her sister and family to the cyclone, yet she was on one of the first of our teams to leave and bring aid to the survivors. Everyone from these areas had lost someone, mothers, brothers, sons, friends. No one was spared, but what got to me the most was the attitude of those left behind. No one waited around for outside help; perhaps they knew that it wouldn’t come. They simply went about the daily tasks of finding food, shelter and water.
I could share with you a hundred stories of survival, of loss, corrupt government officials, of destruction. But the fact is, although those things happened, and are still happening, the harsh reality is that these people are on their own, and they know it. But they don’t quit, they don’t complain. They get on with life, they survive. I admire that. I am glad I got the chance to meet them.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Monday, October 22, 2007
Friday, October 12, 2007
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Friday, October 05, 2007
The sad thing is, the Western world, as well as the surrounding countries and ASEAN simply allow this to happen. Oh sure, they talk a lot, send the United Nothing emmissary Ibrahim Gambari to talk with the junta, but thats it. And they talk a bit more about tougher sanctions, but thats just rubbish. The generals have proven they eat just fine under sanctions, and since Thailand, India and China still deal with Burma, they definitely won't change. So now another attempt by the people of Burma to influence their own destiny has been thwarted, and the rest of the world just sat by and watched it happen on CNN. Pathetic. As if sending the useless UN was going to make a difference. Has it ever? Until the west gets involved in Burma, by taking an active role, nothing will change. But they will keep talking about it, condemning the government, and all will stay the same.
The brave people of Burma have spoken, pleaded for help, in 1988, 1990, and now. And we in the west have ignored them. This is the kind of place we should be committing troops to, a place we should be working actively in. Or how about the Sudan. Instead we are mucking about in Iraq, losing a battle that cant be won anyway. But hey, theres not a whole lot of oil in Burma or the Sudan, is there George?
My friend Werner and I hiking in Switzerland
My sister Rachael at her wedding reception
My brother and I at Rachael's reception
We flew into Zurich, Switzerland for two weeks of visits to supporters and friends, and were busy the entire time. Has some great times with some great friends, and got to talk a lot about Burma and the situation here, as well as what we are doing with Partners. We were able to speak in one church aside from our own, and met with lots of people and share with everyone about the Karen people and what is going on in this part of the world. I was yet again amazed at how little people knew about Burma, as well as what they did know, which usually was wrong. Many thought that Burma was a stable place, and were appalled to hear about the systematic killing, rape and torture that is an everyday occurence inside a country where more is spent on the wedding of the leading generals daughter than is spent in an entire year on healthcare for the people of this impoverished land. Another highlight was an evening I got to spend in Zurich with some friends, drinking and talking and just catching up on all the old news.
After two great weeks, we flew on to America for my sister Rachael's wedding. We got there in the midst of all the planning and stuff before the wedding, so we really didnt get to spend as much time with everyone as we would have liked. But it was still great to be there and be a part of the wedding, which turned out beautifully. It was a great opportunity to see people we rarely get to see, like my grandparents and aunts and uncles, simply because we live so far away. It had been 6 years since I had seen most of them, and it was so cool to see how much all my cousins have grown over the past years.
After we got back, I took the bus down to Bangkok and finally got the Lasik surgery on my eyes done. It's so great to be able to see without glasses! I still find myself waking up and reaching for them, only realize I dont actually need them anymore. It was a strange experience, having my eyes held open and smelling burning flesh, but hey, if thats the price I have to pay to see without glasses, so be it.
Anyway, enough for now. I will be posting later today or tomorrow about the current situation here and in Burma. till then...
Friday, July 20, 2007
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Well, after a long absence from the computer, I am finally able to sit down with some small amount of time, and, desk clutter and overflowing inbox not withstanding, write a few words about whats been going on here. Things have been so busy in the last few weeks, I have been dealing with two different teams, one of which was 22 people and needed three pickups just to transport the luggage. One of the things I did with this team was some dentistry in one of the refugee camps. I had worked a few times previously with a dentist here, going into the refugee camps and doing free dentistry for our childrens homes and anyone else we could possibly work on, but this team was great because they brought another dentist, and i was able to assist him with extractions, and learn tons, enough that after he left, i was doing them on my own next to the other dentist, who was doing fillings. All we can realistically do is fill holes and pull bad teeth, but there were a few very interesting oral surgeries, one in which we took a tooth out the side of the gum, after sawing through the bone. So many people wanted to just have a cleaning, which given the amount of people we had who had real problems, we couldn't do, but on looking at some of these "cleanings", we found lots of cavities to do and more than a few teeth to pull. I must admit, i really enjoyed it, and would love to learn more...
In other news, we are planning a trip to Switzerland and America in Sept, we arrive in Switzerland on the 22nd of August, and leave for America on the 5th of Sept, arriving back in Bangkok on the 28th of Sept. send me an email or leave a comment here if you want us to come speak at your church or home group, or if you just want to get together and have a beer or two!
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Many of you will already have gotten this from me in your email, but in the interest of spreading the word, here it is again, for those who havent seen it yet. Click HERE. It is a great article from the Guardian about the situation in Burma now, highlighting the atrocities and motives behind some of the worst violence going on in this world today. Until normal people like us start caring, our lazy, greedy governments wont. so do something. call your representative and let them know that you as a voter are unhappy with this. Write a letter. Raise a fuss. Dont sit there and read it and think, "Hmm, that sucks. Poor people." and then just go about your day. Dont say, "But what can I do?" You know what to do. If you dont, email me and I will be happy to give you a monumental list.
Other news, we are in Chiang Mai at the moment finishing the long process of work permits, as well as attending a course on debriefing. This whole visa thing has been a huge headache, but finally it is almost done. Gotta run. Love to you all.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
This is an armband that the Burma Army is forcing Karen villagers who have been "relocated" to wear. A villager fled one of the "relocation camps" and brought this out. It translates: "Against the KNU". Just in case you were wondering, the KNU is the Karen political organization set up by the Karen themselves to protect the rights of their people. The photo is a copy from another blogsite, Refugees Within, linked on the right. just thought you all should see it. Remind you of any other regimes we all know and hate? You know, those Germans in the 1930's and 40's? Anybody remember them from your history lessons? Somebody really needs to take some action here, these guys are getting way too confident. Oh, wait, they can get that confident, since the rest of the world are a bunch of gutless wimps (I would use more explicit language here, but my grandma reads this too) who are scared to actually do anything except talk about Burma. And for those countries who arent so gutless, well, there really is no cash to be made there, so why bother right? Sounds all too familiar to me. Oh, and a relocation camp is just a politically correct term for a place where people are forced to go where there is no work, food or infrastructure, where they are forced to build roads and temples for fat overweight tourists, without compensation and against their will, without being provided for or supported in any way, and are subject to any sort of brutality that the soldiers guarding them fancy to inflict; including, but not limited to: rape, torture, extortion, etc, etc. Sound like a place you would like to visit on YOUR vacation?
Much thanks to the guy who risked his neck to bring this out, and for the creator of Refugees Within for having the guts to show it. All credit goes to them.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
I just opened a new photo veiwing website, see it here. There is also a link at right. The idea is to see if there is a market for some of my pics, for example, stock photo websites and the like. The income would be a big support for us, and since I take tons of pics anyway, why not give it a try. Check out the site and let me know what you think.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
A couple of pics from Chinatown
We got our visa!!! Singapore was great, super clean, nice people, lots of different foods, Indian, Chinese, Tamil, etc, etc. Great city to visit, lots of good shopping if you have the cash, which I dont, but no matter, because there were lots of opportunities for great photos (a few favs above), and the food was cheap. Plus, we were blessed that we could stay for free in a private home arranged by some friends. Thanks David and Florence!! I was able to get a great deal on a camera lens i have been wanting for over a year, found it very cheap in Little India. 50 mm fixed, 1.8 Fstop, for those of you who care. Great for low light, the photo of the street scene was shot with an ISO of 200 with a shutter speed of 125. Super cool, it will replace my stock lens for almost everything, and its really light for those jungle trips too.
Saw a few movies over the last week too. Blood Diamonds was great. If you like good movies, see this one. It will make you think a lot about what you spend your cash on, and who it kills, plus the good that can be done. Every one is redeemable. Except of course, the makers of the second movie I saw, Babel. They dont stand a chance. That movie was probably the worst movie I have seen in years. If you like long panning shots of deserts, mexican weddings, or Japanese cityscapes, then this one might be for you, but otherwise, spend the cash on a couple of pints at your favorite watering hole. Its random, but not random enough to keep you guessing. Its boring. Its about the randomness that connects our lives with others all over the world. Or some such rubbish. I dont know, I could barely stay awake. All the good parts were shown on the preview. The funny thing is, the "critics" gave it rave reviews. I have no idea why, I disagreed with everything I read about the film. My theory is this: They give out high grade smack at critic movie screenings. In order to get to go to the next screening, the hopelessly addicted critics have to say something nice. To get more smack. Its an endless cycle. Although it could be that I have no taste. After all, I thought A Beautiful Mind was crap too.
Friday, February 09, 2007
Shan girl watching the tug of war matches
Shan boy wearing traditional dress.
His oversized shoes were given to him
by our relief team.
I went last week for four days to Shan State, northern Burma, both to deliver supplies and gather information, and also to attend the Shan National Holiday celebrations. Leaving my lovely wife at home, our team travelled 3 hours north over some of the most vomit inducing roads imaginable, (think James Bond style curves, plus potholes and random livestock roaming the hairpin turns). I was then the lucky recipient of a 3 hour off road trip to the camp in the back of the pickup. Not the most fun, let me tell you. I think that my kidneys will never forgive me for the beating they took on the side of the truck. Sitting in the back of the truck with our videographer, all our luggage, our guide (who was drinking a strange amber liquid from an old bottle) and a pair of Shan people plus their dog, I had a bit of time to reconsider what exactly I was doing in that situation. That is when I had time in between the vomiting fits. I guess I cant really complain though, since this is what I volunteered for. The "official" reason for the trip was to escort some film makers and to help them in any way I could, and also to help our team leader to bring much needed clothes and supplies to the IDP's living there. The real reason I went though was to see one of the most forgotten people groups in the world. The Shan are just as abused by the Burmese as the Karen are, but are not even allowed refugee status in Thailand. Their culture is being destroyed by the Burmese, who will not allow the Shan language to be taught in school, force Shan monks to leave and installing Burmese monks, as well as the usual rape and pillage life of the Burma Army. It is said that 80 percent of women have been raped or witnessed someone else raped, and women are routinely used as sex slaves, being sold into Thailand and to China. Plus, Shan state is where the Burma Army and its proxies produce vast amounts of opium and anphetamines for the western markets.
We were able to distribute Christmas presents (a bit late, I know) and clothes to almost 400 kids, plus provide a bunch of other stuff to the village leaders. I guess the highlight of the week though was the National Day celebrations, consisting of games, a concert, and each ethnic group presenting its national dance. I got to join with some of the soldiers for tug of war, which we won, and also sort of pugilist game, where two combatants sit on top of a 8 inch thick piece of bamboo, resembling those stupid balance beams we all had to use in gym class. The idea is to take a sack filled with rice husks and knock the other guy off. I was invited by our driver to fight against him, so, not being one to say no to humilition, decided to try. The first round we both went over pretty quick, but the second round I drilled him square in the head, knocking him off pretty hard. The bad part is, he seriously injured his left arm (the one he shifts with) in the fall. So now I have gone and almost broken the arm of the commanders driver, and to make matters worse, he still had to drive us down from the village the next day, using only one arm to drive and shift, a hard enough proposition on nice roads, terribly difficult on 4WD tracks. A couple of beers to massage his shattered ego seemed to do the trick though, and everything turned out OK in the end. All in all it was a great trip, next time though I think I will make sure to take some Dramamine with me for the ride!
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
not a whole lot going on here with us, outside of the normal stuff. Our laptop is on its way out, the screen is dying. One option is to simply buy a monitor, but I would really like to get another one if at all possible. One reason for this is that our old computer is a PC, using that cursed Windows. Bill Gates is a crook. As if he doesnt have enough money, he charges 35 dollars to ask a question on his MSN website. This doesnt mean that the question will be answered, and even if it is, it doesnt mean that it will be helpful. I hate him, and his silly operating system. I know it sounds harsh to use the word "hate", but hey, say it like it is. Not only is he a complete geek, he is a rich geek who runs the world. Thank God there is freeware out there, I really cant bear to give that guy any more money than I absolutely have to. I want a Mac, not only are they more stable, it means that no cash will go to Bill and his cronies. The second reason is that with all the photo editing and video I have been doing lately, a Mac is really the only way to go anyway.
We have to go to Singapore in Feb for a visa, should be fun. Only going down for a few days, got an insanely cheap flight and we are going to stay in some cheap roach bag hotel. I heard Singapore was quite boring though, so I guess we will see. Maybe I can tear the hood ornaments off of Mercedes, or key someones car. Might add a bit of spice to the trip!
Friday, January 19, 2007
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Ever wonder about the small things that bring us together? Not the big stuff like war, and sickness, difficulty, or other things that normally bond people together. A little story to illustrate the point. I just got back from a trip to Mae Ra Moe refugee camp. I went with a team that came from Alaska, great bunch of people. We stayed for 5 days, for me it was great being there, as it was there that I first got to work with the Karen people 3 years ago. Sadly, not much has changed. More people, more dust, more misery. But oddly, and amid so much hardship, I was again touched by the love and hope that the normal everyday people have. I am not talking about the pastors, leaders, and big wigs. I mean the kids that came everyday to play. I mean the guys who offered to wash my t-shirt after it got dropped in the dust. The little people. The two girls who came to a couple of us one night with an old photograph, pointing to one of the people in the picture. It took some looking, but I recognized one of the girls on the team who had been there two years ago and had given the picture. These two little girls still remembered, and were thrilled to find out that their friend had come back to visit. I think they were even more thrilled when we invited them in for hot chocolate and oreos. It was a small thing like giving a picture to a child that made a difference. Not our programs or our gifts. A simple picture of home for us, but an unimaginable world to a refugee kid. Something that those little girls could hold onto. They couldn't communicate well with each other, yet there was an undeniable bond there. I guess some things trancend all boundaries. Like a picture. Or Oreos.