In Your Dreams: Travelling the road to Mandalay
Keywords:imagining Burma, freedom and democracy, landscapes of exile
AbstractSince 2007, I have been travelling regularly to the Thai /Burma border to run creative writing workshops with Burmese women refugees. The stories that eventuate from the workshops are published and distributed internationally. I have never been inside Burma so my knowledge of the country has come to me via other peoples’ stories. Recent changes that have taken place in Burma give glimpses of hope for a democratic future and yet I remain on the edges of this country I feel I know intimately.
In his memoir From the Land of Green Ghosts (2004) Pascal Khoo Thwe writes about the layers of distinctly different cultures that make up the country of Burma. After attending university in Mandalay Pascal was forced to flee after the arrest of his activist girlfriend. He joined the guerilla forces on the border and then through a chance encounter with academic, John Casey, finally made his way across the border into Thailand then on to England. This extraordinary story is more common than many people realize. When one considers the more than half a million refugees who have fled across the Burmese borders into neighboring Thailand over the last decade it is easy to see the tremendous ramifications that the political situation has had on the people of Burma.
This paper is a meditation on the Burma of my imagination and the many permutations of country, culture and landscape that I have come to know through the people of Burma and their relationship to the lands of their birth. As a facilitator of other people’s stories I reflect on the ways in which the personal stories of lives lived inside Burma and on the borders of the country as refugees have helped me understand the situation there. The paper also explores the way narrative and advocacy, storytelling and capacity building have played a part in the democratic changes that are now taking place after more than sixty years of civil war inside Burma.
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