Burma’s Heroes in Amarillo Texas, With Loving Kindness.
Sitt gave me a private showing of his fantastic art work and as usual, I was captivated by his artistic prowess and his rich blend of ancient Indian and contemporary styles he is noted for. After all, he was a pioneer and a trail blazer in the art scene of South Asia and his works grace private collections and galleries around the world. He is also a champion of Burma’s struggle for democracy in his own right and has donated literally millions of dollars in art to Burmese pro democracy organizations around the world. If you know Sitt then you already know that a visit with this iconic figure is always an adventure, on many levels I might add.
On this journey I was afforded the opportunity to meet with some of the warriors in Burma’s struggle for democracy. Notably, I met Saw Ngo, a prolific, talented, world renowned artist and a seasoned jungle fighter. I also met with a former child soldier along with members of the NLD, 88 Generation and a host of other champions of Burma’s struggle including Ko Ju Ju & Thein Saung and this story is dedicated to them. There were a few other folks but I did not get their names, at least not this time.
In speaking with a former child soldier, named Aung Aung, I asked him how he was forced into service at the age of 11. He countered that he was not coerced in any way. After watching people being murdered and experiencing the savagery and blood lusting of Burma’s Tatmadaw he chose to take up arms to defend his people. In his words, “I had to do something, I could not just watch as people were being raped and murdered”. As he spoke I could see the youthful gleam in his eyes transform into that of a hardened combat veteran who counted coup in countless campaigns. By the time he was 21 years of age he had already spent a lifetime as a jungle fighter. His eyes have witnessed more than he cared to remember.
I stayed at the home of U Kyaing, his beautiful wife Daw Khin and I was honored to be a guest in their humble home. Incidentally there was a fantastic mural painted on the wall of their living room. The centerpiece is Buddha and on one side is a depiction of the city and on the other side is Bagan along with scenes of life in their beloved Burma. With artisans such as Sitt and Saw in their midst this has all the makings of a Buddhist Shrine and according to U Kyaing this was his intention. And from what I’ve seen this shrine is well worth viewing. After all, it was painted by world renowned artists. In fact, Sitt and his paint brush used the walls of their home as his personal canvas making it appear more like an art gallery. Words can not describe how welcome they made me feel. And well, I also loved their fine Burmese cuisine, being the foodie that I am. I’ll take the wafting aroma of shrimp paste over the smell of triglyceride fries any day. All of a sudden, I am starving to death.
Saw Ngo made his place in Burma’s history as well as the art world and his illustrations adorn many Burmese journals and his work is known around the planet. I was awestruck by this talented artist as we reviewed his works, he was the real deal. His satirical renditions of Burma’s political circus were both humorous and poignant. As we spoke I also could feel the sorrow and pain this artist felt within his spirit. Unpretentiously, Saw also told me about the plight of the veterans of Burma’s struggle who reside in Amarillo. Though they gave their all for Burma, her people and the cause for democracy they felt alone, isolated and forgotten. Their stories of heroism, their struggle to survive and the memory of their fallen brothers and sisters who sacrificed their lives have never been told. Hmm, I will just have to do something about that.
The issues that US combat veterans face when returning from war are the same issues these warriors must endure. When we sat around and enjoyed the day together we had a wonderful time. They were full of stories of both joy and deep sorrow. It was clear they suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the extreme, just like moi. But what compounded their suffering was the fact they are forgotten or ignored and have little, if any, recognition of their sacrifices. They don’t have resources available to them to deal with PTSD or other associated maladies that afflict those who faced absolutes and death. They are combat veterans without any support system or benefits. With a price still on their heads they also can’t ever go back home to Burma, the land of their birth and the land they truly love.
I was humbled by their presence and felt honored to be privy to their stories and knew their anguish. I personally know what its like to relive tragic and horrific events in life, over and over again, bouncing from fear to anger than sorrow all at once. I know what its like to wake up covered in sweat screaming at the top of my lungs filled with fear, anger & sorrow with my heart beating out of my chest. For me, triggers are everywhere, from a scent that takes me back to a moment in time filled with the smell of death, a sound that sends me to the floor or that special feeling of fear knowing people are out there trying to kill you. That is a hard one for me, the feeling of fear of discovery and imminent death. Sometimes I just can’t shake it and it haunts me at the worst time. It’s embarrassing for me to visit people and stay over-night because of my midnight outbursts of horrific screams.
Another issue I addressed was how the local law enforcement in Amarillo treated them since I’ve heard some horror stories from refugees who came from the Dallas Fort Worth area for a visit. To my joy I was informed that the cops are very compassionate to them and have gone out of their way to assist as understand their culture. “We love the police here in Amarillo because they are kind to us” I was told. When I queried why other refugees from out of town complained about Amarillo’s law enforcement one person said, “You can’t play big shot from the big city; you just need to be honest and respect them (cops), and they will help you”. From personal experience; if you act like a dick the police will give you the shaft and like the sign says: “You Don’t Mess With Texas”. Frankly, I’ve dealt with more police brutality and racism in the “Land of Fruits and Nuts” (California) then I ever experience in Texas and I’m as ethnic as it gets.
Then I met Aung Aung’s parents, father U Myo Myint and his mom Daw Aye Ye and was I in for a foodie’s surprise. Daw Aye Ye was busy preparing some traditional Burmese food when I arrived, talk about timing eh. We chatted for a bit and I asked U Myo Myint if he would ever consider going back to Burma since there is a new government in place. He looked at me then laughed and informed me that nothing has changed and people continue to be murdered by the junta. I was later informed he had a price on his scalp for his intense involvement in the pro democracy movement. He was a jungle fighter as well, hmm, like father like son.
Later Daw Aye Ye prepared a meal that was fit for Alaungpaya and his royal
court. The aromas throughout their home were scintillating. When the meal was presented I could not help but become ravenously hungry as I viewed all the entrées on the table. There was delicacies of every kind and don’t ask me to pronounce their names either but one thing was for sure, they were all beyond excellent. One item in particular caught my attention though. It was a leaf wrapped delicacy of prepared fish row and mushrooms that just blew me away. That was one of the most flavorful delights I had ever tasted. I struggled hard not to make a piglet out of myself, and a struggle it was. I asked Myo and Aye if they would adopt me.
The trip to Amarillo was a fantastic journey into the heart and soul of Burma for I
had the opportunity to hang out with my friend Sitt, meet with the unsung heroes of Burma’s democracy movement and eat some very delicious food. We all decided that there is more to do in Amarillo as far as the Burmese community is concerned. I plan to be back in the near future to shoot more film, write more stories and see what else I can offer this budding Burmese community. Most important of all, I want Burma’s heroes to know they are not forgotten and it was truly an honor to be in the presence of democracies champions. And one more thing, I’ll be back with my industrial strength chop stick.
Your Devil’s Advocate
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