Update: With luck I should be back on my route at the India/Myanmar border on New Years Day or 2nd at the latest! This blog is an update from approx 5-6 weeks ago. The final Myanmar post will be published in a few days time.
I had managed to run solo in Myanmar for about ten days before I acquired the police escort.
Myanmar has for a long time been a country very close to my heart.Now I am running through the country.
I have been a supporter of Myanmar’s political prisoner and leader of the opposition , Aung San Suu Kyi for many years. On this very blog saluted her final release (let’s hope) from house arrest in 2010, a month after my world run began. Please read my posting HERE which I penned three years ago just after her release.
Aung San Suu Kyi returned to Burma in 1988, after years living and studying abroad, only to find widespread slaughter of protesters rallying against the brutal rule of dictator U Ne Win. She spoke out against him and initiated a nonviolent movement, almost Gandhi like toward achieving democracy and human rights. In 1989, the government placed Suu Kyi under house arrest, and she spent 15 of the next 21 years in custody. In 1991, her ongoing efforts won her the Nobel Prize for Peace She was finally released from house arrest in November 2010.Aung San Suu Kyi’s father founder of the Burmese army and formerly the de facto prime minister of British Burma, was assassinated in 1947. Her mother, Khin Kyi, was appointed ambassador to India in 1960. Suu Kyi obtained a bachelor’s degree from the University of Oxford in 1969, and in 1972, she married. She had two children—in 1973 and 1977—and the family spent the 1970s and 1980s in England, the United States and India.
Though the Union military told Suu Kyi that if she agreed to leave the country, they would free her, she refused to do so, insisting that her struggle would continue until the junta released the country to civilian government and political prisoners were freed. In 1990, a parliamentary election was held, and the party with which Suu Kyi was now affiliated—the National League for Democracy—won more than 80 percent of the parliamentary seats. The election results, though, were predictably ignored by the junta. Twenty years later, they formally annulled the results.
Suu Kyi was released from one of her many house arrests in July 1995, and the next year she attended the NLD party congress, under the continual harassment of the military. Three years later, she founded a representative committee and declared it as the country’s legitimate ruling body, and in response, in September 2000, the junta once again placed her under house arrest. She was released in May of 2002.
In 2003, the NLD clashed in the streets with pro-government demonstrators, and Suu Kyi was yet again arrested and placed under house arrest.
Her sentence was then renewed yearly. The extension of a house arrest sentence is illegial under Burma and international law. The international community came to her aid each time, calling continually for her release (to no avail).
Irish rock band U2 were among many celebrities to have championed her cause. They wrote a song called WALK ON.
In some of my interviews I have mentioned to surprised journalists that this very song is my favorite song. despite the title I do not see it as a running or walking song, just a song about freedom, or rather the lack of freedom.
I sang this song many times when running through the country. I sang it also while running towards the Myanmar border in Thailand.
All things U2 are banned in Myanmar because of their support and ongoing campaign for the release of Suu Kyi.
Strangely there are huge U2″ posters on display all over the country, this U2 being a coffee brand!
As mentioned the military junta gave her an opportunity to leave the country. to escape her open cage of house arrest.
As the lyrics in Walk On state
“ You’re packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been
A place that has to be believed to be seen
You could have flown away
A singing bird in an open cage
Who will only fly, only fly for freedom ”
(Lyrics courtesy U2)
Press HERE to view U2 perform Walk On live the Rose Bowl. Members of Amnesty International and the Burma Action group are called on stage to parade wearing Suu Kyi masks.
Towards the end of my time in the country when I was under escort there were many days that I ran with a heavy heart. Often I sang Walk On to the top of my voice or played it loud on my phone for the police officers who knew not its significance, victims of state censorship. All media publications or broadcasts must have the approval of the generals.
I followed up with a couple of poor distance days for I was starting to suffer humping my pack in the hot humidity. I ran by the so called Delta area of Myanmar, an area forbidden to foreigners after the flooding disaster of a few years back. A previously forbidden area because the generals in the Myanmar government did not want the western world to see what they were doing with donations for the country’s relief efforts, Or rather not doing for the relief money went straight into their bank accounts.
During the civil war the Burmese people were often reduced to slave labor, villages were looted by the troops, women raped and the citizenry were used to clear mine fields, mines which were purposely planted close to peoples land where they farmed their food . It is to their credit they are a gentle people devoid any bitterness.
That night I stayed in a monastery. No sooner was I inside when the cops told me it ‘ would not be suitable ‘ for me. I stood my ground, asking why not if Myanmar claims to be a democracy, eventually they allowed me to stay.
I am not really sure why they are, do they think I am a spy who has somehow parachuted in here, that the running is my cover?
Of course no great expedition is complete without being arrested for suspicion of spying!
53km that day. My many stops meant I had a late finish. It was dark, the road was quiet so I pulled my bivy out and slept on a seat under a little used bus shelter. I lit a couple of mosquito coils, for me coils are the best deterrent against the bastards, but they are so fragile, difficult to transport and heavy.
Another big distance day, 55km had me running late again. This time I could have finished earlier but I decide to stop at a restaurant for a delicious meal, so much good food I wondered how I could possibly run. Many of the meals are almost an eat as much as you like affair as they keep bringing plates of vegetables, meat, fish, rice and the delicious soup is usually filled two or three times. It is not uncommon to have up to ten dishes on the table. All this for a princely sum in the region of 2 to 4 euro including coffee, tea is always served free in Myanmar even when you order coffee.
I ran about 50 metres into the field before I stopped to turn off my red flashing light which was attached to the back of my pack. The field was swampy and I had to put to the back of my mind that Myanmar is a country with a huge venomous snake population. A couple of days ago in a period of just one hour I ran past about fifty dead snakes, steamrolled into the battered tarmac by the traffic. The two men came over to the gap in the hedge and shone their flashlights into the field. I felt sure they would not follow me for they wore sandals, not exactly equipped for wading across a saturated field. Never the less I made my way through the long grass to a cluster of tall plants about 300 metres from the road. It was the only cover available. The moon was full and shone brightly over the field. The two men stood about twenty metres apart, advancing slightly while shining their flashlights in a co-ordinated manner. I wondered had they got military training.
I couldn’t help worrying that they would somehow find me, after all this would be the safest place for me to sleep, water logged and all as the field was. I found some growth to cover up the soil beneath me. I was lucky I had my waterproof bivy with me tonight. Tonight my bivy would get a good testing
Just then the two men started searching along a side road which led to a pagoda behind me. It was also about 300 metres off the road. Surely they must be cops as even the dumbest of criminals wood have given up by now, Surely it was a hopeless effort looking for me,like a needle in a haystack.. They searched for about three hours. I figured if they were cops I would be stopped on the road the next day. When I was not approached as expected I reasoned they were indeed criminals.
A few days later when I acquired my police escort I finally decided they must have been cops after all – for they could have fitted in very well with what I
was to experience on my long run towards the Indian border.
Then another day I stopped at a restaurant for an evening meal. The owners son speaks decent English and wants me to stay there with his family for the night.
I tell him I will but ask him not to tell too many people as word will get around the village, that the cops will arrive and I will be told I can’t stay.
I hate to say, I told you so, for that is exactly what happened.
Guess what I was allowed to run on,so I did for another five km. Same story I stopped at another restaurant asking to sleep (for there are no hotels there)
The nice family said yes but shortly after different cops came over to investigate the strange foreigner. This time I was allowed to stay, all be it the cops asked if I minded being locked in my room!
Another hot day and I was off to a slow start. I was about 15km into a 55km day.
I passed by two cafes as they were crowded, Sometimes I need a bit of space. I arrive at an empty cafe. A man who spoke very good English came in and sat down on the only half decent bench in the small cafe. Many people sit on those small chairs two year old children sit on, not my idea of comfort. I struggle to get my pack off for I am tired, I am weary, I am eyeing the bench he is sitting on for I need a decent rest. The shoulder straps of my pack are tangled and I’m in a right old tussle to liberate my shoulders. In the meantime the man stands up and more or less impatiently pokes me in the chest asking where I am from, where I am going and what I am doing. I realize he is the cafe owner. His wife come out from a back room, she also speaks very good English. I ask her for a Coke, she puts it on my table, pack suddenly comes off, unopened Coke bottle falls on the floor, I open it, Coke sprays all over me.
I shout at him asking him next time a world runner runs through would he kindly give the runner some space and especially a couple of minutes to get their breath back! The man and his wife start screaming calling me mentally deranged and an f***ing s*1t head for as they said I didn’t want to talk to them. Not true, I value my private time away from the spotlight of the road but when in a position like this will always be friendly, when they are thoughtful enough to allow me to get my breath back that is. Fortunately whereas I get little privacy on my breaks (as seen i the photos), people almost always give me this courtesy.
So I just paid for my half drink and left without my change.
By contrast on the run I have found that people who speak just a little English as opposed to fluent English to be very tiring. They approach me saying they want to help me. My experience is they mostly just want to practice their English. I rely on them for my information and often learn nothing as often time their English collapses, Almost like they are operating off a template which is soon exhausted. I remember one man whose English gave me a very good first impression. After ten minutes talking he became very hard to understand, he also asked me what was rain. I told him water falling out of the sky and left him.
Unlike people who speak no English these people leave me quite exhausted and I rarely get my information or help they offer.
Yes they said, so I sent them back to the police station for an identity card, drinking a soft drink while I waited.
When I was sure they were cops I quoted the Myanmar police motto…
” How may we help? ”
The nodded, so I gave them my pack telling them
” I gotta run! “
That was the beginning of my two week Myanmar escort in which I ran exactly 900km from November 17th to December 1st.