Saturday, October 25, 2008

Letter to Carina

Dear Carina,

I had a strange feeling past weeks ...I knew it was a birthday I was forgetting but the answer did not come ...this morning I told my mother I wanted to write you ...and tonight I find a gift ... I found your stories ...

Earlier today I was chatting with my Burmese refugee friends from Thailand. B2 (a young guy of 25) is still in prison, sentenced for 37 years and hard labour, he was about to get engaged just before he was arrested. His 'mistake' was organising education to the young people of his remote area ... I have been in his village, met his colleague who is living in the forest since a few months ...My friends are suffering from malaria, have little money to buy food and don't have opportunities to study, work or walk freely on the streets without the fear of getting arrested ...Nobody knows my feelings ...

Last month my article about Burma was published in Belgium ...I could not share my feelings ...and felt sad.

I am months behind with my stories of my journey ...this letter to you feels as I am starting to write again since I have stopped ...

I realise again how our roads are really our roads ... I could not travel yours, you could not travel mine ... I thank you for telling us about your road. I sense your happiness without neglecting your hardships ... It is like seeing coming true your dream I knew deep inside ..I am not surprised, it is like I knew your dream and your road ... We also have no goodbyes! I write with tears in my eyes. I miss you! Last weekend I went for a hike, took sandwishes and tea, enjoyed the views, the sun, the cold on my face, the sound of the leaves ... Jonas was with me, a German friend ...I told him it looked a bit like Estonia ... It was Belgium ...

Every person who saw me the past two months saw I am happy, myself included ... I found the energy of doing really many things ...I am living with an energy doing things so opposite from my past year ... I listened to some voices from deep inside and was given answers before I had the time to question ...

...I followed a dream to study again and I am at University now, taking classes, studying, making homework, meeting new friends and stimulating my hunger for knowledge and skills ...

If there was one thing I missed on the road? You know this question being asked .. I used to say a danceclass of my sister ... it is like somebody has counted the times I missed it (starting from the year 2000 when I left Antwerp) and is giving me a second chance now ... I am dancing up to 4 or 5 times a week sometimes, performing in churches, on marketplaces and soon in schools and theaters.
Just before leaving in June 2007 a friend and I had an idea about boxes ...about working with other young people to explore the boxes we live in, to break out of the boxes and enlarge our 'watchboxes' ... In August 2008 we met again, looked at each other and said "we still have ten days before the deadline of the Council of Europe to submit our project proposal". Today we are setting up our own organisation and in February the international training course Challenge to Change will take place in Antwerp. On September 1st I also went to work again ... enabling me to give.

... I ask myself now: "Am I living my dream?" Yes again I am realizing some of my dreams ...and I still have many and I trust that I will make them come true ...but you should not have asked me in July where I would be in the end of October ...The bridge between my road in Asia and my life in Europe was tough, very tough ... I tried to fix a plan and it simply did not work. A lesson again. The day I stopped trying to make a sound plan I smiled again ... I finally felt I was were I was ... I think I arrived in Belgium one and a half month later than I fysically did ... You might also remember I received a ticket to New Zealand, I even had a Japanese woman and a house waiting to welcome me ...I should have known that this is NOT a sign from the road ...certainty is not part of the road! I think I told you how my road suddenly brought me back to Belgium ...and there I was ... I had no clue were I had to head to ... I puzzled and puzzled to plan my way to get back where I left, get through Australia and to arrive in New Zealand 'on time' ... It just didn't make sense. I received a sad letter about another door closed in New Zealand ...I remembered my lessons from the road and just lived ...let things develop and unroll ...and so here I am now, smiling at the beauty of Antwerp and spending time with friends and family ... I notice that the ticket to New Zealand might not be used in the end (it is still valid till 7th of December) ...

If there is one thing I miss these is the road but I know I can't do both at the same time and I made a promise to myself to make my dreams come true ...I receive daily the energy to do so ...I read your stories and remember mine but I now also recognise my story here ...My days on the road are limited, I have reached to 158 rides ...last time I camped I slept on the streets of a city in the Netherlands ...Next time I will be in a new country, a new language it will be with a returnticket for a plane together with my colleagues ...In the meanwhile other kind of stories are unfolding and surprising me greatly ...In May no thought came to me predicting that I would be in Europe again ...

For almost everybody it might look I dropped my travelplans and made some new ones ...studying, working etc. ...with the exeption of me. My only guide is my heart suis mon reve ...I continue living my dream ...just like you ...that is why we are connected!

See you at the crossroads!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

New Old Roads

Cobblestoned streets, Dutch signs, I understand what people say and most things feel familiar. I talk for hours with my friends, old friends, friends I know since long. Hitchhiking goes easy because I know the way …
I came to Belgium in the beginning of July. Because of many things …but the road, the way just continues …

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

They need help!

Dear Sue
How are u? Where have u been? Still in Indonesia?For me I am busy with my two kids and packing the cloth for Cyclone victim.Our country never get a chance to remove this regime I think.Nobody can help us.What a disappointed for us.This regime is getting worse and worse.I think we don't have a chance of going back home instead of living in foreign country for our life.We still hoping from God.At least we can rest our mind.Our mind are fill with sorrow.When we hope from God He will make our mind peace and comfort.when u have time send email and keep in tough.
with love
Tha mie

One message among the many I receive daily from my friends in Burma ...

The USA has withdrawn the saving soldiers from the Burmese coast, the UN won't send saviors, ... indeed nobody sends help. Material does not speak up for political change and without political change there is no life for the people of Burma.
If anybody has some good information or training how to overthrow a regime, please let me know. I believe the people from Burma are the only legitimate ones to do so but they need help! We have to protect the sovereignty of the people not of some crazy generals! Our governments don't do much so let's take our responsibility to use our freedom to fight for the freedom of my friends!

Please send me your thoughts and ideas what to do. I need a team! They need a team!

Another piece of writing in Dutch on the Mo* website

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


I am in Banda Aceh in the north of Sumatra, Indonesia. The biggest part of this city is new, rebuilt after the Tsunami came on the 26th of December 2004. It is easy to go around without witnessing its past. As an outsider I see a façade. The buildings don’t look so new. Everything looks normal.
My friends who work and live here take me behind the façade. It is a very big backstage. I get lost and hardly understand the signs on the walls, the reason of the curtains or the feelings the loud voices coming from high towers awaken among the many actors.
Aceh is a place recovering from a natural disaster and from an armed conflict. An enormous amount of money, foreign aid workers and compromises with Jakarta (Indonesia’s capital) have shaped today’s environment. Close to unbelievably beautiful beaches for example the Turkish constructed houses. They are basic simple and build in a structured order, marked with a Turkish flag. Many of them are empty. Lieselotte explains how some donors gave a house for every tsunami victim. Children, bachelors, widows, everybody got one house. Many Acehnese however don’t want to live near the sea anymore. Other areas were rebuilt by different donors. Different policies resulted in Tsunami victims who lost everything living in different houses than people who had some minor damages. Some Tsunami victims still haven’t received a new house while others who were not a victim (depending whose categorization you use) did. Clearly there were some misunderstandings with the lists of victims. The quality and size of the houses differ significantly and feed resentments.
A research revealed that the tsunami money was five times bigger than the Marshall help per capita. Often it is said that there is too much money here. The unemployment however is big and for sure things can be improved but ‘left-over’ donor money goes to ‘easy’ infrastructure projects or luxurious accommodation during NGO trainings. This is more a result of the stringent guidelines of donors than of the project implementers.
Banda Aceh is not an easy place. It is not an easy place to live neither to understand. The city is not half empty because former conflict refugees returned. Islamic oriented rules refrain people from saving money and leave them a choice between investing and donating to the poor. Alcohol is prohibited but marihuana is mixed in wedding dishes. Watching others and commanding respect through materialistic status symbols is activity number one among the ‘lazy’Acehnese. Employers who want a more reliable workforce hire Javanese.
The conflict goes back to the independence struggle against the Dutch, the discovery of oil and gas by Exxon Mobile, its ‘military protected’ profits going to Jakarta, a dictatorship oppressing freedom, including religious and cultural freedom and a lack of local leadership when the central power collapsed.
I can’t help it but thinking of Burma. When will the survivors have houses? Will this continuous disastrous attitude of the Junta lead to its collapse? Could the financial and reconstruction aid for the Nargis victims be handled better than the Tsunami money? Could it also provide homes for all those internally displaced people whose villages were burned by the military? Who will provide houses for all those million refugees living abroad? In Aceh evidence of human rights abuses was lost when Tsunami victims were dumped in previously existing mass graves. Will the Junta blame Nargis for all the poverty and abuses? Can the foreigners break through the wall? Will foreigners finally also know that a promise from the military regime doesn’t mean anything? When will the people of Burma know what is happening in their own country? When will my friends be free?

Monday, May 26, 2008

New Horizons

One month ago I left Mae Sot, I left the house of my Burmese friends, my brothers and sisters, and travelled non-stop to the south to cross into Malaysia on the day my visa expired. I arrived in Buttersworth where a man gave me two options: a train to Kuala Lumpur or a ferry to Penang. The latter brought me to Georgetown, the capital of the Island. I was back on the road without the daily delicious fresh Burmese food, the talks with my friends and their Burmese songs I so much loved. Four months had been about Burma and suddenly I found myself roaming through a totally new environment. Loud Indian music accompanied my stroll along the colorful sari shops and food stalls. Calls from the mosque, the strong smell of incense at the beautiful old Chinese temples and the Indians in their own unique clothes welcomed me in this peaceful multicultural country. I knew that also this time route indicators would become visible and along the way this country will show itself to me. I would leave again with a hunger to know more, with addresses and memories.

I stayed a few days in Georgetown before heading to a small fisherman village where I met Ahwy Lim, a Chinese-Malay in his forties. I spent 6 days on the fish farm his younger brother Amin rebuild after the Tsunami destroyed most of it in December 2004. It was my first time to see the remnants of this storm and to talk to its victims. It was exactly when cyclone Nargis hit Burma. Sai, 24 from Rangoon, lives also on the fish farm, earning money for his family in Burma with the water sport facilities Amin runs on Monkey beach. He has been hiding from the police both under the fish farm and in the jungle behind the beach. He left his family in 2005, speaks fluent Malay, plans to apply for a passport, to officially exchange his Buddhist believes to become a Muslim and marry a local girl he fell in love with. Or going back! His heart is torn. Only 5 days after the devastating storm he was able to contact his sister. Sai became part of the family Lim, just like me during that week. We would visit father Lim at his house near the harbour, 5 minutes by boat from our floating fish farm, who cooked for us the most delicious fish I have ever eaten. Also Ahwy has friends in Burma, in the northern Shan state. His Chinese-Malay friend runs a rubber plantation after he quit dealing in opium and amphetamines. Ahwy spent 7 years in jail and miraculously was not executed like his friends. Counselors have brought him from a very destructive and wrong path to who he is today, a kind man who knows and values life. We became good friends and talked for hours. He builds houses and refuses new offers of his mafia bosses. I woke up every morning witnessing amazing sunrises from my hammock on the fish farm, during the days I reflected. I was welcome to stay as long as I wanted but an Estonian friend in Singapore awaited me.

It’s late in the evening when I buy samosa ‘at the corner’ back in Georgetown; “Where do you come from? How old are you? What do you do tomorrow?” In Asia you get used to these questions, I answer with my usual: “No plans”. “Do you want to go for dinner tomorrow?” “Fine”. I met Kamal the next day at 20.00 ‘at the corner’. He takes me for Tandoori Chicken but doesn’t eat himself. Kamal is a skater who used to attend world competitions, he sells his fantasy drawings for local media and has just written a 400 pages thesis to get his master degree in sociology. A diploma that will give him a better position at the United Overseas Bank where he worked after his bachelor studies in business administration. His interest in politics and sociology on the other hand led to a meeting via his uncle to talk about a position as a university lecturer. Kamal had lost his girlfriend when he went for drinks on the Batak Ferringi beach. This was on December 26th in 2004. Another evening I ran into Kamal’s friends Darsh and Fadzil ‘at the corner’. We talk about religion, values, life and dreams. Darsh shows me the jewelry stall he runs every evening with a friend in front of the old Indian theatre. Many Asians make their living with many small things but Malaysia also has its shiny shopping centers, big roads and modern buildings which surprise me a lot. I went to the movies, which felt like home, found a Body Shop and realized I also finally had entered a space where our alphabet is used.

On the morning I set of for Singapore I meet Matt ‘at the corner’. Matt is Australian and we had spent some time together in February in Mae Sot. I delay my departure and we set off for a tour around the Island. We investigate the World War from Malaysian perspective at a museum and enjoy the tropical nature. Funny little world, “See you in Australia”, I shout.

Even after the theatre of wealth I saw in Penang I could not help it and stared at Singapore, its buildings, people, shops and attitudes. Annika, my Estonian friend who lives in this city state, and I talked and talked until we suddenly left for Sumatra, another new world, with new people, stories and views along the roads. We entered into the world of a group of young guys whose lives turn around lake Toba, fish, deep family roots, few tourists, frustrations, palm wine and dreams of Bali and education. Pung found us at the harbour in Parapat and brought us to Juan’s guesthouse. We were the only and first guests. Another place that was hard to leave.

With the help of Mardinal, an old man from the tourist information at Medan airport, I reached Banda Aceh where I met Lieselotte and Guido from the Netherlands. I know Lieselotte from a training on development in Prague in September 2005. Many things I hear, read or see I relate to Burma. I am interested in learning about the special autonomy Aceh got after the conflict ended with the tsunami and about Indonesia’s transition to democracy. At the same time news from my Burmese friends in jail and others hiding in the jungle, the suffering of the cyclone victims and the result of the referendum make me feel … I don’t know how to describe it. I am curious what Indonesia will show me more. My visa expires on the 15th of June. Yesterday for example we drank beer from a can that was covered with a coca cola can. I am in an extreme Islamic place under the rule of the sharia law, the locals however are not so fanatic as Jakarta told them to be.

Monday, May 12, 2008

My friend arrested in Burma

Saturday evening one of my very good friends inside Burma was arrested by the SPDC (the brutal inhuman army). His dream to be free seems further than ever before. As one of the most active youth leaders in the region he was a hope for many, helping hundreds of young people with education. The latter is what the regime did not want him to do.
His friends don’t know what to do. We can only hope he stays alive.
I feel very sad