“You are David.” was his opening line as I sat at dinner.
“Nope. Sorry, I’m not David.” as I looked up at a local guy. He kept talking.
“I have a friend Sally from Australia”. I didn’t feel like explaining the 21 million people concept to him (my apologies if I do actually know you Sally).
The conversation evolved on. His English was reasonably good but conversation was awkward. He was from an ethnic minority, Arakn, originally from Burma but now living in a refugee camp in Thailand. I had cycled past one of the camps that morning between Mae Sot and Mae Salit, it went for about 3km alongside the road. It apparently houses 60,000 people and has been there for around 20 years with people surviving largely on aid handouts. There was a barbed wire fence that was as much of a thoroughfare as the official entries points with Thai guards at them. Every now and then among the brown of timber houses and leaf roofs you would spot a US Aid sticker on a toilet or equivalent UN or Thai logos. I said hi to a couple of kids in the area, the schools must have a lot of English speaking volunteers because their English was perfect and confident.
I got talking with my new friend about Myanmar, military Junta’s and freedom. He offered up the following snippits of information:
1) Myanmar has 135 minority groups, categorised into 8 major minorities (Shan, Karen, Arakn etc.)
2) The Arakn kindom was overthrown by the Burmese in 1784, similar in time to the first fleet arriving in Australia.
3) The Arakn kingdom occupied 3 states in India and 2 districts in Myanmar (Don’t ask me what happened to Bangladesh in there)
He started talking about how they were fighting for their freedom. His objective was to have the kingdom of Arakn reinstated after 200 and something years. He was not Burmese and did not want to be a part of Myanmar. He was Arakn and wanted his own country. He had that passionate twinge in his voice but stumbled on facts like he was trying to recite what he had been told.
Then it came out that that he was military. Military that isn’t representing a country is generally called Militia, but I’ll leave the definitions up to him. David, that he initially mistook me for, was an American and a Military Trainer. I’m not sure exactly how that works. American military trainers working in refugee camps sounds a little scary to me. I sincerely hope he is a passionate aid worker rather than American army training militia.
I steered the conversation away from an Arakn military coup and independence movement and onto the pro-democracy movement. “No!” he said firmly. “Aung San Suu Kyi is Burmese and represents the Burmese League for Democracy. She does not represent my people.” He does not see the prospect of democracy as an opportunity for his people to have a voice. However he did seem to be waiting for the removal of the military junta and a softening of the oppression against his people as an opportunity to rise up and reestablish their sovereign state. I thought about trying to explain democracy 101 but decided against it.
I don’t know the whole picture when it comes to politics in Myanmar, ideal outcomes and how Myanmar would fair if it splintered into 9 countries. But the conversation left me feeling a bit worried. I think so many people in the world have high hopes right now for positive change in Myanmar. I hope that it can happen but it is a huge task.