Anonymous American in Rangoon
May 14, 2008 3:38 PM   Subscribe

A week in Burma after the storm is the second of two anonymous eyewitness reports at of the impact and aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. It is the most gripping and tremendously sad report I have read yet on the human tragedy that is Nargis and the Myanmar Junta's non-response.
The monster was wailing, things were crashing on the roof, and the windows looked to break at any moment. The walls and ceilings were moist with water and part of the ceiling had even opened up to spill water below. I felt that with these winds, the whole wall and ceiling could really be peeled away at any moment. I chanced another look out my door and with the force of the winds, plus the caved-in ceiling and electrical wires, chancing an escape seemed not much better an option, especially given that I didn't even know where the emergency stair case was.
posted by gen (24 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

This was horrific in the face of over 100,000 deaths:
I went to the office, went to several monasteries and assessed damage here, back to the office for an awful meal of cheese sandwich and fries, back at my hotel just as a Yangon international school was hosting a year end bash by the pool. It was dozens of white expats with dozens more bottles of hard alcohol and beer, and talking about trips being taken to Switzerland, France, and the US in the coming summer.
posted by gen at 3:58 PM on May 14, 2008

As we made our way back to Yangon, I was quite conflicted and didn't know how to think through my confusions. As I said, I'm not an aid worker and I'm not a journalist. And I'm certainly not an aid worker or journalist with experience working in a disaster zone. And yet, there neither of these professions are now in Myanmar, which means that aid cannot be assessed or given and information cannot come out to the rest of the world. It seems that I can't help but try to do my part to help in these areas, but the danger is that I really don't know what I'm doing. As one of the drivers pointed out, the circumstances were pretty dire here even a week ago. Even before the cyclone hit, people were living in more urgent and dangerous conditions than perhaps New Orleans after the hurricane Katrina. When I ask people what they need, what they don't have and what they urgently require, there seems to be a cultural and linguistic gap that I can't get through or understand quite yet. Sure, this same gap exists in my field, but I know how to do some things and I know what to look for and how to set and reach objectives to bridge these gaps. Here I just feel lost, and frightened that I'm doing or reporting the wrong thing in such an urgent situation. They needed rice and medicine before the cyclone hit and they still need it after, and I have no idea what to do about this. I don't know how to impart that so many of these people had so little before the storm and were very much used to harassment by the authorities, and expecting no assistance from their government. I don't know how to determine how much worse it is now, in specific and exact terms, than it was before.

posted by gen at 4:03 PM on May 14, 2008

Thanks for the link.

I'm trying to think beyond the obvious relief answers, especially in light of the Junta, and look into alternate ways to avoid this in the future. There was a good TED presentation about Architechture for Humanity and their goal of trying to find ways to use local materials and local construction to build housing that resists natural disasters. There's only so much one can do, but it's a goal.

Similarly, I used to think that any group of the form "X Without Borders" (other than the original MSF / Doctors Without Borders) was pretty fluffy. But seeing the devastation made me re-think Architects Without Borders. Their website is a little lacking, but so be it.

Any other good unconventional relief and prevention efforts out there?

See also before and after satellite photos via NASA.
posted by Leon-arto at 4:33 PM on May 14, 2008

The main link in the FPP is a gripping read. Things are looking pretty grim and the Sichuan Province earthquake has already pushed this out of the headlines. I feel like another bad wind is blowing Burma's way.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:55 PM on May 14, 2008

Between this and the China earthquake, it's been a horrendous few weeks. Words fail. Thanks for the post.
posted by ornate insect at 5:21 PM on May 14, 2008

My institution has a teacher training program in Burma. I applied halfheartedly, and too late, and didn't get the posting. They hired a guy who arrived just before the monk protest.

I strongly suspect that that poor bastard is the one quoted at length by gen, above.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:21 PM on May 14, 2008

Isn't the phrase "anonymous eyewitness" some kind of oxymoron? The problem with an anonymous report is that anonymity masks responsibility. Nothing changes if no identifiable person says "J'accuse." These "reports" could be fiction, and overwritten fiction, at that:
"... With the wind beginning to howl, people shot pool while sipping expensive martinis as 1980s American pop played over the faux-juke box. Wearing my Shan-style shirt and a lungyi and drinking lime juice, I felt more than a little out of place and stayed the requisite time, hiding behind a couple very bad games of pool before braving the street and returning home. I procrastinated sleep with an episode of “The Office” and then was in bed just after 11 pm, unaware that the world would change by early morning. ..."
posted by paulsc at 5:57 PM on May 14, 2008

compare these two passages:

My friend from the village then turned and asked if I knew Rambo. For those that don't know, the recent Rambo movie took place in Burma and features the ex-commando fighting the military junta. While it is one of the worst movies I have ever seen in my life, it is a ray of hope for so many people here... I keep my own copy in the safe in my room along with other sensitive books. I don't know if Stallone intended it when he made this recent installment, but the storyline really seems to follow the line of the junta's worst fears and the people's greatest hope: that an elite team of American Special Forces will single-handedly liberate the country. If the US had invaded here rather than Iraq in 2003, I think everyone agrees that they truly would have been welcomed and celebrated as liberating heroes-- complete strangers on the street have asked me why we won't do this.

We took pictures but did so cautiously, and at any sign of military presence my camera came off my shoulder and in my pocket. Our friend was probably taking a risk merely by showing us around. It is just amazing that all of the government's energy is going into monitoring foreigners and relief, and nothing is going into the people. More on this later.

how this american buddhist fucktard can go from casually talking about the US invading Burma ala Iraq to wondering why the government is taking pictures of westerners just takes this to a level of cognitive dissonance i can't handle...i don't know maybe he's part of the neocon buddhist contingent but somehow i doubt it.

yes the burmese junta is bad, yes saddam was bad, but...
posted by geos at 6:10 PM on May 14, 2008

paulsc, it could be fiction but if you read on and look at the level of detail the author provides for what s/he sees, would you still call accuse the author of fiction? What does an anonymous person benefit from providing such a report for the world outside of Myanmar to see? Do you truly believe someone who didn't experience what the writer wrote spent the time to fabricate such a length of prose?

Please use some common sense.
posted by gen at 6:14 PM on May 14, 2008

These "reports" could be fiction, and overwritten fiction, at that:

Bad writing isn't a crime. If anything, the horrid prose makes me think that it's completely real. Somebody who is dealing with a natural disaster probably doesn't have time to craft a careful narrative.

MeFites, on the other hand, have no such excuse. (self fully included)
posted by Leon-arto at 6:17 PM on May 14, 2008

"... Please use some common sense."
posted by gen at 9:14 PM on May 14

I will, if you will.
posted by paulsc at 6:59 PM on May 14, 2008

"Bad writing isn't a crime. If anything, the horrid prose makes me think that it's completely real. ..."
posted by Leon-arto at 9:17 PM on May 14

Leave go, then, until later, your first injunction, as a matter of taste, or the lack thereof, and opinion. But on your second, I give you this:
"... This is because to write about the political aspect of this situation puts myself in risk-- it could mean arrest, deportation, or denying of future visa. It puts in jeopardy my work which could ultimately effects thousands of people. (Of course I have no intention of posting any of this or identifying myself, and hope this will not happen, but there is always a chance. Doing so certainly puts me at even greater risk) Given the events of the past three days, I don't see how this is possible any longer. I just can't see this situation in any way but as a crime against humanity. I have just returned from my evening sitting, which given the denial of aid on the government's side, I had no success in ignoring the thoughts plaguing me and remaining with sensation or even breath. ..."
For Christ's sake, how bad must a narrative be, how self serving an agenda must one narrative relate, before you relent?
posted by paulsc at 7:08 PM on May 14, 2008

I don't think his politics are out of place, but his writing wasn't very good. Borderline tedious, in fact, given his material.
posted by dhartung at 9:48 PM on May 14, 2008

Give the guy a break he's not a reporter, he's not a writer - he's some shmo in Burma when a hurricane hits.

I get the point about "J'accuse" and it's a salient one, but maybe not entirely to the issue.

The writer isn't trying to say anything other than - "I was here when this really fucked up thing happened." What could they be embellishing? Things are less fucked up than...

I appreciated the post, I don't get the point of sniping about the writing.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:33 AM on May 15, 2008

thanks for the post gen
posted by bitteroldman at 7:50 AM on May 15, 2008

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