A year after Burma’s beloved monks took to the streets to support a popular uprising, the junta is said to be working hard at keeping a lid on any expressions of dissent.
RFA’s Burmese service had this interview with Thigadu Sayardaw, a senior figure in Burmese Buddhism, whose organisation is helping as much as possible with the relief effort for those made homeless by Tropical Cyclone Nargis:
Interviewer: Could you please tell us the situation of the cyclone victims that the Thidagu group is helping?
Sayadaw (senior monk): We started on May 9. On June 9, our aid work completed one month. So I made the end-of-the-month list. We have been helping Bogalay, Mawlamyaing Gyun, Pyapon, Amah, Kungyan-gon, and Day-da-yeh townships. When we’re done with Day-da-yeh, we will have worked with over one thousand monasteries. Also in the villages that are in the area of the monasteries, we assign one monk and one leader of the village and distribute through the monks for the use of everyone in the village rice, oil, salt, chili peppers, onions, blankets, mosquito nets, and clothing.
“The most suffering animal on the earth invented for itself: laughter.”—Nietzsche
I’ve often wondered what makes people laugh in the more repressive or deprived countries on this Earth. After 18 years of work on Burma and North Korea, among other Asian countries, I still don’t have an answer—although I do know of one man who gets a lot of laughs in Burma. His legal name is Maung Thura, and he makes a living as a dentist. His stage name is Zargana, and on stage is where he comes alive as a comedian. His is deeply, darkly funny, and much of his humor translates emphatically and hilariously into English. Little of what Zargana does, however, amuses the military government, which has for weeks stalled and obstructed delivery of international aid to victims of Tropical Cyclone Nargis, which struck May 2-3, killing 78,000 people and leaving a further 56,000 missing. Zargana was whisked from his home in recent days by officials working for the Burmese junta, after he spent days collecting and distributing aid for the millions of Burmese left homeless or alone after the storm.
They’re faking it everywhere. They fake it by video taping, and then leaving that area. They’re just looking for an opportunity to video tape when authorities come. People are suffering from the storm. They are building elaborate stages, with velvet backdrops, and writing things like who is donating what for the storm victims. They want to make it elaborate. They don’t actually look after the people who are suffering. The generals are on these stages, looking grand, with guns around their waists. — Resident of Pyapon, Irrawaddy delta
From a recent interview by RFA’s Burmese service:
Interviewee: Pyapon hasn’t got any aid yet. Social organizations, such as Rice Merchants Association, keep going from Rangoon, taking aid materials and food for their regions.
More recent interviews from RFA’s Burmese service:
Announcer: The storm victims, who lost their houses, are now facing severe starvation, but they cannot enjoy the help from the international community right away. Instead the families of the military are getting the help first. A person close to the military families in the airforce in Mingaladon, Rangoon told RFA this. The anonymous woman told RFA as follows that some of the families from the Mingaladon airforce lost their roofs in the storm, and the engineering troops from GE unit put up new zinc sheets and made roofing and walls, as well as distributed food:
The dried noodles that came from abroad, that we’ve never seen before, — you can now buy them at City Mart. Also, in Nyaung-bin-lay Market, I’ve seen cans of condensed milk that we’ve never seen before. These are the things donated by foreign countries. You can buy those packets of dried noodles. It’s 600 a packet. These dried-noodle packets were donated. I don’t know what happened that they didn’t get to the victims, but ended up in Nyaung-bin-lay Market and City Mart. — U Thuya
From a recent interview with RFA’s Burmese service:
Photo by luisrene on Flickr.
Speaking as the United Nations announced it would cease aid flights into Burma until officials released two planeloads of emergency food supplies they were holding, the top U.S. diplomat in Burma has called on the military junta to allow the international community in.
“Take in good faith the desire of the international community to come in and help the millions of Burmese victims of this terrible storm,” Shari Villarosa, Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon, said in an interview with RFA’s Burmese service.
The above video shows scenes from Rangoon during the onslaught of Tropical Cyclone Nargis, courtesy of Blogger Thura on YouTube. According to a recent report from RFA’s Burmese service, cyclone victims from Laputta township area, in Irrawaddy delta, which was hit the hardest by the cyclone, and from Hmaw-gyun region, have been arriving in the city of Myaung-mya continuously, starting the evening of May 6 until today. People have set up rescue centers for these storm victims in classrooms in Myaung-mya. There are a total of about 20,000 victims. U Aung Kyin reports from Myaung-mya:
General Aye Khaing, a member of the military junta, is from Hpya-pone city. He’s from 55 Division 9. His father’s house totally collapsed too. Also, General Maung Maung Aye from Division 66. His older brother Ko Hla Soe drowned in Byaing-ga-zee village. Other villages and people died horrifically, and there are many deaths. There are corpses floating in a row along the Hpya-pone river. We can’t find my sister-in-law’s body.
– Surviving resident of cyclone-hit area
This former resident of Hpya-pone, right in the delta area worst hit by Cyclone Nargis at the weekend, describes looting and the threat of starvation in the city in the wake of the storm, which aid workers say may result in the deaths of 100,000 people. He told RFA’s Burmese service about the scenes of devastation in the towns and villages of the Irrawaddy delta:
In the town of Daydayeh, south of Gadon-mani, in places like Gadon-lay and Khatta Island, Nauk-mee, Gawdu, Ashay-bya, and Kaing-thaung, Aye-ya, Gadon, there are corpses floating. Some floated into the sea. It seems like there’s no rescue operation over there. People are helpless now.
This woman interviewee is from one of the villages (she lists them during the interview) worst-hit by Tropical Cyclone Nargis at the weekend. She happened to be in Rangoon just before the cyclone struck, but knew about the situation back home because she was able to talk with some people from her village who escaped to a monastery in Rangoon. All three interviewees used the same cellphone to talk to RFA’s Burmese service: