Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Book on Burma

Down the Rat Hole: Adventures Underground on Burma's FrontiersDown the Rat Hole: Adventures Underground on Burma's Frontiers by Edith Mirante
rating: 4 of 5 stars

Edith Mirante has spent her life working in temporary jobs so she could spend much of her time traveling. Only she isn't just a world traveler, she helps to spread independence in the most dangerous places. You wouldn't know it to look at her. I happen to work at one of those places where she works on-call to make that money, and I overheard her telling another about this book of hers.

I don't usually read daring travel memoirs, but it helps if you've met someone, and it helps that I wanted to know more about Burma. All I knew was, SLORC=BAD.

This book covers over 10 years of her travels into Burma. There are tantalizing references to her previous life in Thailand, and how she was deported for her subversive activities (one would need to read her first book, I presume, to find these details: Burmese Looking Glass). I found myself wanting to know more about why she loved Burma so. You get glimpses of her daring personality, mostly downplayed, when she lets slip little tidbits like this:

My earliest memory, from before I was two years old, had me up against the baby gate at the top of the stairs of my family's old house, demanding in whatever speech I had to be let out, to be let through. I still loved a border violation. Evading a checkpoint, busting a gate, climbing a fence would always make me happy. It got me into Burma.
More often than not, it seemed, that's exactly how she did get into Burma, calmly risking her life and bringing health info, hand to hand combat lessons, messages for revolutionaries, her opinions on war strategy, as well as gifts for her hosts. She smuggled out taped interviews, traveled as an "artist" and treated leech bites with Bactine. She went where other travelers never went.

She is the driving force behind Project Maje, and the voice behind the videos from Salon that are found there. Considering how much SLORC controls the media in Burma, this is no doubt a valuable resource of the history of resistance in Burma. Here is one video, go to the website for the other:

I find myself admiring her matter-of-fact conviction that armed resistance is necessary, and bemused that she even did her bit to support that resistance. As a pacifist, I have no response to that. This attitude got her places no other foreigner could go, I'm sure. Perhaps if faced so squarely with a ruthless force like SLORC, my pacifist conviction would be shaken, I don't know. I do have to wonder what is missing though. What details about the violence would I dwell on that she accepts with gritty pragmatism? Would I see acts destined to continue the violence while she would see spirited steps toward independence?

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