Earlier this year, I spent two weeks travelling around a country fast becoming a new tourist hot spot in Asia, Myanmar. I should point out that this is not at all why I wanted to go. Far from it, I had no idea that this country was heavily marketing its holiday agenda and my intrigue came mainly from old literature, such as Kipling’s stories and George Orwell’s tales of Burmese days.

One of the reasons I was going to reject the trip was because of the crisis which has made it into the mainstream news today. You should already know what I’m talking about and if you don’t, well it’s time to switch on and wake up to the suffering of the Rohingya.

This is not a new problem, it is one that dates back to the military coup back in the 60’s as far as I’m aware and it was very much of concern to me before I accepted the trip.

Should I really be spending my money in a country that is allowing what I believe is a genocide? A country that is turning it’s back on a very large group of people based on their religion? I was so torn, I had no idea what to do because although I didn’t support their actions, Myanmar is not a country of the West. In fact it has a very tumultuous political history and in the end my overall curiosity and desire to learn more overshadowed my guilt. I decided this was my opportunity to see things from the other side, perhaps learn a bit more about the country from within it, rather than focusing on what we are fed in the press.

Was I surprised by what I discovered? Oh yes, I was.

Coming back home I was again in two minds. On the one hand, as far as a holiday destination goes, Myanmar is a beautiful country, filled with beautiful, respectful people. One of the travellers in my group described it as being just like Cambodia before it became over-populated by backpackers. Although some tourist destinations were busy, it was relatively quiet compared to other far east Asian choices. At no point during my trip did I feel unsafe, did I feel worried as a Muslim traveller. In fact our guide was incredibly respectful of my religion, of me being Muslim. Which I wasn’t at all expecting, especially as the Rohingya are cast aside as outsiders for being Muslim.

Every new town we visited, he would point out halal restaurants, every meal he arranged for us he would advise what foods to avoid, and what drinks contained alcohol. I saw some beautiful mosques around our hotel in Mandalay and many people out and about in headscarves and religious clothing. Even in the Shan mountains, the activities we took part in catered to and respected Muslim travellers.

On the other hand, although I had no problems whatsoever travelling within the popular districts of this country, it was clear this is a country still living in fear and still lacking the one thing we in the West are being led to believe they have gained: freedom.

During one of our bus journey’s, our guide took it upon himself to explain the situation in Rohingya. I was shocked, really surprised that he would choose to address the topic. Even more shocked by the firmness in which he explained the army were in fact simply carrying out a service to protect the villagers from terrorists. It was all very clean cut, simply a war sparked from defending the welfare of innocent villagers. And once he explained the situation it was clear he was unwilling to discuss it any further.

I later learnt that the suffering of the Rohingya is in no way shape or form reported in the news in Myanmar. The crisis is brushed under the carpet, with no one wanting to speak about the situation, anyone who does so is risking their safety. At the time when I was visiting I heard all towns surrounding the crisis in Rakhine were blocked off to international visitors – including aid agencies. A clear sign this was surely an ethnic cleansing process the government simply wanted to pretend did not exist.

On the last day I spent in Yangon, one of the fabulous ladies I met who lived there told us about an exhibition by a German conceptual artist, Wolfgang Laib, who had chosen his Myanmar debut ‘Where the Land and Water End’ to be displayed in the Southeast wing of the Secretariat building.  This building only ever opens its doors once a year on a public holiday day so this was an incredible opportunity to be able to enter this very old, very famous government building.

The building was not just phenomenal, it was spine tingling to know that we were walking in the same halls, the same rooms that General Aung San, Aung San Suu Kyi’s father not only worked, but also the very building in which he was assassinated in.

 

 

The Secretariat is still within a military complex and surrounded by guards, monitoring visitors and ensuring no photographs are taken of any of the surrounding area. I remember reading an article where a tourist feeling inspired had wanted to sketch elements of the building but was taken aside and told that this was a ‘military exhibition,’ giving you an idea at how strictly the exhibit is monitored and how important the junta still are.

Then comes the issue of the Nobel peace prize winning leader – the infamous Aung San Suu Kyi.

 

 

Where does she fit into all this?

I’m giving you a very brief insight into the history here, but when General Aung San was shot, so too was the hope for independence. Years later his daughter Aung San Suu Kyi, inspired by Martin Luther King and Ghandi, went out of her way to campaign for democratic and peaceful elections. But the junta military weren’t ready for that and instead seized power in a coup, and Aung San Suu Kyi was detained under house arrest for fifteen years. Her release and democratic win was a huge moment for Myanmar. A huge vision of hope and promise that this was the beginning of a better future for a country that was being suffocated by militarisation.

The locals I spoke to held her in high regard, she was their saviour but it was clear they were under no illusion that since taking control everything was hunky dory. They knew she had a battle on her hands, they knew that hard times weren’t over yet, but they also knew that she was the only one who was willing to take on the task. I heard stories about how difficult it was living under the military regime, the fear, the hardship, the collective suffering. It’s this kind of living situation people like me and perhaps you can never imagine and I totally understand the reluctance of locals not wanting to get involved in anything political.

Literally 12 hours after I left Yangon, one of Aung San Suu Kyi’s advisors Ko Ni was assassinated right outside Yangon International Airport. No motive was ever uncovered. Ko Ni was a legal advisor for the National League of Democracy. Not just any legal advisor, a Muslim one. He had spoken out in the past about the military retains in Myanmar. An advocate of human rights, even credited with finding the loopholes in the 2008 constitution of Myanmar creating the office of state counsellor, which enabled Aug San Suu Kyi to become the de facto head of government.

He was also one of the few people documented in speaking out against the Myanmar laws that stripped the Muslim minority, the Rohingya, of their Burmese citizenship.

He was shot after returning from a trip to Indonesia, and his death would have been a huge blow to Aug San Suu Kyi’s government team, showing how fragile her government truly is. I knew nothing of Ko Ni until that point, and reading up on his career and life ambitions gave me hope at that time that Aug San had a real vision of creating a better future for her people, all her people.

We’re now coming up to a year since the violence in the Rakhine state took a dangerous turn. Although the violence towards the Rohingya started way back in the 70’s, over the last 12 months after the killings of nine border police, troops have been flooding the villages and the devastation they have caused and left behind, to us here in the UK, or wherever you may be, well it’s unimaginable.

This is a targeted attempt to wipe out a people. Killing men, women and children. Raping them. Torturing them. Burning them. Burning complete villages in fact.

Up until these last few weeks, I have defended Aug San Suu Kyi’s silence, convinced that this is beyond her control and that any vocal condemnation from her, would jeopardise her life and with that the future dream of freedom for Myanmar. So she has remained silent, or worse, blamed both sides.

I’m not defending her anymore. Because a very wise woman once said:

“It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”

And that wise woman, was Aung San Suu Kyi herself. And this crisis, this mass execution that is taking place in her country deserves the voice and condemnation of their leading Nobel Peace Prize winner.

 

 

Many UN officials have spoken out against the ‘ethnic cleansing.’ How many of us have watched movies like Hotel Rwanda, read books on World War II and have said that we, we in this day and age would never allow this to happen in our lifetime. And yet here it is. There are many places in the world where oppression of a specific group of people still occurs and we shouldn’t let them go unnoticed.

We need to know about it. We need everyone to know about it. And we need to pressure from the ground up to try, we need to at least try, to do something.

Whether you help by donating to aid agencies, writing to your MP, setting up or attending protests in your area or by simply showing some compassion when the media turns to talk of the millions of fleeing refugees this crisis has and will cause, it’s important that we all do something.

I am sharing my thoughts with you, in the hope that the least you will do after reading this post is say a silent prayer or spare a though for the Rohingya. I have already written to my MP. Signed petitions and tomorrow I will hopefully be joining protestors in Manchester to shout loud and clear that we stand and will not be silent about this any longer.

I regret not talking about this sooner, but deep down inside I know Aung San Suu Kyi has the potential to do great things. Right now though, whether it be through intervention of another countries government or through the rising force of her own, urgent action needs to be taken.

This isn’t just a fight for the people of Rohingya, this is a fight we should all be taking seriously, for the sake of humanity.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

*** For anyone in Manchester or the surrounding area, there is a demonstration organised by drive for justice to protest against the Rohingya genocide. 1:30pm Manchester Piccadilly Gardens. More information can be found on their facebook page. ***

 

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Video highlights of Myanmar

 

My mind is constantly all over the place! I have so many ideas, plans, they’re just constantly flowing through my brain.

I decided that from March, I would dedicate every Monday to posting something fun and fabulous about Manchester, but one week in and I am pushing that aside for now as I am dying to share my new video!!

I’ve never really made a video before, I take lots of them on my phone but this time I wanted to actually piece content together to bring to life an experience that meant a lot to me.

So I finally did it!

It’s not perfect, I’ve not quite got the hang of actually filming yet (I’m very unsteady!), but I hope it will give you a better feel and connection to my two weeks spent travelling in Myanmar:

 

 

What do you think??? Have you got any video creation tips??? Is there something I can do to make it better???

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the fishermen of inle lake

 

Whilst relaying my magical trip to Myanmar I have tried to keep myself focused and work through it day-by-day… but then I thought it’s throwback Thursday and I just cant resist jumping the gun 🙂

I LOVE surprises. Love, love, LOVE them! And my favourite kind of surprise, is when a destination completely catches me off guard. Inle Lake was one of those places.

Our first day out on the lake, we were separated into groups of four, and each group was assigned a long boat that would take us on a tour of life on the lake. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great day out. We learnt from the many workshops, we went to the market, we saw Burmese cats… I’ll go into more detail another time but as we cruised along the river, I didn’t feel very connected to it all, I couldn’t quite engage with the moment.

The morning before we had set off, Min had talked us through the traditional way of fishing that had shot Inle to photography fame. The old fashioned nets and balancing acts of the skilled fisherman were infamous amongst tourists, and Inle is a hot spot on nearly every tour groups itinerary.

So when we then took to the water later on, there they all were, lined up ready to show off their skills. Except, they weren’t fishing 🙁 As this wasn’t a method commonly used anymore, all of the fisherman we encountered were all there for show. Don’t get me wrong, it still takes great skill to do what they do and the images people took looked incredible but I couldn’t help but feel slightly sad that we didn’t get to see them actually fish.

 

 

That evening, when everyone was planning the activities for the next day I was completely at a loss. Some people were off on bikes, some headed to the hot springs, others wanted to relax in town… I just wanted to get back on the water. Min kept trying to persuade us all to visit In Dein – a collection of temples he kept saying, assuring us it truly was a sight to be seen. We were all feeling very “templed out” and no-one was paying him much attention, all of us wanting to focus on finding something that little bit different.

I spent all night trying to find something else to do… nothing. Didn’t help that I wandered out for dinner and came back late and too tired to do any research.

Morning came, me and a couple of others, desperate to get back on the boat and with no other plan in mind decided to give in to Min’s advice and head towards In Dein. Min organised our long boat, instructed the driver on where to take us and off we went.

And it’s a bloody good job we did it. As we sped out down the narrow route up to the great opening, which yesterday had been filled with fisherman dressed up for photographs with fishing net props… well today we were surrounded by REAL FISHERMAN.

The reason there were a lot more tourists out the day before was because the market was on. A fabulous sight to be seen, the stalls, were so bright, so vibrant, it was hustle and bustle on every turn. A big part of the market was the fresh fish section. We were told that most fisherman don’t kill their fish when they are caught. Instead they keep them alive in bags that are hung under their homes, homes suspended above the water. This way they are taken to the market alive and killed fresh on purchase.

Today wasn’t market day, which meant all those amazing fisherman that had lined the market paths yesterday with their stalls, were now on the water.

Perfect.

Our boat driver (feel so awful not knowing his name) couldn’t really speak any English, but nevertheless he was extremely understanding and read our minds the entire time. He slowed down and approached a number of the men, stopping at some points to let us watch as they caught little snappers and threw them into baskets on the boat.

The fisherman weren’t in the traditional dress you see on the images, but this was so much better. This was everyday life and it was beautiful to watch.

 

 

The day got progressively better and better. Turns out all that whingeing we had done at Min for sending us to another temple… well it was completely misguided and In Dein was incredible.

In Dein is a collection of hundreds of stupas, some dating back to the 12th century. Some are perfect, some have been restored and others are in ruins. They all stand together in a compacted area, giving it that wow factor. We walked the long passage to the entrance of the main temple, passing stalls, lots of cute puppies, and catching glimpses of the stupa structures we were about to encounter.

 

 

We reached the top, packed up our slippers and out to the back, we were surrounded by them. hundreds of stupas, different colours, textures, materials. They stood tall, congested, pointing straight up to the bright blue sky above. The ground was uneven, rugged and the only noise was that of our gasps as we turned corners and discovered new angles and viewing points. OH wait, I lied, there were other sounds, a subtle twinkling of bells. Tiny metal bells that decorated the top of each pagoda tower, ringing delicately in the warm breeze.

We started at the top and weaved our way down, it’s the kind of place you want to get lost. To just wander around endlessly. A lovely surprise.

 

 

The small village around the temple was quaint and full of life. Well when I say full of life, there were a number of locals relaxing back, eyes closed enjoying the sunshine. We had a small wander, Libby and I were on the lookout for art so we had our eyes peeled for anything that looked like a gallery.

 

 

But it wasn’t long though before our tummies were beckoning us to get back on and head back out for lunch. On the turn in, we had seen a restaurant set back on the waters’ edge, surrounded by trees. We pointed, shouted, did all that we could to signal to the driver to stop for us, but he shook his head and carried on.

 

 

We sat back, completely at his mercy and he drove us ten minutes away to another riverside joint. One of Min’s recommendations, they had picked out a lovely table up high on a two floor floating property, with views of the river.

Once again…

Perfect.

We all looked at each other, nodding in unison, each possessing the same thought, that guide Min did good. He knew we would have liked this and we did! The food was great, the company was homely and familiar and the location was perfect. I was incredibly impressed by our boat drivers resilience in saying no to five women just to get us here.

Stomachs filled it was time to head back. Again we took our time, slowed at various sights, it was the first time I noticed the Gold monument, erected to symbolise where the  ship had sunk, a story we had been introduced to yesterday, by Min.

I knew this was my last boat ride on the water for a while. So I took the opportunity to soak it all in. I secured my camera back in its case, shades on, blanket out and sat back to watch the sunlight glistening on the ripples our boat made as we cut through the waves.

This whole day out had truly been a wonderfully special surprise.

 

 

Moral of the story? Trust your guide! He really did always know best…

 

 

What destinations have taken you by surprise???

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In the past my first thoughts whenever Burma was mentioned, was that of Kipling’s famous poem based on a soldier’s nostalgia, the road to Mandalay. Every so often, I do attempt a rhyming masterpiece myself, but alas I am in no way a poet. Looking back on my notes from my journey to Mandalay it’s strange because it didn’t quite have the drama of the overnight sleeper train. And even though it was in no way as eventful as that experience… somehow in my mind it sticks out as being the more memorable one???

Rather than talk and bore you through every moment of that journey, I’d like to share all the little things that occurred during the slow and steady ferry-ride from the darkness of Bagan, to Mandalay:

Once again no lie in, our boat set off in the dark, just before sunrise. Perfect.

The ferry was pretty comfortable. The downstairs seats were protected from the elements, they were high-backed padded plastic looking things. Lined up against the windows, nice and snug in the warm cabin. Most of us chose to go onto the upper deck, fully exposed on the sides but still shaded. No plastic seats here, just rows of rattan loungers.

Min had warned us once again that the start of the boat trip would be chilly if we were headed to the top. No-one was ready to take any chances this time around and we all took the fact that it could be cold very seriously. I had my thick comfy star wool cardi on, sat back in my rattan lounger chair, draped my warm scarf over my legs, plugged in my earphones and lay back to gaze out at the passing embankments.

What a morning.

The boat was silent, some had drifted back to sleep, others had cracked open a book and as the light began to flicker across the subtle waves I think most of us became hypnotised by the surrounding views.

 

 

As we drifted down the Ayeyarwady river, the most mesmerising sight followed us down. Flocks of tiny starling sized birds danced up and down, up and down, darting back and forth, frolicking in the sunlight as it got stronger and stronger.

I couldn’t take my eyes off them. I tried to capture the moment on camera, I rushed to dig it out and get snapping, but I needn’t have. As this spectacle carried on for hours. And I enjoyed every second of it.

 

 

As the cold started to ease up now the sun had risen, breakfast boxes were handed out. Boiled eggs, pastry and a banana. Pretty good breakfast actually. I ate mine obligingly even though I didn’t feel that hungry. Every so often I’d hear an egg, roll off the side and park itself on the edge of the boat. At which point I made sure to secure any of my loose items in case they headed the same way!

There was something about the boat that relaxed us all. It was also probably the most time I had spent on my own this whole trip. A large part of the morning I looked out and simply watching the world go by. And it was ever changing.

Even though we were moving quite swiftly, the scenes we were passing seemed almost stationery. Cows sauntering across fields, people working, bathing, fishing…

 

 

Every so often it was time for a bit of a stretch, a change in location. Most of the ladies had secured the sun spot right at the back of the boat and people wandered back and forth from the seating area, having a catch up with different members of the group.

The lovely staff on the boat came round with cutlery, ready for lunch to be served, but it wasn’t for me. The only food option was chicken and rice so that was me out. Oh wait! I did have one more sneaky boiled egg that one of the others didn’t want and a sweet marmalade bread roll saved from the other day. That hit the spot nicely.

After a number of hours daydreaming, note-taking, story writing… it was time to get back to some human interaction (Lord knows it’s not in my nature to stay quiet for too long) so off I popped to join the others on the sun deck, where it was super sunny! The heat was glorious, and as the deck was open, feeling the air woosh past against my face I felt like all the everyday stresses of life were being swept away.

An hour or so after lunch and tea was served, and this was the moment when I realised that God had purposely planned for me not to eat the rice and chicken that had filled everyone else up, because alongside the tea, was a plate of the most AMAZING eggy bread I have ever had. It was slightly sweet and I honestly cannot describe just how delicious it was. I can tell you I had three large pieces (I think we were only supposed to have one??) which I carried out to the deck with my mug of tea where I basked in the sunshine and glory of not having filled my stomach earlier leaving space for this eggy treat.

 

 

Eggy bread plate emptied, it was clear we were nearing the end. Numerous passengers with guidebooks started pointing out the temples and sights, such as the Mandalay bridge, that signalled we were moments away from our arrival port.

 

 

It was time to enjoy the last few rays on the deck, pack up our belongings and step off onto our next destination.

 

 

“Can’t you ‘ear their paddles clunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay, Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!”

 

 

hmm look at that, I wasn’t going to talk you through the whole thing… then I just kinda did? oops!

What comes to mind when you think of Myanmar? How do you make sure you get ‘me’ time when travelling?

 

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As much as I love coming home after a trip away, like many others I’m always prone to a stroke of the holiday blues. It’s always a little bit sad to get back to the everyday comings and goings of normal life. But alas holidays can’t last forever!

Spending a week choosing and sharing photos on Instagram always helps me keep those memories fresh and alive, inspiring me to keep writing and remembering all the wonderful things we did. I’m really enjoying getting to grips with the photo sharing app actually and as I’m working on improving my photography it’s helping me focus on fine-tuning those skills. So IF for some crazy reason you are not following me on Instagram and missed all the photo fun, heres a round-up of some of my favourite snaps:

 

 

These are just a few of the many thousand, so I’m sure I’ll be posting the odd extra pic here and there when I find some hidden gems. So if you fancy following along you can find me on here – @jet.set.chick – or if you have any tips or know of any good blogs on photography do share, I’m always wanting to learn more!

Hope you’re having a good weekend, I’m back off to spend the day at the Saatchi Gallery in London, taking a break from looking behind the lens and instead enjoying my first love before the days of digital, the beautiful world of fine art.

Have a good Sunday!

 

 

Are you on instagram? Share your links! I need more accounts to explore 🙂

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