During two solo trips to Burma (Myanmar) in the past year, I initially felt surprised to experience widespread enthusiasm to speak openly to me, outsider as I am. Groups of women took me in when I was travelling alone. Young people taught me Burmese phrases as they learned English from me. Monks quizzed me on my lineage to make sure I hadn’t forgotten a Burmese ancestor. The openness I was so frequently greeted with amazed me. Locals felt completely at ease about discussing the politics of their threatened totalitarian regime in my presence.
The people’s unfaltering hope and excitement were palpable as I commenced my initial trip in August 2015, arriving just six weeks after the announcement of a national election to be held on November 8th. I found myself in the midst of nation-wide political campaigns, which began just days before my visa expired. I returned in January 2016 and was in Yangon the week the new Hluttaw (national assembly) convened for the first time. Since February, newly elected President Htin Kyaw has taken office and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been granted the position of State Counsellor, the position “above” the President she had outlined during election speeches last autumn. Considering this is the first time a woman has held a position of significant power, the previous military regime having controlled the nation for over 60 years, Burma is bound for major change.