Some Questions Shall Remain Unanswered

by Robert Salisbury, November 6, 2013

Geez, so many questions. The writing is ‘sposed to answer questions not create more. What am I talking about? There aren’t too many answers out there. I’ll take a slash at some, others may become clear in the future, and others? Hell I dunno.

The next couple of background paragraphs are not from my personal experience and they were part of your research which obviously many of you did not do.

The Rakhine people are a separate ethnic group from the rest of Myanmar. 2.4 of the 3.4 million residents of Rakhine state are Rakhine, around 900,000 of the balance being Muslim. These Rakhine are Buddhist and fiercely nationalistic (as in Rakhine aka Arakon nation), they long for the glory days of their empire 1430-1784 based in fabled Mirauk Oo.

After 1784 Rakhine state was ruled first by Bamars, then in 1825 the Brits came in from India, provoked apparently by an overreaching Bamar king. When independence came to all of Burma in 1948 the Rakhine were again ruled by the Bamar.

Myanmar has a 70% Bamar or Burmese population, There are 135 different ethic groups with several of them having a sizeable enough population to be in some sort of organized disaffection with the current regime, armed or otherwise. Nowadays there is bad blood (my opinion) between the Rakhine and the central Burmese government who control the army, police and economy.

Many Rakhine people claim that the central government has treated Rakhine state poorly, treating it as a backwoods Appalachia, taking its resources (currently gas and oil and more), and not giving anything in return.

The impression I get from what I’ve read is that there were Muslims in Arakon since before 1400. During the Mirauk Oo dynasty there were many Muslim people here, some welcomed, some as slaves. Over the centuries there have been periods of conflict, the two communities not intermarrying, retaining their own languages and religions. The British brought many “Bengalis” between 1825 and 1900 as managers and workers.

The border between what is now Bangladesh and Myanmar was always ill defined and to this day there is movement back and forth.

The source of the present troubles are rooted in hundreds of years of contact. Which came first the monkey or the egg? (Whoever gets that reference wins a gold star). Currently, depending on who you talk to, the “facts” are, shall we say, rather fluid. Everybody’s pointing fingers. Like I said, this will take more than a couple balloon animals to fix.

How much does religion play into this? Some people want to make it the central issue and it is certainly convenient. More to come on this one.

I haven’t heard a call to prayer yet, but my ears are peeled.

Thanks everyone for your concern for our safety, “clowns might be misunderstood y’know,” but it’s not that big a deal. The demonstration this past weekend fizzled even if it was more than a rumor.

I like the ring of, In the US there is a “consumer democracy,” but what is that exactly?

Why did we pass up the upscale place? Prices are going through the roof, people are asking foreigners to pay wildly inflated prices, four or more times what a local would pay. If an NGO or individual caves in to these prices then all the landlords assume they can do the same.

Personally I don’t mind paying more, I think we foreigners should. But it gets a little out of hand when I’m paying more than San Fransisco prices. In addition, it’s nice to spread the money around a bit. So far it appears that as usual the rich are getting richer and the poor are barely benefitting from the influx of UN and NGO money into Sittwe. We figured to break that pattern. Anthropology 201.

It wasn’t a bait and switch operation where the house owner planned this. It is clear that she was the victim as well. We did some very intense negotiating with Kyaw Myra Oo and cut a deal, she saying she would pay us back in a week. The question was how much? Seemed to Yvonne and me that all 1.7 million was due in addition to the 50,000 we spent cleaning and painting. She said she could only do 1 million, the reasons lost in translation. Man, she was tough. I don’t know if we admire her negotiating skills or feel cheated because within a week she paid us the agreed upon 1.4 million. Amazing we got anything, but ya gotta wonder.

Yeah and we definitely pay for the sins of our white (mostly) brethren. It’s difficult to not feel like part of the problem. You do what you can; renting a fixer upper seemed like something positive we could do.

Oh, and the assumption that contracts mean anything. Honest, we know better. Imposing what to us seems reasonable and logical don’t mean shit to a tree as they say. But we carry on with our scraps of paper, translating our sense of order into another language, another culture. What do we expect? But they signed, they said they understood, they said yes. I know, I know, I know.

I haven’t seen spirit houses in Sittwe, but I’m going to look into it. Understanding the spirit houses may be a window into these guys’ logic.

NSSLF, Lloyd Kahn is the Shelter guy. I think he’d be a great guy to have around (a workshop?), but I don’t get the impression he’d be a great speaker. Never met him though. Contact info? He’s down in Bolinas, runs a publishing biz. A copy of a Shelter book ought to point you.

Keeping a lid on…

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