I had the opportunity to travel the country with Khin Khin's mother in February 2006. I spent two weeks visiting ancient ruins and the most beautiful pagodas imaginable. I was in awe the entire time I was there. Not only was the country visually stunning in every respect (including their handcrafts) but I found the most hospitable people I have ever encountered.
Even though the Burmese people are in dire poverty, everyone had something to offer a visitor, be it a cup of tea, a cookie or even a smile. Burma, also called Myanmar, is filled with pagodas, monks, nuns and a devout Buddhist population (practicing Theravada Buddhism). There is a feeling of deep spirituality that permeates the country.
I was able to connect with many of the monks through my traveling companion. I was also able to drive by the home of Aung San Suu Kyi , the democratically elected leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner who is under house arrest by the government of Burma.
"Please use your liberty to promote ours," she is widely quoted as saying.
Back home, it occurred to me that were our roles reversed, I would hope for such support.
Palo Alto has the chance to do that as a city. On Dec. 13 a resolution urging neighboring nations and all peace-loving people (yes, Palo Altans, too!) to take action to defend peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators will come before the city's Human Relations Commission.
I am thrilled that my home town will be one of the first (Berkeley and San Francisco are already on board) to adopt this resolution.
The Burmese military has been terrorizing its own country for the last 45 years. This time the government has become even more vicious, targeting the Buddhist Monks who took to the streets in September chanting the "metta sutta," — the "teachings of loving kindness." This is a wish for all beings to be happy and peaceful.
The brutality the government showed in squashing the monks' protest was inhumane and unspeakable, especially in a country with deep roots in Buddhism and deep reverence for the monks, who are vanishing. Clergy from other religions are also being targeted for aiding the monks.
The monks are an integral part of the Burmese culture.They offer more than religious consolation as they help feed and guide the impoverished people of Burma.
When I was in Burma I saw so many Monks on their daily rounds that at times it seemed they outnumbered the non-clergy. Now they are a scarce sight. Where are they? They are hiding somewhere because if they are seen there is a great likelihood that they will be beaten, arrested, tortured and possibly killed. They are being forcefully de-robed, and humiliated. Thousands are in jails and hundreds (impossible to say how many) have died.
Burma has one of the poorest economies in the world in spite of it being one of the richest in natural resources, most notably oil and teak. These natural resources are being taken by foreign investors in Burma, who work with the government, buying oil and other goods that enrich the military dictatorship while the people suffer.
Some of these companies include American based-Chevron (and it's subsidiary Unocal), Korean-based Daewoo, and corporations in India, Thailand and China. These corporations fuel the Burmese government with money and protect it with their financial interests. The government remains unfazed and strong because of these companies' investments.
As long as the current regime is in power the more Burmese people will have to suffer and die. Some may say that's an internal problem in Burma, but the Burmese people cannot fight for their freedom when these foreign firms, sanctioned by their governments, bolster the government with billions.
Our own United States is one such government, and that brings it home to Palo Alto. But what can we do? As both Buddhist and Christian leaders preach, many small steps make long journeys.
One such step will be a garage sale Nov. 25 to provide funds to help the monks survive, the second such sale at my home (e-mail me, Barbara.Slone@gmail.com for details), sponsored by the Burmese American Women's Alliance (BAWA).
People can help by contributing sale items or coming by to check out the beautiful Burmese handcrafts, mostly handwovens, gorgeous silks and cottons.
All proceeds will go to help feed the beleagured monks. Just 50 cents will provide a morning meal.
It's an opportunity to make a political statement, share our own national Thanksgiving for our freedoms and pick up non-mall Christmas presents. We have also placed announcement/ads on the Weekly's www.Fogster.com (under garage sales) and on Craigslist.
There will be a meal at Sent Sovi restaurant in Saratoga (www.sentsovi.com) on Dec. 5, from which all proceeds will be converted to monk meals.
Palo Alto's resolution is scheduled to be considered Dec. 13 by the City Council. You can also write your legislators voicing your concerns about what is happening in Burma. For Bay Area information visit www.badasf.org. Donations may also be made directly to the non-profit Burmese American Women's Alliance, 493 Oxford Street, San Francisco, CA 94134.
We're all part of this small world, aren't we?