Burmese Days

Burmese Days – The practicalities of life in Myanmar following the pandemic lockdown and the military coup d’état

 

The opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’ novel,  ‘A Tale of Two Cities‘.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, …” (Para. 1, Line, 1).  This passage suggests an age of radical opposites taking place across the English Channel, (France and the United Kingdom respectively). It tells a story of contrasts and comparisons between London and Paris during the French revolution.

Dickens’s points out major conflicts between family and love, hatred and oppression, good and evil, light and darkness, and wisdom and folly. He begins his tale with a vision that human prosperity cannot be matched with human despair. In fact, he tells about a class war between the rich and the poor. He also tells of a time of despair and suffering on one hand, and joy and hope on the other.

Fast forward 240 years; present day Myanmar. Let us rewrite Dicken’s opening passage to reflect our current situation. ‘It is the worst of times, it is the age of foolishness, it is the epoch of incredulity.’

Globally, the official number of Covid-19 cases presently stands at 20.4M (WHO website 10/07/2020). Here in Myanmar (Burma), the official government figures are 230 cases. Geographically, northern Burma sits between Bangladesh, India, and China. These three countries are ranked amongst the highest number of infections. Forgive me if I treat the official Burmese figures with a degree of scepticism.

The Myanmar official response to the pandemic has been woefully inadequate. As of September 2021, the statistics are as follows:

One dose – 9.1% of the population

Fully vaccinated – 6% of the population

Once again, forgive me for being sceptical, but I would wager that most of those that fall within the ‘fully vaccinated’ are from the military. Added to the woes of the citizens, a coup d’état in Myanmar began on the morning of 1 February 2021, when democratically elected members of the country’s ruling party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), were deposed by the Tatmadaw—Myanmar’s military—which then vested power in a stratocracy.

Myanmar’s elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested after the country’s military seized power, an event which sparked widescale protests, armed resistance and mass killings.

The animosity created by different responses to the pandemic and the coup d’état runs deep. People’s experience has been so divergent. Ability to understand each other has been put under strain.

Measures relating to spending habits, eating, exercising and financial stability, have significantly altered. Research has found that there is also a more concerning picture that has arisen. The social divisions caused by the both the overthrow of the democratically elected government and the pandemic, are stark. How to ensure that these divisions don’t fracture society in the long-term remains an enigma.

Sounds like Mr Dickens was correct.

 

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