By Anisha Desai
Day Two Blog, Monday 21 July 2008
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Our day started a bit early with a briefing at 7:30 am. The inevitable question of the morning when we first meet is “So, how did you sleep last night?” Sometimes jet lag seems to hit as soon as you step foot off the plane. Other times you start out by sleeping well and then a few days into a trip you go to bed to find you seem to be awake more than asleep during the night. The next day it can be a serious challenge to not drag yourself through the day.
Generally members of a group seem to “take turns” with troubled sleep, which means that at least some are alert and energetic on any given day. The big challenge comes when the entire group has a night or two of bad sleep! It seems inevitable. It is too early in our journey for that to happen, but given that many of us have flown about 24 hours to get here the jet lag menace always seems to be lurking.
After two nights of incredible sleep (including the eleven plus hours on the plane to Bangkok), last night was not enough hours of sleep and waking up too often when I was in bed. It wasn’t a really bad jet lag attack, but it does make you jittery worrying that it is just the prelude to days of insomnia.
We all seemed to be in pretty decent shape when we began our morning, but by the time we got back to our hotel at 7:00 this evening, every one of us was looking more than a little drained. Anyone who’s been on a delegation like this one knows that days often are long and that’s to be expected. But for all of the delegation members today, it is fair to say that it wasn’t the number of hours in our day, but what we learned from the courageous and committed women we met with throughout the day.
After our briefing that covered both the situation in Burma and that of Burmese living in Thailand, we headed off to the Women’s Studies Department of Chiang Mai University, which was cosponsoring and hosting various activities for our delegation today. The Women’s Studies Department, along with a working group of women from Thailand and Burma, planned the events which not only gave us the opportunity for closed meetings with Thai women of ethnic minorities and women from Burma living here under precarious circumstances, but also afforded some representatives of those women the rare opportunity to participate in a four-hour-long seminar with our delegation before an audience of well over 700 people at the University’s auditorium. On our very first day of work, we were able to meet one of our goals of using our access to provide a forum for women who feel they are never heard to speak to a large audience and the media, if they chose.
Even as they seemed to feel it an undreamed of experience, for me it was yet another experience where I’ve emerged more motivated having been inspired by women who, under the most adverse circumstances, work for the recognition and acceptance of their human rights, not only to advance women, but also because they believe that when women’s rights are accepted and promoted, all of humanity benefits.
In our closed sessions of the morning we listened to ethnic women of Thailand talk about the disenfranchisement of their people, which in turn reinforced their own status as second class members of their communities. I was simply stunned to listen to their determination to be women politically active in their communities. Our next session was with about 20 women from Burma – every one of them spoke English, even those who’d not had the opportunity to complete even a high school education. These meetings were also preparation for the afternoon’s seminar…….
TO BE CONTINUED. Unfortunately, the day did not give me enough time to finish this blog. Nor can I tell you about the unbelievable students from Burma who are studying here to return to Burma and continue the struggle for democracy as well as share what they have learned here. Shortly we are on our way to the town of Mae Sot – about a five hour ride from here into the mountainous area on the Burmese border. Not surprisingly, there is no internet connection there, so I’ll get back to you at the end of the week when we’re back in Bangkok!
Check out Mia’s blog as well!