This is the third post in a series based information I gathered while inside Burma last week.
BURMA: I spoke with a monk about the crackdown and the situation in Burma. It was not easy to find an English speaking monk in the Burmese countryside.
En route to ------, our minibus stopped at a village for lunch. After buying some fruit, I followed a group of monks, anticipating that they would lead me to their temple. I was introduced to the abbot of the temple, who summoned Dak, an English-speaking monk.
"Please make yourself at home, feel free to look around," said Dak.*
Dak led me into the main temple complex. I took off my shoes before entering the hall. Wearing only my socks, I slid across the polished white floor. Small lights illuminated the gold Buddha at the front of the room.
Seated at the front of the alter were four soldiers, paying respect. We sat down next to the soldiers. Dak handed me a plastic cup and poured me a coke. The soldiers soon got up and left. A group of women showed up, they offered plastic bucket filled with food, and on a pole sticking from the bucket was a Thai banknote - 100 baht (about $3.00). To my left a fat man in a red polo shirt sat. He seemed to be watching me -- secret police? I wondered about him. Another monk appeared, wanting to know if I followed football.
Suddently Dak turned to me and said: "I don't like the government."
I don't like the government. The statement had come out of the blue. He continued: "I really want to talk about this with you. But I am afraid my English is not good enough to explain this."
So much for my concerns about Mr. Secret Police who still sat there, staring.
I looked around to be sure the soldiers really had left. I thought I had noticed them lingering beside the door. "What about the soldiers?"
"They are our friends. They are not a problem," said Dak. The women who had come with a donation were trying to speak the another monk. "Let us go outside and talk," Dak suggested.
Dak walked me down the driveway and along the road. Outside a small shop -- heat and thirst overcoming me, I bought some water there -- I asked Dak if I could record some of his thoughts on video.
In one hand Dak held a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. I listened as he spoke of the situation for the monks in Manadalay, the economic hardship of the Burmese, and the fear.
Clarifications and Commentary:
What was the situation for the monks in Dak's own monastery and town? This was the over-riding question that had prompted me to visit his temple -- and others in the vicinity. Dak told me that monks in this district had not been involved in any protests, and that there had been no arrests made. The protests were in Rangoon and Mandalay he said. One man I spoke with implied that the ethnic composition of the local monasteries had a bearing on their disinclination to protest (On this trip I became more sensitized to the ethnic divisions within Burmese society). Having personally spoken to a number of monks and non-monks in this area of Burma, I have concluded that my initial fears were unfounded: the monasteries in this district appeared intact.
Dak said monks have been getting enough to eat("One meal a day is sufficient for a monk" he said). "Persons" -- Dak's word for non-monks -- are the ones going hungry. At one point in the video Dak explains how much the average Burmese earns -- "1000 kyat" which he said is worth "25 baht" ($0.70).
Listening to Dak, it struck me how Burmese monks, in collecting alms, get to see firsthand just how little the families supporting them have for themselves to eat. It should come as no surprise that the monks felt an obligation to take to the streets -- to do something about the peoples' hunger. Most acutely, the monks realize that their own food comes at great expense to those who can barely afford to feed themselves. You or I would likely feel a need to make a strong statement were walking in the monks' sandals.
Another point that comes towards the end of the video is Dak's conviction that the monks' struggle on behalf of the people must go on. The fight is by no means finished; it may have only just begun.
Video Note: The visual distortion on the video is intentional, but sound quality is quite good.
* Names and certain other details may have been changed.