Saturday, November 17, 2007

My talk with the monk who led the protests in Rangoon (Part I)

I recently had the opportunity to interview the leader of the monks' protest in Rangoon (shown at the center the photo).

He has been in hiding at a safe house in Thailand.

I am not the first to speak with him. I first learned of Ashin Kovida's escape to Thailand in an Oct. 28 article by Thomas Fuller in the NY Times (posted here). The Times' account of how he came to lead the protests, his activities on the streets of Rangoon, his flight to a hideout in the Burmese countryside, and his escape to Thailand evoked a drama of high suspense.

Therefore, I was extremely eager to meet this twenty-four year old hero of the Burma monks' protests when I stepped into his safe-house.

On top of a long table at one end of the main room stood three computer terminals. Several Burmese men worked there. To our left was a stairway; under the stairs, a plastic Barbie Doll lay on the floor. On a blank wall, someone had pinned a photocopied portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi. We all sat down around a large square table.

I found Ashin Kovida to be a friendly guy, sometimes gregarious. I pondered how he must feel now. Faced with starting a whole new life in exile, this new environment, only unfamiliar people. And to think that this was his first trip outside of Burma!

At one point we stopped the interview so Ashin Kovida could eat lunch. A vegetarian meal was brought in for him. Far away from his Rangoon monastery, this Burmese monks' daily routines were supported by the devotion of his new hosts.

Note about the video: Ashin Kovida was particularly concerned that I get his words right, so I should note here that the interpretation in the video is not simultaneous. After Ashin Kovida responded to a question, our interpreter spoke. In the video the English interpreter's voice has been spliced over Kovida's actual response in Burmese.

Photos: Monks march in Rangoon in September 2007 (NY Times), photo from video footage by Jotman

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