A look back at work done in August.
I've been sitting in a lot of different places, mic in hand, the past few months: IDP homes, government offices, interfaith community centers, recording studios, temples, market stalls... you get the idea. But perhaps most important thing I've been sitting on is the thought, "How did it get to this?"
This month I produced a four-part series looking into the situation in Myanmar's Rakhine Satte, five years since violence flared between the Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine communities.
The full series is listed, in order, below.
My fellow newsroom member from Frontier Myanmar, Oliver Slow, has been with me along the way asking questions, writing scripts, buying me Pop Tarts, and overall making this a true team effort. My hat also goes off to Frontier Myanmar reporter Su Myat Mon for helping us with translations and interviews while we were in Rakhine.
June and July were some of the busiest yet.
A fun one for back home- I wrote a story for the Washington Post Express about Lobsang Dorjee Tsering. Tsering is a refugee Tibetan monk living in Washington, D.C. and working to start his own restaurant. Take a peek at the
I spent the past week in Hong Kong wandering the streets in search of food, neon lighting, and air-conditioned public transportation. But I also spent an evening at the Society of Publishers in Asia awards ceremony where, much to my surprise and delight, I was awarded an Honourable Mention for Excellent in Photography for the cockfighting story published in Frontier Myanmar last year.
It was an honor and a pleasure to be awarded for work that I had done while interning for Frontier Myanmar, but perhaps what I was most proud of was the fact that there could be at least one woman on stage, accepting an award for photography in an ever male-domianted field.
Yet what I am continuously most grateful for is the incredible team at Frontier Myanmar that works against the odds to provide in-depth and fair coverage of the plethora of issues that face Myanmar, as well as the patience, support, and kindness they show me ever day.
I have a feeling that not every editor would let their intern run off to illegal gambling rings and then decide to later hire her back as an editor a few months later, but I'm grateful every day that I found the people who would. Here's to another year of early morning, long days, and late nights of chasing stories across the country.
And just like that it's June, nearly half the year behind us. April and May brought everything from trips to Sinai, to Society of Publishers of Asia (SOPA) nominations, to Ma Ba Tha, to market vendors and countless other stories in-between.
April 1st marked Burma's by-election, which brought an incredibly low turnout to several polling stations in Yangon. I covered western Yangon, lending to Frontier's coverage of the weekend.
That same weekend I was diagnosed with salmonella, which means there is a week of my life where I don't remember anything besides sweating and thinking back to every morsel of food/liquid I'd ingested in the past three days.
April also marked Thingyan- the Burmese New Year. I took this as an opportunity to run away to Egypt. Upon landing it was announced that the country was declaring a state of emergency, prompted by the bombing of a Coptic church in the north. I spent two weeks criss-crossing the country, visiting loved ones and doing as little work as I possibly could.
Two plane rides and the blink of an eye brought me right back to Burma, walking around the vacant halls of the old Secretariat Building of downtown Yangon.
The building is undergoing renovations, and Frontier was provided an opportunity to get a peek of how construction and planning is going. I'dbeen in the building once before, but this particular trip provided an unparalleled opportunity to explore parts of the building the public hasn't had access to in decades.
I began hanging out with Myanmar's bboy crew as well. Watching them walk through the city, full of talent and rhythem, has to have been one of my favorite parts of Spring. Every sound the city has becomes a beat to move to, and they do it with grace and ease.
But have you ever tried organizing shoots and interviews with 12-24 year old boys? It's like herding cats, and I'll be continuing to try and herd these ones for the next month.
Yangon also held its second TEDx talk. My boss, Sonny Swe, gave a talk about his experience in political prison, as well as his experience with freedom since getting out. I was prowling around backstage and around, doing video and taking some photos.
And then Mandalay, where I wandered into Ma Ba Tha's headquarters, poked around a thanaka factory, and sat with street vendors talking about the new market opening in the city.
And what kind of month in Yangon would be complete without doing something involving animals? I spent the morning with Yangon's Bomb Squad, including their current and trainee bomb-dog members.
It was a good wind-down to the hot season, and is already turning into a break-neck rainy season. Last week was spent reporting in Rakhine, and next week I fly to Hong Kong next month to attend the Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) award ceremony, as I was nominated for the Excellence in Photography category.
But in the meantime, this is where you can find me...
March marked my first full month back to work in Burma, bringing religious festivals, mobile medical clinics, political rallies, and hours of sitting at my computer working in Adobe programs.
Certainly the most colorful event of the month was the Hindu Holi festival that I filed for a Frontier Myanmar video. I still have streaks of pink leftover from the countless people who walked up to me and smeared dye across my face, cheerfully saying, "Happy Holi!"
With the by-election just around the corner I found myself at a National League for Democracy Rally on the outskirts of Yangon, surrounded by irresistible propaganda-clad children.
Frontier also launched it's first podcast, with Frontier's Mratt Kyaw Thu speaking with Soe Myint Aung, an analyst at the Tagaung Institute of Political Studies, focusing on the by-election, local party politics, and what this by-election could mean for the 2020 general election.
Take a listen here, and stayed tuned for the next episode, which will be airing next month.
I also accompanied Frontier's Kyaw Phone Kyaw as he did a story about one of Yangon's first mobile clinics. Let it be known that I now know how to say, "stomach ache" in Myanmar language.
Frontier Myanmar's Mratt Kyaw Thu also did a story on how performance and installation art was used as a tool of expression during Myanmar's repressive military regime, and how such art has evolved today.
Nay Aung Khine and I worked together to produce a video on the story, published in both Myanmar and English languages.
I also made sure to take time to indulge my inner 360/VR interests, doing a story on local Myanmar company 360edVR, which looks to utilize VR and 360 technology to help modernize Myanmar's classrooms.
I'm looking forward to seeing what the comapny's founder Hla Hla Win and her team come up with this year.
And, of course, there were some hours spent wandering through the streets, jetties and roads that Myanmar has to offer-- not to mention a quick trip to Hpa An for my birthday and some new orchids made life a little bit sweeter.
There are only so many posts where I say, “It’s been a busy few... days/weeks/months," before feeling trite.
Just few months ago I had mentioned to my friends Laura and Holley that I was heading to Sri Lanka to do a story for NPR—that same week they messaged me to say that they had gotten tickets to meet me in Burma and continue on to Sri Lanka with me.
Another friend, Ashley, joined us in Lanka and I got to spend almost two weeks with three of the most savvy, inspiring and fantastic women I could have asked for-- and exactly what the doctor ordered.
When the girls and I parted ways I hopped on a train and rode 11 hours out to Sri Lanka’s tea country, chasing a tea story I had been researching.
Amba Estate, located in Ambadandegama Valley, is an organic farm with a unique history. The staff, which is equally split between Sinhalese and Tamil workers, also receives ten percent of revenue the farm receives. (UPDATE: To learn more about Amba be sure to read the story here, on NPR.org.) I spent the week hiking on a mountainside, wandering trails and meeting some of the most lovely people I’ve come across in this lifetime.
But soon it was time to leave the fields, this time to fly to Washington, D.C... just in time for Trump’s Inauguration week. Before diving into the mayhem I spent two nights at a cabin in Virginia doing nothing but sleeping, eating and rereading all of Janine di Giovanni's books when jet lag got the best of me.
In the blink of an eye it was time to get to D.C. and get to work. The Women’s March. Five photo shoots for D.C. clients. Visiting my family. Seeing loved ones. Paying off that last phone bill I had completely forgotten about… it was a whirlwind two weeks.
And then, just like that, I was back in Burma, moving into an apartment with my name on the lease for the first time in eight months. I started work the next week, being hired as the Multimedia Editor at Frontier Myanmar. (I’ll have more to share on that in the near future.)
The last few weeks have been full of big triumphs and minor tribulations. I may have stepped in countless unidentifiable substances on the sidewalk and said “testicle” instead of “egg” when ordering food—but I also managed to have my favorite cab driver invite me to have tea with his family and have been finding extra snacks snuck into the small plastic bag I get from my favorite banana pancakes street stall vendor.
And then there’s my home—the place I look forward to coming back to after a long day or week or month of being away for work. From zines, to textiles, to dried flowers and trinkets from around the globe… when I look around my apartment I see little pieces of my friends, places and people I love…
…which leads me to believe that there will never enough posts where I say, “I couldn’t be more lucky.”
I’m back in Burma.
When I left at the end of August I has stashed a bag of things in a friend’s apartment for safe-keeping, knowing that I would be back for them, whether it would be for a month-long work trip or something more permanent. As it turns out, it was for something more permanent.
I moved back to Burma a few days before the holidays, a one-way ticket clutched tightly in my hand. The first few days back I set across the town looking to say hello to my favorite vegetable curry and flower street vendors, imagining their delight that I was back to spend countless Burmese kyat at their stands. What I found instead was vacant sidewalk corners and roads, with no sign of my beloved vendors. (Turns out that a recent mandate by the government had moved a majority of the street vendors to a regulated zone.)
The days began to pass. With nearly all of my Yangon friends gone for the holidays, work weeks away from starting, no plans for the holidays and nursing a slightly bruised heart from a whirlwind romance and surrounded by a language I was only recently starting to understand, I found myself sitting in coffee shops alone and wondering what the hell I had done.
But very slowly my doubt and sadness began to wane. My local Burmese friends took me to lunch, teaching me the difference between certain teas and words. The taxi cab drivers on the street began to remember me and not even attempt to charge me anything over the “local” price. The smell of the streets and colorful scenes that unfolded in front of me every day made me excited to pick up my camera. I somehow even managed to find a sun-filled apartment that has more windows than walls, complete a porch that will perfectly fit a plumeria tree and herb garden.
It may have taken a few weeks and countless hot teas, but I began to remember that I was on the path to living the life I’ve always dreamed of. Being an international photojournalist in a developing country that still has censorship laws may not be the dream, but it’s my dream- and I can’t imagine having started 2017 any other way.
Eventually , just before packing my bags for another month of travel and work, I found my flower lady. Upon seeing me walk up she came out and embraced me filling my arms with newspaper stuffed with free roses and jasmine. And for a fleeting moment I realized that I was home.