Sometime around mid-February it became a running joke amongst my Yangon friends to say, “Do you even live here anymore?” Truth be told it seems like a valid question after being in Yangon less than fifteen days since mid-December.
February and March assignments had me swapping my sandals for hiking boots, going from the southernmost city of Kawthaung to one of the northernmost borders of Nagaland. At this point I have memorized the domestic inflight magazines by heart.
A fellow journalist and I continued to chase illegal mangrove charcoal routes in Myanmar, leading us to piles of it along the coast. The stories will be published by Mongabay in the coming weeks, but in the meantime here are a few snapshots of what we fixated on for weeks.
I finally made it to the Myanmar side of Nagaland, riding on motorbikes tracing footpaths crisscrossing the mountains to visit villages that are all but untouched by the outside world. One of the first stories came out in Frontier last month, with two more coming soon.
For New Naratif I did a podcast about what it takes to get healthcare access to one of the most remote parts of one of the least-developed countries in the world: Myanmar’s Nagaland.
For Al Jazeera I took a look at why ethnic minorities across the country are protesting the erection of statues of Bogyoke Aung San, Myanmar’s revolutionary martyr and the father of Aung San Suu Kyi. (Hint: it comes back to military-era Burmanization tactics that remain in place and practice today.)
For Roads & Kingdoms I dished advice about some of the best places to eat, sleep and visit while visiting Yangon. You still have to come visit me if you want to know where the best Chinese food is, though.
I ran away to the mountains of Kayin for 24 hours, continuing to work on the Pultizer project that has been the center of my universe for the past few months.
I got to spend time in Kachin’s capital city of Myitkyina, where I spoke to activists, youth groups, community organizations, politicians and more about the years-long debate over large scale Chinese dam projects for the Pulitzer project.
But it was far from being all work these past few weeks.
Taking advantage of a few days between assignments I ran away to the United States and sat at my best friends’ restaurant, sharing a bowl of pasta with the people I dream about during my most homesick days. I walked along Thai beaches and through Sri Lankan jungle with one of my best friends as we celebrated me somehow surviving another year. I flew to Bangkok for 36 hours of smiling and hi-so brunches.
Other trips and stories are on the books, but as of right now the calendar is blank after May 1- an equally uncomfortable and relieving feeling. I can’t get it out of my head that I should take two weeks to stay in one place to do nothing more than go climbing, drink coffee, and spend time to catching up on all the books I want to read and setting goals for the second half of 2019. In the best and worst ways possible it really does make all the difference when the only person you’re accountable to is yourself.
But for now I have eight straight days in Yangon to buy flowers and sip milky sweet tea while sweating my way through some of the hottest days of the year. (Puu deh, naw?)
Onwards and upwards and, as always, there will be more to come soon.