Publication:

Napier Courier - 2021-10-13

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Courage shines despite injustices

BOOKS

AFTERAWHIRLWIND romance in Bangladesh, Australian journalist Jessica Mudditt and her Bangladeshi husband Sherpa arrived in Yangon in 2012— just as themilitary juntawas beginning to relax its ironclad grip on power. It was a high-risk atmosphere; a life riddled with chaos and confusion asmuch as it waswith wonder and excitement. Jessica joined a small team of expat editors at The MyanmarTimes, whose Burmese editorwas languishing in prison. Whether shewas covering a speech by Aung San Suu Kyi, getting dangerously close to cobras, directing cover shoots with Burmese models, or scaling Bagan’s temples, Jessicawas entranced and challenged by a country undergoing rapid change. But as the historic elections of 2015 drew near, it became evident the road to democracy was full of twists, turns and false starts. The couple was blindsided when a rise in militant Buddhism took a personal turn and challenged their belief that they had found ahomeinMyanmar. Adollar from every book sold will be donated to fundraisers platformed on I SupportMyanmar. Weasked Jessica some questions: Tellus a little about OurHomeinMyanmar It’s amemoir about the four years that I lived in Yang on with my Bangladeshi husband, Sherpa. I started offworking at TheMyanmar Times and Sherpa became the editor-in-chief of a business newspaper. During the historic elections of 2015, Iwas the first expat editor to be appointed on staff at the state-run newspaper andwas tasked with toningdown the propaganda and helping to improve it in other ways. I had a lot of adventures (andmisadventures) in Myanmar, and grew up somewhat during the process. Whatinspiredyou to write thisbook? I found day-to-day life in Myanmar endlessly interesting and challenging, and as a journalist I’d never really had the chance towrite about the more personal side of living there, or some of the interesting people I got to know. Iwanted to document what it was like to be an expat in Myanmar, which had been isolated from the rest of the world for 50years but was suddenly opening up. I amglad to have written about a time of optimism and progress; especially in light of the recent military takeover. What research was involved? As amemoir, it is of course a collection ofmy lived experiences and not second-hand research. However, I left Yangon in 2016 and I started writing the book in 2018, so I needed to make suremymemories were as accurate as possible. Along with rereadingmy articles and journal entries, plus articles by other sources, I went back throughmyphotos, blog and Facebook posts to helpme recall extra details. Whatare someof the standout stories in thebook? In 2013, I covered a speech by Aung San Suu Kyi and Iwas surprised to discover that she was less charismatic in person than I had expected her to be. What do you treasure most from your time living inMyanmar? Iwill always treasure the friendships Imade, both with Burmese people and fellow expats. Iama better person for having known them. I will also never forget the injustices that so manyBurmese people facedwith courage and dignity. That has given me perspective. For example, my editor Sonny Sweat The Myanmar Times was imprisoned for seven years and spent several of those in solitary confinement, yet he emerged from prisonwith the same determination towork in the media industry, nomatter the risks. Howdoyoufeel about the events in Myanmarnow? I amheartbroken. It is awful to see everyone’s hopes and dreams crushed. The violence has been appalling, with more than 900people killed and almost6000 arrested since themilitaryled coup in February. The situationwith Covid-19 is frightening— there have been warnings that half the populationwill soon have the disease if urgent help isn’t provided. It is hard to see a way out at this point and I find it very distressing.

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