After 15 hours of traveling and many years of waiting for the right time to arrive, I was finally in Burma. It was late in the day and my guide took me to a hotel to exchange my crisp dollar bills for the local currency - kyats. As I was leaving the exchange office I stopped short, having spotted a poster on the wall. ‘‘Who’s that ? ‘ I pointed hesitantly at the image, familiar to me, but not one I had expected to see so readily upon my arrival in this country, so notorious for its repressive military regimes. “Aung San Suu Kyi “ my guide replied. “ It’s true then , you can display her image as you like ? “ I asked . ‘Yes’ he said as he punched the air and gave a little skip ‘Yes we can.’
I was on a three week tourist trip to Burma / Myanmar where evidence of the country’s political reformation and eager anticipation for a democratic resolution in the forthcoming elections didn’t make itself very obvious in day to day life, save for this one thing - the openness of display of imagery of Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the opposition party, the National League for Democracy and heroine of the people.This freedom of expression is something that was unthought of under the tyrannical regimes of military governments that have ruled this country for the past 40 years - until just 4 months previous.
On my travels as a tourist, I was politically aware yes, but really just happy to be in Burma at last. I took lots of picturesque images, marveled at the accomplishments of the deeply rooted traditional way of life and was charmed by the generosity, friendliness and honesty of the people. But nothing gave me as much of a kick as coming across an image in it’s varied forms of ‘The Lady’ as she is known affectionately by the Myanmar people ; in people’s homes, displayed in bamboo built art galleries, on t shirts. Each time, it cemented the feeling for me that this time, hope for change for this downtrodden, yet spiritually strong country, was a real possibility.
The last portrait that I was witness to, was on the night before I came home.. On my way to my room in the hotel, I passed the porters gathered around the television. They were quietly watching and listening to Aung San Suu’s first ever TV election campaign broadcast. She appeared slightly disorientated but in a country where the junta had previously totally controlled the media and cruelly denied any opposition, this was truly the most revolutionary image .