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    Homesick for the Place of My Heart ...

    Each year, since 1998, I have visited Myanmar. Each year, I have made more Myanmar friends, learned more about Myanmar culture, made more Myanmar connections. Each year, it becomes harder for me to leave when it is time to go back to my American home. Each year, once I have left Myanmar, I begin to miss it at an earlier date than I did the year before. Don't misunderstand. I love my country, my home. But it is almost innate, that patriotism for my homeland. I did not choose America. I was born into it. I'm happy for that, but just as one can share love among many people - love for parents, love for children, love for partner - one can share love of different places. And I have come to love Myanmar.
    I've traveled throughout the world: from above the Arctic Circle to below the Antarctic Circle. I've been throughout Europe, visited Latin America, vacationed on numerous islands, gone across Siberia, been on safaris in Africa, hiked to the top of the high mountains, camped in deserts, sailed, trained, flown and driven throughout the world.
    There are places I've loved-some more than others. But only one has captured a corner of my heart and won't let go. Myanmar.
    In America, not many people know about Myanmar. Those who have heard of it are often war veterans who served in SE Asia. A few have seen articles in newspaper or heard commentary by news casters on television concerning Myanmar. Those reports are almost always negative - political disturbances, repression, poverty, even danger for foreigners. Their impressions are skewed, and little is available to give a balanced perspective.
    Of course, there are some negative aspects to Myanmar. But if one concentrates on the negative, travel to any country would be problematic.
    Still, my friends don't understand my attraction for Myanmar, why a mature American woman who lives a comfortable life wants to be there.
    They don't know the beauty of the countryside, the diversity of cultures, the kindness of the people.
    They have no comprehension of a glorious Bagan sunset or a bright-eyed child shyly smiling her welcome to a total stranger.
    They have never sat on the floor with a village woman who shares hospitality of her modest home over tea brewed in a pot on an open fire in the center of the room, even though she had never seen her guest before.
    They cannot comprehend the generosity of tribes-people who give gifts of silver bracelets or share exotic fruits with someone they have never seen before, simply because they are happy the visitor has chosen to attend their village.
    They have no way to understand the truth of Myanmar, the beauty and kindness of the Myanmar people that must be experienced to be understood.
    A friend opening his home to you as though you were family, a restaurant proprietor who prepare a complimentary dish because a dinner is willing to sample and delights in local dishes, a boy herding water buffalo who removes a hand-made wooden bell from his lead animal to give to the first Western foreigner he has ever seen, a pretty girl who giggles as she persuades an American to try a longyi for the first time - there are the heart and soul of Myanmar. These are the acts that stay in my heart, long after I am back to surly waiters, indifferent children and pretty girls whose primary interest lies in the latest American fashion and MTV.
    One can't understand Myanmar from afar - from media reports and government warnings. It is a place that must be experienced. It is a place that welcomes you to open your heart as it opens its.
    (Written by Brenda Davison-Shaddox on Myanmar Times July 14-20, 2003)