I got the visa! I am going back to Bur — I mean Myanmar — in May.
I lived in Yangon for a year in 2003-2004 and haven’t been back since. The last time I was there Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest. We couldn’t write, talk or think about her. Instead, we spoke…quietly… about The Lady. I remember going to a birthday party of a little girl and seeing a framed photo of The Lady on the wall. The presence of the photo impressed me, but it also made me nervous. A couple years later, the authorities arrested that little girl’s father and sent him to prison.
Two weeks ago, The Lady won a seat in parliament. Talking about her is no longer brave; it’s the norm.
But it’s not just Burma that has changed. I have too. In the eight years since I lived in Yangon, I have married, separated, divorced and gotten engaged again. I have gone to grad school. I have lived in Thailand, South Africa and India. I have become an aunt. I have joined Facebook and Twitter and (don’t judge) Pinterest. I have gone from being an aspiring writer with big ideas who hated being edited to being a professional journalist who knows she has much to learn. In many ways, I left Burma a kid and am returning an adult.
But at the heart of it, I’m still me and Burma is still Myanmar, and I can’t wait to go back. I’m excited to see old friends and meet their new babies and eat tealeaf salad and speak broken Burmese.
It will be hard to go back without my ex-husband, for whom Yangon is his home and yet hasn’t been able to return. Everything will remind me of him. Drinking beer at ABC Country Pub and listening to a live band sing Burmese lyrics to Eye of the Tiger. Riding in rundown old taxis that have broken windows and dirty seats. Hanging out with friends who were his friends first.
But that too is a big reason I must return. When we divorced, I felt I lost not just a husband and dear friend, but a country and culture I felt passionately about. In May, when I arrive in this land that is no longer “forgotten,” I will create new memories there. I will reclaim Bur — I mean Myanmar — as my own.