In February 2016, a delegation from Fort Wayne travelled to Mawlamyine in Myanmar (Burma) to sign a “Friendship City” declaration. Professor Chad Thompson (English & linguistics) travelled with the delegation that included award-winning author Helen Frost, director of Fort Wayne’s Burmese Advocacy Center and member of the Fort Wayne Sister Cities International board Minn Myint Nan Tin, Fort Wayne Sister City’s president Dorothy Kittaka, and other representatives from northeast Indiana. While the delegation’s journey was covered in the local media (links provided at end of article), Thompson shared some brief notes about and photos from the trip, which included visits to a local university, meetings with government and former resistance officials, day trips to smaller villages, and more.
Day 1, Yangon:
We met with the U.S. ambassador to Myanmar, Derek Mitchell. The embassy did not allow photographs and everything the ambassador said was off the record. We did talk for an hour and a half, though, and the embassy took pictures and posted them to their Facebook page.
We went to the headquarters of the 8888 resistance and saw a museum of photographs from the uprising. There we met activist Min Ko Naing, who took us to meet his father, who is a well-known artist in Burma/Myanmar. Min Ko Naing was important in the uprising and is second only to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in terms of prominence. He declined to run for the parliament in the last elections, wanting instead to focus on his writing and art. He talked to us about his imprisonment and fifteen years in solitary confinement.
In the evening we visited the Shwedagon Pagoda, which is 2,500 years old.
Drove the 7-hour drive between Yangon and Mawlamyine, Fort Wayne’s new Friendship City.
Day 3, Mawlamyine:
In the morning we met with the present but outgoing prime minister (i.e., governor) of the Mon State and his cabinet members. We then had a signing ceremony for the Friendship City Agreement.
We visited Mawlamyine University. The chancellor, vice chancellor, and all the department heads were there. There was an exchange of gifts and talks, and I read a letter from IPFW College of Arts and Sciences’ Dean Eric Carl Link. Afterwards the head of the English department talked to me expressing her desire for my return and cooperation between our departments. The head of Fort Wayne Sister Cities talked with the chancellor and vice-chancellor, both of whom were very interested in a relationship between our institutions.
We had a group photo at Mawlamyine University. We then visited the public hospital, which was underfunded and depressing.
We also visited a public school. And finally we visited one of the homes that might host students from Fort Wayne in a Sister Cities exchange.
In the evening, we met with staff from several NGOs (non-government organizations) about possible exchanges. One person suggested having English tutoring sessions with volunteers in Fort Wayne and students in Mawlamyine.
Day 4, Mawlamyine and Ogre Island:
While most of the group went on a sightseeing excursion and to visit to other possible host homes, I went to Ogre Island across the river from Mawlamyine. Here I visited several villages, including the home village of my host Nai Kun Yekha, the former chairman of the Mon community in Fort Wayne.
On the island, I visited a public school and a monastery school. At the monastery, we also had lunch and spoke with the head monk.
We had a wonderful tea with snacks at Nai Yekha’s house and met with his family.
We saw how the people got water and a village operation to make slate tablets for pupils to use in schools.
In the afternoon, we visited the headquarters of the Mon Women’s Organization and then had dinner at their restaurant.
In the evening, Helen Frost (my wife) and I met with some Mon leaders and over two hundred college students, who were full of questions about studying in the U.S. and the Sister Cities program. I was not expecting to speak there but they were expecting me to, so I did. The meeting lasted about an hour and a half.
Day 5, On the Road:
In the morning we visited the Mawlamyine market, where people were selling food and other items. We then made the drive to Yangon.
Day 6, Yangon:
I met two scholars of Mon language and literature and the head of the archives at the National Library. We exchanged gifts and talked for an hour or so.