Burmese Looking Glass by Edith T. Mirante

Burmese Looking Glass by Edith T. Mirante

Author:Edith T. Mirante
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Published: 1993-11-06T04:00:00+00:00

I spent most of the afternoon seated at a picnic table in the warm sun, using K. Sam’s typewriter. The Shan education official had given me handwritten lists of villages affected by 2,4-D spraying, with statistics on acreage sprayed, ethnic identity of villagers, and persons and animals killed. I retyped them with carbons, to distribute to the journalists who were still supposed to arrive. I had brought along my own press releases about the spraying program and I hoped I could use the press conference to interest reporters in the 2,4-D issue. The statistics claimed that crops were destroyed by spraying in twenty-three Lahu, twenty Akha, three Chinese, and two Shan villages. The hill tribes certainly seemed to be bearing the brunt of it. I was skeptical about the casualty claims. Certainly if planes flew low over a village spewing noxious fumes on the crops subsequent deaths would be blamed on the spraying, no matter what the actual cause was. 2,4-D was a dangerous chemical, but the only way to determine for sure if it was causing fatalities in the Shan State would be to send in pathologists to perform autopsies. And that wasn’t going to happen—I would be lucky to get myself in.

The Shan official gave me a few sets of photos taken in sprayed fields. They showed Shan farmers standing among whitened, distorted plants. Thin people in drab clothing, they stared bleakly. These people should be on the cover of American magazines, I thought. Americans should know what we’re doing in Southeast Asia in 1987.

I had written a flyer that was translated and distributed by rebel groups called “How to Survive a 2,4-D Attack.” It put American safety measures in simple terms, and one of its main directions was to avoid touching anything that had been sprayed. Labels on the 2,4-D weed killer sold in American hardware stores said to wear protective clothing and wash exposed skin with plenty of soap and water because the chemical could seep right through your skin to your nervous system. But the farmers in the photographs didn’t own shoes, and if they had water to wash with, it was near the sprayed fields. Were they supposed to wash their 2,4-D exposed feet in 2,4-D contaminated water?

A truck brought Dr. Pongsri, the Bangkok Shans, and myself to a dinner party in the village. On the way, a truckload of press people (none of whom I recognized) passed us on its way to Tiger Camp. They looked at me (in camouflage, amongst Shans) oddly, it seemed. Khun Sa and Mo Heing were at the village party, along with all the Shan officials, a renowned Shan poet, old KMT cronies, a crooked ultra-right wing Thai general, a bevy of Thai intelligence agents, and some photogenic tribespeople. Khun Sa, attired in baggy Shan trousers, white shirt, and straw peasant hat, bolted his dinner and got up to work the crowd. He table-hopped, shaking hands, cracking jokes, posing for pictures with guests. A crew of Shan soldiers armed with camcorders and Nikons followed his every move.


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