My holiday season has been nice and quiet, allowing me to plow through a few novels and memoirs since my kids went on break 10 days ago. One memoir I recently finished was Ma Thanegi’s Defiled on the Ayeyarwaddy (ThingsAsian Press, 2010).
The title refers to the defiles (gorges) on the Ayeyarwaddy (formerly Irrawaddy) River in Myanmar. Ma is a spunky narrator and chronicles her travels from the top of the river all the way south to the ocean.
A painter, diplomat’s wife, divorcee, political prisoner, and now a writer, Ma is unusual in that she travels alone, which isn’t common for women in Myanmar, especially those in their 50s and 60s. She’s careful not to tell her friends she’s going to travel by boat alone until she’s about to leave for the pier.
And it’s not like Ma travels on luxury cruisers. Some of the boats have proper cabins and berths, but often Ma sleeps on the floor of a deck, sandwiched between other passengers like sardines. Her mantra is to never feel sorry for herself because others live under worse conditions. In 2008, she helps with relief work after Cyclone Nargis, which she writes about in one chapter.
This book is a beautiful tribute to Myanmar, its people, arts, and sites. It’s also interspersed with colorful photos Ma snaps on her travels down the river.
My mom and her friends are headed to Myanmar and the Ayeyarwaddy in late 2012, so I’m going to send this book to them pronto.