Saturday, March 20, 2010
I've been feeling really happy this last week. It's been beautiful out. There's been world class tennis on every day from Indian Wells. I got to do some shopping with the largest freelance check I have ever recieved in my life (okay fine, I've only ever recieved one other freelance check and it was for fifty dollars but still!) I found the world's greatest coffee at Ellwood Thompson (it's the Counter Culture seasonal selection from Ethiopia if you're curious, and it tastes like BLUEBERRIES AND CHOCOLATE!) Oh and there was also some really great cheese (also from Ellwood Thompson, this is officially my Richmond go to grocery store of choice, now that, let me gather myself, now that U...oh God I can't even say it, if you're from Richmond you know what I mean).
So there's been all that. But I think the biggest source of my happiness this week has come from my new volunteer role with Voice of Witness, a non-profit book series that aims to gather oral histories from people and publish them in a book. They've done these books with post Katrina hurricane victims and Sudanese people and people who have lived through tragedies all over the world. And my volunteer position is small and not at all glamorous. Basically I was asked to transcribe an audio interview with a former Burmese political prisoner. It's painstaking and it's a lot of work and sometimes I have to rewind and play a five second piece of audio like thirty times to understand it, but it fills me with joy.
Part of the reason is that my affiliation with Voice of Witness means that in a tiny way I am connected to my all time hero and favorite author, Dave Eggers. I could gush about the man, about his brilliance as a writer and his non-profit work, not only with Voice of Witness (which he co-founded) but with the 826 centers all over the country dedicated to bringing creative writing into the lives of children (a cause so incredibly close to my heart), about his novels What is the What and Zeitoun which were sparked by Voice of Witness interviews and which told in beautiful intimacy the stories of two men who endured the unendurable and who managed to not only survive but to retain a sense of hope, and okay fine I'm gushing. I can't help it. I think Dave Eggers is the greatest. And my volunteer work with Voice of Witness means that my name will be on something that his name is on and I cannot tell you how giddy that makes me. I seriously want to tell everyone I talk to, including the cashier at Starbucks.
But most of the reason this makes so happy is that by transcribing this interview I have been introduced to the most incredible woman from Myanmar. I sit here in my room in Richmond listening to her words from across the world, and I cannot begin to do justice to her story. It has been an absolute honor and pleasure to listen to and transcribe her words, this bubbly, sweet person who is secretly a total superhero. This interview is a part of an upcoming book on surviors from Burma's military regime. To be honest I knew very little about the history of this South East Asian nation. But through this one woman's story, I'm beginning to learn. She was a political prisoner at nineteen, locked up because of her involvement with the National League for Democracy. The reason she joined this pro-democracy, peaceful group-she simply wanted to go to college. When she was a first year college student, the only child in her large family who could be sent because of money reasons, the government shut down every university in the country. She wanted to learn. She wanted an education. She wanted access to libraries. Can you imagine living in a world where access to a library full of books is something you have to fight for? And so she joined a group that wanted the same thing she did, a free and democratic society, a place where she would have the room and freedom to learn. And because of her involvement, which was entirely non-violent, the kind of grassroots political activity that is so commonplace in America, she was sent to jail, put into solitary confinement and basically starved. And yet listening to her speak, ten years later from where she now lives in Thailand, you hear no bitterness, no cynicism. She still believes in change. She still hopes for a better future.
And listening to her you believe in this future too. That is why these Voice of Witness books were created. That is why they work more than any textbook or history narrative could. They immerse you in the story of a human being, and you cannot distance yourself from it. You cannot tell yourself that it's okay, that it has nothing to do with you or your life. And to make a long story really long, the reason for this post is that because Voice of Witness is non-profit they rely on donations to make these books happen. They currently need donations to finish this book on Burma. There is no profit involved. These books are simply to tell stories, stories like the one I've had the absolute honor of listening to and transcribing this past week. So if you have anything at all to give, even if it's a small amount, I promise you this is a worthwhile cause.
You can find the place to donate to the Burma book on the homepage at voiceofwitness.com. And you can also learn more about these wonderful books.
I urge you to do this. I urge you to support these people, their stories, and their hope.