Whilst it’s easy to get carried away with the beauty of a place it’s just as easy to forget that that can often only act as a cover to a more pressing and often desperate situation that lies beneath – just think of Burma for example. Lillehammer, like so many places in the world, is beautiful but it’s a very long way from Burma and also is a long way from being able to be readily and easily involved in one’s activist work. This is one of the main problems that so many former political prisoners face when re-locating to a foreign country and in particular to a small town. It’s not just the whole physical and mental aspect of re-locating and trying to settle and find new work and start a new life – that’s hard enough. But it’s the fact that when you are there in your new town thousands of miles away from Burma or the activist networks in Thailand and elsewhere and often now living in the middle of nowhere, then continuing your activist work seems at times depressingly impossible. Perhaps living with little or no money, possibly no job, no access to communications or ability to meet regularly with colleagues it’s as though a second sentence is being passed down for the crime of wanting to free your country – the years in Insein were clearly not enough. Now you must go and live in the hills far away where you can’t bother the SPDC any more. The distant former life as a student, lawyer, doctor or whatever held no rank in Thailand to where these former political prisoners fled – the only life available there was in hiding or in a camp but only then if the UNHCR would recognise you as a refugee and thats a battle in its own right. Stateless people like so many who have fled Burma over the years. I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to live like this, to have been politically active in spite of such brutal repression and then being forced to leave your country and now finding yourself what must feel like a million miles from home and at times also feeling isolated from being able to do what your heart and head is craving to do… continue your work to free Burma and your colleagues you’ve been forced to leave behind inside. It’s no guarantee but it must surely be somewhat easier if you are based in a major city where there may be better chance of work, access to services, activist groups, community etc but to be re-located to a small town far from anywhere in whichever country and even further from your home is particularly hard. It’s not just here in Lillehammer, but everywhere else I have been so far its so often the same story, from the camps on the Thai-Burma border to the big city metropolises where the suffering often seems to continue for people who have to leave everything behind through no choice of their own. But there’s a very special bond that unites every former political prisoner wherever they are in the world, whatever they are doing. For even though not everyone can be at the forefront of banging the drum of change for Burma, not one second goes by when all of their hearts don’t beat in time with that drum. My admiration and respect knows no bounds in the company of these men and women.
Today was just a day of reflection in Lillehammer. We catch the train back to Oslo in the early evening for tomorrow its a final day at DVB before returning to the un-real world back home.