The Best Laid Plans
March 29, 2014
I returned yesterday evening from three blissful days on a live-aboard boat in the Similan Islands in the Andaman Sea, Thailand. I soaked up the sun, listened to the waves lap at the hull of the boat, watched sunsets across an endless horizon, dived 11 times in gorgeous waters and observed phenomenal underwater life that my words would fall short in describing.
I wrote two blog posts offline while on the boat and took hundreds of pictures that I hoped to share with you upon my return to the mainland. However, when I opened my email my Health Program Manager had written to me with the title of the email saying, “READ THIS FIRST.” And so I did. Having read it and now immersed in a very different reality than the brief peace I experienced the past three days I feel I just can’t share that with you right now. Instead I’m copying and pasting her email into my blog, followed by pictures taken by some of my staff at our office in Sittwe, Myanmar.
I’m assuming you’ll be deboarding soon and seeing a bajillion emails about Sittwe, so I just wanted to make sure you got a good synopsis.
First off, everyone is okay. Crowds started swarming and throwing rocks at Malteser, MSF and Solidarites properties Wednesday night; eventually the police resorted to warning shots to break them up and it was over before curfew. Allegedly it started bc (name removed by Steve for security purposes) took down one of the Buddhist flags from the Malteser warehouse that had been put all over town on Monday. (Our house had one too; I left it alone for exactly this reason.)
Thursday morning there were plans for census protests. (name removed by Steve for security purposes) came in the morning and said the village admin where our office is said expats should stay away. About an hour later I was meeting with our child protection staff at the house and he came back and said the landlord told us we should leave. They took our child protection staff back to town while I packed an overnight bag. They got me a room at the Sittwe Hotel around 11am and some UN were already trickling in. I think by then we vacated the office.
By around 1 most of the offices in town had been ransacked and/or looted, including ours. Computers, printers, and the safe were all ruined, I think some was also looted. Still working out details but (name removed by Steve for security purposes) has been talking to Yangon to report everything. By 2 most of the guesthouses were also overrun, including ours, even though the landlord stayed to try to ward them off. A lot has been lost in translation but I think they got over the fence, and tossed the house like everywhere else. (name removed by Steve for security purposes) said my room stayed locked, he was unclear about yours but they definitely broke a window. A couple hours later he and his asst were able to go back in with my keys and pack up all our stuff–you have two cameras in your suitcases I think, not sure if you had any other valuables there. They brought it all back here; I repacked mine and made rough judgments on yours–I’m planning to bring one checked bag for each of us back to Yangon. I’m supposed to go to the airport at 11 and flying at 1 I think.
Most of the INGO staff were escorted to the police station and stayed overnight (I was really lucky!) and they are supposed to get out on some charter flights, I don’t know when. I’m flying commercial, I believe. Most of the UN expats and nationals were here overnight, total Hotel Rwanda status. UN might get a 65-seat charter for nonessential staff today or tomorrow. As of the UNDSS brief this morning, essential UN, a couple MSF, and a small group of ICRC are planning to stay; the rest may well stay out until the end of the census. UN heads are doing a damage assessment now. Apparently more stable than yesterday, but not so secure that people can go home and pack up without police. UNHCR held out yesterday with staff inside and police outside, but I just heard they got in today. I think one ICRC house and CDN were about the only ones unscathed (both near UNHCR and Bangladesh consulate), so everyone’s in the same boat.
I talked to (names removed by Steve for security purposes). I’ve talked to a consular guy at the embassy a couple times and got a call to my mom last night so everyone is tracking. Again, all our staff are safe at home. I think that’s all for now… On second thought, I will try to bring all our luggage. Rumors about them trying to hit Sittwe Hotel. Oh, Our IDP site was supposed to have protests but I don’t think they did. Staff stayed home yesterday, Yangon office called the [Township Administrator] and police are sitting on the office; it’s okay. Ok, I think that’s really it. Hope that doesn’t completely undo your relaxation!!! I’m glad you weren’t getting the live updates out of the country anyway.
I’ll be flying back to Bangkok today and will try to change my evening flight on Monday to an earlier time in order to get back to Yangon to manage the unfolding situation.
Vacation over. I’m sad about that, but what’s most important is that all my staff are safe right now and in secure locations. I’ll provide more updates as is appropriate and as I’m able. Hopefully, too, I’ll be able to share some of the beauty of the Similan’s that I so much want to share with you. I know some of my readers would enjoy that.
Below, pictures of our ransacked office.
The view of the front of our office after the office ransacking
Just inside the front gate
They also sacked our warehouse, which stores emergency humanitarian supplies for the displaced people we serve
Just inside the front door to our office