Damien Rice: My Mission to Burma

Music Features Damien Rice
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Singer/songwriters Damien Rice and Ani DiFranco traveled to Myanmar (Burma) last July to visit refugee camps and meet with dissidents struggling for freedom in one of the most brutal military dictatorships in the world. The two musicians visited areas outside the control of the military regime and were asked by Burmese activists to tell the world about their plight for change. The U.S. Campaign for Burma organized the trip and has recently released For the Lady, a benefit CD—featuring both Rice and DiFranco, as well as U2, Paul McCartney and R.E.M.—in honor of Burma’s democratically elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. The Nobel Peace Prize recipient has spent most of the last 14 years under house arrest since the election was annulled by the current regime. Here, Rice shares his impressions from his week in Southeast Asia. We recommend you read them aloud. …

The initial thoughts of the dirt and smell have faded into a more open acceptance of newness. Memories of Bangkok office girls, sitting sideways and helmet-less on motorcycle taxis, blur as the sharp focus of the ever-present cuts a deep hole into my consciousness. We exit a small van and move swiftly off the road and into a house that has become the new home for ex-political prisoners in hiding.

My body feels almost vulnerable, as though each story cuts off some skin, leaving me exposed to the mosquitoes. Waking up at night with itchy ankles and thoughts flying through my head like darts—tiny torture, a tease, a piece of sand in the mouth compared to the rock in the head these people have suffered for years.

Sleeping in a sticky jail in rusted shackles for 13 years on 15 teaspoons of rice a day—constantly beaten, eaten by every insect that fancies a man or woman not allowed to wash. How long is a minute for them? For me, waking in the night with an itch and an unease, the minutes move slowly. Yet, I can get water, cream for my bites, lamps to give me some light, a pencil and paper so I can write. Not to mention the knowledge that I can leave.

But still, this is difficult. The jet lag, the ripping bag, the desire for a shag or rolling papers for a fag. I feel lost for words. I feel lost. Lost in my maze with a haze settling in like my panic over airplane turbulence.

What the f--- do I know? How the f--- did I grow before coming here? Like a plant without rain, I’ve existed in relative dryness, and now I’m wet. Now I can let things go, the dust of my lustiness, the web that had me choked. The ego. The pull. The limpness of my strength. Fed now as if by some other power. A rain shower so strong I could almost lose my roots and leave where I’m from, not that I ever felt I belonged, but more that I felt stuck in the muck that is Ireland and me and the many stories of how nothing is good enough.

And not that I’ve changed, just that my puzzle parts have been rearranged by this wind, causing me to move so as not to lose them. And this movement has woken something in me and caused something to be free, for a moment, from all it thought it knew. A mouth with something to chew on.

Having a basic function here seems enough—it’s enough just to survive, just to still be alive. While I moaned about how my hive didn’t taste so sweet, these people had no food to eat. They watched their mothers beaten and suffer the knowledge of their children’s fate, their little girls vaginas raped, their little boys minds raked of all the love they knew and turned and twisted into new soldiers, child slaves, sentenced to early graves by the hole diggers themselves—the landmines.

Send the kids ahead and sure they may end up dead and their mothers may cry for mercy and beg but there’s nothing like a nice bomb to take off a child’s leg.

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