After purchasing tickets for a cruise on the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar, the next thing I did was search for the right book for the trip. I Googled “Myanmar literature”. The results of my search shocked me. For a country that had been so recently repressed by a military dictatorship, and is still widely known through world news coverage to be committing human atrocities (not anywhere near where our tour would be), the last thing I expected to find was a literary festival! Not only that, but considering it was the vacuum left by the retreat of British colonial rule that opened the door for the military government, I was surprised that the festival was founded by the wife of a British Ambassador. The most surprising thing of all, however, was that the Irrawaddy Literary Festival would be taking place in Mandalay in the three days prior to the boat tour! And as Mandalay was one of two options for flying in to get to the start of our tour, it couldn’t have been more convenient!
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Although, due to travel arrangements, I and my partner only flew in for the last day of the festival, it was totally worth it. The experience let us chat with locals, discover their views toward the events we’ve only read about from Western sources, and for the first time in our lives attend an event which required a use of translator devices because we, as English speakers, were in the minority.
While the works of many of the authors who spoke are not in English, I’ve provided an image of the last day of the festival program for those interested in the names of the authors we heard.
If you’re unfamiliar with the situation in Myanmar and would like to read more about visiting as a tourist, here are three articles Kara and Nate provided before we made the decision to join them on their cruise:
- Should tourists still visit Myanmar despite the violence towards the Rohingya?
- Is it time for travellers to boycott Myanmar?
- Is Myanmar Safe? And Should You Go?
Have you been to a literary festival? Have you attended an event held mostly in another language? Let’s discuss in the comments below!
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