novels featuring South Asian girls for years—Indian-Americans, Indians, Pakistani-Americans, Bangladeshis. It was high time to write about a guy. Bamboo People, set along the Thai-Burma border, features not one male protagonist, but two.
For three years my husband, children, and I lived in Chiang Mai, Thailand. While we were there we visited the Karenni refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border. I was astounded at how the Karenni kept their hopes up despite incredible loss, still dreaming and talking of the day when they would once again become a free people. I was impressed, too, by how creatively they used bamboo. Homes, bridges, transportation, weapons, food, storage, irrigation—all these and more depended on the resilient, lavish, and ecologically efficient bamboo plant. I began to think about that plant as an excellent symbol for the peoples of that region.
During that time I also began to understand how tough life is for Burmese teenagers. Only about a third are enrolled in school, and most can’t find jobs. According to international human rights organizations, Burma has the largest number of child soldiers in the world, and that number is growing. These young soldiers are taught that the Karenni and other ethnic groups are the cause of the problems in their country and are rewarded with money and food if they burn, destroy, torture, and kill ethnic minorities.
What would you do if your mother was hungry and your only option to feed her was to fight in the army? What about if you saw soldiers burning your home and farm while you ran for your life? Wouldn’t you be terrified, like Chiko? Wouldn’t you be angry, like Tu Reh?
In my travels far and wide, I’ve learned two things: all people feel powerful negative emotions, but we all face choices when it comes to acting on them.
I hope you connect with Tu Reh and Chiko as you read Bamboo People. If you want to promote peace and democracy in Burma or help refugees fleeing from that country, please browse the sidebar where I provide resources, an educator’s guide, and suggestions for involvement.
Photo courtesy of jackol, via Creative Commons