So I have just met the Lady, Aung Sang Sui Kyi (pron: Ang Sang Soo Chee) or Daw Sui as she likes to be called. My first and probably last meeting with a Nobel Prize Winner, the Peace one at that. By virtue of being secretary of the IFG here in Yangon, I also got properly introduced to her and not only shook her hand and told her how delighted I was to meet her, but offered her some food and chatted a bit inanely about cakes and such. As you do.
She was coming to our monthly meeting of the IFG to talk about The Role of Women in a Developing Society. This had been arranged by our chairperson Maggie and much behind the scenes organisation and secrecy had taken place prior to today – there is, after all, quite a security risk wherever she goes, not least because she is so venerated and crowds can gather very quickly (if illegally here). We found out a couple of weeks ago that she had confirmed and I was so terrified of letting the cat out of the bag I only told Pete last week. My friend Karen didn’t even tell her husband until last night!
But finally the day was upon us and we all gathered with some excitement and feigned nonchalance upstairs at Monsoon restaurant. (Kristina confided she had got changed three times and said it was like getting ready for a date. I knew exactly what she meant, I had planned my outfit days in advance!) When she appeared, right on time, the atmosphere in the room changed palpably and a tremor of excitement surged through the group as we first took in the sight of this very famous lady. First everyone held back then they couldn’t get close enough, cameras held high as she graciously accepted a cup of coffee and shook hands with our group of 40 or so women.
She was lovely. We sat down and she insisted on everyone gathering round so she wouldn’t have to use the microphone and said she wanted to chat more than lecture. After all, this was unusual for her too, in that it was not a political meeting. It was a nice, informal touch and she talked for a good while about women’s role in society, kicking off by being a little surprised that a room full of women did not know who the first female state leader was. Fair point. It wasn’t a particularly weighty discussion in the end, going off at tangents about teaching boys how to iron and cook and how her mother encouraged her to always be asking questions, but there was a fair smattering of personal anecdotes and those in the audience that wanted to were able to have their say. I guess in the end what we really wanted was to shake her hand and have our photos taken with her and all of that she did very charmingly and gracefully. Her face is incredible for a woman in her sixties and she does have a kind of energy about her which is hard to ignore. One of the most touching moments was seeing the excitement of the crowd that had, inevitably, gathered outside as she was leaving; they really do love her very much here and that was wonderful to see.
As for the role of women in a developing society? Well, I don’t think we learned much but it is quite something to be able to tell the grandkids one day. Hopefully some of the millions of photos taken will include me looking suitably impressed and intelligent, or at least fairly normal. And the chocolate cake was lovely.