‘I sit and I exist’

They call her The Lady. We were driving on the road to her house, unfortunately we did not pass it, but just to hear the reference to her, renders a smile to my face. She is respected throughout and in a meeting about Women’s Transformational Leadership in Yangon, Myanmar, organised by Oxfam, you cannot not think about her. In one of the presentations she appeared in pictures, coming to life a little more. Involved in peace building efforts in the country.

The Lady was in the pictures of Hla Hla Soe, who was telling about her work as director of the Karen Women Empowerment Group. When asked what she did when the government representatives refused to let her be a representative for women at peace talks, she simply said: ‘You have to be very strong and don’t let yourself get kicked out of the negotiation room. I sit and I exist.’ Just like the Lady for more than 15 years stayed in her house under house arrest. She sat and by her mere existence was a symbol of fighting an oppressive government.

Hla Hla Soe proves there are more proud and strong women like the Lady in this country and carries on the baton to work for a peaceful Myanmar. Hla Hla Soe also wears the Myanmarese ‘make-up’ called tanakha proudly on her face. These are wipes of yellow circles or stripes on people’s cheeks made by a paste of the bark of the Tanakha tree. The use of the paste is seen as a distinctive feature of beauty since thousands of years and works as well as sunscreen.

To follow Aung San Suu Kyi’s feet

I see flip flop fashion

In a country hot and humid

Toes carefully maintained

With or without polish


I see tanakha cheeks

In a country full of mystery

Secrets of people never heard off

With or without a voice


I see women and men in this room

In a country kind and gentle

Speaking up for those

With or without power


I see flip flop fashion

In a country full of history

Or is it her story?

With or without golden feet

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