In late November 2013, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi made her first visit to Australia, much to the delight of the Burmese community in Australia. For many of my Burmese friends there, this is a reunion that has been long awaited. One of my former neighbours, Ko Aibar, was recently interviewed by the ABC about his experience as a bodyguard for Daw Suu, his participation in the democracy struggle, and his life since moving to Australia, including the establishment by friends of the Free Burma cafe. [the ABC video can be viewed here]
I first met Ko Aibar in 2009 when he arrived in Melbourne through Australia’s humanitarian refugee program, from Thailand-Burma border. I knew little of his background until one day when I was invited to his daughter’s birthday party. As I sat in his home eating mohinga (a popular Burmese noodle dish with fish), his wife brought out a photo album of their wedding. I was surprised to find among the photos a picture of Ko Aibar and his wife with Daw Suu, who had attended his wedding. From there, I learnt of his involvement with the National League for Democracy in the 1990s, his time in prison for his political activity, and his later journey to Thailand and his work with the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
While the ABC report does not portray the full extent of the challenges Ko Aibar and others like him have been through, it does a wonderful job of capturing how much Daw Suu’s visit means to the Burmese community of Melbourne, summed up in the beaming smile on his face.