Monday, 4 August 2008

The BIG City

I'm sitting here wondering what I might say that could capture all the feelings I have about my arrival in London. It's not going to be possible without spending a good deal of time and taking up a lot of space. This will have to wait for "bare feet for Burma" the book. To cut a long story short - I've arrived, I've delivered the petition, I've given a couple of interviews and I'm more than a little confused about how I feel about it all.

Obviously I am pleased to have achieved what I set out to do and I am relieved that everything worked out. In fact, to say that "it worked out" is to do it an injustice since the whole thing has exceeded all expectations. The journey has been incredibly enjoyable, energising and enriching. It is for this reason that my arrival in London is the source of a little sadness as well as being cause for celebration.

Sunday was my final day of walking and it started with a hearty breakfast provided by Ian and Julie Smith. I started shortly after ten-o-clock and was soon joined by Dan - a new friend whose company I've been enjoying regularly ever since I met him by the canal a couple of nights ago. At Hammersmith bridge we met up with Mindy and Andy and stopped for the first pint of the day. We kept it to only one drink as I have plenty of experience of what can happen while drinking in this company. Nearer the end of the day we were joined by more good friends in the form of Kevin and Caitlin. We walked across the grass towards Westminster just as Big Ben announced that it was six-o-clock. Outside the Cathedral we were met by Jenny and Blade.

So I'd arrived, I was in at the end of my journey and I was in the company of good friends but I had not a clue what to do. The feeling that I had was neither good nor bad, it was simply strange. I was glad that we'd arrived on time to catch the evening service at the Abbey because I knew it would provide the time and space in which to reflect and get to grips with being here. After too short a time with everyone Mindy and I parted company with the rest and headed into Westminster Abbey.

The service was a special one, dedicated to peace, and specifically remembering the victims of the Hiroshima bomb - the anniversary of that most terrible demonstration of the destructive capacity of human beings is on the 6th of August. I must admit that despite the appropriate nature of the service I was still left feeling that there was something missing. Perhaps it was simply that I no longer had a goal?

This feeling was rapidly and totally dispelled soon after the service finished when the Reverend Canon Nicholas Sagovsky introduced Mindy and I to two people who's total commitment to promoting Human Rights means that the vast majority of their time and energy is spent developing "Human Rights TV" - a platform that gives voice to those who have suffered and whose story is seldom told. We were then given a guided tour of the Abbey including a visit to the tomb of Saint King Edward the Confessor, an important destination for pilgrims in England since the 13th century. Reverend Sagovsky said a beautiful prayer, somehow managing to weave his words between the organ blasts that filled the whole space and added considerably to the atmosphere. I felt that he perfectly captured the spirit in which my journey has been made and found the experience incredibly moving.

We spent a couple of very enjoyable hours with Nic, Jack and Akane before leaving the Abbey and heading to a Thai restaurant where Mindy treated me to a very fine curry. It was after one in the morning before I retired after what had been an amazing day.

The story of how I got to Downing St the next morning is one of absurdity and stress and I do not have the energy just now. I'll say only that in the end I arrived only just on time, at a run and lashing sweat. Thank you to Lilian, Steve, Gavin Strang (MP) and Ko Aung who were there to meet me. Ko Aung presented me with a flag showing the fighting peacock - the symbol of the democracy movement in Burma. My petition was delivered to number 11 as the PMs residence is surrounded by scaffolding and resembles a building site at the present time. It was received by an official and the exchange took all of 20 seconds. Job done!

Lilian and Steve kept me company until 4pm when I went into the BBC building at Millbank to give an interview for Radio Scotland. I was looking forward to it as I've enjoyed the interviews I've done in the past but I'd not considered that the fact the program was going out from Glasgow would mean that I'd be in a studio on my own. I sat there with a set of headphones on and a microphone in front of me listening to the sound of my own breathing. Then I heard a voice telling me that I'd be on after the headlines which were now audible in the background. This was the first news I'd heard for over a month and it was the usual diet of scare stories about under aged drinking and knife crime. I then had a minute and a half to tell the story of ten months in bare feet and the biggest adventure of my life. Afterwards the sounds of the studio disappeared and once again I heard only my own breathing.

Outside the studio and free from having something to do for the first time, I relaxed in the sunshine outside Westminster. A strange feeling began to settle on me. There I was surrounded by more people than at any other time for the past forty days and I had no way of connecting with them. My rucksack was back at Mindy's flat and bare feet is not enough to prompt a question from a Londoner - there are plenty stranger things to see in London. Of course I knew that if I could make contact with any of these people I'd most likely find a kind, caring and warm human being just as I have all the way down the country, but without a mission I felt like I'd lost my power to connect. Surrounded by seven million people I felt lonely for the first time since I set out and the thought that I wanted to go home flashed through my head.

Thankfully I had arranged the night before to visit Jack and Akane at their home (also the base of Human Rights TV) where I was to be treated to a home cooked Japanese meal. After journeying across London on the underground where nobody talks to each other it was a great relief to see Jack and to be able to talk again with someone who understood. And talk we did! Jack's enthusiasm for his work with Human Rights TV is remarkable. He showed me how everything has been set up and how the hundreds of testimonies that he and Akane have recorded have been archived and made available on the Internet. He is determined that editorial control remains with the contributor and insists that sound bites are not what he's after - essentially each voice has as long as is necessary to tell their story.

After fantastic food, drink and conversation Jack and I recorded an hour long interview. The contrast between this and the interview I'd done earlier could not have been greater. We were still blethering at 2am. I'll post details of how to view the recorded bit of our conversation in the near future.

I'll also aim to share some of the details of this morning's meeting at the foreign office but this too will have to wait. I'm knackered!

Before I finish this post however I'd like to thank again all those people who have been a part of this journey in whatever way. It was my legs and my feet that covered the distance but it was your kindness, generosity and support that kept them going. Whatever success I can claim is yours every bit as much as it is mine. I hope that I have not concerned anyone by sharing the lows as well as the highs of my arrival in London. I have always believed that it is the quality of the contact between people rather than the quantity of people contacted that is of importance. I feel like I have walked from one magical encounter to another and I will be forever grateful to all those who have contributed a little bit of magic.

Much Love and Gratitude,



Jim and Julie Maxon said...

Ewen - great to hear from you again as we have been checking the blog many times each day wondering what was happening! We really had hoped to be with you in London and are so very sorry that we weren't able to be there.

You really describe so well the vast number of feelings that you clearly experienced in London - the highs, the lows, elation and sadness - it must be quite overwhelming.

Your journey has been inspirational to many, many people, including according to the blogs a vast number of Burmese, which is great to see.

What next? Apart from writing a book of course! You are a very capable writer so your book no doubt will be both compelling and a joy to read.

How long are you staying in London - will you still be there on Friday for the anniversary?

Once again, you will always be welcome to stay with us if you ever manage to get to Leeds. If you do, we will toast your success with a bottle of champagne - or a wee dram or two if you prefer!

Jim and Julie Maxon

Forthview Visits Thailand said...

Ewen,your listlessness and feeling of being a bit lost and ill at ease resonate with the 4 of us in Edinburgh who have just returned from Mae Sot. Straddling 2 realities is very hard and returning to the mundane and normal after the extraordinary experiences we have all had this summer is a struggle. Sit with it ... I sense it eventually becomes an important part of the process ..... Love and well done, Sheila

by the seaside said...

Hello Ewen
We will certainly miss checking out the blog everyday for news of you! but very relieved that you reached the end of this journey safely. You will have left an impression on everyone you met.

Best wishes for the future

Aline and Colin in Amble

ShaneAu said...

Thank you so so so much.

On behalf of Burmese People,

Burma Campaign Australia

Andrew Jones said...

Well done Ewen!!
Looking forward to meeting up and hearing your stories.
You are an inspiration!

fifi said...

Hi Ewen,

CONGRATULATIONS! We knew you could do it. Its fantastic that you have done what you set out to do.
We are all very proud of you.

We hope to see you very soon.

Take care.

All our love,

Fi, Andy, Ashley & Liam. xxxx

Jack said...

Barefoot for Burma:

angel said...

Ewen, it has been a privalege to have read your blog and a joy to know that you did what you did because of your love for others, we are all aware of the plight of these people and you made us aware for that i will always be thankfull.
God Bless you Ewen, you are a wonderful human being and i shall never forget our walk together, you have become part of my day, i shall now miss reading about your days, go forward with grace and a knowledge you have changed our lives, for the better.

With love and gratitude.
Trasie/angel X x X x X x X

Ewen's Mum said...

I would just like to say thank you to all of you who have followed Ewens's journey on the blog and offered such wonderful support to him during his highs and the few lows. And a big thank you to everyone who offered him food and shelter along the way.Thank you so much Lillian and Steve for being with him in London on Monday. Like many I have checked the blog daily and feel we have become friends although I have not met you, except for Fi of course. Richard and I will meet up with Ewen in Edinburgh on Friday for the anniversary. Like you I am looking forward to reading the book!
Lots of love to you all and thanks again for your support.


Stewart said...

Ewen..first of all congratulations on your tremendous achievement. What you've done has been both brave and inspirational and above all, out of the ordinary. It's only natural that you will feel as you do at the moment and it becomes even more difficult to connect with what seems the humdrum day to day reality, particularly of the big city. I've experienced these feelings on a number of occasions and particularly when I finished the VSO work in Chiang Mai and on the Burmese border working with Burmese refugeess. I'll email you about this sometime on a more private basis if you want. Suffice to say that what you have achieved will open a new chapter in your will not happen immediately because you need a period of quiet reflection and discussion with good friends as to what you do next.

Well done! Will write soon. BTW-I've only spotted one spelling mistake in your blog! Pretty good going! Sorry but once an English teacher always an English teacher.

Stewart in Chiang Mai

Sheena said...

Well yet again I sit here in front of a computer with tears running down my face as I read your blog and the posts that accompany it but this time I am sitting in front of a pc in America as I am over here for Jo's wedding.

I am so proud of you and wish like many others that I could have met u on your journey and I am sorry that I cant make it to Edinburgh on Friday but I will be thinking of you and the anniversary as well as celebrating Joanna's wedding that evening.

I cant wait to see you and hear even more about your amazing journey and I feel so lucky that you are my big brother and I get to talk with you so much as the conversations we share are so amazing and enriching.

Well done UE and congratulations for everything you've done and I to want to thank everyone who as supported Ewen's journey in whatever way that was.

Have a safe journey back north and an amzing day on Friday.

All my love

Sheena xxxxxxxxxxx

Anonymous said...

Ewen, what a story. Truly amazing. What a shame the interview with Radio Scotland was such a let down. You are an inspiration to many. Seek inspiration from the knowledge of what you have achieved and with whom you have met and been able to influence.
Look forward to seeing you soon.
Cath F

Htun said...

And Thank you very much on behalf of all Burmese.

Jenny said...

Lovely to hear this part of the story and to send you a belated hug to say welcome to the next step. Really, Ewen, you were late and running and in a sweat...? Surely not??? (tee hee, sorry, couldn't resist that)

I had a little inkling of how you may have felt experiencing London as I travelled back from Climate Camp yesterday. I was still in that place where it is normal to ask complete strangers for help... or to offer it. What a blessed experience to live like that.

Love and hope I'll see you soon
Jen x

Yahtay said...



Thank you very much on behalf of people from Burma.

A Burmese student