Living History

Flying across the Pacific Ocean, on our way to Burma, the 3 of us were reading like fiends.

One advantage of traveling with 2 other people is that they bring different books than i do. As soon as i’ve finished a book, i pawn it off on them. Of course, when they finish a book, they offer it to me with a gleam in their eye.

The 3 of us are of an age where we still deal in hard copy. What a relief to finally offload a book at whatever hotel we’re staying at, thereby making room in the suitcase for the newest silk scarves or cute little handwoven bags from the market.

One of our favorite books was Burma Surgeon by Dr. Gordon Seagrave. He was a fourth generation missionary in Burma. The previous 3 generations had lived in Rangoon, so young Doctor Seagrave headed to the frontier north to establish his clinic and his family in the late 1920s.

He trained local women to be nurses; this involved learning their languages–Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Shan, Mon.

By 1941, when the Japanese invaded Burma, Dr. Seagrave was nearly 40. His wife and children evacuated to India. Dr. Seagrave and most of his nurses trudged west up and down steep mountains to escape the Japanese army. The tribal country of western India was rugged and wild and not exactly welcoming, but they hung out there with the British and Chinese armies. When they pushed back into Burma in 1944, Dr. Seagrave and his nurses set up a new hospital every 2 or 3 days as the front advanced.

Seagrave’s autobiography of World War II is mesmerizing. So we were thrilled to meet Pwint’s elderly aunt, Nong, who was one of Dr. Seagrave’s nurses.

Nong spoke English fluently, and she was a very engaging conversationalist. As she told us about Dr. Seagrave and the war, her emotions played across her face. The feelings of the war years still gripped her, and we were entranced to hear living history from her lips.Image

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