Our story

-Text written by Jonathan

Arne: “Hey Jonathan, I will probably sign up for a trip with the Caravan’s Journal. But I’m not sure yet.”
Jonathan: “Where are they going?”
Arne: “Myanmar, Yangon specifically. They’re leaving in February for ten days. During that time, I’d like to make my final piece for school over there.”
Jonathan: “Oh well, that sounds interesting!”
(…)
Jonathan: “Okay, f*ck it all. I’ll join you on the trip.”

***

It really seems like a stupid Facebook conversation, but this was the start of one of the most awesome adventures in our lives. The Caravan’s Journal, an organization for international storytellers, were organizing a trip to Myanmar. It’s a trip where storytellers meet each other in really cool places. A journey where you are able to follow lectures and workshops from experienced people. Personally, I had never been outside of the European borders before. It made me excited and uncertain at the same time, a very strange combination of feelings.

Arne and I both signed up. Around Christmas, the two of us received an e-mail: we could join the group in Yangon.

I can still see my mother’s face when I went to the living room and told her I was going to South-East Asia.

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Arne and Jonathan interviewing a musicologist after a concert (© Marie Bouly)

Arne’s plan was to make a nine-minute-documentary. My idea was to make a series of short videos and to create a blog about all our stories. Around half January, I decided to make a series about music in Myanmar. I read some articles about music education and the ‘copy songs issue’. As a result, I was really intrigued by the Birmese music scene. It seemed to be special and very complex. I contacted several Burmese people via Facebook and e-mail. Most of them were very enthusiastic about my concept.

One week before departure, I explained my plans to Arne and mentioned that I already contacted a bunch of musicians. He was really keen on it, certainly because we made videos for musicians together in the past. We both knew it was going to be tough, because we don’t have any real professional material. Only two DSLR-cameras, a few mics, a tripod… Basic stuff to make a good online video but nothing too fancy. It really was a challenge, but therefore a very nice opportunity to push our boundaries.

After a seventeen hours trip, we arrived at Yangon. It was a special environment: no traffic rules, very dusty, warm, lots of dirt… On the first day, we had a meeting with the manager of the Gitameit Music Center and school in Yankin. The taxi dropped us off only 100 meters away from our destination, but we didn’t notice the sign. Consequently, we walked in the wrong direction. Into some little roads with ‘Burmese-only-street-names’. After 2 kilometers, we arrived in the same street where the taxi dropped us off. Some friendly shopkeepers tried to explain that we were very close. One of them pointed to the street where we started our walk. After 45 minutes of wandering around, we were back at our starting point, but in the right place.

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The Shwedagon Pagoda, the most famous place of Yangon (© Jonathan Vanooteghem)

The Gitameit Music Center was our first real Birmese experience. We had a very pleasant chat with the local manager, Nay Win Htun. He told us all about Burmese music. Afterwards, he showed us around in the construction site next to the old school. They were building a new accommodation for the music center. Furthermore, he invited us to a concert the next day: his pupils were going to perform together with some students of the State School of Fine Arts. It was the first time that would ever happen in Burmese history. The concert took place at the state school, a very nice venue for concerts like that.

Our first acquaintance with Birma was distinctive for the rest of our journey. The other participants of The Caravan’s Journal have very inspiring and congenial personalities. They always helped us out when we needed. Fortunately, we succeeded to combine our project with all the lectures and leisure on the trip. Everything went like we planned to. We found Pauk Si in Nyaung Shwe, a young guitar player in a small northern town. Back in Yangon, we interviewed the female hiphopband Y.A.K. (in Birmese) and we were able to meet with singer Darko C. He had already been a great help in finding Pauk Si.

We were so driven that we did the most crazy stuff: we put our cameras on the roof of cabs, arose at 5 a.m. to film the sunrise, we drove bikes like crazies to capture the sunset… I realize we were mostly lucky, but it gave us a boost to accomplish the project.

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Arne filming the concert of Gitameit students at the State School of Fine Arts (© Marie Bouly)

Personally, I learned a lot during this trip. Above all, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. These two weeks in Birma were so astonishing and joyful. I never felt that way before about a journey. It was such a pity we had to leave. It felt like we had been there for only five days. But in reality, we were two weeks in Myanmar. When we took a cab back to the airport, nobody said a word during the ride. It felt so bizarre. It was like I already had homesickness to Myanmar, and I even hadn’t left. Back in Belgium, it even got worse the first couple of days. I had a tough time getting used to Belgian society again.

Because of our busy lives, it was not easy to finish the project. It took us a while, but we’re both very glad our project is finally finished. We wanted to take the time to finish our stories properly. Songs of Change is probably the biggest project we ever did until now.

We’re very happy with the result and hope that you will enjoy our project as well.

Also special thanks to the Caravan’s Journal and all the participants for the amazing trip, it was really fantastic to travel with each one of you.

Groepsfoto

Jonathan & Arne

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