Are just words

Publish date 16-05-2023

by Roberto Cristaudo

During one of the first trips to Burma, the guide who was accompanying me was a journalist who supplemented his meager salary by acting as my guide. Intrigued by his work, I asked to be able to visit the newspaper for which he worked. My request puzzled him somewhat but he agreed.

He organized everything and the next morning he accompanied me to the editorial office of the newspaper, a small newspaper that dealt with local news in the province of Mandalay.
Burma, which officially became Myanmar after the 1988 coup, is today a rapidly evolving country, but certainly not one that shines for freedom of expression. For example, I was forced to move under the watchful eye of the two soldiers who had assigned me as an escort.

In the newspaper printing house the smell of metal and ink was so strong that we were forced to hold a handkerchief pressed to our nostrils in order to breathe. The printing frames, they explained, were cleaned every morning with a petrol-based solvent.
An employee positioned the individual letters so that they could form words that would later become meaningful sentences.

A roller soaked in Indian ink was passed over the letters on which, the paper was placed at a later time. Subsequently a second roller pressed it on the letters thus obtaining the printed page.
An accident, the construction of a bridge, an obituary and sometimes timid attempts to talk about politics. These were the topics covered in the local paper, ten pages in all, each copy slightly different from the next. A masterpiece of slow craftsmanship, no photography.
I bought a copy that was impossible for a foreigner to read, but a marvel for a traveller. Simple gestures of a country trying to survive a military dictatorship.
I left with teary eyes and thought that after all a newspaper isn't just made up of words.

Roberto Cristaudo
NP February 2023

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