Skip to main content

Miracles in Suu Kyi's secret garden

By Dan Rivers, CNN
November 19, 2012 -- Updated 1020 GMT (1820 HKT)
  • CNN's Dan Rivers back in Myanmar after being deported... twice
  • He's emailing from Aung San Suu Kyi's garden ahead of a visit by Barack Obama
  • U.S. president is on historic trip to Myanmar Monday as part of Asian tour
  • Obama is first sitting U.S. president to visit Myanmar after years of repressive military rule

University Avenue, Yangon (CNN) -- I am surfing the Internet from Aung San Suu Kyi's garden. That sentence implies several minor miracles.

The fact that I am in the country at all is surprising.

I was deported for my reporting on the repression here... twice. Now I have been invited back with the White House press pack, my past "sins" apparently forgotten.

To be here at this most famous house is strangely moving.

I'd driven past it on numerous occasions when Daw Suu was under house arrest -- the secret police watching the entrance, whispering into their radios, as they saw a car full of Westerners approaching.

U.S. President Barack Obama hugs Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi after making a speech at her residence in Yangon on Monday, November 19. Obama met the democracy icon during a historic visit to Yangon aimed at encouraging political reforms in the former pariah state. U.S. President Barack Obama hugs Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi after making a speech at her residence in Yangon on Monday, November 19. Obama met the democracy icon during a historic visit to Yangon aimed at encouraging political reforms in the former pariah state.
Myanmar welcomes Obama
Photos: Myanmar welcomes Obama Photos: Myanmar welcomes Obama
Obama on Myanmar's 'flickers of progress'
President Obama visits Myanmar
Who is Aung San Suu Kyi?
Suu Kyi emotional journey leaving family

You couldn't even stop on this part of University Avenue in those days, let alone wander around the manicured garden of "the Lady."

Now I am waiting for her most famous visitor yet -- U.S. President Barack Obama will be stopping here for a chat.

Read more: Obama to urge Myanmar not to extinguish 'flickers of progress'

It is the historic culmination of three years of hard diplomacy.

The U.S. policy of sanctions was clearly failing: punishing the people and leaving the elite free to plunder the rich resources of this benighted country.

In 2009, the White House initiated a review of policy towards the country it still stubbornly calls Burma.

It resulted in a significant shift toward Myanmar. Engagement was the watchword. But few dared to predict how quickly events would move.

Officials here are frank about their astonishment.

Don't forget it was only just over two years ago that Suu Kyi was still under house arrest and the whole road map to democracy seemed a sham.

Now she is not only free, but meeting leaders around the world.

She is an elected member of parliament, and President Thein Sein has even talked about her one day being a future leader.

It's important not to get too carried away. Poverty is still endemic, 25% of the country doesn't have electricity, healthcare is parlous, ethnic conflict still stalks verdant hills in the north and what amounts to ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims continues in the west.

The Army still controls politics and business. Hundreds of political prisoners languish behind bars.

But there is something in the air here that has been so desperately lacking in the past: hope.

Read more: Myanmar's president grants prisoners amnesty

Its enticing scent is wafting through the carefully-tended roses of Daw Suu's garden.

And there's something else in the air here too: Wifi!

In a country where Internet access is restricted, slow and very expensive, the fact that I can email photos and text wirelessly in a garden -- in Myanmar -- is incredible.

Another minor miracle. Let me say it again: I am surfing the internet from Aung San Suu Kyi's garden.

Part of complete coverage on
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0009 GMT (0809 HKT)
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1548 GMT (2348 HKT)
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0507 GMT (1307 HKT)
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0006 GMT (0806 HKT)
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.