February 7, 2010

Burma Learning Tour: 13 January 2010

It’s morning.
The roosters crow echoes across the village. Village life starts early. All the villagers had church this morning at 5am. We were allowed to sleep through this one – tomorrow we have to go because David is speaking.
Aubrey, our 16 year old high school student, is putting on mascara on…in the wilderness.
The village is filled with a beautiful haze and the smell of fire fills my nose. It’s a beautiful chilly morning. It got down to about 50 or so last night. My toes were so cold. 

We heard the church bell ring at 5 – but we didn’t go. Breakfast was delicious. Fried fish and sticky rice. They had buttered bread, too. They have the best coffee here ever! And it’s instant! It’s a 3-in-1 coffee mix and I need to buy some before leaving. We had it at the last village and it was good. Hmm… We’re getting ready to do a walk around of the village.
Have you ever had someone watch while you eat? Yes, well, that’s us every meal. I wish we could eat a meal with them. I think they watch to make sure we like it and to see if we need anything. I don’t like it necessarily. But I’m eating so I can’t complain – they are gracious and wonderful hosts. There’s a pig squealing in the background. He’s being led on a rope – I wonder if they’re getting ready to kill him… They didn’t, I saw him later. Moe said that they rarely eat pork. Only three times a year on special occasions.
The minister took us on a tour of the village this morning after breakfast. He showed us a reservoir that they had dug before the Cyclone that was used for drinking water. But it was contaminated by the salt water and dead bodies. They now have a tube well that pumps water up from the ground. This is their drinking water. It’s very new – only but a couple of months old 17-9-2009. 

He showed us the school and we talked to the school teacher. She was 21 and had gone to school to be a teacher. She had been a freelance teacher before but after Nargis she felt obligated to come home. Her mother and sisters and brothers died in the Cyclone. She makes no money as a teacher, but the village provides for her. The children were very beautiful- many of them had their faces painted with the sunscreen bark powder. 

The women make thatch roof shingles. That sell for $.10. They need about 700 for one roof. The women make them and then sell them as income. 
Moe said that the ducks are used for eggs and the chicken used for their meat. We saw so many of them roaming around. We saw some cages that were elevated on stilts and at first we thought they were for chickens but then we saw pigs in them. Maybe it’s a better way to control pig waste. But all of the animals roamed free at some point.
When the Minister took us to the fields on the edge of the village – we could faintly hear chanting or singing coming from the inside of the village – children’s voices. We walked back and all the children of the village were in the church. Every day they have a time of singing. The girls were on the left and the boys were on the right. One man was playing guitar. The children’s voices were so loud! They sang with all they had. I could feel tears start to well – but I swallowed them down. Their singing was so powerful and joyous. They sang a couple of songs and then told us to sing a song. So we decided on “Peace, like a river” – because it had motions and all their songs had motions. Then we sang “Joy down in my heart.” It sounded like they sang a song about butterflies – flying so high. They had wings and flapped them to the music. They went down and then grew big again. Kay and I did the motions. The kids seemed to enjoy us making an attempt. Children seem the same no matter where you go. They love songs with motions and love to sing loud! They are very shy and in awe of strangers or someone new.

After we sang with them we were getting ready for our excursions of the day. A little boy was sitting outside the church by a pillar – I smiled at him and waved and smiled back shyly. I asked Moe how to say “What is your name?” It sounded like “Ne Me Baluw Caleh?” – I don’t think that’s how you write it though. I asked him and he shyly ran back into the church. I could imagine an American child doing the same thing.
I wonder why they separate the boys and the girls?

We went to two villages today. The first was to a smaller village with about 40-50 people. They were all Buddhist. We had a three hour long bus ride to their village. We got off the boat and walked through a beautiful forest of palm trees. They were low and the leaves extended just above our heads.
We ate in a nice house with beams. We sat in a circle with food dishes in 3 places. We ate pineapple, apple, and wafers that read ‘American Style’ and were flavored chocolate, milk, and strawberry. We had dried fried fish and coffee and green tea. I overheard that tea was a sign of hospitality before something. But now they serve coffee. We visited there for awhile. The room was dark and cramped and full of people. The women brought in the food to us and then they all scrunched in behind us. The pineapple was amazing! Fresh and delicious!
There was a beautiful baby boy dressed in orange. The village leader told us that they had a son and he died in the Cyclone. They believed this baby was the son reincarnated. Alaina and David help him for a bit, while we spoke and asked questions. They had lost all their children, except for 3. We didn’t see many children at all.

Inside the house was a sewing machine – David always asks what the women can do to get an income. They can make and sell garments and make thatch roof pieces in this village. 
I asked about the marriage process –like how old they are when they get married and such. Usually they marry in the month between January and February and are between 20-25. (When I asked the questions – they all laughed at me. They giggle.) They choose who they marry and its not arranged, although if the parents greatly disapprove they may not be permitted to marry. After the Q&A, we all took pictures outside the house. David specifically asked for the women and then took a picture of the mother with her baby. We stayed a while longer – chatting and taking pictures.

David held the baby and extended his arms encouraging him to walk to him. The baby didn’t have a diaper or pants on. He held the baby and placed his hand on David’s mouth. He said this is something none of you would be able to do – shut up David Radcliff.

Then we went to the dock and they followed to wave us good-bye. But four girls and a young man hopped on – they were journeying with us to the next village. We were so confused, surprised, and then excited.
We went a short ways and then stopped at a dock again. I thought they were going to get off and we were going to stay, but the girls were pulling Aubrey off. Everyone was very confused, even David didn’t know what was going on, as we scrambled and not sure of what to do. Then Moe finally walked to the front of the boat and said we were getting off here, in order to change boats. We walked through a village in order to change boats. We waved to the people as we passed them. We got in to two smaller boats. They were the long skinny kind, but powered by a motor.
The four girls came with us. Their names were:
Hin Mar Ming 25
Zin Mar Win 29
Zar Kyi Win 26
Thi Da 32
On the big boat they made Kay and Aubrey bracelets and ring out of long leaves. We began to see houses and children – lots of children – waving at us. Later we learned that the village is a sprawling village established along the bank of the river, running it’s length. We were greeted by a large crowd waiting for us. It seemed like I shook everyone’s hand. Everyone extended a hand to me. They even made their children shake hands with me. Bringing them up to me and holding their hands out to me. One woman shook my hand, and with the other ran her hand down the length of my arm. I wonder what she was feeling for?
We were allowed to use the bathrooms which were three squatting stalls on stilts. I still haven’t mastered using a squat with pants on. It’s certainly harder.
Then we were ushered into the church to wait a little bit for the food to be finished. We were sitting on the church stage and then there were two rows of blue chairs facing us. All of the children were eagerly seated on these blue chairs; staring at us. I smiled at them and they smiled back shyly.
Then we were taken to a house next door to eat…again. This was a full meal and I wasn’t the least bit hungry. They served us whole duck, whole chicken, white rice, some veggies, and whole shrimp (which I found out was prawn). The meat was cold and I could see the skin – plucked skin. It was tasty. Nothing was disgusting. Eating like this makes me feel like royalty – which makes me feel disgusting. When you’re a guest – you are fed and cared for. They are very gracious. I wonder how they feel about us – eating all of their finest food. Is it truly an honor?
They also fanned us. I asked my fan girl what her name was in Burmese but I don’t remember. Sam began to make animal noises again – particularly goat. The children, which were pressed to the door entrance had broken the threshold and stood as close and compacted as possible. They all laughed at his noises. Then a villager behind us began making noises and we all laughed together.
We gathered in the next door building for a Q and A session. These women have no means of income. I asked how big each household is – they laughed. They tend to laugh at my questions. The household size is between 5-12 people including parents. The minister is hopeful about getting a women’s health information – to stop this huge growth of children. They have two women leaders, but no woman’s organization in progress.
Some of us hopped on a long boat to the other side of the river/village while the other half walked alongside the other side. We didn’t cross the bridge because it was rickety, but the villagers did. Although they’d like to build a more substantial bridge, because some of their children have fallen off into the river. On this side, we saw men laying brick stairs to a huge reservoir to be used for clean drinking water. People followed us as we walked along the village, especially laughing children.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Katie, how nice reading your experience!
    The woman who shook you and ran down your arm to feel your skin. If that was true, it's a sign of friendship or closeness, esp older women.
    They tend to grasp your body parts(arms/hands)to show that they're really excited and happy to be with you.
    It's also a tradition in Burmese culture that they want to treat you the best food they have in their kitchen. They like to see guests eating a lot deliciously. Strange,huh? :D