February 3, 2010

Burma Learning Tour: 12 January 2010

We’ve stopped in Bogalay for the next leg of our journey is by boat.

I think we stopped at a rice storage barn to use the bathroom. People keep offering us chair to sit in. I feel good that I can say Thank you – in their language.

A man was playing Christian songs on the guitar, when I went back into the dark warehouse to use the bathroom. He sang “Lord, I lift your name on high” and “As the Deer” – I sang along.
The streets are busy. Women walking buy carrying large baskets on their heads. Store owners managing their shops. Nothing is closed off, everything pours into the streets. We see three men handling a wagon of porcelain “Squatty Potties.”

I feel empowered that I can squat and use the bathroom like they can. The skirt really helps.
We passed many small houses with thatched roofs along the river. There were so many ducks – we had to have seen hundreds in those 5-6 hours, and so many water buffaloes and chickens! All the dogs here look the same – medium sized, yellow, with tails that curl towards their back.

We all bought hats at our 1st stop for 70 cents or 700kyats. I feel like a spectacle – everyone stops and looks at us.

We just got into our boat and took sail. I was so frightened getting onto the boat – because there was a plank that we walked along in order to get on. First, they were just going to have us walk along the plank – but Gretchen got there first and said no. Gretchen is a thin woman in her 60’s – she has a bright energy, but tells it like it is. Then they found a pole that we could hold onto as we walked , two men stood on either end of the plank and held the pole. I said Thank You several times.

Alaina and I are sitting basically on top of the engine. David said we’d be on the boat for another 3 hours. I don’t even notice how much time has passed – it’s so fascinating to not be tied down to a watch or to be consumed by watching time pass.

We’ve stopped to give water and cigarettes (I think) to some people. But I look up and see 2 boys each with a gun. They have traditional skirts and no shirt on. They look 13 or younger. I wonder why they have guns. There are 5 men on the bridge talking to our captain. A boy with a checkered blue shirt and green shorts holds a gun in front of him. We’ve pulled out – I don’t know what that was about.

I just had a little orange! Moe gave us a bucket of them to pass between us. Sherry got some for the girls sitting on top of the engine. They were smaller than tangelos.They were so small – like one bite. Alaina shot juice at my neck, on accident! 

Burmese must have incredible balance to walk on planks and one pole bridges and carry large things on their heads.

Most of the boats are powered by hand. They row them – their oars are very long . We wave to people as we pass – they smile and wave back. Moe said that their main mode of transportation is by boat especially because the roads aren’t very good. It took us about six hours to go 100 miles. This boat is supposed to take three. I wonder how long it’s been? I feel liberated not having a clock.

When we were waiting for everyone to use the bathroom in Bogolay. A woman carrying a broad basket of goods on her head stopped and observed us for about a minute. Looking at us all – white skinned. We smiled at her and she smiled back. Then she reached out her hand to the closest person, which was Tracy, and grasped her hand. I wonder what she was thinking. What does a white person feel like? Are they real?
We’re pausing again on the boat. It’s only 5:10 Emily said. We don’t think we’re to the village yet, but we don’t know.
We just stopped at a village. They welcomed us warmly and fed us fried fish. The fish they caught and two lbs of it would sell for $10 on the market. We had these things called shrimp puffs which were like cheetos without cheese. We learned later that they are made by cooking them in hot sand. They served us instant coffee and wafers with peanut butter.

All of the men sat on a long front bench. Moe translated for us. We were situated in a school house on very small benches, low and close to the ground. They had been expecting us since noon – so the children didn’t have school that day. We stopped by at 5 o’ clock. We were allowed to ask them some questions. Their village had been affected by Cyclone Nargis. They said that if they have a heavy wind at night it keeps them up at night because of how traumatizing the Cyclone was for them. I bet that a lot of them have post-traumatic stress disorder, possibly after the Cyclone. It’s very traumatizing to go through a disaster. The children of the village would probably stop school after 8th grade because the closest school for that age was in Bogolay – two hours away by boat.

I remember everyone’s disbelief at hearing the literacy rate was 92% - I don’t know why that’s so surprising. Many people up in the hill tribes are uneducated, but perhaps they’re in the 8%. How far do you have to go in school to become literate anyway?

It is dusk and the sun is almost gone. The women of the village work at home mending nets and odd jobs on the farm. The people said that they wanted some tractors – it takes six cows to do the work of one tractor. The women did not sit in front of us. They sat behind and to the side. A lot of their land and water has been hurt by the Cyclone. The rivers are salty which means less fish. The village was a canal village because there were two rivers on either side.

They were Buddhist but they worked closely with a Baptist organization. There were signs teaching them how to get the most out of their pigs, rice fields, and fishing. They had pictures, too, and were hung throughout the village.

We got back on our boat and traveled to the next village, where we would spend the next two nights.  
We got off the boat and had to walk about a mile in the pitch black, only flashlights illuminating our path. We walked on a dry river bed it was cracked and dry. We found out later that it was the beginning of a road, and not a dry river bed. We had to walk because the tide was too low, so they had to park the boat further down the river.

I have never seen such a beautiful sky. Not only could I see the usual bright stars, but I could see all of the smaller stars. ALL of them. The sky was so clear and bright. It was breathtaking. 

We are staying in the community center. Mosquito nets are hanging over our bed of straw and mats. We have unicef blankets and solid pillows.

They fed us again. I thought I was going to lose weight – but I think I’m going to gain! We had chicken, fried chicken, egg rolls, and rice.

Earlier I had said that the strings hanging over the mats were for mosquito nets and people didn’t believe me. They said they were for clothes, or that that space was too big for nets. But during dinner, we could see the women and men kindly setting up mosquito nets in the room.

We are sitting in their church and Moe is introducing us in Burmese. They have a leader of their women’s group, a President of the village, and a Minister. The minister is married to a nurse. She is also one of their teachers. Now, David is speaking and Moe is translating. They have a vision of education – only education will liberate them from poverty. They want to build proper roads.

Buddhist and Christians get along fine in this village. There are more Christians than Buddhists. There is a strong Christian influence from the Baptist group that comes to help. Buddhist kids come to the Christian church for Sunday School.

Many of the kids can’t go to Bogolay – it’s a big secondary school. Their village schools have 35 secondary students and 10 high school students. They have an agreement with Bogolay – the children can learn outside in the village; but they must go take exams in the city.

They have deep feelings about the Cyclone. The church building saved a lot of people. 120 people were saved in the church. They stacked the benches and pulled the women and children onto the roof.

I’m so tired. Right now they’re asking us about our big storm: Katrina.

After the Cyclone, no aid came for two weeks. (They must have felt so forgotten, abandon, and alone) – they had to survive by themselves. They killed a pig every day, because of the lack of food. After Nargis, there were many bodies everywhere that they had to bury.

Kaun-deh = Good

I’ve changed and am resting under our mosquito nets. David’s looking for the light switch. I think I can hear the generator off in the distance. Breakfast is at 7 tomorrow.

No comments:

Post a Comment