I sleep very well for eight hours before being jolted awake at 4:20 am by sentences going through my mind. Grabbing paper & pen I duck out to the illuminated corridor to pen my thoughts before tumbling back between the sheets.
Otherwise, as for the state of the nation outside our boutique window, Prayercast.com is a very informative site. When bolstered by information gleaned from an article in The New York Times written by Sewell Chan (1 Feb. 2016), the situation in Myanmar is summarised very succinctly:
Myanmar, formerly Burma, is the largest nation in Southeast Asia. Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, and Thailand border it on the west, north, and east. The Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal are on its south. The Irrawaddy River, along which most of the people live, flows through the center of the nation and provides fertile land for agricultural production. Myanmar is also known as the world’s second largest supplier of illegal opium. The people of Myanmar have lived with warfare since 1942.
Until the most recent elections which resulted in the first freely elected parliament giving rise to ‘a moment long awaited by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the nation’s democracy movement’ as she walked through the doors of parliament in Naypyidaw, the capital, for a stretch of forty years (until 8 Nov. 2015) the government was under the control of a military regime, forcibly repressing popular democratic movements, and exploiting the country’s rich natural resources, such as natural gas.
The Generals’ actions have left the economy of this nation in trouble and have placed the people in poverty. ‘In the country’s fragile transition to democracy,’ now only twenty-five percent of the seats in both houses of the present government are occupied by military leaders. At least 110 of the party’s 390 members in the new Parliament are former political prisoners.
Freedom of religion is allowed in Myanmar, but any group the previous government considered harmful to the state was harassed, persecuted, and often imprisoned. This has included Christians. Buddhism, no longer considered the state religion, was actively promoted by the military regime and most of the population is Buddhist (though a strong missionary presence assured the foundation of Christianity. Many of the Christian nine percent are well educated and hold positions of responsibility in the country).
There being a Muslim minority population in Myanmar, and a rather busy mosque near the Sule Pagoda quite close to where we’re staying, I’m wakened for a second time by the adhan, the muezzin, the call to prayer, around 5 am. Forbidden to join in this men-only time of worship, feeling otherwise confident & immensely courageous as a 65-year old divorcee, it provides time for me to glance out of the window, or simply flick through the images on my Olympus to reflect on what’s been seen so far when given the freedom to move:
Throughout our wanderings we’ve noticed the white paste worn across the cheeks and smeared across the arms of women, children and even young men, supposedly to protect against the sun’s burning rays (though it also symbolises a beautification ritual). The eponymous paste is derived by grinding the bark of the thanaka tree on a flat, smooth stone with water to produce a milky yellow liquid that dries quickly when it is applied to the skin. Supposedly it keeps the skin cool, stops oiliness, tightens pores, improves the complexion and adds a pleasant, soft fragrance to the skin. Medicinally used it treats acne, fungus, skin sores, measles, epilepsy, poisoning and fever.
I remember the guy who sold us three bananas for 200 kyat had black stumps where his teeth may have once existed. A chewer of betel, along with many other Myanmar men spitting was part of the business of his daily regime. But then again, like most places throughout Asia, being busily engaged in doing business while imbued with a true sense of dedication (and always with a strong commercial intent) creates the chock-a-block hours of most people’s days. Worshipping the arrival of kyat into their hands as ‘lucky money,’ they take to the streets with anything to sell, even offering a choice between three used mobile phones positioned on a cloth on the footpath to capture the eye as a possible ‘sale victim’ prepares to walk across an intersection. Or perhaps a puffy pastry created by a podgy youngster to be grabbed by a hungrier passer-by.
I’ve already figured it may be best to know a little of the Burmese language as fewer people in the street speak English (though it may be that I’ve tried to initiate a conversation with the wrong ones!) Still the young waiter at the Schwe Htoo Restaurant did understand exactly what we’d selected from the menu (‘minus the meat’ and ‘without any tofu’) andthereafter was able to direct me to the Money Exchange booth next door so I could return cashed up with sufficient kyat to pay for our meal since the restaurant (like most places in Yangon, and wider Myanmar) didn’t accept the required equivalent American dollar, or two.
Of course, though my dollars lie flat and even across my belly in a money belt that’s kept firm and straight by my passport, at every Money Exchange every inch of each greenback is inspected for any tell-tale creases that will invalidate worth. So we learn fairly quickly only pristine greenbacks are worshipped by a population whose currency is considered worthless outside of their country’s borders.