I Have Friends in Rangoon

Trip Start Dec 31, 2004
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Trip End Apr 22, 2005


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Saturday, March 5, 2005

The Burmese are fiercely loyal and protective. All along our journey Cameron and I have been adopted by everyone from monks to street urchins to shopkeepers and restaurateurs. Some have glommed onto me and some to Cameron but all have taken to us both. And us to them.

"Beeee-yuuuu-teee-fulll!" she shouted after me and proceeded to ape my gait with exaggeratedly stiff posture then buckled over in laughter grabbing my arm. If this had been our first encounter I'd surely have been taken aback but it was far from it. She's a cheeky little postcard girl that exudes spitfire and sass and she's taken a shine to mocking me and calling after me through the throngs. Once we'd passed her when a moneychanger screamed after us "HELLO!!! Change money? You change money?!" It was so startling and abrasive that Cameron and I burst into laughter and days later the postcard girl would mimic the moneychanger yelling at us. Several days passed before I even bought from her and yet she still insisted on walking arm and arm between Cameron and me toward our hotel. One night while walking past a congested cinema an inebriated disheveled man poked me lightly in the arm and aggressively barked "Where you from?! You want to change money?!" I felt the girl's palms go damp and she grabbed us tightly and pulled us toward an alleyway and stood with her back to the man and screamed at him. I was more alarmed that she was nervous than by the antics of the town drunk but it was quite a fierce demonstration of protectiveness and from a 10-year child at that. While we were following her lead another man approached and yelled at the drunkard and told us to move along away from him. Two nights later a man gesticulating with a lit cigarette slurred Burmese at us and she pushed his hand back blocking him and we both berated him and chuckled. "Too many crazies!" she laughed. Cameron and I wanted to do something nice for the postcard girl and her little scruffian friend though giving money outright was out of the question. Then on a particularly hot and muggy afternoon we bought them some cookies and Lemon Sparklings and sent them to the movies. Theirs is surely a rough path to trod but a little air conditioning, some treats and a Hindi musical hopefully blew a cool respite into their furnace lives if only for a few moments.

The postcard girl in front of our hotel is another story entirely. She is meek, frail and always well turned-out in pristine crisp dresses, tiny barrettes pulling back her cropped black hair, distinctive sandalwood patterns on her face and a slick of lipstick. She adopted Cameron. Everyday she stands near the large glass doors of the Panorama Hotel that blusters glacial air out onto the boiling hot pavement of the polluted underpass. There she stands from morning until early evening smiling patiently. Besides the travelers who tower past her and the occasional one who actually stops and speaks, her main interactions are with the taxi drivers across the street. Earlier this week Cameron and I went shopping for dresses for our respective postcard girls to give them on our last days. Moments before Cameron's cab was waiting to take her back to the airport yesterday she gave her two neatly wrapped packages of a dress and a top. Gently accepting the little shopping bag her eyes widened and she smiled humbly. I felt my throat tighten and go dry.

We went back upstairs to finish up Cameron's packing and then returned to the lobby and waited for her escort to the airport, Monk Siri who adopted us on our first night. For the past week we went all but two days to Siri's monastery and helped the monks practice their English and it's been a wonderful experience getting to know them all both in and out of the monastery. In addition Siri has entertained Cameron when I've been stuck at the Bangladeshi Embassy organizing my visa countless times. The most fluent Monk Benyee-Balo joined us for tea one day and later surprised us at the Shwedegaon Pagoda one evening and we strolled about for hours while he charmed and enlightened us. All the monks are endearing and I adore them all but Benyee-Balo has more or less become my monk and Siri the fragile and sensitive one is without a doubt Cameron's.

When Siri arrived we wheeled out the luggage and the driver took it to the waiting taxi. I took a picture of Cameron and with her postcard girl and stood waiting while Cameron tried to cheer me up. I thrive on the challenge and freedom of solo travel and I even prefer it though I must say that traveling with Cameron had been effortless and thoroughly enjoyable. We've played very well off each other: her good cop to my bad. I watched and waved through the haze of tears as they sped off and saw Siri already bleary-eyed waving back.

It's just me again alone on the other side of this great world. Yes, for two more days it's just me in Rangoon with the monks of the Byat That Monastery, the postcard girls and the laughing lady at the Shan noodle shop.

I guess I'm not alone after all.
Christina
ADDENDUM The next day while typing this entry at a café near the Sule I heard my postcard girl taping on the glass door. I had her presents in my bag since I was leaving the following afternoon. I got up, fished them out and handed them to her. I explained that I was leaving the next day and I had a little something for her. Her eyes were huge as she accepted them and thanked me. She turned and raced down the street. I never saw her again.
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