Burma (new name Myanmar)
Trip Start Aug 27, 2006
14Trip End Dec 07, 2006
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We had our cultural preport tonight, we are expected to arrive in Burma (Myanmar) tomorrow evening but we are not allowed off the ship until the morning of the 8th. We found out this morning that it is actually illegal to enter Myanmar by road or by ship...hmmmmm....that posed a question for most of us! But we were also informed that on our immigration forms we were to mark "trainee" and not "visitor". We aren't really sure what we're in training for - but this entire ship is going for some sort of training! Pretty interesting stuff. Cultural preport was boring, but mandatory this time as the information presented has been rumored to be on our Global Studies exam tomorrow afternoon - which we thought was pretty lame that the information on a test was going to be from a presentation that was not mandatory for us to attend. We raised hell about that but it fell upon deaf ears. The instructors are starting to do that more and more - meetings after class hours that are not mandatory have become "mandatory" on the basis that the instructors are telling us the information in those meetings will be on our exams - but whatever, it's not like we have a lot else to do on board?!?!? Burma has stirred up many controversies on board as to why we're traveling there if the United States wants to impose restrictions on travel there
October 7, 2006
I guess I started this blog a bit early, as we have only just now docked in Yangoon, well about 45 minutes outside of the town proper. Last night's cultural preport was boring, but it shed a lot of light on certain issues that I am sure not many people on board were aware of, so in terms of effectiveness I guess it was fine. This morning the waters surrounding our ship turned from the deepest of turquoise to the ugliest brown that I'd ever really seen. It wasn't dark brown like chocolate milk but it was brown, we all decided that it was like not really choclately chocolate milk. That's the best we could do, but it was odd as it stretched on and on, it wasn't just in spots. The entire ocean had seemed to change colors, the sky became foggy and we couldn't see anything for the longest time this afternoon. As we began to make our way into the Bay of Bengal the water stayed brown but the fog lifted and revealed to us the greenest landscape, far more vibrant than that of Vietnam just a few days ago. Here was no smog in the air and the little boats had all come out to greet us waving their paddles and arms, it was fun to come up the river to such an excited crowd. The fields of green went on forever and we decided, a bunch of us standing on the bow, that Crayola should called one of their most beautiful greens "Burma Fields" because they were absolutely magnificent
October 8, 2006
It was an early morning when we met in the union - our group of fifty got split into two groups of twenty five which made everything a little more efficient and much easier to deal with at 4:30am. There was much anticipation in the union this morning because we have been sitting here at the dock for twelve hours or so and haven't been able to rush off and explore. It will be our first taste of this magical place and we wanted to get going. Our forty five minute drive was to be an adventure in and of itself, the poverty was already overwhelming for some, there were comments on the way to the airport in the early morning life of "How could someone live like this?" I asked myself "Who are you t judge?" So we arrived at Yangoon International Airport - THAT was an experience. Very very little security, as in they didn't check any of our bags, put them through an xray machine, nor did they check us. We walked from one small, hot cramped room to another small room and sat with each other. Along with the fifty of us there were about fifty or so Burmese people waiting for another flight and we assumed that these people were more well off than most others. When a prop plane rolled up the runway and stopped in front of our little room the rumble of nervous voices started, and it seemed that the general consensus was that the plane must be the "other" flight, defiantly not ours. Wrong. All of a sudden people were not so stacked up to get on, so a few of us walked out on the tarmac and got on the plane. The others worked up the courage and got on. It wasn't so bad; it wasn't bad at all really
October 9, 2006
It was an early morning again today. Today is one of the biggest days in the year for the Shan State for it is the Returning of the Buddha to its home in the middle of the lake. For four weeks it is paraded around each village on a huge, gold plated canoe. Along with the bring of the Buddha there are also the Shan State canoes races. About one hundred men and boys will line on both sides of giant canoes and race each other down the "straight away" approaching the temple in the middle of the lake. It is a huge festival with about 100,000 people attending. They had been "stands" along the sides of the water ways, again on bamboo stilts very near the center of all the action. It wasn't until I heard one of the local guides say "You can cheer for your favorite team but please do not jump up and down" that I realized that some of the men from the village were frantically cutting more bamboo stilts to keep the stands from falling into the water. Made me feel pretty safe So I wandered off by myself and ended up running into Miss Amy who was one her way from the stands over to the main Pagoda with all the locals so I went with her
October 10, 2006
We started off at dark this morning, in the canoes to the bank of the lake where the bottom village was. The villagers were all there to meet us and split us up into groups of two or three and took us into their homes and cooked eggs and cut fruit and made tea for us while the little kids all got ready for school. It was pretty cool - I have found that more people here in Burma speak better English than in Vietnam and its pretty interesting. So in our house two little girls went to school at the local monastery and when we finished our breakfast with them we walked them down the little dirt road to the school. The two little girls both kissed my hands and waved goodbye. It was pretty neat to see the hospitality and just general acceptance of us in the village. It was very powerful to see a group of people so poor but yet finding enough to feed us and make us feel welcome. We would come to find that through out the day this would be true no matter what. We continued up the sides of the mountains of this particular valley for quite a while and views as the sun came up became better and better - again indescribable. We hiked until lunch where we stopped at a boys monastery school, a few of us asked if we could walk back a ways to the girls monastery school and they said sure, so our trip leader Miss Jennifer walked back with us and the guide stayed at the boys school. The girls were so excited to see us and we unwrapped our lunch and they all sat around with us and talked. They spoke such good English it was amazing, and the conversation soon turned to us asking them questions. I asked one girl, who I thought was just beautiful what she wanted to be when she grew up and she looked at me and said I have no choice in that. I said of course you do. One of the monks came over and sat next to me and began explaining the system that was in place in most of Burma for the orphanage monetary run schools. Now let me clarify a few things - orphan means that you have lost one parent or the other, so either fatherless or motherless. Being orphaned means to have lost both parents and is considered different. So anyway, these were all girls that were either orphans or had been orphaned. The monk went on to explain that the girls at the school were between age three and thirteen and if by the age of fourteen the girls had not found either a job or a husband - to repay the monastery for the care they have received they are sold. Sold. I got stuck on that word and asked what he meant. And said they are sold to men in Thailand mostly because the Thai trade pays the best. I couldn't believe what I was hearing and I - as I am sitting here typing all this can't relate to you the feelings that are welling up inside me. He was so matter of fact, with no emotion he was explaining to me that some of these girls were going to become members of the human trafficking problem between Burma and Thailand. I still don't know what to do with all this. But as he looked around he pointed to different girls, including the girl that I had been talking to and said it is their last month here. It took every ounce of strength in me to not just break apart, I don't know how to describe it, but that's the best I could do. The little girl must have seen something in my face and she sat closer to me and said "that's just the way it is - I must have done something in a past life to deserve this, I just have to be good and do my best and in my next life it won't be this way." And she smiled. I was so paralyzed by everything. I still am when I think about it all. After lunch we played games with the girls, duck duck goose, the hokie pokie, red rover, and all I could think about was here were girls that were playing elementary school games and by the end of the month they would sold away like slaves - as slaves basically - forced to have sex with men or work until they died as prostitutes and bar girls. Talk about growing up fast. We left the monastery and I didn't feel good, I got lost in thought as we continued up to the monastery and when we arrived I felt like I had blinked and missed so much. But I didn't really care. The monastery was beautiful and the monks were very friendly. We rested there for a while, drank tea with them and chatted. Some of the group from here left and went back to the hotel and the rest of us continued on for another couple of hours to hike the ridges behind the monastery and back down to the canoes. It was beautiful being a part of nature and being surrounded by such amazing beauty. But always in the back of my head was the realization that although the land was beautiful, and the people were more beautiful there was an ugly underpinning holding the country together and I just don't know what to make of that. How can I feel so good about some things and so horrible about others, both feelings being equally strong. Sunset on the way back to the hotel on the lake tonight was phenomenal. I have not found anything beautiful or worth tearing up about, but tonight on the way back to the hotel riding in the canoe looking around me at the beautiful sunset that was completely un-comprehendible my eyes became teary and I had the strongest urge to thank God for everything that he had given me because it was very very apparent in this place that I was one of the lucky ones and I thank Him for opening up my eyes to this.
October 11, 2006
This day goes down in the record books for "most things going wrong in a 24 hour period." I am not going into detail as to why - but Burma is a very unpredictable, unstable, unsafe place to be and we experienced all that and more on the drive to the airport, our flight home and getting back to the ship. It was an all day affair today and I am going to bed thanking the Big Guy upstairs that nothing terribly disastrous happened to anyone traveling with us. This place is defiantly hitting us all like a brick wall.
October 12, 2006
I spent today at another orphanage monastery school which was even more impact full than the first if you can imagine. We had a larger group with us this time but there were many more children, both boys and girls this time and the ages ranged from two to fourteen. I noticed though that the boys all were young and that as the lines of students got older fewer and fewer boys occupied them. I asked the monks why and they informed me that it was because the boys had found jobs in the city or whatever and didn't have to be in school anymore. The girls on the other hand have a harder time finding a job and he continued telling me that if they don't find a husband or a job they get sold to pay back the monastery. Again - here again I am hearing this as if it is normal practice, well it is normal practice. This is what happens to the orphaned girls in Burma. I played with a group of ten of the older girls all by myself, they came up and grabbed my arm and wanted to show me all their songs and dances and then they started teaching me Burmese school games. It was the most fun I had had all trip. We played a game very similar to duck duck goose, only you stood in a circle, all holding hands and two people would start running around the outside - still holding hands - and they would slap the arms of two girls and those two would run in the opposite direct and try to get back to the same spot....whoever got back to the open space and connected with everyone else was essentially "not it" and the other girls would continue and pick another pair. We played a game similar to hokie pokie as well, only a little different - the last one to finish the phrase had to stand in the middle of the circle until another person was last to finish. Then they taught me some Burmese dance and they sang and me and another girl danced. By this point some of the other kids in my group were standing around watching. It was interesting because I had been so drawn to the older group - while EVERYONE else went drooling over the tiny little kids in the younger classes. It was like the "puppy syndrome" at the Humane Society - everyone wants a puppy because they are so cute.....but I have never been that way. I loved dancing and singing with the older girls. They shoed me there "non uniforms" and were so proud of their pretty dresses, which were so dirty even a poor family in the United States would probably throw them away. The girls smiles were the most beautiful I had ever seen, just beautiful smiles. They never smiled in pictures though - and I took very few of them because it just ruined everything that we had. After a series of unfortunate events that happened around the city that afternoon our time at the school was cut short -and again in the mist of all the chaos one of the girls stood on the road and waved at me until she couldn't see, and then she continued to run down the road trying to keep up with us. She and I had been together the whole day, she was the first one I smiled at when we walked in that morning. She was one that hadn't found a job yet, or a husband, she was 14. She loved touching my hair, and told me we had the same color eyes so we must be from the same place. She told me I was beautiful and I couldn't hold back the tears. She was more beautiful than I ever could be. I fell in love that day. There was just something about her. There was just something about this entire place - along with all the bad unpredictable things - I left a part of myself there and those kids, one in particular, gave me a piece of them, the greatest gift someone could ever give.
I learned in Burma that life is about suffering, it is hard, it is sickness, it is poverty, it is learning to do with what you have and not ask for more. I learned that to be human is to allow yourself to love, completely unconditionally. It taught me that - yes - you do get hurt - yes people do betray you and do bad things to you - but unless you love without fear of rejection and pain - you are not human at all.