Monthly Archives: July 2013

When in Burma…

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Yesterday I attempted to get roti and Burmese tea from a place called Lucky Tea Shop in Mae Sot. I missed my mark by a few minutes as they stop serving roti at 10am, but I had some delicious Burmese sweet breads which also had the perfect touch of salt and were very soft. I also had tea that was super sweet thanks to the line of condensed milk at the bottom.

The warmth faded away the last of my fears from the night before. I decided to stay at Love & Care school just in case Monday repeated itself. And boy was that a serious decision. I slept on a wooden mat on the floor, and thank god for the mosquito net that nearly covered the entire room or I’d have been eaten by all the bugs inhabiting the room. I woke up groggy and tired and joined my fellow teachers in time for breakfast. Then came the real challenge: bathing.

In Burma people don’t bathe nude. Rather they bathe wearing large wrap skirts called “longyi” that are sewn from end to end making them like a giant circle of fabric. They are they wrapped and folded like a towel across the chest and worn while bathing. They bathe using buckets of water and a bar of soap and clean the body clothed! With a small audience of my students who thought my helplessness at bathing was funny–I managed to bathe and brush my teeth without embarrassing myself! Classes went well today also and I will be giving three exams before I leave next Wednesday. I get more connected and attached to my students every day.. Leaving is so difficult!

Last night I spoke with a teacher named Steve about his experiences growing up in Burma. He said that school fees are very high and even after completing school the job market is low so most families actually discourage their children from going to school. He said as the years went by, less and less information was available for students to learn. Where there was once some information about general Aung San and other Shan, Hmong, and Karen, etc leaders there is now nothing. Most of history focuses on British colonization and war with Japan. For which, it seems Japan is often villainized but the Burmese government never talks about any of their own flaws or pitfalls. He says he comes from a family of rice farmers, as are many Burmese people, but the government controls prices of rice even when the weather yields bad crops and they often lower the price making it very difficult to survive off this business. Another interesting thing is Burma’s relationship with china. Apparently they hate the Chinese government, and people I assume. Nonetheless Chinese are rumored to own nearly 40% of the businesses in Burma. And there’s a lot of controversy over the quality of goods as well. According to Thant Zin, some foods such as chili sauce are made with red dye meant for dyeing clothes. After eating with the sauce, the hands are stained red. Also the cooking oil from china is not considered trustworthy but there’s no real food and drug regulation in Burma. Or at least not at the same caliber as most other countries. Considering how bad a state the country is in, it makes sense why no one wants to live there. Even Myawaddy, a border city just across the river on the Burma side is flooded still though its counter city Mae Sot is cleared of water. Part of this is due to the difference in sea level but also part due to the lack of infrastructure to deal with natural disasters. The situation in Myawaddy is quite bad honestly, some people are on top of their houses to escape the water!

In other news my american friend just found out she has dengué fever! Fortunately she went to the doctor and they diagnosed her early enough, I hope she feels better soon! So much going on, I’m just holding on for the ride.

9 day countdown…

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By Land or By Sea

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All I can do to keep calm is to write, so this will be a long entry.

Today began as a pretty normal day since the rainy season began: incessant rain from night to morning and plenty of animal chirps to accompany the cacophony of sleep-depriving noise. Unfortunately this morning, I had no idea how serious things would get, or I’d have braved myself against the rain for a bite to eat. It was decided before that I’d be picked up for work later than usual (I usually leave at 8am), assuming the rain would stop about noon. Around noon, however, rather than a call from my co-worker, I was being woken up by a fist pounding on my door demanding to know whether I was inside. I answered, but the pounding continued. I was not dressed so I rushed to pull on a lapa and shirt and opened the door to the grounds manager, Thant, who had a concerned look on his face. “Is your room flooded?” he asked, but before I could answer he was already inside the room, checking under the bed. There was no water, but that did not seem to be satisfactory for him because the next thing he said was “you need to pack all your stuff and move to a new room.” Though I’m not a particular fan of my rather small room, I was also not expecting to move, so I went to see what all the commotion was about. To my surprise, the entire grounds are flooded. The garden, behind my window, looked normal so I had no idea how bad things had gotten. I geared up in a rain suit, packed my stuff and put on my toughest tennis shoes. Then I noticed everyone else was barefoot because the currents of the water were so strong wearing shoes would get me stuck and make it even more difficult to carry my 3 bags out of harm’s way. I removed my shoes and braced myself for the water. Everything was fine for a while and then I stepped on a spot where there was some sort of grass rather than concrete. With no idea what I was stepping in or on top of, I was frightened because some of my skin is broken from the many mosquito bites I have already endured and I do NOT want to get sick, again.

I managed to get across the way and moved into a new room. To my surprise it is a deluxe room meant for two with a huge bed and significantly more space. I now have a TV and my own balcony with three chairs! This is great, but there is also a bigger insect issue here because the mosquitos and millipedes have all tried to get to higher ground and the windows of this room were fair ground. I used my Tesco-bought bug spray to fight them off, including a particularly brave cockroach which presented itself on my porch. It was finally taken care of by a housekeeper who also told me I cannot cook anything because the kitchen is flooded. This meant I can’t eat anything because the stores are closed and I have no rain boots anyway. And to make matters worse…the rain still hasn’t stopped!

I prayed everything will return to normal soon. I wanted to order a pizza or something but the internet is out and something tells me I should know what to order before trying to call the number. After consulting with my neighbors who were too afraid to leave, but also hungry, I decided to venture into the floods figuring it would be better to do it now (3pm) than later, since natural light was the only light we had. It started off pretty bad, the small street that connects the guesthouses to the main road was especially flooded because there are two walls on either side making the water level higher than usual. I made it out relatively unscathed, though I still try not to think of all the things that may have brushed against my legs, but the next part of the journey proved even more dangerous. The water was rushing from east to west at a fast pace. I tried to step into it carefully and almost got swept away. I held onto a pole and began making my way. Fortunately I was going with the current, but unfortunately my beloved flip flops liked the current a little too much and decided to ditch my foot for the water. Prior to this I had contemplated turning around, but of course I had to chase my shoe. 🙂

After about 10 minutes of hope it went into the courtyard of someone’s house and there was too much garbage back there for me to even consider trying to hunt it down. So I continued with one shoe and finally gave the other one away by choice. No point in having one shoe. As my second shoe drifted in front of me I heard laughter coming from some people at a sports equipment shop. I turned to them to see why they were laughing…and of course, it was because of me. I ignored them and continued until I saw a shop with its doors open. A vegetarian ‘chinese’ restaurant that had meat and Thai food on the menu was the pick for today 🙂 When I first arrived, I tried to ask whether I could come in (since I had no shoes) but the woman took pity on me and said yes, and gave me a free plate of pad see eew. She also brought me tea and I ordered egg rolls. As I sat there I saw many trucks coming by full of young men wearing life jackets. I guess they were the rescue team. There were also rescue boats with distraught looking people riding around. With the help of the shopkeeper and a few others, a young man lifted his motorcycle out of the water and into the safer realm of the stairs where it wouldn’t get too wet. The water goes up to the thighs and it is still raining! As I started heading back, I struggled against the current. I met a couple who also seemed to be foreign who told me they lived even further up the road than I. Finally, like a dream, a black pick up truck pulled over and told us to get on the back. They dropped me back off at my guesthouse and though I still had to wade through the cesspool between the two walls, I came out of the ordeal with a delicious meal, something to take home, and a new broom that had been floating by before I caught it 🙂

I have food and water, so I will probably be staying in my nice new room for the next day. The rain still continues to fall, but I pray it will stop soon. Around 8:40 pm now and electricity has returned (though it’s still raining a little) so I can share my story!

The Rains…and the Cuties

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mae sotThe rains have been flooding the entire city of Mae Sot. They began on Thursday and it is now Sunday. We pray they will soon stop. The water is already knee length and full of… well just about everything you’d never want to touch. Above is not my photo, but it was taken by another Mae Sotter and gives you idea of how today looked!

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Mae La Refugee Camp in the Mountains, North of Mae Sot… some curious children came out of the camp to look at what we were doing 🙂 Clearly conditions here are much worse than in other parts of Thailand.

Though it has not been easy: I work a 7-day week. 5 days at Love & Care and I work at Heavenly Home on the weekend–the children make every bead of sweat and sigh of fatigue worth my while. So far everything has been going wonderfully. A few photos the children to follow:

 

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Little lady making ‘pepsi’ sign!                                     Adorable girl with a twin sister at the orphanage!        A few children posing! — little cutie on the right!

Anyways, I have made a few friends in Mae Sot–and hanging out with them has taken the edge off because before I’d often just come to my room and sleep without speaking to anyone after school. It also makes the reality that I am leaving in less than two weeks even more difficult to face. Though, I must admit, I miss the comforts of home. Namely one large comfort 🙂 and that’s my partner in crime Koto. On the bright side, Love & Care is organizing a going-away party for me next Tuesday and the kids will perform fungah (a dance from Ghana they’ve been learning) as well as Love and Care has been learning lamban (a dance from Mali/Senegal) which they also know! I am very excited for the performance and hopefully I will be able to make some mafe (West African peanut butter soup dish) to go along with the performance (SO DELISH)…but we’ll have to see on that one!

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More tomorrow! Goodnight!

Leap Frog

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I have been fortunate enough to teach reproductive health and sex education class at Love & Care school the past few weeks. I teach two grades: 12 and 11 (relatively comparable in age with American high school but much further behind in education level). Information about the body is always empowering but this has been particularly rewarding considering what my research has opened my eyes to regarding women’s issues in Burma. Especially those who have moved to refugee camps. There are many issues regarding unwanted children and highly unsafe abortions done by “traditional medicine practitioners”. Of course, knowledge about contraceptives completely eliminates this problem. My grade 12 class is higher in their English level so we got through the material in only two weeks. The exam results weren’t what I wanted, however, with many mistakes on simple questions such as “why does the birth control pill not protect you from STDs” and so forth. Because of this I’ve been trying to really go slowly and impress strongly these ideas in grade 11. Today it felt like we had a mini breakthrough. When we discussed the seriousness of issues relating to STD/STIs they really were moved by the information. It truly can mean the difference between life and death and we had a few graphic pictures of stage 3 syphilis and chlamydia to prove it.

At my high school our motto was “Non Scholae Sed Vitae Discimus” or “We learn not for school but for life”. Protection against disease is a huge issue for the impoverished all across the world– and incredibly empowering to have an education about. Teaching Burmese students has been an awesome and rejuvenating experience. It’s really nice to teach in a place where teachers are so highly regarded and respected.

Of course, like any place, there are drawbacks. In Thailand there’s one huge drawback: the critters. It all started last night when I had American night with my friend India 🙂 we cooked French fries and shared about our experiences so far in Thailand. She is a post graduate working at a French NGO here in Mae Sot. After dinner my peaceful walk back to my room was interrupted by an unlikely source. A frog.

Let me make one thing clear: I’ve never seen or dealt with a frog much less a tropical one and I don’t know which are poisonous or aren’t. As I’m also not trying to find out. This little guy caught me between the small enclosement where shoes go and the door. So of course… I had to run for my life. Clearly he got the same memo because he too was trying to get as far from me as possible. But he couldn’t jump high enough to get out of the small area. So we ran in circles a few times until I managed to get the door open. He just stood very very still… as if to make himself invisible.

Which of course makes me feel extremely guilty.

But I can’t help my phobia of these critters. To make matters worse I woke up to an unidentifiable (and already dead–how?) beetle/roach like creature on my floor. No wonder I can’t sleep, at night all the little critters wake up.

Anyways, I just finished my last class of the day: west African dance. I showed my class my dance company’s performance of Lamban for inspiration and they really enjoyed it! They will be performing the Tuesday after next at my going-away event! I can’t wait to get pictures and footage of their performance but I’m very sad to be leaving soon. I am staying for dinner with the Love & Care family tonight 🙂 nothing like a home cooked meal from right off the fire! Here they get the wood from the forest, cut it down, and cook with it! That’s about as “from scratch” as it gets and so far my experiences with Burmese food have been awesome!

In other news: back home my partner has been getting everything set up for us to move into our first apartment! 🙂 so I have a lot to look forward to–but saying goodbye is never easy..,

Speaking of which…

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We may not always see the fruits of our labor, but karma has a way of bringing justice every little place it goes… -Sesa B.T.

Feeling a bit ill, but I don’t regret anything! All the work and love I’ve been putting into these kids the past few weeks have meant more to me than anything. All the hugs and kisses (baby Seke <3) and the germs were well worth the experience. I have become one with my students and one with myself. I know I may never see them again–but I hope the message lives on. We are all together in this battle called life, and love is all we need to make the world better.

Everything in its time. I will accept all things as they are, because this is the way they were supposed to be. Plans change, people let you down, but if there’s good in your heart it will show. Good people will find you, they will help you and you will never be alone.

This is what Thailand has taught me.

We may not alwa…

The Chicken (Che Ta) or the Egg (Che Oo)

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Two days ago Tenzin and her cousin arrived, commencing the second half of our project. We took a trip out to a city called No Bo to visit the niece and nephew of a staff member along with a few heavenly home children.

After 2 hours of riding through bumps, hills, and unexpected mud–elephant poop– and the occasional heavily armed soldier we arrived at No Bo. I believe it is north of Mae Sot and it is possible to see what were once sentry buildings for Thai soldiers during the Burmese civil war since Burma is located just across a short river.

When we met a staff member’s nephew and niece (I will keep their names private for security) they were just coming back from the jungle where they had collected bamboo shoots for our lunch. After a lunch of pork and green beans and egg curry with rice (delicious!) I was able to interview The wife about her experiences. Her English is absolutely impeccable, mostly because she taught in Yangon at a private school for several years. Though she is from Karen state she says there are many things about the Karen people and their history that she did not know until moving to a refugee camp in Thailand. She says that Burma teaches “lies” for history and she was not aware of the atrocities being committed against her people until moving to Mae La camp, the largest of the 9 refugee camps in Thailand.

Though she no longer lives in the camp, her heart still is with the people. She wants to move back to Pa’An (the Capitol of The Karen State) in a few years when she finishes her teaching program here and hopes to bring the same opportunities she has in Thailand to people in Burma so they don’t have to leave.

Unfortunately though the camps have existed for many years, the number of people living in them has stayed at around a constant 170,000. First driven out by war, many Burmese stay in Thailand now for the economic opportunities– even if that means living in a camp. Previously Burma did not allow people who had lived in the camps to return home and even attacked the camps on several occasions but the rules have weakened to encourage citizens to return. She says the camps are safe now, and even moving to the city in Karen state is safe because of a resistance group called Karen National Union (KNU) but many atrocities are still being committed in rural areas and there are spies in the camps.

The Burmese people in Thailand don’t seem to believe that Aung San Suu Kyi’s role in government means that democracy is real in Burma. In fact, they know the elections are still rigged— but they want to return home and they only want peace. Sadly enough, peace may still be far away despite the recent diplomatic improvements between Myanmar and the USA. But only time will tell!

While at No Bu I also found a Burmese cartoon. It was translated to be a story about a man who goes to a shop for rice and egg and his egg hatches into a chicken– but the kind shopkeeper only charges him the price of egg and rice rather than chicken and rice 🙂 The woman told me some people in Burma do still eat the newly hatched egg, so it’s a cultural norm they joke about (though she seems to oppose it).

Today was my last day teaching the children during this 4-day weekend caused by religious holidays. Tomorrow I return to Love & Care to give two exams (Biology, English) and hear about all their stories of going home!

Hasta Soon,

Sesa