Burma and its burdened people
Fruit Seller in Nyaung U Market, Bagan, Burma
A tiny girl that only comes up to my armpit shows me her hand. But when I look in her eyes, I see she is not a child at all but a tiny elderly woman. Malnourishment has stunted her growth and she is only about 3 ft. tall. She has a few grains of rice in her hand, points to them and then indicates her mouth. I am on a day tour of Bagan which has been organised by my cruise line, Voyages to Antiquity, and we have only a limited amount of time to visit this wonderful rural market. I quickly walk on in order not to lose the group, enjoying the colours of the vegetables and admiring the handicrafts but, all the while, I feel guilty leaving this woman with nothing. Ki Ki notices that I like one of the lacquer boxes she is selling. I now know that an amazing amount of effort can go into making one of these but still only offer her $4 hoping that this is a mass market version.. She immediately starts showing me her other wares and insists that if I buy two items she will give them to me for $20. I try to explain that I do not have any more money and she clearly does not believe me. ‘Ask your friends. They will lend you money!’. ‘I am on assignment’, I reply. ‘These others are tourists but they do not know me and will not lend me money.’ She acquiesces and our transaction is completed.
Thi Thi is our tour guide for Schwedagon
Thi Thi is our tour guide to the breathtaking Schwedagon Stupa in Yangon which we visit as soon as we arrive for our tour of Burma. The complex is enormous and it takes us a full hour to explore it at leisure. She goes to a great deal of trouble to explain the Buddhist faith and rituals. For instance, the people pouring water over small Buddhas are hoping for their sins to be washed away, an act of purification. On a later tour, Thi Thi will take my colleagues to a museum near the town centre and nearly break down when she recounts how the regime has had a personal impact on her life. She says the people do not know if this exercise in democracy will work or if the government will simply strip all these freedoms away as they have done before. There are many heartaches and much suffering hidden by these gentle people.
Burma is part of Voyages to Antiquity’s 14 night South East Asia tour for winter 2013/14. www.voyagestoantiquity.com
The Anada Temple in Bagan, Burma