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Saturday, 16 October 2010

Jo, Myanmar (Burma) - Something going bump in the night

We spent that night in Daw Naing, the largest village in South East Pyapon. Doctors of the World has a sub-base there. It is a building where the field teams can stay when they are in the area. The sleeping room is on the first floor and was incredibly hot, I gave it a bit of a clean up before we put our mats down and hung up our mosquito nets. The washing and toilet facilities were basic. I thought longingly of my little house in Pyapon. I have no running water there, but it is immaculate.

Anyway the Project Officer and the boat man wanted to go to the tea shop and clearly didn’t want me cramping their style, so I went to bed (at 7.30 pm!) and read until I fell asleep. I obviously slept through his return because when I next awoke at midnight I could hear him snoring gently on the other side of the room. I gradually became aware that I could hear something else as well. Something animate. Something moving very close to me, it was running around the outside of my mosquito net, and then rustling in a paper bag. Then silence for a while, before it started moving around the room again. It sounded enormous, like a dog or a cat, but in the midnight silence I guess sounds might be amplified and it could have been a rat?
It was inches away from my head with only a mosquito net separating us. I tired to wake my room mate but he was fast asleep. So I stayed awake, under my mosquito net until whatever it was stopped bustling around and I was finally able to go to sleep again. This mission is toughening me up!

On our way home we stopped at a restaurant where we have stopped before. The lady who owns it remembered me because on an earlier visit I had opted not to have any of the meat dishes that were sitting outside in big pans, waiting for customers to make their choice. I noticed that there was no “vegetarian option” so asked for fried vegetables. This meant that she had to cook a dish especially for me and I got it really fresh. It was delicious. On this occasion when we stopped there, I didn’t even have to ask, she just got the beans out and started chopping them up.
After we had eaten she dangled her beautiful little 2 month old grandchild in front of me until I asked if I could have a cuddle, so that was lovely. They put jewellery on all the children here so it is really difficult to tell boys from girls and you really don’t know whether you are congratulating them on a beautiful girl, or a handsome boy. It didn’t matter on this occasion because Granny obligingly cleared up any confusion by lifting up the child’s shirt to clarify the situation. It was a boy baby.

Learning to speak the lingo

I have been having Myanmar language lessons from a young Myanmar teacher who has been hired by Doctors of the World to teach English to the national staff. I won’t have time to learn the alphabet so I am concentrating on pleasantries and phrases that will make basic living easier.
Last week Thomas, the Pyapon Field Co-ordinator was here so I had company for a few days. It was really nice to be able to have a conversation that wasn’t punctuated by blank stares and nervous laughter.
While Thomas was here we had a Burmese language lesson , it was Thomas’ first and my second. What a language! It is really difficult. The teacher demonstrated different vowel sounds to us and then said “can you tell they are different”? Thomas and I just looked blankly at him. They sounded exactly the same.
I asked if we could learn to say, “please don’t put sugar in it” because everything here ; tea, coffee etc is always served very sweet. Well it got so complicated and the sentence got longer and longer. We kept saying “what does that word mean”? and would get the answer “well that is just put in to make the sentence flow better” or” that it just put in for politeness”. Even if the sentence starts with “please” apparently there are other words that have to be added for extra politeness. At one point I thought it might just be easier to start taking sugar. To think, small children speak this language.
But in spite of that, I am at last beginning to be able to say some things without people looking too blankly at me. The other day, as I paid for tomatoes in the market, the stall holder said (in English) “Thank you” and I said (in Burmese) “You’re welcome” and got a round of applause. So it’s not all bad.

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