Last weekend I went with my two TE friends, Katie and Sandy, to stay in Katie’s home in the village where she grew up, about 4 hours from Mandalay. This was somewhat of an adventure because until recently foreigners have only been allowed to stay in ‘foreigner hotels’ in tourist locations and also because there is no running water or electricity in the village. In fact I would be the first foreigner to stay in the village. But Katie assured me that the villagers would love to meet me and definitely wouldn’t report my visit to the authorities. I assured her I would be able to deal with a non-flushing squat loo, and hoped I would. And so on Friday afternoon after class we set off for the bus station, with Katie and Sandy carrying my bags and looking after my every need. They even brought a whole basketful of ‘Western’ food, which they had got at the Western supermarket, in case I couldn’t eat the village food. And when they heard I had a sore throat stopped the bus to get Strepsils for me. I don’t think I have ever been so well looked after in my life.
We got off the bus at a junction in the middle of nowhere and were met by three villagers on motorbikes who took us over the dirt roads leading to the village. We had in fact been intending to make the trip the weekend before but as it was raining heavily Katie assured me it was not a good moment. Looking at the mud on the roads I could see why. Here’s a villager we met on the way.
After about 10 minutes we arrived at Katie’s village where her neighbours were waiting to greet us:
You can see Katie’s house in the background and here is a close-up:
It’s a beautiful house as you can see. It now belongs to Katie as both her parents are dead and she has no other relatives. The villagers obviously love Katie, we had a whole stream of visitors. Some, like this lady, had been a friend of Katie’s Mum, the village midwife, and she mimed to me how she had rocked Katie as a baby:
Here they are together:
Others like the lady below showed Katie their wounds; Katie’s mother had obviously been more than just a midwife:
After meeting the neighbours I looked around the house. Here is the kitchen and another neighbour, who cooked all our meals:
And here is the well, which also served as a bathroom. Katie and Sandy tied to teach me how to bathe in a longyi at the well but without much success. I couldn’t keep it from slipping down. Obviously an art I still needed to learn but not next to a public footpath:
And here is the feared toilet which was spotlessly clean and not at all smelly, so fine with me:
And here is the inside of the house:
Katie’s father was an intellectual who loved reading, especially English books. There was also a small shrine:
On the left of the shrine you can see two iconic photos:
The upper photo is of Aung San, Aung San Suu Kyi’s father and also the ‘father of the nation’, who led the negotiations with Britain for Burma’s independence in 1948. This is a photo which you see all over Mynamar, like the famous photo of Che Guevara in Cuba or portraits of the Pope in Italy. The lower photo is Aung San with his family including the two-year old Suu Kyi. The photo was taken just before he was murdered. Coincidentally I had seen the originals of both these photos in the Mandalay museum the week before.
After looking round the house it was time for supper. Katie and Sandy had their supper with one of the neighbours sitting on the floor:
while I sat in solitary state nearby eating my western food:
I would normally have protested but the village food was indeed very spicy, a very acquired taste, and with a very bad cold coming on I was happy to sit on a chair away from them.
On the left you can see the water cooler, which really does keep the water cool:
The water comes from the well outside which is 57 feet deep. I felt it was safe to drink, in fact there was nothing else to drink, and it had no ill effects.
And after that it was time for bed. Kate and Sandy made up a real ‘Queen’s bed’ for me with a soft mattress and a mosquito net and I had a great night’s sleep. The village is a lot cooler than Mandalay and as you can see this corner catches the breeze.
The next day we went for a walk round the village. Here is the neighbour’s house:
As you can see, like every other one of the 147 houses in the village, it has a solar panel. They were installed by the former government in the run-up to the previous elections.
Then we went by Katie’s primary school, which she had attended between age 5 and 13:
This is one of her former classrooms with a blackboard and a raised dais for the teacher:
Sandy and Katie explained that there might be two separate classes in this one room as there is a dais at each end. There are normally desks and chairs but these have been locked away for the holiday:
They also told me that these are typical of the classrooms where the trainees in the college will be teaching, rooms like this with 60 – 70 kids and a teacher at either end.
After the school we walked through the village streets:
And saw farms. Some large and beautiful like this one:
And others with a few animals:
The children in the school are free from April till June and some of them were getting free holiday tuition from a lady in the village. We stopped for tea and I did a mini conversation lesson with the kids:
After that we went walking through the fields:
And I saw how the fields are ploughed with a hoe:
Here are some kids on a bullock cart:
Later we visited one of the 5 monasteries in the village:
I couldn’t help wishing that the school had such a fine building. Later in the day, after lunch and a rest we visited a dam,an oasis of calm with a splendid view of Mount Popa, Myanmar’s most holy and beautiful mountain:
You can see fishing boats on the lake and some fishermen by the shore. Earlier in the day we had bought some fish from a fisherman who brought his wares round the villages and had them for lunch, delicious:
The next day, Sunday, we got up early to see the market which rotates round the villages and comes to Katie’s village every five days:
Here is a lady making what looked like a sort of pancake:
And another selling herbs:
and various others:
The only men in the market were those selling some beef, which looked very fresh indeed:
And after that it was time to leave. As always I wasn’t allowed to carry anything:
Before going back to Mandalay, Katie organised a pick-up to take us to Mount Popa to climb the steps to the pagoda at the top. Here is our party, Katie and Sandy together with a few neighbours who came along for the trip, in front of the Mount Popa pagoda:
We climbed all the way to the top, braving the monkeys on the way, which looked sweet but were definitely not. These ones snatched our water bottle out of Sandy’s hands. But we were lucky, others have had mobiles and handbags stolen.
And here we are exhausted at the top:
On the way down we stopped some of the many souvenir shops. Mount Popa is a thriving pilgrimage spot for locals and tourists alike :
And then it was really time to get on the bus back to Mandalay, after a wonderful weekend of fun in which I learnt about the kindness of villagers.