It seems that part of becoming an emerging democracy from a regime that does not really want to give up its power is a lot of sanctions on voting. One such sanction is something on biblical proportions; you must be in your home town or village to be eligible to vote.
We took the obligatory group photos and my students had fun posing with the western giant! Some of the guys are around 5’4” and the lady must be around 5’1” so at 5’8”, it is fair to say that I feel a little like Gulliver must have in Lilliput!
We finished up and went to thank the head monk for allowing us to use his monastery. He has quite a reputation as a strict leader who speaks his mind; his beautifully clean and peaceful monastery certainly attests to his ability to keep the younger monks in line. I have seen them hand-trimming the grass with clippers in the early morning, and picking up leaves that have blown from the nearby trees. Like all of the monks that we have met, he seems genuinely happy to see me and to welcome me to his country and his space.
Not having been raised in Myanmar, I do not have a fear of strict monks, only the respect that one would give a person of his standing. Food is a big deal here, and I was fed to stuffing point as the guest of honor. I was seated on a chair and then left alone to eat a generous portion of chicken and rice, followed by an apple. There were further 4 apples as a take-home gift in the unlikely event that I found myself hungry on the bus! It was strange to not be watched as I ate; I’ve come to quite appreciate the company in actual fact.
I have also been invited to travel with the head monk to Rakhine state and have a three day holiday where I will be taken hiking to see fields of chillies being grown, and fed chillies with the head monk. Then he will safely deposit me and my local guide to Thandwe where I will conduct the next teacher training course.
I am very grateful and excited for this opportunity; driving will allow me to see some of the countryside which I’m sure is unlike anything I have seen in England, and hiking will allow me to fully immerse myself in the environment; how many people can say they’ve been taken hiking by a head monk?
Of course, in return I must endure jokes about chillies which seems to be the local Rakhine sense of humor; I hope I do not embarrass myself in front of my host by choking or spluttering. Although, I secretly think that the locals might enjoy that more than if I accept and eat the hot cuisine without flinching.
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer
The students that I have been training are by and large very politically minded and desire to witness and be part of the changes that are happening in Myanmar. As such, they requested that the final day be moved forward to allow them to make the arduous bus journey of 26 hours home to be able to vote on election day. Of course I couldn’t refuse this offer as I am well aware that these young people that I have been training are the key to a well-run democracy of the future, and denying them the opportunity to vote is akin to siding with the military who seem to want to make voting as hard work as possible.
Part of moving the class forward was the necessity to prepare and print the certificates a little early. I have been feeling a little under the weather the past couple of days and as such wanted to find a print shop that was close by and not brave the bus to downtown if it wasn’t necessary. After an hour of walking around I finally gave up, returned to my apartment hot and a little bothered to regroup before hitting the town center. However, fortunately I didn’t need to as I thought I should just check again in the road I live on; sure enough I found my print shop and at a 90% price reduction from the print shop I used previously!
On Friday, I knew I would be the bearer of bad news for those who had not successfully completed the course. In order to pass, there are two stipulations: complete the practical lesson on day 8 of 9, and have attended at least 7 of 9 classes. Two students were absent on the practical day, and a further 3 had bad attendance over the course. To their credit, most of the students took the news well.
Certificates here in Myanmar are a very big prestige symbol, and I can somewhat understand how it feels like a waste of time to attend 3 weekends and not get anything to show for it. However, the rules are in place to keep a certain standard and for the certificates that NEH does award to have meaning and not simply be a piece of paper with a name on it.
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