When we discussed what my mum wanted to visit in Myanmar, I listed the usual tourist sights: Shwedagon, Bagan, Mandalay, and the Golden Rock teetering on a seemingly gravity-defying point. However, my mother wanted to get a feel for the Myanmar that I knew and worked with. So, we went to Yangon and to Sittwe.
Upon arriving into Myanmar, it was I who was in for a shock as we entered the sleek new airport building. With my mum being a little disorientated but very impressed, I did my best to act with a level of nonchalance which suggested I had been into this part of the airport before. Once outside, I was back into the familiar territory of bartering with taxi drivers to get us to the hotel.
My mum found Yangon quite overwhelming. She was exhilarated by the noise, sights and smells that poured from every direction. She was very taken with the idea that you could just set up a small street-side fire and begin frying something to sell to local passersby; joking that she might look into doing such a thing when she returned to England. When she did get home, a popular question about her travels was: "Do they eat bugs there?" I didn't feed my mum any bugs in Myanmar, despite having sampled some myself on previous visits. However, her gung-ho, hearty answer was that you could fry anything in a makeshift curbside restaurant and sell it; if no-one looked too carefully or asked the right questions, then who knows what one could end up eating!
We stayed for 3 days in Yangon, meeting with one of my trainees who kindly accompanied us to the Shwedagon Pagoda; I had to ensure that my mum did at least one tourist activity during our stay! It was lovely to introduce my student to my mum. After all, I have met his parents, Grandma, uncle and cousins. This was the first of my students to whom I introduced my mother and I was excited to catch up with how his English had improved and what was happening in his course.
With only a bag of clothes between us for the coming 2 days in Sittwe, we were back on a plane. This time it was a small internal flight to Rakhine. Fortunately it sat 50 or so people rather than the minuscule 16 seater I had the pleasure of taking. To say that my mother was relieved would be a complete understatement. Over our visit to Sittwe, mum met nearly all of the students from the village; most of whom were taking university exams. We went to the beach and paddled where my mum experienced the sensation of being a celebrity; many of the young people rushed up, eager to have a photo taken with the outsider. My mum remarked that she hasn't been called beautiful as much since she was a teenager and enquired how good the national eyesight of Myanmar was! My mother took very well to this new-found, fleeting fame as she is lively and outgoing in nature. We visited the Buddha museum, where my students agreed that the principles of Buddhism were very complicated and confusing, but that the mosaics of Mrauk-Oo were worth seeing.
In the evening on the beach, as the sun set, I glanced round to find my mum and students grinning up at a selfie stick before pulling various silly poses! I think that my mum had a freedom with my students that I don't have due to being the teacher. Additionally, although I am from the same village as my mum, I am much more worldly and have spent a much longer time away from the norms of village life. I don't speak especially loudly and I worry about whether people will be offended by what I say. Our main trainee often says that the villagers are a simple folk who care deeply and are fiercely loyal, but also don't pull any punches; what you see is what you get. Take it or leave it, like it or not. This is very much how my mother is as well. Whereas I am more cautious, more reserved.
Overall, our trainees loved meeting my mother. Many hadn't seen any older westerners, and to meet the mother of their teacher made it more special. She fitted in very well to the culture so don't be too surprised if you find her frying up a cockroach or two by the side of the road on when you visit Myanmar!
NEH Director of Studies and Teacher Trainer
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