MINBYA AND MRAUK OO VISIT
At 5 am I was very grateful to be up and awake after a hot night’s sleep.
Van and I ventured out of the guesthouse to see the sunrise. It was beautiful with strong colors. The photographer in Van came out with gusto as she snapped away, setting up the right angle with the right boat to get the perfect Myanmar sunrise shot!
We then went to a teashop to meet the various Arrakha people. We met 4 teachers, 3 of whom were sisters of around 60 years old. They were retired state school teachers who were now volunteering their time to teach underprivileged youth.
After a breakfast of fried rice, chickpeas, sausage and onion we returned to the Minbya Public Center for an Arrakha Foundation meeting. The men sat one side of the room and the women the other in two rows facing one another. They spoke for 40 minutes in Arakanese. I then explained our English and teacher training program. The 4 teachers seemed very excited and asked if there was an upper age limit! I am hoping to conduct training in November and I think that we just found my first students.
This concluded our official duties for the day and at 10 am a man named 'Edward' arrived to take us to a local waterfall that the locals use to wash themselves and their clothes. It was gloriously cold and we sat in our clothes under the falls for a good hour.
After changing into dry, clean clothes, Edward reappeared to take us to Mrauk Oo, the ancient Rakkhine city in the north. He was very excited and had a smile stained with red. Betel nut chewing is a national obsession which many people partake in. It is most common in men, particularly those who work in some form of manual labor. Edward is 30. He passed the matriculation exam here with enough points to do medicine, which is 530 / 600. However, he is not practicing as a doctor in an area which has 3 general practitioners and 1 dentist for 200,000 people.
The destruction from the cyclone was huge. The paddy fields are brown with mud at the time of year when they should be at their most lush green. There were trees for miles and the desolation was shocking.
Mrauk Oo was wonderful. It was great to have a typically touristy day without the pressure of meeting a lot of new people and remembering unfamiliar names. The government reconstructed many of the stupas with concrete in 2010. This is like Knossos in Crete. Although that was in the 1920s. The restoration in Rakhine prevents the site from being a UNESCO world heritage site. We walked around. The first Buddha had 550 lives as animals and there are carvings to commemorate all 550.
We also visited the site of the ancient palace. Nothing much remains aside from some foundation slabs and a passage filled with water which was once upon a time an escape route on times of danger.
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer
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