The last two weeks of February have been intense with new encounters, new experiences, many ideas exchanged, a lot of fun, spicy food and great memories. I am now ready for my mission in Myanmar, the smile on my face is broad! It’s Sunday, midnight, I’m ready to leave India. The group of Buddhist monks and nuns that was waiting at the gate with me enter the plane. I must look friendly and well traveled, because as they pass me (on my window seat as usual!), they all smile and hand me their boarding pass so that I can help them locate their seat! What a sweet and heartwarming experience! They really look like little kids, excited about flying for the first time, they are so thankful and even though we don’t understand each other, we all smile in the same language!! It set a good aura on my mission!
1:30 am, Yangon, I jump in a Taxi and head to the Volunteer house, on the other side of the river, in one of the poorest areas of the city. At that time, not much traffic, but my driver respects the driving rules (such as red lights!), which is astonishing after India!!! He is very intrigued to know what I’m going to do in this neighborhood, where very few travelers go! His English is better than my Burmese, but, we have a hard time understanding each other, it doesn’t stop him from explaining a lot of things (in Burmese) and from smiling happily! I even get my first lesson of Burmese… What a first impression!
2am, I’m home, I’ll meet my new housemates/colleagues tomorrow morning! Chloé, Bérénice and Claire will be my roomies for the coming year! Pol and Lilas who opened the centre in Myanmar are finishing their mission, they will pass on their knowledge this week, and then, off they go! Monday is a day off in the LPC (Life Project Centre), we head to the centre of Yangon for a first taste of the local atmosphere. Shwedagon Pagoda is the most famous landmark of Myanmar, it is the largest Pagoda of the country (and maybe of the World, who knows!). We spot it from far, and as we walk closer, it captures our attention. To reach the platform where it stands, tall and proud, one needs to climb some pretty impressive stairs. Take your shoes off and the journey begins. You may want to buy a caged bird as you arrive, so that you can set it free once you reach the top… humans are contradictory sometimes… As we climb these huge covered stairs (which feel pretty much like a street), many shops and handicrafts are tempting the pilgrims and tourists. All sorts of flowers (individually wrapped and imported from god knows where…), knick-knack for your car, the kitchen cabinet or anywhere else 😉 mini plastic Buddhas, or pagodas, also some prayer bracelets and necklaces, wooden ornaments… a happy mic mac of stuff! Keep walking up, don’t get too distracted by the flashing lights and the singing statues!
As you reach the top, you can finally grasp the magic of the place. The sun reflecting on the golden bell shaped Pagoda, the many temples surrounding it, all the Buddhas watching you, the details in the architecture, the colors from the traditional Longhi… what a mesmerizing sight. People follow unique and mysterious rituals! They bathe Buddha statues, light candles, leave flowers, pray in front of a tree, take selfies, all in a peaceful and quiet atmosphere. Claire and I are fascinated and we linger there for about 3 hours. We heard a guide say: “The sunset just gives a holy feel to the temple, you should wait if you have time!”. We took the time and were not disappointed!
Then the week starts and the handover, to learn about my future job, about the Youth that come to the centre (LPC) everyday, about the specificity of the local work situation, about NGOs and Partners of LP4Y here in Myanmar… It’s a big project, it’s complex and intricate, it’s new and stressful and exciting all at the same time! I’m working on the opening of a new centre in Myanmar, so I need to investigate, where the need would be greatest, what are the exclusion factors in the different areas, etc… for the moment, this investigation will be done via google maps, from our living room… I will rush out to the different parts of the country as soon as this Virus is under control!
So went my first weeks, gone in a blink!
Of course I took advantage of the weekends to visit and discover some more! I tried my Amsterdam Facebook trick again, and asked people to join me on a tour of Yangon! So many nice offers and there we go for a train ride around the city. The train is not on time, but we were not expecting anything less! We hop on, meet some locals, try to communicate, ask questions, laugh, live the train life, sellers come through (eggs, corn, fried skewers, cigarettes, water, chewing tobacco, anything you might need on a train journey really!), watch the landscape pass by, enjoy…
Meanwhile, I am developing a passion for markets… It’s not new, but it’s getting worse! I can’t get enough of the colors, the smells, the smiles, the tastes… I go at least twice a week to our neighborhood market and I’m already friends with the ladies that sell us the fruits and vegetables. After each Burmese lesson, I try to practice with them or any kid on the street! They laugh at my terrible accent, but they love it!! They enjoy correcting me and trying to understand my funny words! It’s such a special and powerful moment for me, it warms my heart! I love seing their stalls, full of colors and unknown varieties of fruits (the seed lover in me is starting a new collection!). Some vendors sit directly on the ground, others have more elaborate stalls, they all chit-chat and laugh, the Thanaka on their faces gives them a sweet, almost childish look. As you walk through the market, you’ll meet the butchers and fishmongers, in the middle of the fruits an veggies, among which some fabric shops / clothes shops… a happy mix of colors and smells, believe me!
During the last week, our famous Covid-19 has begun to change a bit the outlines of our missions and it has also changed our interactions with people. We practice social distancing as much as possible (especially difficult when going to the market!), and stay in the centre most of the time. I’m glad I got to enjoy a glimpse of this beautiful country and beautiful people. I will be looking forward to being released and to discover more!