To escape the big city chaos of Yangon for a slice of country life, myself, Nacho, an NGO founder from Spain and Tommas, an Italian economist who lives in London, took a 15 minute ferry across the Yangon River to Dalah for $2 each way.
At the ferry terminal we attracted the attention of a troop of children, who looked between two and six years old, apparently watched over by the eldest girl of about 12 who sells postcards to tourists. Their faces were caked with dirt and their hands sticky from the watermelon they were munching on. The shook our hands and giggled when we said "min ga lar ba", hello in Burmese. We took pictures and they squealed with delight when we showed them what they looked like in the camera screen. We barely wanted to leave to catch the ferry but the horn prompted us to board.
The ferry was crowded with people, some of whom grab seats on
the shady parts of the wooden benches while others squat on the child-size red,
blue or green plastic seats. During our ride, Tommas, was courted by a trishaw
driver, who would like to show us around Dalah on his three-wheeled bike with
little side car attached for a passenger. At Nacho’s hip is a little boy of
about 10 trying to persuade him to buy food to throw to the fishes while I’m
offered a tray of samosas balancing gracefully on a woman’s head. What’s
compromised my appetite however was the bike loaded with chickens, fully
feathered, some dead, some alive, that’s being rolled off the ferry.
When we reached Dalah, the rarity of tourists was obvious in the way we were bombarded by every trishaw driver and food vendor as soon as we stepped off the boat. I don’t mean bombarded in a threatening way. In fact, Burmese people are rarely aggressive or affronting. They approach in a very personable way, “Where you from?” and then “Where you want to go, I can take you. Pagoda very nice but very far.” And so begins the negotiation with various drivers to get the best price. We were persuaded onto the rickety looking bikes by a trio of drivers led by a man named Tu Bah, who spoke English well and spoke passionately about the people of Dalah, his hometown, which is very poor.
Although the pagoda was within walking distance, and the best variety of restaurants right near the ferry terminal, the trishaw ride around the bumpy dirt roads of theDelta village was an eye opening instruction to poverty-stricken rural life in Myanmar, which is far more the norm than the relative comforts of city life in Yangon or Mandalay.
Tu Bah talked about the lack of support the people of Dalah
got from the government. After typhoon Nargis in 2008, the Mynamar government
prevented many foreign missionaries and NGOs from coming in to help and blocked
foreign aid,resulting in thousands of needless deaths.
When looking at the tiny bamboo straw huts that act as people’s homes, it’s clear how easily these basic structures could be swept away. Tu Bah tried to hold back his distain from the government but it was palpable in his tired-looking eyes. He spoke of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi the same way everyone in this country seems to speak of her — in proud awe of the national heroine, “The Lady”, he hopes will soon be president.
But the most important lady in Tu Bah’s life was clearly his
five-year-old daughter, who he would speak about with a broad smile. Her
birthday — January 31, 2008 9:55 a.m. Saturday — was tattooed proudly on his
We passed cows ambling down the dirt track on one side while
men were fishing in a ditch on the other side. The drivers slowed down so the
“fisherman” could show us his haul. He was covered in a grey sludge which
reached past his elbows and up to his thighs. He grabbed some palm size
wriggling fish out of the bucket filled with what looked like concrete mix.
Nacho, Tommaso and I looked at each other wide-eyed and silently vowing not to
have fish in Dalah.
We caught the ferry back around 4 p.m., when the sun was hanging low and casting long shadows inside the ferry as it took us back to Yangon. The decades old cars, crumbling concrete sidewalks and weather beaten high rise apartments suddenly looked like luxury living compared to the ramshackle huts we saw in Dalah.
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