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Amazing Myanmar!

Tony Naake is a longtime supporter of ABM and travelled to Myanmar with the Revd John Deane in February this year to meet with our Partners and to see some of the projects. Here is his story:

Tony Naake (left) in Myanmar.
ABM supporter Tony Naake (left)
in Myanmar. 

When the opportunity arose to travel to Myanmar with ABM, I jumped at it! I’ve always been fascinated by this extraordinary land. The fact is that most of the inhabitants do it tough. About 80 percent of the population live off the land with no or very little farm machinery. Most of the farm work is done by manual labour using ox or horse and cart.

This is a very resourceful country where nothing goes to waste. If a truck’s engine has passed its use-by-date they weld a replacement engine on the front! Many market stalls trade in recycled goods and in spite of living a hard life, almost everyone has a smile to offer. It’s an attitude of “might as well get on with what we have.”

A way forward in Myanmar is to learn English. Hence the establishment of English schools by ABM and other organisations. About two hours’ drive from Toungoo we visited such a school for young children funded by ABM. Some 200 preschool children are educated here over a three year period. The school is open to students of any denomination who pay a nominal fee and is now self-funding. After a hard day learning English, the students can relax with an episode of the Simpsons!

 Children in English School.
Children in English School.

Other ABM projects in the Toungoo diocese include: a water project, health program and an education facility with dormitories for the students. Fr James is hoping for another computer for the students, which would only cost AU$300! A little of our money goes a long way here! The passion of the Anglican clergy to help and empower their communities is endless and so inspiring.

Part of the Toungoo diocese has only recently been opened up by the military to foreigners, military road checkpoints are not uncommon. We visited the parish of St George where Fr Philip Po told us that he is responsible for several churches. Some are not accessible by road so in one instance he has to make a four hour trek to hold a service!

 Mt Naw Bu Paw, prayer mountain.
Mt Naw Bu Paw, prayer mountain.

I had the experience of carrying a rock to help build a well a short distance up Mt Naw Bu Paw, a prayer mountain! More or less every denomination has a presence on the mountain as a gesture of unity. At the top I had a conversation with a group of evangelical Christians from Yangon, all part of the experience!

In the country side, most roads are only two lanes with pot holes usually repaired by female workers. However when you visit the new capital Naypyidaw, one finds a 10 lane pristine highway each way flanked by resorts and hotels. This ghost capital is such a waste of money and resources, our guide remarked “Why would anyone want to stay in the middle of nowhere!”

Heading east, about a seven hour drive we arrive at Nyaung Shwe, a bustling town. Here tourism is coming alive. Inle Lake, 22km long and 11km wide, is a major attraction surrounded by five villages. A local market rotates to each village once a week. To keep their hands free for net fishing, the fishermen row their boats by paddle with their legs! We took a boat around the canals getting a feel of how the locals live in their wooden houses on stilts. Apart from fishing, some other occupations are: a new tourism industry, tending to their floating gardens, making silver and weaving silk and lotus thread. Out of this cottage industry, the woven fabrics made by hand on wooden looms delivers one of the finest materials I have ever seen.

Myanmar is full of magic moments, two of which were on our seven hour drive to Mandalay. We saw an elephant with its two handlers, and an overseas vintage car rally. Most of the local trucks were older than the vintage cars!

 World's largest book about Buddha.
World's largest book about Buddha.

In Mandalay we visited the Mahagadayon monastery where, at 11.00am, about one thousand monks process for lunch. The Kuthodaw temple is known for the world’s largest book about the story of Buddha. Each of the 729 text inscribed marble tablets is housed in its own small stupa (a dome-shaped building erected as a Buddhist shrine). The monks are only too happy to pose for photographs at the top of the temple. Other unique cultural traditions of Myanmar to be seen here are stone carving, gold leaf making and wood carving.

Occupational health and safety measures are not high in importance. The Mandalay Palace was rebuilt in the 1990s, it is rumored, by forced labour. Its 40 constructed timber buildings resemble the 1850s originals.

We took a 12 hour boat trip down the Irrawaddy River from Mandalay to Bagan, one of three former capitals. Before the boat had docked, dozens of children boarded the boat and laid claim to carrying your case up the embankment for a tip, hopefully future entrepreneurs! In Bagan you can see many wondrous pagodas, stupas and temples, many built in the 12th century. We were able to climb two stupas, one to watch the sunset and the other to watch the sunrise. At the top I realised there were no safety rails, didn’t move much and had a slow cautious descent!

Now the country is opening up, please go and visit, but be mindful to book with a local genuine operator. The local community needs and deserves your business. I can’t wait to go back!

Tony Naake
February 2015

 

Temples and stupas in Bagan. Elephant going for a walk!
Temples and stupas in Bagan. Elephant going for a walk!
Weaving silk and lotus thread, Inle lake. Houses on stilts, Inle Lake.
Weaving silk and lotus thread, Inle lake. Houses on stilts, Inle Lake.
 Building a well.  Monks processing for lunch.
 Building a well.  Monks processing for lunch.


(All photos taken by Tony Naake)

 

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