It’s coming to the end of my trip. Only 2 nights left in Myanmar before I start the long jaunt back home to New Zealand. Tonight is my last night in Mandalay, tomorrow night I’ll be back in Yangon.
Today has been probably the most confronting day of this trip. More so than the day in Brunei where I hit my head so hard it left a bump and I fell on my ass. More than the 18 hour train journey that heaved and lurched through the night between Yangon and Bagan. Today…
After breakfast I found myself a driver and took in some Sightseeing through rural Mandalay. First stop a monastery where hundreds of Monks join together in a place they call home. It’s here that I learn about education options for Burmese children, a set of options that nearly brings me to tears. Basically, if you have money you can send your child to a state school. If you have a lot of money you can send your child overseas to private school. If you don’t have money, you can send your child to the monastery where you know he/she will receive clothing, food and shelter. The lessons taught at the monastery relate only to Buddhism. So basically, if you’re born into a poor family… you’re screwed. Seeing the multitude of Monks lining up for lunch reminded me that during my time in Myanmar I’ve only seen 1 school. A small 1 room building. Yet I’ve seen hundreds of Monks. Never have I valued education more than I do right now.
Next stop is on the Irrawady river where I cross by river boat in order to see more ancient pagodas and temples. The only way to see them all is by horse and cart. This sounds very fancy and regal, but let me assure you that it’s anything but. So many children trying to sell me their postcards and/or jewellery. They’re so young and their English is very clear. The same 4 sentences on repeat. My heart breaks again… these kids should be in school. The horse and cart holds up pretty well despite my scepticism at it’s age and structure. As I bounced around in the back, taking in the views, I can’t shake this feeling that I’m here in Myanmar for a reason. How can I help some of these kids access education. How can I do this in a way that doesn’t jeopardise their traditions and culture.
With a bag full of trinkets that I wouldn’t normally buy, but did in part out of pity and the other part the desire to be left alone, we carried on to a lookout. More souvenir stalls, more Buddha’s, more smiling local faces. The views here are beautiful as I’m looking out over Mandalay. The sun is intense and last night’s restless night is starting to hit.
Then it’s onward to Mangon, a village that is home to a huge unfinished pagoda. More souvenir stalls, more harassment to buy things I don’t want or need. More intensity to this feeling of needing to help in some way. It’s here that I figure out a plan which I’ll follow up after more research once I’ve returned home. Here there are giant lion statues guarding the unfinished giant pagoda. A giant bell down the road. And plenty more Buddha statues.
Homeward bound we stop via U Bain bridge. A long bridge that would never meet safety regulations back home. By this stage I’m feeling very much over it. I want to speak of enlightening traveller tales, but today just wasn’t built that way. I’m miles from home, I’ve been on the road a couple of weeks now, I feel sick and I’m very alone. More than that, the White privilege I’ve been born into has been taken for granted by me and others unknowingly yet willingly. Feeling humbled doesn’t describe it. My heart is broken by the injustice of it all.
I don’t know what else to say… try as I might, I can’t really articulate my feelings here.