The In Between Bits

Burma is possibly one of the most challenging places I have travelled in terms of logistics. Getting from one place to the next always seems to involve a ridiculously long overnight bus ride on sandy unsealed and potholed roads arriving early the next morning. Even what was meant to be a day trip to a nearby pagoda turned out to be almost seven hours of travel in various buses, vans and pickup-trucks. Despite the physical exhaustion and toll this type of travel takes on our ability to remain civil, I have to say that it is these “in-between bits” where the magic of Myanmar happens. Nothing brings you closer to the people than being squeezed in shoulder-to-shoulder, holding someone’s baby on one lap and a basket of bananas on another.

On a trip from Mandalay to Inle Lake, before we had already bordered the bus I had become friends with village lady, dressed in traditional Burmese dress, lips stained dark red with beetal nut juice. When I say friends, I mean we had exchanged several glances and toothy gins. We were both equally enchanted with each other. She took good care of me for the rest of the trip, giving me fresh grapes, potato chips and even a powerful neck and shoulder massage. Not a word was spoken between us, except for the destination we were both going, but there was a genuine bond of sisterhood that seemed to bridge the cultural divide. She was asleep when we got off and I didn’t get to say goodbye. But I will remember her, as her kindness helped me survive the journey.

This is a photo, not of her, but another woman at Inle Lake.

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