2012 TravelJournalMyanmarTravel Experience

Finding a Bit of Myself in Dalla

I go to different places to experience things I normally wouldn’t experience at home. These experiences become embedded in my mind and motivates me to do something to change the world for the better. But, at times, these experiences become a distant memory, only to become a story we tell of how vastly different our home is from a place we once visited. Sometimes these visits energizes me to change the world…or just a small piece of it…but that too fades as I slowly go back to my daily routines.

The memory – only with a big inhale…an exhale…

…a sigh of relief, to be reminded of, how fortunate I am.

After exploring Yangon, we yearned for a different pace. The Lonely Planet book talked of a town across the river called Dalla. I didn’t know what to expect across the Irrawaddy.

I was in for a surprise.

Let me start this blog from the jetty-port.

It was a bit strange to enter the manager’s office to purchase tickets but the only reason they required us to do so was to pay the higher fare and sign our names in a book. Of course, this is all government tracking – at its best.

A boat docks and I see hundreds of people exiting the boat. The boat was old, dirty and filled to capacity of travelers who traverse the river daily. Jae was speaking with a local. Alba was purchasing an item from a teenage girl selling watermelon. A man approached me and introduce himself. He was a good looking man, about 30, dark complexion with a big smile. However, it was hard not to stare at the hairs coming out of his nose.

He spoke to me in english and stated how he loves America because its cold and Myanmar was too hot. He was interesting and exude honesty so I continued the conversation which led him to ask me if I needed a guide in Dalla.

At this point, I was comfortable with him and agreed to a fare of C1,500, which is a little less than $2 USD. He originally wanted C2,000 for the day but we haggled him like we do with all vendors who ask for our business.

The boat docks.

The commotion starts as we disembark from the boat to the jetty-complex in Dalla. There were hundreds of people, lots of motorcycles, bikes and vendors asking us if we needed a ride. For a minute, I lose my new guide but he found us and walked us through the crowd. He points to his friend’s bicycle and points to his. At first I was taken aback, that I’d be riding on a bike, not a motor bike for most of the day. But, Momo, is young and strong and able to carry my 160lbs.

Momo and I start talking during the ride. He is an orphan who lost his parents in the 2008 tsunami that devastated Myanmar. He is 25 years old, married with two young children and as he stated, “happy to have home given by United Nations.”

The ride was often bumpy in Dalla with its half paved and half dirt roads. I was told that some foreigners who visit help pay to pave the roads. Dalla is that forgotten town overshadowed by its sister city, Yangon.

Momo motions to a big cement house standing high above a row of small wooden homes. He tells me that’s the bike owner’s house. The bike he is using to peddle me around the town. I come to find out that purchasing a bike is easy however the cost of registering the bicycle for commercial use is expensive for many to obtain. At the cost of 50 euros, Momo is unable to afford to register a bike, if he indeed owned one.

Our first stop was a monastery in the outskirts of the town. It was colorful with its many shades of green that contrast the surrounding area that was dry and brown.
I see in the distance a larger temple and requested to stop by to take a look. We were greeted by a number of goats that took advantage of the shade of the walkway.

We entered what is known as the Eyes Pagoda.

We didn’t spend too much time at this pagoda but we did learn that Momo is Buddhist and his wife was Christian but converted to Buddhism after marrying him. He shows us the proper way to sit while meditating at a Buddha figure. I realize at this point that Buddhists are not praying to the gilded image but actually using it as a visual cue of what one can attain – enlightenment. A place where rebirth is stopped.

Alba looks at her book and requests to see the market and a bamboo village. I concurred.

On our way to the market, Momo starts talking to me about an orphanage he knows in the village. As we stopped in front of the modest wooden structure, I tell Alba and Jae that I requested to visit the orphanage. That seemed to satisfy their confused faces. The orphanage consisted of two levels each containing one room. As we entered, I see a few of the children huddled on the floor by a TV. You can see light penetrating through the floors and walls. There were windows that contained no glass but a blanket to shield the room from the sun. We go directly to the second floor. The mother of the house along with her biological son explains the story of Bethesda Orphanage. I found it interesting that a Christian organization had come here to help build this home.

I felt proud.

Alba and Jae felt it was odd in a predominately Buddhist population. I stated that Christian or Buddhist, the love people have to help others should outshine any ideas we have about religion. I left the conversation at that as we’ve had previous conversations about religion in Thailand. It wouldn’t be the last either.

I wanted to do something for these kids. Alba mentioned that since we are going to the market we should purchase items for them. We all agreed then rode into town. We go around the market purchasing fish, rice, fruits and cookies. We come back to the orphanage. I have a conversation with Joshua, the 18 year old, biological son of the mother. I wish I can recall her name but her english was very limited and my ability to retain foreign names is also limited. The mother accepts our food donations along with some monetary funds.

She begins to open the cookies we purchased and the kids begin to crowd around. I have never seen anything like it in my life. These kids were excited to receive a treat, a cookie, something that rarely happens. I look at some of the children who quickly devoured the cookies and others who took small bites to savor the flavor. One devoured his cookies in seconds. Then in a show of love, a slightly older girl, hands him one of her cookies. He starts to take smaller bites with a big smile on his face.

The mother tells us that our visit means a lot to these kids who may feel forgotten. I promised that I would keep in touch.

The hours in the day were running and our time remained limited in order to catch the last boat ride to Yangon. After exchanging information, we left Bethesda Orphanage to visit the bamboo village. The village was built with funds from the United Nations for homes of those devastated by the tsunami.

Momo continues to peddle in the 90 degree heat through gravel and dirt roads. I hear a loud pop.

In my mind, I thought someone may have shot at me. I kept my mouth closed as Momo tells me, “everything ok. ok.”

At this point I didn’t know what happened but I can feel that he was peddling harder. He tells me that he is close to his home and if it was ok to relax. I agreed. As we got off the bike, he shows me that the wheel had popped. Hence the loud pop sound I heard. He was unable to ride us into the bamboo village.

He points to his home. A one room 4×6 bamboo hut on short stilts.

The UN built his bamboo home at the cost of C20,000 or $21 USD after the 2008 tsunami. Each year he pays the government C3,000 for the land in which the home is built on.

Immediately, I remembered how hours earlier we haggled to lower the price of our tour. Mere cents to us but something that would mean a lot for Momo and his family. He invites us in. We barely all fit inside. His 2 years old son was crying and looked sickly. His wife, 21 years old, was kind and beautiful with a smile that never left her face. We had a pleasant conversation, Jae got his fingernail painted and I followed suit. Momo says, “we are now family.”

Alba asks, “What happens when it rains? Where do you go?”

“We find a corner where its not wet,” says Momo.

Their was a blue plastic sheet that covered part of the house. He states it is used to shield the house from the sun so it wouldn’t get too hot. They had a few small belongings in one box. He shows us a family picture that was laminated and his wife used it to fan us. At this point, I am still kicking myself for the earlier haggle. Here was a gentle man, a sweet man with a good heart, working to provide for his family. On the other end, here were three tourist capable of traveling across the globe haggling him for pennies.

I woke up.

Momo again explains he is unable to ride the bike with the flat tire to the bamboo village. I realize that it was getting late and it would be better for us to get back to the jetty-complex. He apologized as he peddled relentlessy to get me to the jetty with the flat tire. I tried lifting myself thinking I would lessen the weight. I don’t think it worked.

The jetty-complex was crowded like before but we managed to get through the crowds to get to the entrance. I tell Momo to remember to come by the guest house in Yangon for a package.

I apologized to Jae and Alba for requesting the detour to Momo’s house. They told me they were wondering why we stopped there. I said, “My fat self exploded the tire and luckily we were close to his home.” They seemed more relieved.

On the boat, I sat in one of those plastic chairs and started thinking of the experience. I stared at my painted thumbnail. I said to myself, “I never had my thumbnail painted before.” My nail felt heavy. I couldn’t help but think that I may never see these people again.

My heart felt heavy.

Jason Vitug

Jason Vitug is a bestselling author, writer, producer, entrepreneur, and founder of The Smile Lifestyle Brands and the financial wellness marketplace, phroogal.com.

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