By Aswathy Kumar
It had been four days since I landed in the city of Yangon, Myanmar. Well two if I leave out the number of days I lay passed out in my king sized bed in my hotel suite. And who could blame me? I had travelled over 8000 miles at a stretch for the very first time in my life. I was jet lagged and thoroughly exhausted. I knew that the travel enthusiast in me was more than eager to step out of the extravagant cocoon that I lay in; It's colorful decals, dark wooden paneled walls and printed silk upholstery hardly bearing any resemblance to the chaotic streets of Yangon that lay stretched out in front of me. Except for a brief rendezvous through the glass windows of my pretentious suite, she lay untouched, unexplored and mysterious.
But I knew it had to wait. I had no reason to worry. After all I was no tourist here and my visa wasn't going to expire after 28 days. This was to be home for the next three years and there was no rush. And if Yangon was anything like the grey tarnished buildings I saw through my bedroom window, menacingly symbolic of the turmoil in its past, I knew I needed all the energy I could muster. Understanding her wasn't going to be easy. I could tell.
So after 36 hours of sleep, I was ready to finally find out what the city of Yangon had to offer. I knew she wouldn't disappoint. I had already caught a glimpse of her warmth as I stepped out of the airport into our hotel taxi. There were seven sets of hands that had gathered around us to help load our luggage into the backseat. I had experienced the same eagerness to help, back home in India. But unlike in India, here even clad inappropriately in leopard printed tights and a laced top, I neither felt intruded, threatened nor violated. There was no expectation of a heavy tip, instead just a sheer joy in helping out a foreigner, entering into their undiscovered land.
My faith in the Myanmar people was further reiterated a few days later as I lay by the pool at The Traders Hotel. I was still jet lagged and my daughter insisted on spending the afternoon by the pool. She gleefully splashed around as I lay disinterested glancing through 'The lonely planet'. A few seconds later, I saw that one of the hotel staff had quickly gone to her side to make sure she wasn't alone. He sat beside the pool in his tangerine colored polo and rust-brown shorts. I could tell he couldn't be anything older than 22 and entertaining a six year old was far from his list of duties or priorities. But he was there, crouching right next to her, giving her free swim lessons, fetching the paddle board for the umpteenth number of time and tapping her back as she accidently gulped a handful of the chlorine water? If this was DC, it would have cost me a hefty $30 tip and if it was India, I would have worried if he was nothing less of a perve. But not here. Despite its turbulent history, a strange sense of positivity, faith and trust surrounded me.
I knew nothing about this serene, raw and spectacular city. My knowledge of the Myanmar cuisine, limited to the salty monk fish balls or Khao swe, I had at a local restaurant; it's language to mere two words, Min ga lar par (hello) and Kyeizu be (thank you) that I had picked up from a collegue; Of its people, to the smiling longyi (the traditional sarong worn by both men and women) clad, sparsely mustached cab driver at the airport, to the Burmese girl with the thanaka ( a paste made from ground bark to protect the skin from the heat) smeared face selling fried quail eggs outside the Bogyoke Market or the friendly pool assistant who cheered on my little one as she showed off a new dive she had mastered.
My knowledge of Myanmar was limited, hardly any. But it was enough and I knew I was going to be fine. I was home...Well almost!