I have made it to Mandalay. It took about 15 hours of travelling in a small Ford Ranger. Roughly, and I do mean roughly, the first 5 hours were spent riding in the bed of the pickup truck with 7 others. One was Maung Maung Gyi while the other 6 were construction workers for 100 Schools. It was good fun with them, if a bit uncomfortable. Most of the time I did not understand anything being spoken, but MMG would help me out with the important jokes that were being made. The last 10 hours were spent in the cab of the truck, 1/2 riding shotgun and 1/2 driving. Driving in the dark on Myanmar highways is a very interesting proposition. Add to that lack of sleep and it is an outright adventure. We did make it in one piece at about 1:00 a.m.
Let’s backtrack a bit now. A few days ago, down in the delta, was the opening of the 50th school. It was a festive event that the entire village came to. There were also some very individuals including an actor and a renowned painter and tapestry maker named Sein Myint. Actually tonight I have been invited to accompany Sein Myint for supper and as he is a great person it should be very pleasurable. One thing that most fo the people have in common in this country is friendliness and a willingness to smile. Back to hte school opening, I was wearing a traditional Burmese dress shirt with a longyi and Mr. John was kind enough to lend me a local jacket too. It was good because it was only about 30*C on the day of the event. Upon arrival we were greeted by people with much love and appreciation. That quickly escalated into being “forced” to dance a traditional dance. Unfortunately it had been a long time since I had danced that particular dance and needed to try to follow along with the child of about 14 who was in front of me. Unfortunately, again, he was about 14 and had the energy of an adolescent. I am pretty sure it was the longest song ever written and by the end I was about to pass out. Fortunately it did draw to a conclusion and I was able to slink away before the next song started. Teh villagers did seem to enjoy the show, however and there may be some incriminating video showing up at some point. After that it was speeches by government officials, locals and Mr. John. After that was a meal of lovely, if not indeterminate, food and off onto the next phase.
The day after the opening we headed down from our hotel in Wakema to Pathein. Here we took a trip to determine the viability of building a school in another village. After driving through part of the village it was determined that a small bridge crossing a river would not allow our vehicles access. From here it was a short ride on the back of the motorbikes of some generous local gentlemen. The village has a fairly new elementary and high school buildings but the middle school is a wreck. There are 299 students from 9 villages that attend classes there and not enough toilets/outhouses either. This is all too common within Myanmar and also why we do what we do. After viewing the schools it was time to sit down and enjoy tea and a snack. everywhere we go tea/coffee and snacks are offered. The hospitality is amazing. Most of the time it is accompanied by individuals waving fans for cooling and fly control also. Teh next day we left Pathein and headed to where we are now, Mandalay.
Today Maung Maung Gyi drove me out to the school where the computer lab is going. It was about a 30 minute drive out side of Mandalay. Tomorrow I will have a driver and translator to escort me on this trip. There wasn’t much to do in the way of construction the lab today. It was important to check the electrical situation and get together with the carpenter who is building the table for the computers. That will be finished tomorrow evening and Friday the lab work will begin in earnest. Of course we did sit with the heads of the village for tea and snacks. It is intriguing to taste the different foods from the many areas visited. No two regions seem to be the same. Variety is the spice of life. And now I must get ready to go for supper for soon I will be leaving…Yangon with the Wind.