The rain had disapeared overnight, and although the internet still wasn't working, my taxi service to the village arrived on the dot. It was the same rider and bike that had transported me the previous day, and although I wasn't looking forward to the 90 minutes of pillioning, I felt relatively safe. We followed the same route including tea stops as we had before, and I had some great Jak-fruit segements given to me at the tea shop which appears in my previous entry. This family obviously honors Ashin Sopaka, and wouldn't hear of any payment in consequence. I spent some nice minutes examining family photos that the proud mother produced, of her sons becoming novice monks ( sort of obligatory for a few months here, and accompanied with great ritual festivities ).
Full of tea, and tea-leaf salad, and Jak-fruit, we headed off down the road again. Twenty minutes later, POP, and we had a flat rear tyre. Luckily it's impossible to really speed on these roads, so we stopped safely and a tyre repair place just happened to be nearby. Bear in mind that we were out in the country... but punctures
Along the road...
This still the most common form of ploughing in the area I visited. In Monywa I DID see billboards and a yard full of shipping conatiners for New Holland Tractors ( those guys didn't waste time after sanction were lifted) . But how would this farmer afford a tractor like that?
are so common here that there's a repair spot every couple of Kms on main roads! Still, I couldn't help wondering if the sharp stones might be a bit more common just at that spot. More tea and biscuits for 30 minutes as the tube was replaced. I sat and watched the bicycles and trucks and tractors and busses and scooters flow past, all with lots of varied cargo; and gained a greater empathy with all the Burmese I'd seen doing likewise, in their roadside wooden "beach" chairs.
Finally we turned off the bitumen and again traversed the dirt roads... which had dried out partially, very quickly, but still had patches of mud.
More tea and food at the village monastery ( as it was nearing noon and monks had to eat ). By now you might be getting the rhythm of Burmese life
After that, I wandered off to video a bit of village life, and was lucky to get some time to do that by myself, peacefully. I encountered a tree snake on a fence.. apparently not venomous. A fortnight ago a villager had had
Also along the road
The ubiquitous chinese single cylinder diesel power-plant that runs generators, pumps, tractors, threshers, and trucks of many designs. If this was running on biodiesel, I'd say, highly appropriate technology.
to be rushed to hospital from a poisonous snake bite - and it seems the fear of snakes here is quite real.
By this time it really was hot , AND I was out in the mid-day sun.. so I decided to retreat to the cool of the monasteryBefore collapsing in the shade, I dropped in to the primary school alongside the monastery. Three teachers, at least 200 students, and two large open-space classrooms. The luckier students worked out on benches under the trees. No wonder Ashin Sopaka says education is the number one priority!
Back at the monastery some of the guys were burning copies of a DVD they had made. Now I understood why they wanted me to bring the laptop again! ( so they could use my DVD burner). Ashin Sopaka had recently led the village in a demonstration against "an allegedly" corrupt official over a court result which discriminated against a villager. The protest had been videoed and edited, and now they were planning to spread the word to other villagers, that such actions could be taken and have an effect. It seem the village now has a much greater community
Shame it only lasted a day!
spirit and feeling of empowerment as a result of taking a stand.
We didn't have the entourage of minders today either - just one of the police assigned to the village to watch and take notes on Ashin Sopaka, and he gave us plenty of space.
After resting for an hour, I videoed Ashin Sopaka as he spoke on the need for education development, the causes of violence, and the need for peace and respect, especially in relation to Arrakan province.
In our discussions I had asked if it was possible to visit a government-run public library. He told me there was one built in a nearby village, but it wasn't officially opened and had no books. After some more thought and discussion it was decided to send me to another village on the way back to Monywa so that I could see how Public libraries were in this area. So in the afternoon we set off ( without Ashin Sopaka )- with the friendly policeman in tow. Off the bitumen again for several Kms, we arrived at the Library. It was as described to me by
Ashin Sopaka: there but not functional. Closed. Very Closed!
The windows were all dark and mirrored - impossible to see what, if anything, was in there. What was outside it though, was a very new shiny looking Yamaha DT125 ( this is high quality transport here - think BMW 1200 in Australia ) and a couple of guys whose body language and tone of voice made it plain they REALLY didn't want us poking around. Even my friendly policeman couldn't outrank them or persuade them. Nor did any attempts to explain I was a librarian put a dent in their demeanor. Old habits die hard obviously, plus they'd had word we were coming. So we shot through: - at least I'd ascertained the state of one of the apparently hundreds of public libraries and trustworthy sources indicated this was a common state.
Adventures were not yet over. We stopped to taste toddy ( made from palm sap ) since my driver confessed he liked it better than beer. I can't say I agreed with him! Our friendly policeman declined to partake, and my respect for him increased - a policeman who wouldn't drink on duty! Heading off down the
road, we suffered another puncture! So I finished the trip to town on the back of a scooter that had only one seat - I sat on the metal carry rack! At least we went slowly!
The next morning the internet in the hotel finally worked and I dashed off a couple of emails. On the way to the bus station I noticed a proudly signed "E-Library", so I bought a later bus ticket, grabbed a handy motorcycle taxi guy, and headed back there.
Again the pictures tell the story: great concept perhaps, but failed execution.
When I poked my head into the building, a pleasant well-presented "teacher" went to get the administrator, who sluggishly emerged from his office. He told me that they didn't have any books, but needed them. He was happy to have me look around but lethargically unexcited - perhaps years of struggling with state bureacracy had left their mark, or else he was just sitting things out..
Later at the tea stand I chatted with my bike-taxi driver, who said he hadn't finished secondary "matriculation" because he needed to earn money for his family, as eldest of four children. He works from
7 to 5. When I asked if he could go and use the facilities of the E-library after work, he said "No, that's just for rich people..poor people have to work" So that was HIS perception, and would explain the largely empty facilities of the E-library. I was told by the E-library staff that a complete computer course ( say in MYOB) cost 2500kyat (about $4 , if correct). Clearly either the money, the class barrier, or the time availability, is preventing the peolple who really need this library from using it. I did meet a few lovely students there - but they clearly weren't working class!!'
I boarded the bus to Monywa satisfied that a clearer picture of the state of libraries and their needs was emerging, and also conscious that my whole state of mind was altering in a very comfortable way - maybe there's a lot more to learn from a Burmese trip than the state of libraries!
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