Bilu Island

Our first week of In-Country Orientation (ICO) has come and gone. It was filled with logistical information, language and culture learning, and lots of delicious food.

Each day has been split in two: the morning is language and culture classes with Thu Thu, and the afternoon is spent with Cuso staff going over certain topics such as safety and security, the partnership with the partner organizations, how to use the phones and buses, where the international hospital is, etc.  Plus, each day for lunch food is either ordered in or we go out together to eat at a nearby restaurant.

For me, the language classes have been the hit of the training. Each morning is filled with three hours of learning. Sometimes we are in the boardroom learning words and phrases, with a dash of cultural tidbits thrown in. Other days we take our learning outside and visit markets, pagodas, restaurants and learn more than imaginable from Thu Thu as she explains the beliefs, practices, and traditions of her country and people.

Thu Thu often spoils us by bringing in traditional foods for a tasty snack while we’re butchering her language!

While the three of us were discussing sightseeing ideas for the weekend, Thu Thu offered to take us around Yangon to see a more honest view of the Myanmar life.  We, of course, loving her classes so much, said yes!  Typical Myanmar style, we started with a mohinga breakfast. This was followed by a visit to the ‘big’ market rarely visited by foreigners, giving us an authentic (and cheaper) shopping experience. There were many fruits and vegetables that are hard to come by in Canada, as well as pig ears, snout, and intestines to buy if one so desired.

Next, we took the passenger ferry from downtown Yangon across the river to a town called Dala.  Many residents of this town are migrants (internally displaced persons) from conflict areas of the country, who tend to work in Yangon.  On our way across the river, we were approached by a man offering tri-shaw rides around the town, which Thu Thu was able to bargain down the price for us.  Upon arriving in Dala we followed this man to a group of bicycles with attached passenger seats and he selected his three other peddlers. We hopped in these small seats and were off through the town towards our first destination: the orphanage Thu Thu volunteers at.

After our visit, we were taken around to a monastery school that, we were told, teaches children from the community as well as orphans.  Children can attend the monastery part where they learn to be monks or nuns, and they can also attend Myanmar public school from Kindergarten to Standard 7 (Grade 12). There were hundreds of children laughing and playing with each other on a dry Saturday afternoon.

We were taken through the ‘fisherman’s village’ that was telling of the large class divide that exists in Myanmar (and well, most countries). On the river side of the road, you found small huts with tarps or patched tin roofs surrounded by piles of garbage. On the other side of the road were newly built, iron gated (often gold plated) two-story concrete houses.  As we passed by we were greeted with smile, waves and ‘HI!’.  This is one of many places in Myanmar where foreigners have not yet traversed often, making us objects of excitement.

After a great Myanmar lunch, we set off for the ferry back to Yangon. We visited the center of the city marked by the Sule Pagoda in the middle of a traffic circle.  City hall stands beautifully beside the gold pagoda with a large green park in front of it.  Hundreds of people were sitting on the grass talking or playing Pokemon Go.

Thu Thu took us on a great tour of what I believe was more of the ‘real’ Myanmar than most tourists get the chance to see while in the country.  It has made me so thankful to get the opportunity to live and work in a smaller community where I will (hopefully) have the chance to make connections with my neighbors, coworkers and community members.

One more week of ICO and then we are each off to start with our partner organizations!

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