I was standing in a shanty town where four roads met at awkward angles. I could met out a few stars in the pieces of dark sky above me. Looking up I could see the buildings leaning towards the street as if they were growing organically into any available space. To one side there was an extra second story room that they had built straight out from the rest of the building without support, it look like someone had pulled out a drawer big enough to live in and just left it out. I was watching the hotel employee who had lead me here walk over to a metal sheet. He banged on it a couple times and I realized it must be some sort of home, a minute later a man slide aside the metal, he got out and rubbed his eyes before rolling his motorbike over to me. Apparently he only needed 60 seconds to go from being fast asleep to being ready for work. I gave him a little extra when he got me to the train station.
“1.70 Kyat for life insurance” I had noticed an extra charge on my train ticket. I chuckled to myself as I stepped over baskets of tomatoes. I wondered what 1.70 kyat’s would do in the event of the train derailing. Would it pay for a tenth of a body bag, or maybe a one hundredth of a shovel to dig my grave? How much can .0014USD buy in Myanmar? I decided that it would not buy much even in a country that charges 1.30USD for an eleven hour train ride.
I smiled back at the man staring at me from the seat cross from mine. He had the sort of face that looks as if its always smiling. He looked friendly and very poor, he carried a little cloth bag with a few items in it. A few minutes later he bought a beer and the man next to him bought whisky, he offered me some of his beer and I shook my head no and smiled in thanks. He wore only a button up shirt and the long cloth skirts that most of the men wear here in Myanmar. His feet looked like a dried lake bed, a bit cracked and well worn.
Hours earlier a nun was sitting where he now sat and she gave me coffee, bananas and crackers. She explain to me that the crackers were healthy and that she was a very health conscious person. She began to wipe the filthy windowsill before resting her elbow there, she sat on a news paper and told me more about how picky she was with the brands of food she would buy. Her knowledge about what was healthy was very different from mine. She told me that the Ritz-like crackers were healthy, she told me that she smoked but only “light cigarettes”, and she wiped the windowsill but didn’t think anything of eating with her hands after touching other parts of the dirty train. She explained that she became a nun to pay back the debt from her mothers sacrifice, normally she would have taken care of her mother as she grew old in order to pay the debt of her mother raising her back but since her mother had died when she was young she had to pay this debt back through forwarding the good karma of being a nun to her mother. She seemed to give as if she thought of me before she thought of herself, if she had food but I had no food it seemed only natural that she should give me her food. She always gave me the better piece or the higher amount.
Later when the man sitting across from me showed the collection of coins and other items of personal value to him that he seems to carry with him everywhere I did not realize that by trying to give him a coin I had gotten in Malaysia he would give me one of his coins. I felt bad at first because it seemed that these coins were of great value to him, but I also knew that sometimes giving is a greater kind of wealth than having. I once heard that refusing a gift can be a selfish thing, to not allow someone to have something worth giving is truly proving their lack of wealth.
So I took the coin and thanked him profusely, I took the breakfast and lunch I was offered in the same way. I want to learn how to give so readily, the Burmese people are great teachers.
Just a few short paragraphs for my devoted readers delight.