Wednesday, July 19, 2006

My World Cup of Friendliness Runneth Over

Above: Myself with one of Myanmar's countless wonderful people

People of Indian descent were an astounding 53% of the capital city of Burma (now Myanmar) during the colonial period, when the British colonizers allowed people to pass freely between their colonies of India and Burma. This is surprising because no people of Indian descent are native to the country, though it has many other ethnic groups. Numbers of Indians in Myanmar have declined substantially, but there are still many Indians in Rangoon (now Yangon), though their families may have been here for generations. As you may have read elsewhere on this blog, the people of Myanmar are often amazingly welcoming and helpful, and this ethic seems to extend to peoples who have not inhabited the country for very long, historically speaking. This story is a perfect example.

It seems that more than one of my stories from Myanmar revolves around chapati. Having greatly enjoyed our chapati experience in Mandalay, we were hunting for a similar street-side flatbread and tea shop in Yangon. I saw similar establishments, with the paint can sized stools on the sidewalk, but such places never have a sign in any language, so my best option was to eyeball the cooking section, which usually involved a rickety looking table, a concrete bucket filled with red hot coals, and a huge cast iron wok filled with something or other.~> read more

  In one case, it appeared to be a fried rice concoction, and as I leered, a woman wearing a bindi in the middle of her forehead, indicating that she was most likely of the hindu faith which in the overwhelmingly buddhist country of myanmar, gently bid me to sit down at her stand, as her husband worked the coals.

I said I was sorry, that we were looking for Chapati, the only word of which she understood was "Chapati". She pointed to a hot dog cart style vendor selling just pirathas, which are a flatbread in the same family. I somehow convinced her that we wanted curries to go with our Chapati. When she realized what we were looking for, an intense discussion insued between her, her husband, and one or two men crouching on the paint cans drinking tea, I believe in the Tamil language of southeast India. A conclusion was reached as to where we could find what we were seeking, but our helpers had no words to explain the detailed directions. The woman spoke briskly to a man on sitting on a paint can stool. He jumped up, more than 6 feet tall with broad shoulders, a handsome dark-skinned gentleman in a longyi (ankle length skirt), and a nice gap knock-off short sleeved oxford shirt.

The woman said, "My brother take you!" I tried to resist, but he was already walking determinedly and urging us on. We walked a long city block, then two, then three, then turned, then walked two more. I tried to insist to the brother; pointing, trying to ask about which way to turn, that he should go back and let us try to find it. He did not always understand what I was saying, but he was convinced that he was going to take us all the way to the restaurant. We walk perhaps a mile through winding dark streets, the gentleman pressing ahead. Finally, he points around a corner to a halal tea shop, this one actually half inside a building rather than entirely on the sidewalk. He then says his first words to us just before we part; "Football 9:00." I do know what he is talking about, because the Burmese are mad for World Cup football. Through a series of pantomimes and persuations, saying the names of various teams and holding my fist up in cheer, or making a grumpy face, I determine that he prefers France over Spain for tonight's game, but is truly a fan of Brazil, who will play desperately late in the evening against Ghana. This interaction was an awesome way to share smiles and learn something about our ipromptu guide. I began to offer to give him something for his trouble and he flatly refused.

After a wonderful halal meal of bread and curries at the restaurant he led us to, We walked all the way back to the rice stall of the family who helped us. The bindi'd lady was still there, and we thanked her and her husband earnestly for their help. Her brother, however, was not to be seen. He was watching his football games, undoubtedly in the company of more than 10 other burmese huddled around a TV as we had seen. I'm glad he was watching, because both of his teams won!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great story! It makes me smile and I know you'll always remember it. Love, Wendy

8:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so glad you are appreciative of the kindness of others. Gratitude is so important. I loved your story.

12:11 PM  

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