The rainy season has arrived. It rained all of last week. The great thing about this is I can sleep easily in the cooler temperatures it brings. I even used a blanket last week. The not-so-great things are washing takes days rather than hours to dry, when the sun does come out it’s even hotter than before (if that’s possible), cold showers are no longer that appealing, and then there’re the insects. My word. I’ve never seen quite so many insects in one place, and of many varieties. Having the right lights on and windows closed is vital at the moment. Apparently they’ll only be around in such numbers for the beginning of the rainy season, thank goodness. Though the geckos might not agree. It’s pretty easy to find a decent meal around here at the moment. I’ve seen one so fat that it couldn’t stay vertical on the wall – it kept falling onto the bench or the floor. It took a lot of bravery to hold the camera steady for the above photo of our balcony while all sorts of things crawled up my legs. I was itchy all over for ages afterwards, insects or not. And it doesn’t even capture the full extent of our evening visitors.
During a recent trip to the beach I was introduced to a new type of alcohol – the urchin shot. A seller visited our table with a basket full of black, spiny sea urchins. He proceeded to cut them open and empty the liquid out, then scraped the linings off the inside of the shell. These were mixed with water and lemon juice, transferred to a shot glass and consumed. It was described to me as a “muscle relaxant” and the third photo above shows the effects of it (when coupled with whisky and beer). I tasted a smidgen of the scrapings and it wasn’t too bad, but I decided to settle on using one of the spines for a neck massage. I think that was enough relaxant for me.
On the way home from the beach we were invited to a man’s home for some traditional food. This man was a member of NLD and so had connections with some of the people I’m connected with here in Pantanaw. Anyway, he used to be a soldier. He told us a story of when he and his company of 130 soldiers took out 600 members of KNU (Karen National Union http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karen_National_Union) on the Thai/Burma border (I can’t remember the exact numbers of each party but the ratio was impressive). This was after three days of consuming nothing but water and sugarcane. He has a scar on his arm where a bullet passed through it to complement the story. The food they cooked us was mostly deep-fried. Some chip-like things made of pea flour, some spring roll type things with corn inside, and a Myanmar specialty cooked in small, rounded pans (see photo) that were super tasty but I don’t really know how to describe the flavour. You can buy these at many street stalls around Myanmar.
This is a cool lizard I’ve seen around a couple of times that apparently changes colour with its surroundings. Both times I’ve seen it, however, it’s been this blue colour on a (non-blue) background of dust.
During the weekend I attended a “donation”. This is basically a massive dinner party put on for the neighbourhood and friends. Myanmar meals comprise rice, several curries and often a bowl of soup, followed by a selection of fruits and snacks. Two hundred people were invited to the one I attended – just a small one apparently. Usually it’s 1,500!! Anyway, as you can imagine, they use some pretty big pots to prepare food for this number. People started arriving from about 10am. They come in, sit down, eat, chat, leave, and then the next round follow suit. This continued for around three hours with about six tables set up for mains and three for fruit/snacks. After this people from surrounding parts of town (who didn’t receive an invite) can come and collect some food to take home for dinner. The reason for doing this “donation” was in remembrance of the lady’s husband who passed away four years prior. The moments on your death bed before you die are crucial in the Buddhist faith. I still don’t fully grasp the details, but you need to be thinking about Buddha and not anything from this life. This is why they focus so much on meditation and being to control your mind throughout life – so that on your death bed you can control what you think about. Donations are offered to help the dead in case they weren’t thinking about the right things when they died.
Five monks were invited to the donation. They prayed and spoke for about half an hour before eating at around 11am (their second and last meal of the day as they can’t eat after 12pm).
Oh, I also met a couple of teachers here. Their average class size is around 60 – 70 students. What?!
Recently the meat selection on my daily menu has received a new addition. I ate cobra for both lunch and dinner the other day. Flavour-wise it was, thankfully very curried but the texture was, as they say, “like chicken”. It was not offensive but it did feel a bit strange peeling off the skin and picking out the fish-like bones. I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but suspect I may need to get used to it as they’re more common during the rainy season. I saw a baby one in a puddle last week, and cut my walk short yesterday as I passed a rather large, squashed one on the road I was walking down. My return was rather warier and hastier.
UPDATE: today’s lunch was “leg of rat” – a tinier, smokier version of the well-known “leg of lamb”. It took a lot of mind control to eat this.
Lemon cheese cake
I was recently given what I can only assume to be a piece of “lemon cheese cake”, which was, quite literally, iced lemon sponge cake topped with grated cheese. I ate it.
And don’t be surprised if I come back with an eating disorder … I’m told almost daily I’m getting fatter and whiter. I’m sure they’re trying to be nice, but I’m not impressed.
Some of you may have seen recent Facebook posts indicating that I plan to stay on in Myanmar beyond this volunteering placement. It’s true, but there’s a bit more to the story than that so I’ll write a bit of a blogpost this week and fill you in. 🙂