Highlights and lowlights of February

Tonight I cooked dinner with the lights out. It was our (seemingly) two-weekly infestation of moths in the area and I decided I’d rather cut my finger or burn my hand than have moths fluttering all over my body. In the middle of Feburary I moved to a more “local” community housing block, this time on the third floor of a three-storey brick building. I’m flatting with a colleague and paying her month by month, which means I should be able to save a little bit of extra travel money. All is going well so far, despite the moths. A highlight is having some waiting room style chairs in the living area to sit in, and a rather large storage cabinet in my room. I’m in the same general area as my previous apartment so school is still walkable/bikeable.

The same day I moved into this new place I had my first hands-on encounter with one of the local stray dogs. Or feral dogs as they’re generally referred to. I was out for a morning run and one of the dogs, who is known to several members of the running club it seems, had a go at my calf. I spent the morning at the hospital receiving six stitches and a rabies and tetanus shot. Thankfully it all healed well, without infection, and I’m back in full action already.

Two days after the dog incident we had International day at school, which was surprisingly entertaining (high stress levels aside). It was quite fun to showcase a little bit of New Zealand to the Myanmar families, who were surprised to learn about Lorde, Lord of the Rings, the number of sheep … you know, the usual boasting points. It was equally fun learning about some of the other cultures represented – I even tasted horse meat from Kazakhstan. (Not too bad … if I’m allowed to say that, horse lovers?)

Another couple of (also kind of surprising) highlights included the school camp I had to lead, or “Week without Walls”, and a weekend of English teaching in Kyonpyaw.

The school camp involved taking a group of 16 Year 9 students to Kalaw, a town in Shan State several hundred kilometres from Yangon. We hiked for two days to the popular tourist site, Inle Lake (where I visited during my Christmas holidays), stopping at villages and local monastery schools to learn about life up there. Then we spent a couple of days touring around the sites on the lake – including a silversmith, a blacksmith, a paper maker, umbrella maker, weaver among others – and relaxing. The students are seldom challenged in such a physical way so, as you can imagine, there were a fair number of complaints, and a fair amount of jollying along was required. They all made it though and I think (deep down) are all proud of themselves for that. Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the students were to manage, and how fun they all were. Cruising around the lake all day on a small boat is such a relaxing treat, and sunset is spectacular. But the highlight for me, I’d say, was being able to snuggle under two duvets as the night time temperatures plummeted below 12 degrees C (I usually sleep on a hard mattress with only a bed sheet).

And lastly, the volunteering weekend … I had previously visited one of my former students from Pantanaw, who was living an hour or two on from Pantanaw in a place called Kyonpyaw. She volunteered at a guest house for children whose families were affected by Cyclone Nargis and so they were unable to send them to school. Instead, the children stay at the boarding house and go to school next door. The director of the boarding house, himself a former political prisoner and the current NLD member of parliament, asked me several times to return and teach English, so I finally decided to organise something. I took four teachers from school and a coding guy along with me and we spent an afternoon at the boarding house doing various activities with the students there. The next day we visited a private, local school in town and repeated the same thing with about 90 of their students.It was a pretty rewarding trip out of the big city, and my colleagues were surprised to learn of my fame around the area. On arrival two of them went to use the bathroom in a tea shop. On seeing some white faces, the owner asked them if they were from New Zealand. They weren’t, but he insisted on talking about New Zealand as he retrieved the phone from his pocket. As my colleagues started to leave the shop he thrust his phone in their face and they were astonished to see a smiling photo of the owner and me. Of course, I wasn’t surprised at all when they excitedly retold their story. I’ve grown to accept my celebrity status within the Ayerwaddy division with cool composure.


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