An Unexpected Trip to Dala Across the Yangon River
On the first morning of the RAKLife trip in Myanmar, we woke up in Yangon at our Inn and met everyone for breakfast. For many of us, it was the first time we would meet! Our guide, Jim, had arrived a few days earlier and explained that he had met a young girl named Khin. They talked for a bit while she was selling postcards and when he learned that she lived in a village across the Yangon River, he asked if she would take him there. Long story short, Jim asked us if we would like to do a Random Act of Kindness (RAK) in Khin’s village. Of course, we said yes! Jim’s idea was to make a hot meal and deliver bags of rice to each home in the village.
The Markets of Dala
We met Khin near a pagoda in the center of Yangon and from there it was just a short tri-shaw ride (think three wheeled bicycle with seats on it like a taxi) to the ferry terminal that would take us to Dala. When Khin heard what we had in mind, she had spoken with other women in the village to agree what dishes we should prepare and made a shopping list. Now, this is a different shopping list than you may be used to. It involved several live chickens, many large bags of rice (that required their own tri-shaws) and vegetables I was not familiar with. We spent the afternoon visiting different markets near Dala collecting each item. The markets are a social hub of the villages, where children play and adults socialize. These young boys were playing swords near one of the markets and then followed us down the street, curious about what we were doing.
Once we found everything, we delivered it to Khin’s friend’s home, where the food would be prepared. At this point, the sun was starting to lower in the sky and we were exhausted and thirsty. We took a seat on the side of the road and bought fruit juice drinks from a stand across the street. While we were relaxing, this little girl came outside to play. To be honest, I’m pretty sure she wanted to show off her cute outfit and bicycle, but I can’t blame her! Unfortunately, though, it was time to head back to Yangon for the evening to rest for the day of RAK’ing ahead.
Preparing for the RAK
The next day, we made the same journey back to Dala. When we arrived to prepare the food we realized that several women were so excited about the meal that they had been up cooking (and slaughtering chickens) most of the night. It’s fairly uncommon for people to have meat in their meal so this was a special treat. Given the food was nearly prepared, we decided to measure out the bags of rice to distribute to the families. A woven mat was laid down on the floor and large (roughly 30-50lb) bags of rice were dumped in the middle. From there we had metal cans that we used to “measure” out equal amounts of rice for each family into bags. The hardest part was tying the bags shut without tearing the bag!
Talking Politics, Life, and Aspirations Over Lunch With Khin’s Family
Before handing out food, Khin’s family invited us all to eat in their home. Their home is fairly typical in this village, made of bamboo and stilted to stay dry. There is a long bamboo walkway to get from the road into their home as shown in the picture. I believe Khin said that 4 people live in the home. For lunch, there were about 10 of us in addition to her family, which meant that literally every inch of space was used.
While we ate, we talked with Khin about her friends and the Presidential election in Myanmar. This would be the first elected civilian President in 50 years. She shared how hopeful she was the future of her country. Her and her best friend, Nae Nae, also talked about what life is like as a teenager in Dala. Khin was fortunate to have learned English which meant that she could earn money working with tourists, selling postcards and giving tours. Not all children are as fortunate.
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Random Acts of Kindness in Bamboo Village, Near Dala
Although Khin lives near to Bamboo Village, it was very hot and the time was getting late, so we had tri-shaw drivers take us down the long dirt path to where we would serve food. At first, the building seemed like just a community building on the edge of the village. However, I noticed that there were murals painted on the walls inside that depicted scenes of death and the afterlife. It was then that we realized that we were serving food in the crematorium.
Because a hot meal with meat is so rare here, the women explained to us that equal portions are very important. For instance, everyone should get about the same number of pieces of meat and potatoes. While they were explaining this, members of the village starting appearing outside the building, looking in through the gate. Each person had brought their own metal bowl for us to serve their food in.
In all honesty, the serving of the food was quite stressful. It quickly became chaos so some of the women stepped in to help us! In the tiny space of the crematorium, there must have been nearly 50 people. The children were all sitting in rows and groups on the floor, scooping their food in their mouths with their hands. Some of the children were wary of us visitors, while others were quite curious. The energy in that room is something I will never forget.
After lunch, we began delivering bags of rice to each home in the village. Each bag, depending on the size of the family, would last several days. A man, who I believe to be something like the Mayor, walked with us making sure each family was accounted for. As we walked through the village, we had a sea of children walking with us. What’s amazing is that wherever you are, there are elements of play that remain the same. You can always play peekaboo, tag, or race each other. There’s just no language for being a child.
Farewell to Dala
All good things must come to an end. As we hopped on our tri-shaws to take the long dirt road back to the ferry terminal, I glanced up to see the little boy who had been by my side all day chasing after us waving and smiling. Khin and her two friends rode with us to make sure we made it on the ferry safely and to say goodbye.
While my expectation was to see the sites in Yangon, this day in Dala was the most wonderfully heartwarming surprise.