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Friday, 03 July 2009

New Year's Eve in Burma - Page 4

Written by Janis Mitchell
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It is the last day of the year and Pam, Judy and I are in Bagan, Myanmar. Until about ten years ago, it was impossible to enter the country, formerly Burma, for more than a week. This ensured a minimal influence from the outside world. The near absence of transportation guaranteed outsiders could not venture far beyond Yangon, the capital. But with an eye on the tourist dollar, the outrageously repressive military government extended its visas for up to one month. This extension played a large role in ending Myanmar’s preparation for the advent of tourism.

 

If daytime driving conditions seemed precarious, they were nothing compared to the hazards that arose when the sun went down. Burma was an amazingly dusty country, even without the ton of dust we stirred up as we tore down the endless dirt road. Turning on the headlights only made visibility worse, surrounding the car in a sea of millions of swirling specks. The solution: no one in Burma used their headlights.

To make matters worse, another particularity of rural Burmese life soon became evident to us. In the absence of cafes, restaurants, or large lodgings to congregate with friends and families, the Burmese seemed uniformly oblivious to the danger of squatting in the center of the road for a long evening chat. Farmers leading their herds of goats, ducks, and sheep down the road were similarly ignored. Honking the horn had absolutely no success in moving anyone, and it was clearly understood that it was the driver’s job to go around them.

As one may react in uncontrollable life and death situations, I reacted by being overcome with sleepiness and began to nod off in the back seat. I was just settling in to a good, long nap when screeching brakes and the car careening wildly out of control brought me fully back to reality. Just missing a group of old women and sending a terrified collection of goats and ducks scattering for safety, our luck seemed to have run out as we charged helplessly towards an enormous water buffalo which was the size of the car, pulling a cart and family behind it. I will never forget the look of terror in that giant animal’s eyes as it reared up on two legs, its massive horns flashing within inches of our window. How the whole lot of us was, instants later, frozen still without a scratch in total silence, save the beating of our hearts, I will never understand. As the dust settled, I noticed that the whole village had gathered around us, equally amazed.

Even our driver had been scared half to death, so much so that he drove very slowly the last hour until we could find a place to sleep for the night. Once in our room, Judy pulled out the remains of a bottle of Johnny Walker and the three of us toasted the New Year, only minutes away, surprised and grateful to be alive. As we sat in that dilapidated room in that nameless village, I was overcome with the joy of having just escaped death and a hunger to hold on to every minute of life within my power. There was so much of the world yet to see.

New Year's Eve in Burma, Bagan, Myanmar, Ayeyarwady River, holiest Buddhist sites, burma, drive to Rangoon, Janis Mitchell

© Janis Mitchell

(Page 4 of 4)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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