This will be my 13th week in Myanmar where I have gradually adjusted to how utterly different every day experiences are – living here is endlessly fascinating, beautiful and can also be quite complex.
Shwebo (aka Shwebes) and work
Most of my time (Monday to Friday) is spent at my hospital base of Shwebo, with the weekends free for adventures. Shwebo is a town 3 hours north-west of Mandalay which is famous for ‘Thanaka’ – a pale, creamy yellow paste made from ground bark which many women and children in Myanmar wear on their faces in different shapes. It has been traditionally used in Myanmar for thousands of years as a sunblock, perfume and skincare.
Work is settling into a routine with daily ward rounds, 6 teaching sessions a week and supervising the junior Doctors in assessing and treating patients. The junior Doctors and nurses work several nights and 24 hour shifts a week, but despite such demanding shifts, they are enthusiastic, dedicated and a pleasure to work with. Our main project of teaching Emergency Paediatric care to hospital staff has involved delivering 5 day courses at different towns in the delta region for the last two weeks. It has been rewarding, but also pretty challenging at times – teaching simulation in near darkness because of frequent powercuts in the storms demands improvisation! iPhone lights are super helpful when demonstrating CPR…
Nature definitely has the upperhand in this geography and climate – before the storms, most of April and May was spent under a crushing heatwave upto 46C. It was pretty relentless but has finally cooled down now the rains have arrived. There has also been an earthquake and a cyclone in Myanmar which really made me realise the tangible and unstoppable forces of nature, especially for people whose homes are not built to withstand those threats.
Life on the road
We have done a fair bit of travelling on buses, which is a fascinating window into people living in rural villages and towns. In the delta, the homes are bamboo and wooden rickety structures on stilts interspersed by stretches and swathes of water. The homes are linked to each other or to the road by make-shift bridges and boats. Alot of the farming is with huge water buffalo, which are pretty bizzare to see as I open my phone to take a photo and find 3G signal. The area looks incredibly beautiful at sunset with the tall palm trees reflected in the contrast of the flats of water between bright green paddy fields.
Mini-adventures (without my mini)
We’ve been so lucky to have made lovely new friends in Myanmar who have shown us their beautiful country at the weekends. My favourite trip so far was to Pyin Oo Lwin – the flower city. We visited waterfalls and cave systems stretching for hundreds of metres full of shrines and buddha statues amongst the stalactites & stalacmites.
Another memorable trip was visiting an orphanage and nunnery with a friend from the UK who goes there weekly to play with the kids. We took six kilograms of homemade playdough which developed into a whole lot of colourful fun-filled chaos. It was a really special day, but the reality is that many of the children live at the orphanage because of fighting in their home region. It was pretty tough to walk away and say goodbye to them.
We are made to feel so welcome in Myanmar, and have been invited to attend birthdays and family weddings. Birthdays here are selfless and genorous celebrations, where there is traditionally a trip to the monastery or pagoda, with donations of food or money made to the monks.
Wedding are momentous events, with the finery of traditional Myanmar dress worn at its’ most beautiful. The outfits are intricately decorated and in so many different bright colours. During the ceremonies the couples hands are tied with cloth and then water is poured over to symbolize the marriage.
So that is some highlights of Myanmar so far. Today will be half way through my time here, and I can’t believe how quickly it is flying. Thankyou to all my lovely friends and family for keeping in contact – it makes being away from home much easier 🙂