This volunteer had me learning so much about Myanmar, its culture, and actual problems that I could never get this knowledge anywhere else. Every day we had dinner together. It was cooked on fire by any of Sabine’s kids. We dine in the dark, lighted by candles and accompanied to the sounds of nature and a sky full of stars. As there are almost no lights here, watching the sky is one of my favorite hobbies. In fact, that’s what I do every single night before going to bed at about 8.30 or 9 pm. We only have one lamp at the guesthouse, in the common area, and it is not strong enough to read a book. There is exactly nothing else to do, so I watch the stars or review my photos of the day. If someone is walking during nighttime you can clearly see it. For night walks we need to use a torch, and this way everyone can spot us as the only light that can be seen around. We also need to use a torch to go to the bathroom during nighttime. Here at about 7 pm, it is already dark.
Learning about Myanmar
During our dinners, we always have interesting conversations as Sabine tells us many stories and shares a lot of knowledge about the Karen, the area, and Myanmar itself. I have learned countless things…
Have you ever heard about fake monks? Well, I have a story myself that lead me to think that there are fake monks. But, I was told that fake monks are for real.
So, among the many stories my hoster in Mu Aye Pu can tell, she also told us about the fake monks. The fake monks are kind of spies among the real monks infiltrated by the Burmese military to have ears everywhere. The fake monks appeared after the massacre of monks that were peacefully protesting against the government in Myanmar but were shot dead in the middle of the street. After this event, the government decided that it would be a good idea to put these fake monks all over the country so something similar couldn’t happen. Sabine told me that you can notice them among the real monks as their posture is stiffer and they walk faster than usual monks do. Usually, monks walk slow, but these fake monks somehow appear to be marching.
Between many other stories, there is this one that shows that the relationship between Karen military and Burmese military is not so peaceful. The village is dedicated to Karen military and it’s families. Therefore, you can see some graves spread in the village. Graves of men serving the Karen military. They were very important people fighting for Karen’s independence and I remember one story in particular. It wasn’t that long ago when a soldier was poisoned by the Burmese during a meeting between both Burmese and Karen army. This reveals that the conflicts are still on. The Burmese army is not so far from the village and most important Karen military personalities need bodyguards when moving around. The village where I am volunteering is surrounded by mountains. At the very top, there are Karen military men observing the area 24/7. We always have military vigilance and very often we see them walking in the village.
There were so many other stories, facts, and things that I have learned just by the fact of being a volunteer in Mu Aye Pu that I can’t even tell… It is an experience that must be lived to be fully understood.
Lack of water
I was volunteering in this village where besides having a river just next to it, sometimes doesn’t have water. Yeah, amazingly. The water comes from the mountains through pipes that are not good enough to support the water’s long journey. They are many times broken, which leads the village to don’t have water many times. That also happens during the rainy season as the water pressure is too high for the small pipes and make them break very often.
This lack of water happened while I was in the volunteer village of Mu Aye Pu. It’s really annoying as you don’t have water to pour down the toilet, or no handy water to shower. Drinking water is supplied by our hoster. So, I had no chance but a shower in the river. This was actually the first time I had a proper shower in the river, usually, it is used to swim and have fun. Of course, I also took the chance to make some laundry by the river. This way I’m really experiencing the villager’s life. It is so hot during the day that it was very pleasant to have a shower in the river.
But, what are exactly our tasks during this volunteer?
Well, it depends on the day, there is the day that we don’t do much, and others that we need to carry a lot of stuff up the river banks. Even if carrying those heavy things doesn’t take longer than an hour, it was enough to make a huge pain in my back. Tasks vary between:
-carrying bricks to construct the wall for the bear’s playground
-carrying sand to make the cement
-carrying other stuff that Sabine needs to get up to her house including woods, baskets, etc
-constructing the wall
-clean the poo and pee from the bear’s cage
-watch the bears playing in the “new” playground
-collecting sawdust from diverse points in the village, some not so nearby
-cleaning the leaves and plastics from the floor
-dig the earth to make the floor flat
-watch the geese fighting all the time
-pet the cats, if you want
-have deep and serious conversations with the bears while they try to reach you through the fence
-making earth bricks
-making a water tank
-start the construction of the small shop for visitors that come around to watch the bears
Carrying things wouldn’t be so painful if the way upriver wasn’t that steep and bad, so rocky that I must watch my next step. Also, we need to carry things by hand through a considerable distance as there isn’t such an object as a cart that would make things 90% easier to carry as the ground is flat. The working hours per day are not many, but when the day includes heavy work, it can be tough and tiring. Some days we work for two hours, others 4 or 5. It really depends. But we always have as many breaks as we want.
Saturday is the day off and we always took the chance to explore as the area around the volunteer village is majestically beautiful.
I don’t get tired of the guesthouse view and the sound of the river during my 3 weeks volunteer. There are some very specific spots where you can get data and access the internet. However, If I move 1 cm I might lose the signal, so many times I just give up on looking like a living pole waiting for the best spot to connect with the rest of the world.
Usually, we work in the morning and have the afternoon by ourselves. It is extremely hot and we don’t have fans or whatsoever, but the graceful view is more than enough to handle it. During the afternoon we stick around the guesthouse. I take this time to read a book that someone left here. It was very interesting and I truly appreciate the gesture someone had in the past. Reading that book was my daily afternoon routine. I loved it. It is entitled: Kane and Abel
Besides reading this book, I wrote about my previous travels and about this place too. I edited some pictures, did some laundry and that was basically how my afternoons were spent during this volunteer. I couldn’t spend much time on the laptop because electricity is limited and I wasn’t able to charge the laptop daily. I also had my phone and camera to charge, so I needed to calculate which one can I charge that day. I broke the record of not charging my phone for a whole week. I was basically using it to check the time.
This total disconnection to the outside world was priceless and made me realize many things I don’t want for my life.
I can take you there as a non-volunteer. Click below to know more:
Here is my video of this place: