I’m already in Mu Aye Pu, the remote Myanmar village where I will volunteer. The place is peaceful and gorgeous. I can listen to the sound of the river and the roosters that walk through the village while digging for worms.
But, there are also bears. They are so fluffy!!! OH GOD, so cute. Moon bears are super fluffy with really round fluffy faces and ears. They are as tall as me when standing and have a lighter fur stripe on their chest that actually resembles the moon. But I don’t think that is due to that their name. Sabine- my hoster- told me that the name is due to their behavior following the stages of the moon and it seems like they get extra excited when is full moon night.
Moon bears hunted in Myanmar
And how this German woman ends up with 2 moon bears in a refugee village in Myanmar?
In Myanmar, people hunt moon bears. My trekking guide in Hsipaw told me that the Chinese eat them (what a surprise) and they pay the locals to kill the bears offering them 2500 USD for one bear. That is one year’s income for a Burmese family. An irresistible proposal for families that need to feed their kids, I would say.
This Myanmar area close to Thailand is an area where moon bears live. Their mother was killed when they were really young, so they become orphans with a few months old. The villagers decided to take care of the bears otherwise they would die without their mother in the wild. But, when the bears grew and start making trouble, the villagers gave up on them and handled them to this German woman that was already living here. She accepted the challenged and started to take care of the bears when they were already almost 2 years old. Since then she has been feeding these bears and providing shelter for them and improving their lives with the help of volunteers that come here from every corner of the world. The volunteers helped already building a sort of a playground where the bears have so much fun playing with each other. I’m here to help with that task too as a volunteer. We will finish their playground so they can be there whenever they want without needing to be watched. If the playground doesn’t have a safe structure they will find a way to escape. These moon bears are very smart.
Apparently there is a male moon bear living in these mountains and my hoster is afraid he will come down when there is the mating season.
There are Gibbons living here in the mountain behind us. They live in a cave and appear to be smart as they throw stones at people that come close.
Meanwhile, these people have very different believes from us, and besides claiming to be mostly Christian, they believe the most in spirits. And here are the rules for this volunteer I could read once in the guesthouse:
Yes, If you are caught kissing someone you need to marry that person, otherwise they believe that a bad spirit will bring bad things to the whole village.
Yes, you need to be careful with scorpions, there was one in between the bricks we were carrying to finish the bear’s playground.
Yes, there are pitons, inclusively, Sabine keeps two of them caged. She caught them sneaking into her house. They are not small!!
After listening to a whole lot of explanations during the dinner from Sabine about the Karen, why they are here, and how the army is protecting them, we go to bed. There is not much to do here and electricity comes from not strong solar panels. That means we only have light in the guesthouse, no charging phones or whatsoever, so I’m trying not to use mine at all, also no internet anyway… This is a very challenging volunteer.
The most terrifying night ever
The day I arrived, 30 January, is the day before the celebration of Karen independence day and there are supposed to be some festivities nearby. But, sadly, this year they are not doing it. I would love to have seen it!
During the night it gets really cold, but the blankets provided are enough to keep me warm and have a good night sleep. Until I woke up at 4 am extremely scared as I just listened to what seemed to be several guns shooting in a row. I woke up extremely startled when after it comes the sound of an explosion. At this point, my heartbeat is really accelerated and I confess than I am pretty scared. All types of things are going through my mind. I think that there are people shooting each other not far and most of all, I start making a whole war movie in my head. I couldn’t sleep for the next 2 hours… But most of all I was thinking how awful should it be to live like these ethnic groups in Myanmar, and there are several of them. Listening to this horrifying sound constantly must be a life in fear. That’s when the whole thing really hit me. Myanmar might be a wonderful place for us travelers to discover, but living there doesn’t sound any easy or peaceful. Those next 2 hours I just kept thinking about how bad it should be to live like this. So many thoughts flooded my mind that I can’t even describe. I put myself in their skin and realize how fortunate I am. Basically it was 2 hours realizing how grateful I am for my life.
These conflicts are going on in many areas of Myanmar. Sometimes they even close the area and no tourists are allowed. And that’s how I feel so safe in Myanmar. I know that if something bad is going on in some areas, I will not be allowed to go there anyway, so I am safe. And this is also why traveling in Myanmar is sometimes difficult. You can’t go to any place you want like in other countries. There are many restricted areas to foreigners, so you can’t just go and depart to an adventure to every corner of the country. That’s also why I believe that there are many still hidden gems in Myanmar to discover.
So, after the horrifying sounds and reviving in the memory things I saw in movies about Myanmar, and how soldiers come in the night and kill people while they are sleeping, I couldn’t wait to ask Sabine what the hell was that, as per our previous conversation, this area is supposed to be peaceful and safe. She laughs as I ask. Those sounds were from the celebrations that weren’t supposed to happen that night. WHO THE HELL THINKS OF LAUNCHING FIREWORKS AT 4 AM ANYWAY?! Could there be a more stupid timing to launch fireworks?! It didn’t come up to my mind even just once that the petrifying sound that I have heard was from fireworks! And the loudest fireworks I have ever listened to.
I honestly believe that the noises were from the celebrations. Nothing similar happened during my almost one month stay and this place is complete heaven. I’m not sure about the thing that sounded like an explosion, but the sound that preceded that massive BOOM was definitely fire guns. Although, not with the purpose to attack somebody, but as a way to celebrate. I’m sorry but no one will be able to convince me that those were sounds of fireworks.
It’s funny because I had nothing to fear in this place during the volunteer, besides wild animals, but at that moment I couldn’t help thinking about all the pain people live in a war zone. I have never experienced such thoughts and I must tell that those hours were the most terrifying I had all my life.
This place is really special and an immense learning experience. I am willing to take you there as a non-volunteer. See more clicking below:
Here is my video about this place:
See also unique things about Myanmar Here!