Myanmar in Moments
Borrow my eyes and see a part of the world recently revealed. This is a story of observation and curiosity in a place which engenders confusion and marvel in turn.
Travel without itineraries, without grand plans, without expectations. Travel for the thrill of discovery and the experience of moving and stopping, of choosing when to pause and soak it in, and when to get going. The only quest is to answer the endless question a stranger to a foreign land brings with them – what is life here? What is it to live, here?
Take a loop around Myanmar, escaping the urban chaos to the tranquil shores of the Bay of Bengal, before joining the route of most visitors with its deserved reputation for magnificence. It is a story about being and seeing, here, now, so borrow my eyes, and take a moment in Myanmar.
At the cafe the tasting notes sit next to a palate cleansing glass of carbonated water. Raw sugar cubes fill a jar with bamboo tongs hanging from the rim. The coffee beans are organic, roasted locally, grown far away but grown ethically; the sticker with ‘Fairtrade’ says so.
By who? By sweating men and women, in a hot equatorial sun, who strip the bushes of their seeds – for they’re not even beans – fill hessian sacks with the raw green masses which shift loosely like sand until the sack is bulging and taut, stagger to the back of a pickup truck and heave the load in where another, a man, drags it onto the neat rows growing higher by the hour.
They break in a palm’s shade, drink black coffee with a squeeze of lime, sift the grounds through their teeth, spit on the bare earth and slowly venture out into the sun again.
In the cafe the very coffee has a story, and after cleansing their palates people drink the hot brew and their pupils dilate, their blood runs hotter, a little faster, as if they too had just ventured out into that equatorial sun and begun to sweat.
In a dully decorated office canisters of dehydrated coffee, instant coffee, they call it, are mounted on the wall. Red handles rotate with the clicking action akin to the loading of a shotgun, letting a teaspoons worth of pelletised, off-brown coffee into a cracked and stained mug. A canister of fine white sugar lets fire next. Hot water from a wall unit dissolves the two, the mug is filled with coffee instantly.
There is no mineral water to cleanse the palate, but as the man downs the coffee his pupils dilate, his pulse quickens, his armpits sweat but his mouth is dry, his teeth furry, and he doesn’t know if it’s his breakfast or if the coffee was picked by slaves who had no pay and no rest and are telling him their story anyway.