Myanmar. The often forgotten country in Southeast Asia has been brought to the center of attention recently. If you haven’t heard of the situation going on there right now, The New York Times has a great article that gives an overview, you can find it here. On March 27th, 600 people were killed by the military, and thousands of others were assaulted, tortured or detained. The People are putting up a fight for their democracy.
I was fortunate enough to travel to Myanmar when it was still under peaceful rule. It was my very first extended solo backpacking trip. The beauty of the temples and the relative discreteness of the country was magnetic to me. Stories about my 2 weeks there will be shared here at BFT in the future. For now, I want to share a small moment I experienced there that changed my perception forever.
Before going into Myanmar, I was told by friends and family to beware of the “barbaric” and “uncivilized” people that live there. It subconsciously created fear in my head. Getting on the plane to Yangon, I was convinced that every “barbaric man” was staring at me. I was seriously questioning my decision to travel there alone.
Like any beginning of a journey, there is a phase of adjustment. The first few days are always scary and uncertain. Walking through the streets of Yangon at 9 p.m. after just landing at the airport, I held everything close to me and moved as fast as possible to my hostel. I was horrified.
After a few days in Yangon, I took an overnight bus and arrived at the ancient capital of Bagan. The charm and sacredness of Bagan is something of another universe. The energy of the ancient city was buzzing with life, yet still as glass that could be broken with a pinprick. I was IN. LOVE.
In Bagan, tourists get around by electric mopeds, rented from the nearby towns. Like many other tourists, I hopped on a bike and journeyed into the past.
As the sun started to set, I was still out wandering in the magical city. Before I knew it, the sun had gone down, and night kicked in. I was riding the 20 minute journey back from the past and into the city where my hostel was located. I was full of energy from the days’ adventures, but my moped was drained. Putting along at 20 miles an hour, then 10, 5, … and pretty soon my legs were pushing against the road to move myself forward.
I was stuck. On an empty stretch of road. At night. In total darkness. 10 miles away from my hostel. ALONE. My fear had come true. One of these “uncivilized” people would see it as the perfect opportunity to kidnap me or rob me. With every car and moped that passed by, my heart would beat faster. My feet were pushing this moped, like a toddler riding a bike without paddles. If anyone were to stop next to me, I would have nowhere to run.
Through my side mirrors, I saw a light coming closer and closer to me, until it stopped next to me. My heart was racing. This Burmese man had stopped next to me on a long stretch of dark road. Holding the belongings in my pocket tight, I was ready to put up a fight. The man opens his mouth and says “did your moped run out of power? Let me call the shop for you!” He then proceeds to call my rental shop, tell them in Burmese where I will meet them, and guide me all the way to the spot where I would wait. We chatted for a while and I thanked him with all my heart for stopping to rescue me. He said it was no problem, he likes the Americans anyway, they are extra friendly.
There I stood, waiting for someone to save me. Out in the distance I saw 2 kids riding towards me while laughing and playing with each other. One of them about 12 years old, and the other 8. They were pros at this. The 8-year-old gave me his charged moped and took my dead one. The siblings rode next to each other, with the 8-year-old hooking his leg onto the other moped and catching the ride.
That was when I realized that so often, people operate in fear. People who don’t look like us are seen as dangerous in a way. I heard only bad things about the Burmese people before going to the country. After spending 2 weeks there, I came to the conclusion that they are the nicest society of people I have ever come across while traveling. People who don’t have much, but are willing to give everything they have to those in need. People who fight for a peaceful governance.
The people who haven’t been to a country or city are the people who have the most negative things to say about that place. People who haven’t built a relationship with others who are different than themselves will always have the most fear towards them. From my experience, the world is a lot safer and friendlier than it often receives credit for. Just look at these cute Burmese students that wanted to take a picture with me but didn’t have a phone to do it! All they wanted was to build a connection with someone who doesn’t look like them.