Myanmar Way of Life – Survival Strategies of a Foreigner

 

Of Wells and Workouts

 

After nearly four weeks I start to have some routines and learned how to do what. Not without many discussions and questions towards my friends here, for whom many of these must sound ridiculously stupid…

The morning routine starts with getting buckets of cold water from the well. Luckily there is this well – I start realizing what amounts are actually needed for just one day and one person. I am glad I don’t need to carry it from another source to my house. Spoiled by just opening the tap or pressing buttons to start a machine doing this job I did not know yet by own experience what a workout it is, to just get the water out of the well and distribute the buckets to their destinations: to use it for showers, washing hands during the day, washing dishes and clothes (also a small workout in itself),  and for the toilet.

Of Days and Darkness

 

To sum up: everything takes longer and the day is much shorter as well. Around 5 p.m. I know it’s my last chance to take a bucket shower, cook and wash dishes before the dim light of the solar lamps is all I got. The daily schedule cannot be arranged without restrictions. We sometimes have electricity and we sometimes don’t. It comes unregularly and there is no point in having a fridge or any electronic device for cooking. The best option is a gas stove and having a box with dry food like noodles etc. So for whatever fresh you want to eat, the daily market visit is obligatory and you can meet most people there in the morning. With temperatures around 35 degrees Celsius during the day keeping anything for two days is not working out (of course I tried).

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The next step of the everyday routine is charging the solar lamps outside to bridge the time between dawn and the arrival of light later in the evening. Plug in all electronical devices in order of priority: headlight, camera, mobile phone, laptop, the big water boiler (to use water from the well for brushing teeth and sometimes a warm shower) whenever you can. It is also part of the daily conversation “Mie la byi lar?” – has the light already come? It depends from quarter to quarter in town. Wherever you go and plan on using something you ask this first – like at the copy shop.

It is a great help to have those solar lamps, some people can afford their own generators or have solar panels. But these are expensive options and most people have to wait for the light – not to speak of those villages not connected to the network at all. I realize that it does steal so much of  time – waiting for power. From 6 to sometimes 9 it is just pitch-black dark. The streets are empty, people are afraid to go out as street lamps  are off and I get the feeling that all sorts of things could happen out here: With everyone telling me to lock my door and stay inside as soon as it gets dark I actually start feeling a little insecure, too. The climate of fear is infectious.

 

Of Spiders and Scorpions

 

Living alone also means handling all sorts of daily visitors by myself. Quite proudly I reached the mindset “oh, just a coackroach” and the score to date is 1:17 for me. I feel bad of killing them but I feel it’s not quite a choice of having them as roomies and I am also not sure if that wouldn’t give them chances to outnumber me one day.
Worse are some monstrously big spiders – and there is not yet a good solution. Mostly they crawl out at night and I try to stay calm and hope they just hide again wherever they came from when completed their night stroll.

There are no snakes and scorpions,  I asked the day I moved in, just to be sure.
The night is noisy, cats jump on my corrugated sheet roof, birds have their nests between it and the inner ceiling, and dogs chase after one another along the sandy lane outside. Asleep I hear the typical sound of coackroach tripping and am half-awake now. It starts to come quite close, I find it is not necessary to come that close to my pillow. I think about how realistic it is and what reason there could be for that coackroach to enter my pop-up mosquito net that encloses my mattress. I decide very unlikely. But somehow that crawling underneath my pillow starts becoming irritating and I switch on my flashlight (always by my side) to scare it away. Unfortunately it’s me who is scared away. There is a scorpion sitting within my mosquito net staring at me blankly. It is my first encounter with a scorpion.  Panicking seems not a good option within this tiny space so I transform it into the mumbling of swearing while trying to quickly but calmly opening that zipper that coops me up inside my (thougth to be) shelter.

It is in the middle of the night. There is no option of going out of the house or having someone coming here. It’s clearly a situation that has to be dealt with. But how? First I unload my panic into the phone, sobbingly telling Sophia that there is a scorpion in my bed. Calm as ever she guides me through options what to do and with the available material – insect spray and a hammer – I start deconstructing the whole bed – as of course now this visitor feels like hiding. At some point I was successful, the insect spray took long but worked against this scorpion, which felt more like attacking than running away. Couldn’t bring myself to use the hammer though. I quickly loaded it onto the dustpan and put it outside the house. Needless to say I didn’t sleep anymore that night. Extra preparations were necessary and now I fixed the situation with double tape (difficult to get here!) around all bed posts.  Suddenly snakes are seen and my friend’s father is bitten by one. Ahbeay is quite nervous now, too, and we get some white powder to put around the house, supposedly keeping them away.

Those nights of little sleep are not very supportive of the work life at day time but I try to not let myself being stopped from it – by insects!

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Even more than usually I love the mornings, when my neighbor let’s her chicken out, the birds are singing and the gekkos finally stop making their loud calls. Nothing better than daylight and I am a little relieved the night is over again.

Myanmar Way of Life – Survival Strategies of a Foreigner

Where to Sleep as a Foreigner

Myanmar has a system of licensing hotels and guesthouses for accommodating “foreigners”. This means that not all guesthouses and hotels here are able to take in foreigners even if they want to – unless they can afford to get the licence.

As a researcher the issue is the same, the category “foreigner” still applies. As anthropologist the ideal working condition includes staying with a guest family to reach a deeper understanding of language and culture as active participant of family life.

The University here has a guesthouse, so for the moment I am fine. But it also means a 30-45 minute motorcycle ride to my field sites. Without motorbike there is a dependency on mototaxis and due to my current stage of Myanma language this does not always work out. Discussing times and meeting places at an unfamiliar place with a less systematic approach to street names and house numbers can mean some pitfalls.

So in total, I see my situation critical as I cannot involve completely at field sites but also the campus life doesn’t offer a chance to do so: Especially after 6 p.m. when the pitch black night has already arrived and there is no street lights on the surrounding roads it gets difficult to go out without a motorbike or the like. Not even the hostels of the other teachers on the other side of the campus seem in reach and they return home before the dark. And at my guesthouse I am the only guest because it is exclusively for foreigners. There is also no kitchen or shared room, so inviting others for more then a tea doesn’t work either.

Possible solutions would be finding another place in the city, where there are street lights and neighbours (which is difficult as mostly a contract of minimum 6 months is necessary and I had the spectacular idea of doing fieldwork at two sites, so staying here less than 4 months and making my research life a little harder) or a mix of sleepovers in nunneries and temples, where they also host pilgrims, and my staying at the guesthouse and being mobile with a motorbike.

It consumes quite some time and I hope it is normal that it takes a while until one is settled and things run more smoothly…

Where to Sleep as a Foreigner