Friday 24th May 2024

Sunday, 6th January

Poor boys in the hotel who sleep on the chairs are night porters as well as day porters. We disturbed them all for our visit to Ywar Thit Village, Eimel Township where Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was expected to show solidarity with the Karen Nation by speaking at the sunrise festival of Karen New Year. The minibus was both full and also full of anticipation as we headed off south of the city with Stephen teaching us to say, Ne Tan Ban Momo – Happy New Year in the Karen language.

We were able to park the minibus and walk a few hundred metres to the showground which was surrounded by stalls selling food and the usual festival stuff. The morning was characterised by speeches and fireworks and shouting and finally the raising of the Karen flag at sunrise. There was then dancing and music but a no show by the Lady. She sent a letter which had to be read out – twice! Joan and I hooked up with the delightful Cyril, a student from three years ago, and he treated us to breakfast – noodles and fruit – and his inimitable chat and personality. He was solicitous and sweet. Thank you, Cyril.

Joan and I managed to position ourselves under the stage surrounded by throngs of people all of whom were fascinated a) that we were there and b) that we were wearing Karen clothes. We were the subject of many a photo op and selfie! Then came the clarian call (actually Whats App message)! We’re going for coconut beer (actually palm wine). Come in 5 mins to the bus. We strode down the side of the main arena, ignoring the armed police officers and beetled off to the bus.

The palm wine was ok (not sweet but a little like lemon barley water – not my favourite to be honest) the palm-leaf covered shack and coconut matting floor rustic and the ambience cordial. Then we headed back off to Pathein.

While the others napped, I did some preparation and then we went out to lunch at Ka Ka Gyi with the Andreas and Joan. This place has the reputation of being the best traditional restaurant in Pathein but in the past they have really failed to understand or cater for vegetarians. This time a dynamic young waitress encouraged Andrea G and me to have the one veggie dish – a kind of mushroom and greens dish with rice which was fine. The great thing about this place is its emphasis on handwashing, with sinks and taps at the door, and its open kitchen.

We wandered back to the hotel and negotiated yet another timetable change. Joan and I wanted to go to Mass at 5pm so the team planning session was pushed back to 6:30pm. Mass was lovely and actually celebrated by our very own Fr Peter. The only slightly disconcerting part was the announcement (bearing in mind we have a list with 34 names on it) that we were having English lessons at the Social Centre at 9am and that anyone could come and join in. Aaaaargh!

Back to the hotel only to be accosted on the street by the gorgeous Kyu Kyu Hmwe, my young national swimming star friend! She is studying physics at Pathein University and is bright and ambitious. She will join the classes tomorrow and will also be one of my Days for Girls ambassadors.

Our planning session went well and we went through a whole lesson, trying out some of the games and settling on how we would deliver the plans. The one huge shame is that the photocopying I brought with me from Ely is incomplete. Each sheet is shaded towards the bottom. Grrrr! Have emailed to ask for recompense as I use that print shop almost exclusively. (They have said they will give me credit for the whole amount. Thank you, Stephen at Ely Print Centre. As I suspected the machines had been dormant over the whole of the Christmas period and had to be warmed up before they copied properly. I was hassling for a quick job as it was the day I left so I am grateful to them for agreeing this.)

Joan and I declined dinner outside and she, bless her, stuck labels and punched sheets and I fiddled about with the blog herewith.

Roll on tomorrow. Excited!