Saturday 13th July 2024

June 2018 Blog

Sunday, 17th June 2018

After Mass, I spent more time this morning trying to repack this bounty and get the most important things into my big bag with me.  I prioritised the water filters, the Days for Girls bags and the books for the school, followed by all of the Small World figures from Happyland and then whatever else I could manage, along with some small gifts for friends.  Thanks to Thai Airways, I do have 40kg but I could have done with maybe another 10kg which will have to wait till January now.

I have honestly taken as few clothes as possible but actually you really need the same amount of clothes for one week as you do for six.  All of my personal things – clothes and toiletries – are in my smaller case and then I have a carry-on which is getting heavier and heavier by the minute, a slight worry as the limit is 5kg.  Had ordered a new pullalong carry-on which was supposed to arrive from  Amazon yesterday and which has still not come.  🙁 🙁 🙁  Those who know me well will know about my luggage fetish and addiction.  I’m sorry.  I tried to resist.  I honestly did.  But it’s a cute American Tourister back-pack/pullalong and it was so much cheaper on Amazon that in Fenwicks, which is where I saw it.  It’s your fault, Margaret Hickey!  🙂

The bag not having been delivered (boo – they texted me when it arrived at home too late at 6pm) I set off for Chertsey where I’m staying with the Palmers – Alex, Jennie and Bump (due towards the end of the year).  Haven’t seen Bump yet – so excited!

Had a wee drive round Windsor Great Park to have a look at it (No, I did not get lost! Well, maybe a little) before arriving at Jennie’s just behind time.  We had a great catch-up and Jennie (who looks so well) had prepared veggie lasagne for me.  Thank you very much. So kind.  I am going to leave my car here and we have ordered a cab for the morning.  Great to see them.

Monday, 18th June /Tuesday 19th June 2019

Had photographed the email from Thai Airways, thank goodness.  I seemed to be unable to check-in at the airport machines which is now a requirement and so was permitted to queue for assisted check-in – forgive me for using the crass analogy but assisted check-in/assisted dying not so very different except I can only think that the latter might be quicker and more painless.  The only redeeming feature of the whole ghastly experience was meeting a very pleasant young Kiwi called Peter.  We struck up a lively conversation which lasted most of the long, long wait to be checked in.

Once there, they knew nothing about the extra 10kg I had been awarded.  The girl (who was actually very kind) phoned to confirm the details on my photographed email and then phoned someone else to confirm the confirmation. Then, because of the extra 10kg, she couldn’t print off my boarding passes and had to phone someone else yet again.  It took around 20 minutes during which I was the hate figure of the entire queue in the departure hall.  People had begun sticking pins into wax dolls and a man did genuinely begin to shout at one of the Thai staff.   She tells me the same problem may happen on the return journey in Yangon so she has put a note against my booking.  That should be fun!

Having eventually checked in and managed to lug my bag through the torture of security – oh how many times from this point on did I wish my pull-along had arrived –  I had a delicious breakfast and yes, at 10am on a Monday morning, seriously considered a nice, chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc after all the trauma, but resisted.  I bought myself The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt because it had been featured on A Good Read on Radio 4 and sounded like my kind of book.  There it was in WH Smith – about the thickness of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.  More to haul around with me. (However it did last me very nearly the whole trip.  Tragic but a real page turner and beautifully written.)

The journey was pleasant and uneventful though I didn’t sleep.  I watched four films which made such a lasting impression that I can remember absolutely none of them! I sat next to a young couple who were really sweet, helping me get my monster bag down from the overhead locker and letting me pass in front of them to catch my connecting flight.

At Yangon, Justin from KMSS was waiting for me and once I had fed my luggage through the security x-ray to get it out of the baggage hall – sorry but what is THAT about? – I got my local sim card and off we went.  I thought I would sleep but we chatted and made absolutely super time arriving in my beloved Pathein just about 2 and having gone through some fairly hot, steamy dramatic rain, as you can see in the photograph above.  It is very much more humid than in January but it feels like coming home and it was lovely to be greeted so warmly by the hotel staff!

Marcellinus and Assumpta came to say a quick hello, arranging for me to have a meeting at KMSS the following morning.  Lovely dinner at Cafe, Cafe but had forgotten it wasn’t licensed.  What?  No beer?  Stomped down to our favourite off-license to buy some beer on my way home.  Slept like the proverbial log.

Wednesday 20th June 2018

Lovely Anne, daughter of Saw Albert, our absolute favourite mature student from two years ago, came briefly to my hotel room to look at what I had brought for the village school.  I need to think about Myanmar story books for next time and maybe simple English books on tape like The Gruffalo.

Grifaid – I brought two of these family filters to be tried out by rural families selected by KMSS staff.  We looked at the four YouTube videos which show how to use and maintain them.  They are so easy and clever.  Er, we did get a little bit wet while setting them up but three of us drank the filtered water and survived to tell the tale – sorry about the soaking, Fr Henry.  I will get an update on their trial and bring more out in January if they are found to be useful.

Days for Girls – Assumpta and three of the girls Julia works with had a look at the Days for Girls packs I took out.  They will trial all six packs personally and give me feedback before we decide whether it is going to be possible to start a Micro-Enterprise with them.  If this is the case, we will bring out the PUL (waterproof material), in particular.  The girls seemed to think flannel would be able to be purchased in Yangon and I have not been able to find out whether or not that is the case.  We spent the afternoon doing some training and had fun going through some of the more graphic material.  The girls were fascinated by the moon cups and, while they are not really culturally acceptable for single women here, may get some married colleagues to try them out.  A huge thank you to Assumpta for her excellent help and translation skills.

Cloth books – I gave Assumpta the cloth books that we can buy in Cambodia to look at, one for a girl and one for a boy showing local cultural activities and also used as a Micro-Enterprise there –  with a view to thinking about whether this would be a viable business proposition for KMSS clients.

Our meeting discussed a number of issues which I will cover as I write, including supporting a rice feeding programme to give the village children better nutrition.  Due to an issue with another organisation, the money I left in January was not used for the planned Short Term Loan Bank and instead Fr Peter has decided to award $500 to each of the four villages, meaning this feeding programme can start right away.  I have contacted Kate and Fr Totet to get the exact ingredients of the protein-rich soup they use in Siem Reap.

Anne contacted me around 11pm to say that transport to Phan Khar Gone (said kind of quickly, Pankago – never quite got it right!) village had been arranged by them at the last minute and that Justin would pick me up from the hotel at 7 the next morning.

Thursday, 21st June 2018

I have to get used to the idea of carrying an umbrella everywhere.  The sky is almost always overcast so it’s not necessary to have a sunhat – actually I took one everywhere and never wore it once – and then suddenly everything blackens and there is the most intense downpour.  Mo – rain.  I began to pick this word out in many conversations.  I think people talk about the weather here almost as much as in the UK!

And now confession time.  In our January visits, one or two of us always go to 6am Mass at the orphanage right across the road – one of the reasons we use the hotel we do.  (Not everyone in the team by any means, is Catholic.  Although we use a Catholic NGO to support our work, they and we work with the whole community.  Most of the teaching team are vaguely Christian, Agnostic or Atheist.)  But Kate Mc and I always went to Mass and then for a run before starting work.  It was a great way of keeping in touch with St Mary’s Orphanage which we support when we go, and actually a very positive way to start the day, we felt – helps to remind me why I’m in Myanmar.  For one reason or another, usually because I was being picked up at some ungodly hour, I never got there this time and I am so sad I didn’t which I will explain further later.

After my second and, as it turned out, last hotel breakfast – yay, eggs, mango and toast (not all together!) – Justin, Anne and Albert picked me up (Justin swinging my heavy bag into the car as if it weighed nothing) and we headed for the port Kangyidaung, around half an hour north-east of the city.  We stopped at a restaurant for the others to have breakfast and I had coffee.

The further we get from the city the more people stare at this older white woman with white hair. It used to embarrass me but now I catch their eye and smile or say Mingalaba. Rarely do they fail to respond with a smile or a Mingalaba in return.  Sometimes babies cry and children run away!  I know in Cambodia it’s not the first time I have been told, ‘It’s ok.  He’s just scared of white people!’

Kangyidaung is the port for many of the local outlying villages and there are lines of small boats with the same kind of shallow outboard motors we see used on Tonle Sap, as well as a large jetty, which Anne says is covered over when the river floods.  We settled down in a small boat for the 20 minute journey and Anne and I continued to talk and talk.  She is a lovely (and beautiful) girl.  Her English is excellent and she has a great sense of humour.  The reason for our early visit today is that she takes one of many classes later. She works very hard with only a Monday off each week.  Albert is very, very proud of his lovely girl and for very good reason.

What a joy to be in the village again!  We were met by one of the ECCD school managers and picked our way over the walkway towards the schools.  Much of the surrounding land is flooded and the fields covered in water.  It is such a beautiful, peaceful place.  We walked past a water tank donated by CAFOD and I made a mental note to take a photo later.  

Albert is like the grandfather of the village.  Everyone knows and loves him and relies on him for help and advice.  He led us to the ECCD building which lies next to the primary school.  

The teachers all gathered to see what I had brought. I think it is more appropriate for the primary school, which is run by the government, to be given the English language books.  Everyone is so keen to learn English and, of course, this is why I first came to Myanmar.  But I came to teach young adults who are all fluent in listening, talking, reading and writing their own language.  Now I am keen to ensure that everyone knows that the children must be sound and secure in their own mother tongue before they begin to learn a foreign language. In the UK it is one of the most common reasons that EAL children (who have English as Another Language) struggle.  Their families try to speak to them in English (and that may not be very strong English), thinking that they are doing the best for them but it is the child who is fluent in his own language who learns a new language most quickly and effectively.  I suggested to Anne that we come back to so some Teacher Training together on Monday around the acquisition of early language skills.  Anne is also very interested in Baby Signing about which I am quite passionate and I will pass her more information about that.

Emma, the Primary Headteacher, took us to visit the government school which has 156 pupils (25 in the pre-school) and I was introduced to each class.  They tried to teach me Burmese (so bad! I left that class saying Thwa meh, which means Bye! See you! I’m off! kind of thing.  They all laughed.  I should have tempered it with ‘oun’ – Thwa oun meh, meaning I’m leaving gently.  I said to Anne later that when people say See you! it’s a little bit of the same thing.  We would say See you soon! or See you later! to temper it a little and make it more gentle.  They also asked questions about the UK school system and the climate and the food and how rich people are.  Are there poor people in the UK?  It started me thinking about how often our poor people in the UK are poor in their aspirations and ambition, rather than in material things.  Often they have too much materially and not enough empathy, love for others or desire to be more rather than have more (good old Oscar Romero).  I told the children that school is free in the UK and everyone goes to school but that sometimes they don’t know how important education is.  I think people in Myanmar realise that education is vitally important and value it.

Mary Joseph, Anne’s aunt, had prepared a sumptuous lunch for us, all vegetarian – how wonderfully kind and thoughtful.  I had told Anne and Albert how much I had loved my sun-ripened mango breakfast so of course there was mango!  This meal also began my love affair with what Anne has translated as pennywort with ground peanuts.  Oh my word!  I usually lose weight in Myanmar but this time I don’t think so!  

We returned to Pathein and I rested a little before meeting Anne with Becky for dinner.  In January I met Lou and Jess, two doctors working in the paediatric ward at Pathein Hospital, through a girl my daughter Laura trained with as a Cambridge medic.  They have returned home but put me in touch with Becky and Romanie (who had gone home to the UK for a wedding but I hope to meet her in January), the medics who had taken their places, supported by the Royal College of Paediatricians and also UNICEF in Becky’s case.  She is travelling around all of the regional hospitals training the staff in methods to improve maternal and neonatal health which are very, very poor here in Myanmar.  This is due in part to poor nutrition but also to unhelpful cultural practices such as putting the newborn next to the fire and the mother lying in after the birth.  She has also become aware that maternal and neonatal deaths are drastically under-reported although she thinks this may be improving as doctors become aware that reporting correctly will increase support rather than assign blame.

Our bar-on-the-corner, the place we called the Dagon, has had a face-lift.  I was devastated to begin with.  This was our go-to place where many a beer was drunk over many an intense discussion and many a french fry and roasted cashew consumed.  However, because it was so close, I ate there a few times on this visit and actually it is very good and not expensive.  Some locals seem to drive their motorbikes directly into the restaurant which is … strange but the waiting staff are helpful and the service good.  Note to future teams: Mary may well be found at the table in the furthest (quietest) corner nursing a beer when she can’t be located anywhere else!

It was good to meet Becky who previously worked in Laos and we all enjoyed one another’s company.  Anne said that Albert would like to invite us for lunch at their home on Sunday and we were delighted to accept.

Friday, 22nd June 2018

Dear Lawrence Dario, English teacher at the Sacred Heart Minor Seminary in Mayanchaung, had phoned to ask if I would like to join them all for Mass at 6am for Father Michael (the Director)’s birthday.  I ordered a taxi for 5:30 and lovely, lovely Charles from our first ever class spotted me in the car park and rushed out to take the books and small gifts I had brought.  The taxi driver tried to charge me 7000 kyats. I challenged him in my poor Burmese, rudely thrust 5000 at him and discovered the correct fare should have been 4000.  Grrr!  The church was fearfully hot and Charles got me a bottle of water which was a lifesaver.  It was wonderful to meet Sr Teresita again who taught the boys beautiful English for so many years.  Mass was beautiful too and, though I did not turn round, was very aware of our own John Htet singing lustily behind me with the others!  The strong fervent singing here in church in Myanmar would put us all to shame in the UK.  At the end of Mass the nun next to me introduced herself as Sr Patricia and asked where I was from.  When I started to explain she said, Oh stop, I know who you are.  I thought you were a stranger but you are family! <3 

Sr Patricia and I were last into the dining hall for the celebration breakfast and to my enormous embarrassment everyone rose and clapped.  I do not deserve any of this.  I get as much if not considerably more out of the privilege of coming here to work with these young people as I ever give.  I was pleased to join a number of others speaking and wishing Fr Michael a happy birthday. When he blew out his candles he gave his mother and then me a spoonful of his birthday cake – what an honour!  I congratulated the dynamic young priest on my left on his spirited sermon.  Oh, did you understand it? he asked.  No, I replied and we both laughed!

Brother Raphael (whom I met in January at St Bruno’s) was determined to show me round his animals and Lawrence and I went to admire his pigs etc but they are all penned up, poor things, in small concrete cells. I so prefer seeing the village pigs wandering free and foraging for their own food.  Intensive farming of fish, chickens and pigs seems to be becoming popular here and I don’t know if people are aware of the health risks and the ease with which disease is transmitted.  I talked about how more and more people in the west prefer to eat food which has been organically produced, where possible.

We went straight to class.  Class is from 8 till 11:30.  Very formal.  The young men stood up as I entered and of course, being me, I bumped poor Lawrence for the rest of the morning, giving him a well-earned rest!  I had a ball, covering a whole range of topics but focusing on comprehension and pronunciation.  There are three new seminarians for us to get to know in January – Augustine, Francis and Henry.  Charles, John Bosco, John Paul, George, John Newman and Cyril will all try for their exams and will not join us in class at the Social Centre, unfortunately.  I hope that John, John Htet, Matthew, Gabriel, Peter, Moses and William will join our classes as before.  

As I have written, the more senior seminarians will not attend class again in 2019 as they will be preparing for their Senior Seminary exams.  I have suggested to Lawrence that perhaps we can involve ourselves with their preparation with perhaps one or two teachers coming up to the seminary while we are in Pathein specifically to go through the practice papers I have brought this time (along with an entire new self-teaching syllabus).  I put the idea to Fr Peter and he thought it a good one but I would like Lawrence to lead on this if he feels comfortable doing so and if Fr Michael is in agreement.

I joined the boys for lunch rather than be lonely at the top table and they were amused to see me so thrilled at being given a little bottle of Myanmar wine with my meal!  Wow!  It is from the north of the country – red and slightly sparkling.  To be honest, I was much more thirsty than hungry and scared to drink it all because I hadn’t eaten.  The classroom is hot and the boys kept turning the fan on me as, yet again, I appeared as though I had walked straight out of the shower with my hair literally dripping from the roots.  Not a good look!  😀  I made the boys eat the lovely food so as not to offend the cook.

After lunch we went visiting with John Htet and Cyril looking after me.  We visited the girls’ houses.  Such happy places where they are preparing to become St Francis Xavier sisters.  

John Htet then took me by request on the back of his motorbike to the Family Home orphanage where we did so much work in January.  Now Fr Augustine would like some bedsteads to accommodate the boys more comfortably in their newly refurbished dormitory.  Fr Augustine said the boys are very, very happy with their new room and can use it even on the hottest nights.  My next trustees’ meeting will have to be two days long to discuss all of the possibilities for our future spending.  I took some photos but Katie will be sad to hear that the planting did not survive.  Fr A thinks the wrong crops were used and he will try again with different ones.  He is such a lovely, gentle man.  For much of the time little Denis’s wee brother sat on his knee.  The boys are lucky to have this sweet man caring for them.

I needed to go to the bank so John Htet took me there, waited for me (bless) and took me to my hotel where I actually had some down time and a pretty quiet night downloading photographs and a reasonably quiet beer (with some quite pleasant company for the latter part – LOL!) at the New Dagon as I am pleased to call it.  The World Cup is on just now so it is being broadcast in every bar in Pathein, I think.

Saturday, 23rd June 2018

IF I raise enough donations, Fr Peter is keen for me to be involved in upgrading two hostels for young people in the Labutta area.  The same principle is used in Cambodia.  The church supports young people (almost exclusively Buddhist) from very rural areas, far off the beaten track, with their living accommodation so that they can more easily attend school.  In Cambodia, especially with the secondary pupils, they attend free and then must ‘repay’ by agreeing to work as a volunteer free of charge for one year once they have finished their education.  Here they pay a small fee and are subsidised by the diocese. The first hostel we saw was very basic indeed and needs a huge amount of work – a five-year project, perhaps.  The second was built as one of the Nargis shelters after the cyclone in 2008 and needs only a little upgrading, especially to the dining room.  Help, trustees!

Cyclone Nargis happened in May 2008.  An extremely severe tropical storm raged for more than two days and devastated large swathes of the Ayeyerwady (Irrawaddy) Delta.  The scandal for us is that, once weather satellites had seen the severity of the problem, UK and US sent aircrafts full of emergency aid but it was turned away from Yangon Airport by the Myanmar government.  Articles written at the time are utterly, utterly heartbreaking.  Registration of births was haphazard at the time so the population was not well measured but it is agreed that official statistics were grossly underestimated and it is thought that as many as three million people may have died due to the storm and from drowning, injuries, exposure, dehydration and starvation afterwards.  It is one of the reasons there are so many orphans in South West Myanmar.

So this preamble leads me to our 5am start on Saturday morning (poor young hotel staff who all sleep on the chairs in the reception area and have to jump to attention and open the door and gate when I set off on my early morning adventures).  Justin (MY driver now – LOL), Assumpta and Fr Peter arrived promptly and we set off south east towards Myaungmya, where the bridge is down and we had to cross by ferry to head down to Labutta.  We had breakfast just south of the ferry – bit of a tumbleweed moment there when I turned up; but a gorgeous Indian thali combo to eat! – before continuing first to the smaller hostel (Taung Paw Su) then the other at Labutta itself.  Lovely, lovely young people, many of them volunteering to care for others or working for very low wages.  I have promised to take the team to meet these gorgeous young people and show them our support in January.  I managed to get Fr Peter to agree to Paul (whom I have not seen this visit) and Assumpta supporting my teaching team in January while we were chatting.  Now I have it in writing, Fr P! 🙂  The journey was very beautiful actually and I saw more water buffalo, oxen, oxen ploughs and cattle than I have seen in all the time I have been in Myanmar.

The young people were mostly interested in school in the UK, interestingly.  How discipline is dealt with.  How children behave towards one another. What teaching is like.  How different it is from in Myanmar.  They liked it when I imitated a switched-off, truculent teen and said I had rarely seen this behaviour in Myanmar!  They sang me the national anthem, sung in school every day as in the USA, and I told them about the wedding of Harry and Meghan (though the staff were more interested than the girls).

We were back in Pathein for around 2 which allowed for some sleep before a quiet dinner and – yes, you’ve got it, how did you guess – a bottle of beer or two!  It’s very rehydrating!

Sunday, 24th June 2018

Mass at the cathedral at 7.  I was tired.  It was hot and the service was long…. I really needed the bottle of water I took with me.  I have now discovered there is a 5pm service on a Sunday too.  Nobody told me THAT!  On the huge upside I got to see some of our beloved pre-postulants and aspirants.  I went to visit my Myanmar daughter Ay Si Na who is now a very happy, blossoming pre-postulant of one month!  She was surrounded by friends and seems in the most content of places, smiling and making jokes.  So, so pleased because there is no way of me being in touch from visit to visit.  They are not permitted to have phones.  I have tried writing and sending parcels but none has reached her.  I pray for her and she prays for me so we have to be happy with that.  What disappointed me was that, if I had been able to get up on that first morning instead of turning off my alarm, I would have discovered that Ay Si Na was one of the pre-postulants who goes to the Orphanage to serve at Mass and read the epistle.  🙁 

I also met Patricia, friend of Hazel, the first of us Scots teachers to go to Pathein and will send her photograph to her when I get home.

Becky and I had made an arrangement that I would go and see her apartment.  One of my ideas for the fairly long-term future is to put in place a gap year student and I would want to go to stay in Pathein for some months myself to put those arrangements in place.  Fr H and Fr P and I talked about this possibility on Wednesday and would be pleased if I can secure funding to make this happen.

Becky’s apartment is on the main drag into Pathein and is unfurnished but light and airy.  She generously showed me around and talked about the advantages and pitfalls.  Oh and just prior to this, I wandered into the new Swen hotel almost opposite, asking to be shown their rooms.  Do you know, they are fine, much swankier toilets etc, but at the end of the day they are just hotel rooms and they cost double our comfortable, well-placed rooms at La Pyae Wun.

Becky and I went to La Pyae Wun to meet Anne who had been working since early and she took us by motorbike to her home which is sort of near the cathedral towards the river.  To my utter enchantment, we pulled off into a secret kind of indoor courtyard and Albert’s home is in a secret hidden garden just off that.  Albert’s wife Freda had been cooking all morning for our visit.  Guess what?  Pennywort and peanut salad and mango plus the most fabulous mango pickle, of all of which I had about four helpings!  Also lovely vegetarian soup and a meat dish for Becky.  SO kind and thoughtful.  We ate … and ate … and then sat chatting and laughing on their peaceful, tranquil verandah with the birds and the butterflies around us and a little cat hunting in the shadows.  Freda served us coffee and Albert phoned to check we were ok – he had had to go away to work unexpectedly.  We were truly in heaven.  The hospitality was truly stellar.

I said goodbye to lovely Becky at the hotel, promising to keep in touch, and started to … pack.  Can you believe it?  Tomorrow my personal driver (!) will pick us up at 6 and we will head straight to Yangon after delivering some training to the teachers at PKG.

in the evening, though, I met the wonderful, the delightful Kyu Kyu Mwe who has never been our student but who resides at the Social Centre while doing her Physics degree at Pathein University.  I don’t really know how we became friends over the years but she has always been there, helping and being her own sweet self.  She has represented the Ayeyerwady Division at the National Swimming Competition over the last few days – what a star!   It was great to see her.  We talked and walked and had dinner at Cafe Cafe and … she intends to join our teaching fortnight with six friends this January.  You are so welcome to do that, dear girl.  I needed her to translate some receipts from January for me and we did that little bit of work before walking to the Floating Market and then saying goodbye.  See you on Facebook, she said!  😀  Mwah!  Thank you for your lovely gifts.  Too much!

Monday, 25th June 2018

Short clip of our journey to PKG.

How do we go to Grandma’s House – Mary sings the tune for Justin and David to translate 😀

And the remix with the rain still pelting down in the background 😀 😀 😀

Justin, Anne and Justin’s student David picked me up in Fr Peter’s car at 6am.  We squished up to let Emily, one of PKG’s teachers, jump in and had breakfast at the new cafe near the road down to Kangyidaung.  I ate this time and the egg fried rice was quite delicious, as was the coffee.  The clouds were really threatening and by the time we reached the port it was pretty wet.  Emily bought us fetching green sheets of plastic which we tied round our necks, Little Red Riding Hood style.  Long boats full of high school children glided into port, disgorging pupils who all dashed in the direction of class trying to keep dry.

We precariously climbed into the narrowest of boats and the wee old man steered while his wife steadily and, I think, quite deliberately while chewing betel leaves, baled large amounts of water from the bottom of the boat onto my trousers, occasionally spitting red betel juice into the plastic scoop she was using to bale before tipping it out. (Thankfully none of that was spilled onto me.  It’s so disgusting – cannot get my head around the habit of chewing betel leaves.  Who would want red teeth and rotting gums to get a bit of a high?)  He shouted at me a few times as we headed upriver and we never did find out why.  Anne thinks he wanted me to untie the plastic sheeting from round my neck in case we capsized and it pulled me under the water.  What a cheery thought!  Maybe his wife was soaking my trousers so I would be heavier and not fall in!

It took a while to get organised at the school but eventually we used a classroom in the main school building.  I talked to them about early language skills, about the importance of talking to children, of listening to them and of exercises to help all of that.  We sang.  We wrote simple stories.  I talked about simple means of record-keeping to show children’s progress.  Anne was incredibly good at translating.  I think it helps that she is a trained teacher and so none of the concepts are alien to her.  Next time I would like to do a revision of what we covered and then go on to talk about reading and writing which we really just touched upon.  Lastly I took questions.  Firstly, do we still have Queen Elizabeth II?! Secondly what are the names of the other members of the Royal Family?!  I showed them a picture of Harry and Meghan’s wedding on my phone and talked about how happy I am that our Royal Family now includes someone whose mother is not white and who is passionate about helping others.  Then I asked if anyone had a question about teaching and we all laughed!

Oh, and I’ve never had any class or in-service work interrupted by a baby being brought to be nursed by his mum before!  ADORABLE!

We returned to the ECCD school and had a further chat about some minor issues there which I will pass onto KMSS.  Such lovely staff and volunteers – they are all doing a great job.

Planning to return and just be with the children after their lunch, we headed away round the village, taking the long way round to Mary Joseph’s house.  I reckon we walked about half a mile with no problem and then, just as I left the path, I slipped off a log and splat!,  landed on my back like a sort of beached whale in the mud with my bag quietly sinking beside me.  I lay back and laughed and laughed.  It must have looked hilarious!  My first thought was for my phone but Justin had it.  He and David were trying to translate the song, How will get to Grandma’s House into Burmese and I had recorded the tune for him.  Such a sweet pair!  

Mary Joseph lent me a longyi and we rinsed out my trousers and bag.  Again we had the most sumptuous lunch – more pennywort salad and more mango <3 <3 <3.  I tell you it’s dangerous to admit you like something to eat to these lovely people – and we talked about life and love and anything really. Another beautiful house like Albert and Freda’s – so comfortable and tranquil.  Soon the boys went and lay down and then Anne got a mat and she and I lay down.  Goodbye to the idea of going back to the school.  I was gone for a couple of hours in what I can truthfully say was the best, most peaceful sleep I have had since I came to Myanmar this time with the sounds of the forest lulling me gently.  I woke to Anne and her aunt and their friends lying in a star shape with their heads together on the floor looking at all the photos on her phone – so gorgeous!  

The boat, wider and more comfortable and no trouser-soaking this time, came almost into the village into the Buddhist temple and we motored through the flooded meadow to the main river.  On the way back I wondered if we should go back to Pathein with Anne rather than head to Yangon at this late hour.  Though I had checked out of the hotel this morning I could ask for another room, Justin could pick me up early next morning and he would be much fresher to drive to Yangon in the morning light.  Tragically one of the KMSS drivers had been killed in an accident the previous week – 22 years old.  Fr Peter kindly agreed to this new plan.  I checked back into La Pyae Wun – I’m back! – and Anne and I had a pleasant dinner before saying goodbye.  She has given my a lovely longyi which ties and which went perfectly with the blouse I was wearing.

And so my story is nearly ended.  Justin and David took me to Yangon the next morning and actually super-driver Justin deserves a special mention here, helping at every turn and joining in with everything, talking about his family, making it all good fun.  Just as I would drift off thinking of this and that in the car – he would glance in the mirror, saying Mary!  And ask me some question or other.  One of the more memorable of these was about how he liked Simon Cowell and did I?  (Myanmar Pop Idol is big here.) I said I thought he was a good judge but no actually I didn’t.  He is very, very rich but there is no sign of him giving money to the poor and also he went off with his best friend’s wife and had a baby with her and also he had had lots and lots of plastic surgery on his face because he is so vain.  Ok, he said.  Now I hate him! LOL!

Quick mention in despatches too to Sheila Laing’s (and now my) friend Orng, who has an award-winning restaurant in Yangon – see .  No time to see him this time because of the change of plans but next time for sure!

Good to talk to Medard, Anna and Jeffrey by phone/messenger.  Sorry not to catch up with you this time, everyone else including Charles Bo and Aung Ling Htang.  Forgive me if I’ve missed anyone.

Roll on, next January.