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  Yangon  |  26.05.2008
 
 

Apparently last night I was talking a lot in my sleep! As Lesh and Manuel sat round chatting I would occasionally try and join in - and Manuel would lean forward straining to hear what I was saying...only to find I would stop mumbling half way and start snoring hahahahaha! I managed to get a good nights sleep surprisingly last night, though that may be due in part to the night nurse that I took!  Normally a night nurse will knock me out for most of the next morning too or at least make me groggy..so I was surprised when I was the one to hear the knock at the door at 8:30am (especially since I had my ear plugs in!) I jabbed Lesh in the ribs as a sign to open the door and the guy must have been very surpirsed to see Lesh's half asleep face instead of Manuels! Probably even more surprised to see me and my poufy morning hair do sprawled on the lounge floor on a matress! The guy at the door was a little angel sent from Heaven called Jyotish... let me exlain why I call him an angel......

Jyotish is a Swedish guy who has been living in Burma for the last 4 years.  (dont be fooled by the name - Jyotish is his Burmese nickname) Jyotish has been working the last couple of years as an english teacher and as an administrator for a school in Thanlyin which is about 30km South of Yangon. Thanlyin was badly affected by Nargis and in the village 47 homes were completely destroyed along with the school canteen. Luckily the school was made of solid concrete foundations and survived the strong winds. So now, Jyotish is co-ordinating the clear up and repair of the homes and school in this village. He has been given an initial fund of $5000 usd from the Swedish embassy to start repairs and a food programme. The school has not really been functioning as a school as such for the last 3 weeks but more as a congregation place where displaced families go to as their homes have been destroyed. Jyotish aims to get teachers in place so that classes can begin again and he needs volunteers to help start the building work that needs to be done. Initially food programmes will be offered, so he needs volunteers to help in makeshift kitchens but long term he wants to help the local people grow their own produce so they can sustain themselves in the future. As Jyotish explained all this to me and Lesh we just sat there mouths probably open wide enough for a train to pass through....all this time we have

been asking and asking anyone who will hear us about how we can help and always it is the same answer, no, no, no...and now here is some one who knocks on the door and says "I needs helpers...." just like that. Honestly, talk about everything happening for a reason. If we'd have stayed at Manuels that first night when we missed each other by 5 minutes, we would have stayed a few nights and then said goodbye and have been half way to Mandalay by now....except we didn't stay that night...we stayed last night instead...and now here is Angel Jyotish asking if we'd like to help. Well I am itching to go and just about ready to jump up and get ready until Lesh points out that I can't jump up anywhere as I am still elephant woman :( we explain to Jyotish that I have some mystery illness which is making my feet swell up and he makes us feel better by saying that today is just the initial assessment day. They are going to work out what needs to be done and how much materials they need etc ect so its better if I go and get myself sorted out first at the doctors as there will still be plenty to do over the next coming weeks. I feel better at that but I'm still a bit sad when we wave good bye to Manuel and Jyotish as they leave for the village.

After breakfast me and Lesh make our way back to the doctors. My legs are still swollen but nowhere near as bad as last night. The friendly doctor is as thorough as last time and asks more questions. In the end he asks me to take a blood test as he suspects that I have bacterial arthritis which is basically where you get arthritic symptoms in your joints due to a bacterial infection (ie the tooth ache I had in Bangkok.) Just hearing the word arthritis freaks me out but the test results tomorrow will confirm or squash his theory. So after having blood taken which I hated and of course I had a little weep about... I went and consoled myself with a 3 hour internet session in which I got to talk to my mum for quite a while. Its no consolation for having her here and wiping my weary brow but I suppose its the best we can do in the circumstances :(  

We got back to the flat and met up with Manuel at 5pm. He had had a long day at the village helping out. He said there was a lot of work that needed to be done but they were still in the organising stages at the moment...assessing which houses needed what etc etc. The depressing news was that the roofing materials that are needed have gone up 3 times in price since the cyclone as this is the most common material in demand...plus it is monsoon season so it always goes up in price this time of year anyway. Manuel said he had helped to build a water catchment area which collects rain water, otherwise they would need to pump water in from somewhere else and none of the pumps were working. It sounded like he had had a productive day and he was full of talk of learning from others how to build a bamboo structure which I know would have made Lesh itching to get to the village soon!

Manuel confided to us that he had actually invited 4 of his ex work colleagues to his flat tonight for dinner, on the promise that he would cook them his famous spaghetti. Both me and Lesh were wondering where the shopping ingredients were (cos they certainly were not in the kitchen) and why he was not busy chopping away and getting the ball rolling. To which Mauel replied that he wasn't sure if they were going to remember to come and he didn't want to start in case they didn't. However, sure enough not 15 minutes later the door bell chimed and 4 hungry ex colleagues walked in wondering why they could not smell the wonderful spaghetti aromas! Manuel did the quick introductions and then asked "who wants to come the supermarket with me and help me buy the ingredients?" Of course Lesh volunteers and the other male in the group JoJo goes with them while I stay back with the 2 girls from the group. My feet have started to balloon up again and I am taking on the elephant woman persona right in front of their eyes but they don't seem distressed and start to interrogate me on my life story.  
When the boys get back Manuel knocks up an Italian salad for starters which we all tuck into and enjoy. Now considering Manuel only has one electric ring in which to cook with, I would have presumed that as he was preparing the salad he would have been boiling the water with the tomatoes in it... but Manuel is a guy, therefore multi tasking is not really in his vocabulary and so he only starts the napoli sauce once the starter is devoured. Unfortunately the water takes approximately 25 minutes to start boiling with the tomatoes...so only then can he start to make his sauce. With that completed he then return the pan to the boil for the spaghetti which also take another 20 minutes to get to boiling and then 20 minutes to cook hahaha....by he time everything is ready it after 9pm! But to be fair the food tastes great and it was worth waiting for.

As Manuel takes charge in the kitchen his friends tell me about the trip to the Delta area that they came back from at just 2am this morning! Basically a group of 11 of them from the travel agency where they work went out to distribute aid  in the Delta.  The aid money had been collected from clients over the past 3 weeks and they made 5 stops to desperate villages in the Delta to distribute food. They had over 500 pictures which they had taken over the weekend which were amazing but harrowing to look at. The devastation in this area is almost too much to comprehend and in a lot of their pictures there were dead bodies strewn everywhere. In most of the pictures they were wearing surgical masks as they said the stench from the dead bodies was overbearing. As a group they had taken a truck down to Bogale where they had spent the night. Then the next day they bought supplies in Bogale market, loaded them up into a boat they hired and then took a local guide to show them villages who were most in need of their supplies. The supplies they had bought were 70 x 25kg sacks of rice, plus many sacks of potatos, onions, garlic, chilis, oil, candles, lighters, bottles of water, longyi's. Just basic things but very much in need. One of the villages they went to had not had any food for the last 5 days - they had literally starved for 5 days until their boat had arrived. To see how happy their faces were on the photos as they waved thank you and good bye to their life savers it really bought a lump in my throat. They said that in one village there used to be 1000 people and now there was only 150 left...most of them men...only a few women. Not a single family had managed to remain whole, everyone had lost someone. The reason why it was mainly men is because they had been without food and shelter under 12 foot of dirty stinking water also for 5 days and many of the women and children were just not as strong as the men to survive these conditions...these people were still bathing in water with dead bodies around them. No attempt had been made to help them clear the dead bodies...in fact the military had told them that no help would be coming and they would have to do this job by themselves. As they told us these stories we have shocked looks on our faces while our story tellers looked unfazed by it all - but I can't help but think that seeing these scenes will have had a much deeper impact on them than they are really willing to let show in public. I think it is amazing the work they have done and it is really making a difference to real people but I know that they will be deeply affected by what they see and luxuries such as councelling will not available to them to help them cope in the aftermath. Still...they have an even bigger mission planned for next weekend. They plan to distibute aid in Labutta which is deeper out in the Delta and where even more people have not received any aid never mind nothing in the last 5 days. I can't imagine what they will see there but I know it will be a hundred times more shocking than the pictures they showed us tonight. I just thank God that there are people like them who are willing to give up their own time to go and help in this way.
 
 
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