Here’s a quick update on my time Myanmar (which is quickly coming to an end, for now). Two weeks ago I shared some pictures from my first several days in the country. Since then I have started to do some pretesting for a questionnaire I will be developing on the economics of hope in rural Myanmar. I have hope (hope 2) that this will be able to contribute to my masters thesis.
More on that will be discussed and shared later. For now, I’d like to share some pictures.
Friends and family will be happy to know I am safely in Mawlamyine, where I will be living and working for the next three(ish) weeks. I have yet to really get in the trenches with work so for now I’ll share some pictures of Mawlamyine.
Mawlamyine is the capital of Mon State (the region MDRI, IFPRI, and MSU are administering a survey representative of the entire region) and the former capital of Burma when the British ran everything. In that time, Mawlamyine was called “Little England” because of all the British who lived here. The city’s claim to fame in popular culture is being referenced to by two famous authors. Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Mandalay” opens with the stanza:
By the old Moulmein pagoda
Lookin’ lazy at the sea
There’s a Burma girl a-settin
‘and I know she thinks o’ me.
George Orwell, Author of “Burmese Days” began his famous essay “Shooting an Elephant” with the striking passage:
In Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people—the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me
I was able to go for a run through town this evening and took some pictures. This is the third country (not counting the United States) where I’ve lived/worked that was colonized by the British. Notice how European it looks in places yet remains distinctly Southeast Asian:
Anyone who has spent significant time in more than one place knows that the moment you leave home; you never return. Sure you almost certainly may physically go back home but it will be different. With experience of life in a different place comes the fragmenting of your conceptualization of “home”. I’ve tried to define “home” before, but because I want to discuss something different here I won’t get caught up in semantics.
First, to get this elephant of an issue out of the way, the title of Pippa’s piece is grossly misleading. “Little White Girls (and Boys)” is essentially used as a proxy for rich young do-gooder travelers. The assumption that these two characteristics are synonymous is categorically untenable and unjustifiably wrong.
While running down the main street in Kitale I run past the grocery market, past the piles of used clothes, past the lumberyard, and towards the coffee shop with wifi that just closed last week. A young man starts to run beside me. He begins talking to me in Swahili. This is pointless for two reasons. One, I’m running and really not in the position or mood to strike up a conversation. Two, the chances of me, a young, wide-eyed, muzungu knowing Swahili at a conversational level is almost statistically insignificant. Kenya has two national languages, Swahili and English. This makes the incentive to learn Swahili, past polite greetings for an English-speaking foreigner, very little.
In just over a month I will embark on a life changing experience. Ok, I must pause for just a moment, I don’t like framing the next year in my life in this sort of fantastic way. As if every moment of every day, even the most monotonous, are not life changing. To call the next year of my life explicitly life changing, is not fair to all the other seemingly unnoticed life changing moments and experiences in every day life. (This, I think, is one of the points that David Foster Wallace was getting at in the video in my last blog post.) It seems however, to be a better option than beginning, “In less than a month I will begin a perfectly normal, average year of of my life”.
The facts remain. I am going to be spending the next year of my life, living and working in Kenya. It will be the first year since the 1993 fiscal year that I will not be an enrolled student. For the first time in my life I will be geographically distant from all of my friends and family. (To date, I only know two people who I will be working with in Kenya.) I will be applying the education I’ve already had and continually adding on to it. And this next year will indeed be life changing, just like every year up to this year has been life changing.
I am here! In Accra. At the University of Ghana. I have been adjusting and getting acclimated the past couple days. It has been very fun! And I am very excited about the upcoming semester and the adventures I will experience. I decided to keep a travel log about my few days of travel to Ghana. Over the coming 4 months I will be taking classes at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana at Legon three days per week. The other two week days I will be volunteering at the Hopeline Institute researching the make up and characteristics of medium sized businesses in developing countries, specifically in Ghana.
The inspiration for this post comes from Bill Simmons and his annual NBA Draft Diaries.