Lent 2015 Myanmar: Eleven things I learned about life in the jungle

Villagers in Myanmar
Villagers in a jungle village in Myanmar

Our Fundraising Writer Mark Chamberlain visited Myanmar in 2014 to learn about the effects of storms and extreme weather. Myanmar is the focus for this year’s CAFOD Lent appeal which is being match funded by the UK government.

In June last year, I was lucky enough to spend some time with U Than Win, Martin, Kyin Nu, Zin Thu Thu and U Win Myi the fisherman in Myanmar. While staying in their communities, I kept a diary and made a list of points about surviving the jungle. Here are eleven things I learned:

1. Footwear is essential. No matter how hot it is and how liberating the sensation of the jungle floor on your bare feet is, don’t be tempted to walk around without protection. The jungle is alive with spiders, snakes and the intimidating ‘scorpion king’. Bites can be lethal because both communities were are a long way from a hospital.

2. The ‘scorpion king’ is a giant centipede. It won’t kill if it bites, but it will hurt. A lot. Make sure you move your bed away from a wall if you are near one – this is so it doesn’t creep into bed with you for a snooze.

3. Watch any light at night. I was told that the scorpion king doesn’t like light. However, rather than run away from it, it will attack.

4. In amongst the roofs of village homes lives a lizard that the locals call ‘Taut-té’. It’s named after its distinctive call. The lizard eats insects and other bugs, but legend has it that if Taut-té bites you, it will take a bolt of lightning to remove the lizard from your arm.

Golden-orbed weaver spider
Golden-orbed weaver spider in a village in Myanmar

5. The golden-orb weaver spider lives in the jungle. I saw one up close – the exact one in the picture. They aren’t dangerous to humans; a bite will hurt, swell and redden. However, the spiders look mean: see the skull decal of one whose web I narrowly avoided walking into.

6. Rice is the staple in the country. Often eaten with every meal and with the hand. When rice paddies become flooded, the country’s harvest is affected and so the diet of the people is impacted. To get an idea of the importance of rice for the people of Myanmar, imagine going without bread, chips or potatoes for a week.

7. Everyone in the jungle gets up early every day of the week. Many people will wake at around 5am or earlier if they go to Mass. Then they will work – either fishing, on the farm or at home. The sun goes down at just after six when most people would be at home. If there is enough money in the community, they will pool some cash to buy oil to run a generator so they can have light at night.

8. And while everyone in the jungle sleeps early and gets up early, everything that lives in the jungle wakes up late and goes to sleep late. Once the sun goes down and any light goes out, everything that lives in the jungle comes out. Not only does it come out, it announces that it is out very loud and it does that all night. Turn on a torch or a small alarm and any bugs from a 100km radius will hone in on you. The jungle also never has a night off. The frogs will croak, the crickets sing, the lizards call, all night, every night. And when it rains, everything sings just a little bit louder because it’s so happy the rain has come.

9. In the communities I visited, village leaders earned the least money. There is no pay. This meant that not only was the leader quite poor, but so was his family. With this lifestyle, they show true leadership: serving others.

10. Vegetarianism is not the norm. While not unheard of, it wasn’t widespread in the two communities I lived in. In fact, I was the only person who didn’t eat meat or fish. The description of vegetarian food is ‘thatalo’, which means ‘lifeless’. This was a word I heard a lot when I ate.

Martin from Myanmar
Martin, 12, from Myanmar wearing thanaka

11. In many pictures of children, young people and women, you’ll see them wearing a cream-coloured paste. This is called ‘thanaka’. It’s made by grinding scented wood like sandalwood, on a pumice stone with water to make a paste. This is then applied to the face. The paste is scented so smells great, it also can be made into patterns, so is fun, but also acts as a basic sunblock. Useful, seeing as when I was there, temperatures reached around 42C (107F).

Find out more about CAFOD’s Lent 2015 appeal. Visit our website for Primary school Lent resources focussing on the story of eight year old Zin Thu Thu and resources and stories about 12 year old Martin for secondary school children.

We also have resources and advice to help you fundraise in your parish this Lent Fast Day.

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *