A Trip to Thethi

23 Aug

This is Thethi (pronounce with English th) in the Albanian Alpes and it could easily be one of the most secluded places I’ve ever been to. No restaurants, no shops, not even to buy souvenirs or postcards, and … NO TRAFFIC …

DSCN8041

How come? Infrastructure! This is a bridge!

DSCN8043

How do you get to a place  like that?

Once you have made your booking at a B&B-agriturism-homestay you get contacted (e-mailed, whatsapped) by someone who lets you know that he might be about the only person who can take you to Thethi from the town of Shkoder (for the unalbanian price of 40 €), he has got a four-wheel-drive whereas normal cabs either won’t go there at all or will charge more than twice as much (plus you might have to pay for a broken axle). Whatever the price, you better believe it and make a reservation.

The driver is punctual at the meeting point in Shkoder, except then he asks you, could we give a lift to a friend of his? Now, as a traveller in a “struggling” country you can’t be tight, you gotta be generous. Okay, we go and get his friend, who says he wants to take his son, too, but they need some time to get ready. Okay fine, we’re on holiday, we are not in a hurry, we want to get to know the people … The driver invites us to a coffee. We start chatting: he has two little daughters, his wife, he tells us, speaks Italian much better than him. She needs it for her work, telemarketing. Cool, I think and then it dawns on me, is she one of those persons that phone us at any time of day to sell whatever …  with us trying very hard not to shut her up too rudely? … The guy says, her job is not nice because the people she calls don’t like that and yell at her and offend her … She works 4 hours a day and earns 100€ a month. The downside of capitalism, I comment but our driver says, in capitalism, if you don’t like it you quit, under Enver Hoxha’s communism you had to do the job you were told to.

We go and pick up the other passenger and his son, we get to know the family, the women stay home. It turns out another two passenger friends are coming along ,too. It’s getting crowded. In town we stop a couple of times to pick up some tomatoes and other veggies, two bottles with … water … Sure, I think, you can’t travel without water. We leave the town two hours late.  In the mountains the road becomes a narrow, untarred, rough lane, rocks on one side, precipice on the other. After having lost so much time waiting in Shkoder, now the driver doesn’t lose a second. I concentrate on the view.

DSCN8036

Somewhere we stop and get loaded onto another 4-wheel-drive. Different car, different driver, no explanation in a language that we understand. Off we go, and … stop again, the  boy runs back to the other car, they have forgotten their bottles. “Oh your water,” I say in my naivety. Everybody laughs. They open one of the bottles and make me smell it. It’s Raki and they start drinking (maybe to forget the precipice on one side and the rocks on the other). The driver doesn’t drink, he is busy on his cell phone, conscientiously keeping one hand on the steering wheel (thank God). Seatbelts aren’t working. Does the word “unrelaxed” exist? I start chatting with the boy who studies English and German at school. For the moment he prefers English.

One of my fears materializes when a car comes from the opposite direction. To make it clear that he won’t yield our driver accelerates a little and comes to a halt only half an inch away from the other vehicle. Both drivers start shouting at each other. The rule would be, the other car, coming uphill, should recede. Never mind the rules, they shout, with their heads bent forward like gamecocks, our driver turns the engine off.

Me: “Oh take it easy, calm down” in Italian. The raki drinking guy behind me whose Italian seems to be improving after a couple of gulps, laughs: “Don’t worry, they are colleagues.”

Our driver, to show he has no intention to solve the issue, takes a pack of cigarettes, gets off the car, the other driver, too, they go back up the road where we have come from.  They won’t fight, I think, the road is far too narrow for that. In the end it’s our driver who gives in (I mean, is that so difficult to be a wise man instead of being a fool?)

Later, when we pass by a burnt down house, the boy tells me that the family that lived there had quarrelled with another family who then decided to torch their foes’ house and even their car in the city (Shkoder) and finally the family who lost the battle had to leave the area. “Woow,” I think,  having read about feuds and blood feuds and never believing they could still be in practice. No problems for tourists as long as they keep clear of quarrels between locals.

We get to our destination.

DSCN8038

This is the place where you get: best breakfast, best lunch, best dinner. Best byrek (a pie stuffed with veggies and feta cheese), chicken drumsticks so big you think they were not just free-range they were athletes. All topped off with fresh onions, tomatoes, tzatziki and always oven-fresh bread. The landlady, never to be seen without her babushka head-kerchief, is boss. She does the cooking, housekeeping, accounting. Her husband comes in from the fields in the evening, sticks his pitchfork into a flowerbed and disappears. She speaks Albanian and employs two students from Durres who speak the other languages. The girl has learnt Italian just by watching tv from her childhood days onwards (good news for foreign language teachers!). Just chatting we tell her how much we paid for the trip to Thethi. She tells the landlady, an animated discussion follows, they phone someone and the argument continues (heating up even) on the phone. In the end we are informed that on our way back we are going to pay 20€. That’s ok.

There is a certificate hanging on the dining room wall, it says our landlady’s name and the only other words I understand are “United Nations and Women Empowerment”. They have done a pretty good job here.

Magic Thethi: lonesome walks

DSCN8052

Who the h.ll  is this lonesome traveler? The Italian again? (I suppose you are all familiar with “Where the hell is Matt?” No? see YouTube)

Awsome views:

DSCN8065

 On those lonesome hikes you’ll meet bears, wolves and lynx, I thought, but no! These are goats, of the kind that at a certain hour they just gather together and go home (tame, domestic, unexciting), nicely camouflaged among the rocks.

DSCN8046

And of course, where would mankind be without …

DSCN8057

… rubble dumped in the wild! On the right: hundreds of goat skins (no hiding place for the poor beasts!), back left: pillbox peeping out from the rocks, back right: the Italian tourist (probably musing about what the heck could have caused the invasion paranoia of Albania’s one time leader).

DSCN8059

On our way back I have the occasion to take pictures along the road.

Not an omen:

DSCN8068

This is a slope, not a precipice

DSCN8072

The travelers are: an Albanian-Kosovarian from Switzerland who speaks Albanian (and English and almost all the Swiss languages, on the picture talking to the driver) and his Swiss girlfriend (white trousers) who speaks German among many other languages, a young couple from Novosibirsk (next to the vehicle), their English is very good and the girl understands German, too (I’m so happy these kids can travel nowadays like everybody else), an Italian who understands a couple of languages except Albanian, an Albanian driver (striped t-shirt) who understands and speaks Albanian and my humble self who gets a bit mixed up talking to all of them except for the Albanian-only speaking driver …

DSCN8075

Where the h.ll is the Italian?

The Swiss lady tells me that the Germans (GIZ German Society for International Cooperation) are constructing the road to Thethi now. That’s a good idea, development comes with better infrastructure and …

DSCN8073

… of course, Germans don’t like bad roads.

Cheers

Gerburg

Kruja is a must

14 Aug

Just to become familiar with travelling in Albania a daytrip from Tirana to Kruja (statue, bazaar, fortress) is a good start. You wouldn’t believe it but it’s a most historical place:

DSCN7969

 

this is where the great Skanderbeg (pronounce slightly Skanderbey) stopped the Ottomans for about 25 years, ten years after his death the besieged inhabitants surrendered, got  killed and the women enslaved (a kind of ISIS at the time).

DSCN7966

A magnificent statue of Skanderbeg! You can spot the two horns on top of his helmet. His helmet was adorned with a ram head, eloquent sign of virility, power, divineness – what it means here: an allusion to Alexander the Great, the two-horned-one, Iskander, his Ottoman name … Skanderbeg means Lord (bey) Alexander, see the connection? The real helmet and huge,heavy sword of the 15th century hero are in Vienna (Kunsthistorisches Museum), because the Viennese also know something about the Ottomans.

DSCN7970

Beautiful ancient bazaar (here with an Italian tourist … gee, they are everywhere!). This ancient shopping mall had already sunk into oblivion and was SAVED and reconstructed, guess by whom? Enver! one point for him (never say never). Cross the bazar, you can buy everything there, from blouses, to wood carvings, carpets and ancient tools, but then you have to carry them. Buy a small pill-box to be used as an ashtray (how fitting, a bunker with ashes inside!), good quality and a real souvenir. Do you think my taste would be bad enough as to buy one?

Sure!

DSCN8886

Go up, up, up (wear good shoes on cobblestone!) and you reach the fortress. Is that the medieval fortress you expect to see?                  m e d i e v a l ? or neobyzantine-fascio-comunist-modernism?

DSCN7995

Wild guess who ‘architected’ this; right! Pranvera Hoxha, Enver’s daughter; remember the pyramid? The building hosts the Skanderbeg Museum. When buying the entrance ticket you are informed ‘no taking pictures inside the museum’. Okay, rules are … Then you observe Albanian families flock into the museum teaching their children about their history and their culture and all of a sudden in their boundless enthusiasm they start putting their children on the thrones to take pictures of them, so I felt free to sneak out a few photos for myself.

heroes

DSCN7976

battles

DSCN7980

thrones (without children)

DSCN7982

 

This is what’s left of the ancient castle (in front the Italian tourist, again)

DSCN7993 DSCN7984

 

The National Ethnographic Museum (you find National Ethnographic Museums everywhere and they are usually Ottoman villas)

beautiful entrance

DSCN7998

        the ladies’ quarters

DSCN8007

comfy living room (for the men and their guests)

DSCN8010

 bedroom (I guess)

     DSCN8018

And after visiting this wordly Ottoman villa  a more mystical site attracts my attention:

a Bektashi cemetary

DSCN8028

Bektashi tombs

DSCN8024

and a millennium olive tree

DSCN8027

Bektashism is a kind of Sufi order but I don’t want to bore you =I can’t explain, you may have to look that up yourself. One thing I can say is the man who was on guard at the tombs was extremely reserved, modest, friendly, calm … all a result of training oneself to acquire praiseworthy traits? Albanians on the whole are really very friendly people

and who knows where all those prejudices that I hear come from?

DSCN8020

More about that next time

cheers

Gerburg

Greetings from around the corner

7 Aug

Summer holidays again and I think of all the letters I wanted to write and the pictures I didn’t send last year:

Yucatan, huge, well restored  pyramids with unpronouncable names, the hot, humid jungle with still to be excavated pyramids, grim looking Mexican policemen who stop buses and check on pale, blond tourists and stern dark local travellers, San Cristòbal de las Casas in Chiapas (Zapatista country with their (not so) secret signs the green crosses), Mexico City, its archeological area of the Templo Mayor with sad remnants of the conquistadores’ will to destroy Aztec grandiosity (Tenochtitlan) and to put their own church in its place (Metropolitan Church, bombastic), Frida Kahlo’s enchanting home and Diego Rivera’s socio-critical murals, culture keen Mexicans and their pride of their European and American heritage, colourfully clad Maya women who sell beautiful embroidery.

California and Oregon: the Oregon Trail and its historical museums (and I remembered all the teen-saturday nights I didn’t go out because I was so hooked on western movies), the Sierra Nevada, gold mining towns, wild bears and their appetite for processed food, fabulous Yosemite and uncontrollable wildfires, San Francisco, Monterey and Cannery Row, gambling in Reno and many more. Most importantly, I wanted to tell you about American hospitality and cuisine with roast beef cowboy style and homemade gingersnaps, Mexican-American casseroles, Italian-Californian restaurants so generous the doggy bags make up for another meal …

This year’s plan: get to know a next door neighbour and not go broke on a cup of coffee (so that neighbour wouldn’t be Switzerland), a place where the locals are not outnumbered by tourists and tourists are human beings …

Greetings from Albania, land of the Shqipetars,  sons of eagles.

DSCN8700

If you are German: remember Karl May, end of 19th beginning 20th century, popular German writer of adventure novels like “Through the Land of the Shqitpetars”, with the famous protagonists Kara Ben Nemsi and Hadschi Halef Omar? Fascinating! But … I’m not badmouthing him, if I say… for more reliable information about the country and its history read Ismail Kadare, Albania’s most famous writer (translated into 40 languages).

Why Albania? What’s there to see? (my friends were perplexed)

Tirana

Look at this mosaic mural entitled “The Albanians” probably featuring all national heroes (not fallen in disgrace later) from Illyrian times to today (Skanderbeg Square, Tirana, facade of National History Museum)

DSCN7953

Also on the square, a statue of the great Skanderbeg, 15th century hero, who fought at first for and later against the Ottoman empire, and brought their expansian to a halt, temporarily.

This is not a good picture of his statue, but you can see how big the square is.

DSCN7958

What is not there to see anymore is the gigantic (10 m high) statue of Enver Hoxha (pronounce hoʤa). Remember Stalin’s, Mao’s, Pol Pot’s little cousin? I used to think he was a boy scout compared to them, but he did his best to come up to their standard and for the people who were tortured or killed by Hoxha’s Sigurimi (a kind of Stasi, KGB, Securitate) it didn’t make a difference who was worse in the end. Under him the death penalty was brought down to the age of 11 years, and was applied for offenses it would make a sharia law advocate go pale. Enver’s effigy was pulled down in 1991 by a freedom hungry mob and inscriptions for example on mountains (ENVER) were changed to “NEVER”. I took a picture of that but the word didn’t come out, too far away.

How did the Albanians get to know about the outside world? They secretly listened to Adriano Celentano, Toto Cotugno, Al Bano, that’s how they learned Italian, even more secretly they watched Italian television (under Enver you could be sent to an Albanian gulag or worse for that) and they still do, quite openly, because Mediaset (Berlusco owned) is still an exciting alternative to Albanian tv stations. Now most people speak Italian here, from basic up to excellent. Nessun problema. English is another option, more popular among the young.  Besides that people speak the language of the country they work(ed) in, so if you don’t know English or Italian and know Greek you get along, too. On the beach in Saranda I heard a German Albanian explain something about the beach chairs and umbrellas to a Polish couple in German. So any language goes.

The Euro is the widely accepted currency beside the Lek, you change your money for the little things like bus fare or ice cream.

Also on Skanderbeg Square there is a beautiful little mosque, part of the 5% religious buildings that survived the cultural revolution of 1966/7.

DSCN7960

Beautifully decorated inside (imagine what cultural heritage was lost – the destruction of it took place about 30 years before the Taliban blew up the Bamyan Buddhas. See, also Europeans have their little Talib inside).

20140718_104938

Albanians are easygoing on religion. Slightly more than 70% of the population are nominally muslims and slightly more than 70% are not practicing regularly.

When asked if we could enter the mosque the door keeper shook his head sideways, which made me laugh, because Massimo was already about to turn away in frustration, when I remembered, it means “yes”; they let me enter without telling me to cover my head, I had forgotten to bring a headscarf, to top it off I sat down in the wrong part, the one for the men, for a while and went upstairs later, when I realised …

Gee, they don’t make it easy for a woman to climb up to the ladies’ section of the mosque or do they just want the young ones?

DSCN7963

Signs in front of churches and mosques tell you to be decently dressed, but we saw (short) shorts on women and undershirts on men occasionally in some orthodox church. On the bus a woman wearing a niqap arouses more attention here than she would in Christian Europe.

Tirana otherwise for better or for worse is a modern city and you recognise housing built during real socialism, post-socialism … doityourselfism

DSCN8873

and for worst a pyramidical something built by Enver Hodxa’s daughter and her husband, as homage to big Daddy to host a museum about him …

20140718_123014

… now a ramshackle remnant of grandiosity …

A modern orthodox church, very modern, it’s predecessor was destroyed.

DSCN8868DSCN8867

 

After breaking with all his cousins near him and in the East and far East (Tito, Chrustchew, Mao) Hoxher withdrew from the world, locked his country in, became autark and autistic, distrustful not only of his fellow countrymen but of the outside world, and had 740 000 pillboxes of varying sizes built all over the country, one for three people on average, so they could hide and survive an attack by the East or the West (North, South …) and even save a goat or a sheep to have something to eat afterwards. (Don’t sneer! I remember times when in the West people were told to hold their briefcases over their heads in case they had to protect themselves from nuclear fall out).

20140718_124939

This is Bunker Park in Tirana, but you find these 5 tons, indestructable, nondisposable concrete and iron, little mushrooms in the mountains, at the seaside, in gardens, parks … When I had this foto taken I still thought I would have difficulties finding the other ones.

In Tirana do

what you do in big cities:

1 … see the monuments, museums, mosques (just one) churches (not many), go to the opera, to a nightclub, go to a restaurant (good and not expensive, a dinner for two with meat, veggies, chips, beer and whatnot costs like a pizza for one on the other side of the Adriatic, waiters are friendly and polyglott up to a certain point, if you don’t understand the explanation take your chances and order, it’ll taste good, no worries. The diet is mediterranean, with lots of olive oil and – eat tomatoes, they are real like they were in Italy some 45 years ago, you don’t find them anymore. ..

DSCN8604

2 … and do what Tiranans, actually what  Albanians do in all places: go for a stroll after 5 o’clock (less hot), stroll along the streets with your friends, family, on your own, sit in a café, have coffee with someone and chat chat chat … (even with your smartphone, like everywhere else).

My next letter tells you:

where you can go from Tirana, i. e. you can go anywhere if you are smart enough to find out how and from where and what time. There is no Tourist office (at least not one that is known to anybody), there is no bus terminal, no office for public transport, nothing. Busses to different towns leave from different parts in the city. You ask around, people always try to be helpful, even if they don’t have the answer on the spot, they take their time to remember, point into a direction, someone tells you around what time the bus should leave, from memory because it doesn’t say anywhere. You keep asking and finally someone tells you to wait at a bus stop, without any signs or timetables. You wonder if you’ll still be standing there the next day and all of a sudden the bus shows up, punctual, inexpensive, old but reasonably comfortable if not too crowded. And if crowded a man always gets up for the foreign lady, I feel embarrassed, because these men are probably older than I am. And then, you notice something familiar about the bus, s. th. that makes you feel at home …

DSCN8606

DSCN8382

 

 

 

 

 

 

… old, discarded vehicles from Germany and Italy!

In the streets you notice ambulances, too, it says Notarztwagen on the hood. Who could understand or pronounce that word in an emergency?

It’s the same with all the other cars, they wouldn’t be allowed to circulate in western countries any more, but European emission standards are a luxury this country can’t afford. You smell it in the air, less traffic and more pollution …

… that would have been better 25 years ago, wouldn’t it?

Amazing how many mercedeses there are in this relatively modest if not in many ways backward country! “How come?”, Massimo askes a young chap who speaks Italian fluently. “Ah you know,” he smiles “they are the cars we stole from you”.

Okay, that was his joke.

Next letter, all about the rest of the country

cheers

Gerburg

 

Image

Mexico lindo y querido

31 Aug

Another reason to love Mexico is that Mexico loves and protectsDSCN4373

animals, especially endangered species. See the turtle farm and hatchery on Isla Mujeres.  Small turtlesDSCN4383

big turtles

DSCN4389

future turtles

DSCN4394

and iguanas

DSCN4405

iguanas iguanas iguanas

DSCN4411

I thought the “island of women” (Isla Mujeres), Mexico’s eastern most point, was somewhat a slight concession to femminism, as tiny as the island itself, but I got it all wrong as did the conquistadores when they saw all those mysterious female idols on the island.  Then I came across this modern representation of the most important Mayan goddess Ixchel, the goddess of the rainbow, of water, fertility, abundance, the moon, love and medicine (maybe something like a midwife).  That’s what it says on the pedestal.

DSCN4404

Later I found drawings of the original, much fiercer looking version of this idealized, modern, European influenced representation. I bought  a Mayan calender with this picture of the goddess in the middle.

Ixchel_DresdenNow, she is one to be respected, a warrior woman, has nothing to do with that sailor-conquistador-dirty-old-man fantasy above.  Hey guys, she’s gonna eat you alive before you even say “hi” to her.

Talking about eating: now everybody knows Mexican food. I have always liked it, even before going to where you get the real real yummies. There I had it already for breakfast

DSCN4504

Geee, I’m eating faster than my camera says click ….

….and this was my morning drink: piña, apio, nopal, perejil, sábila, chayote, pepino. Color: fresh green. I drank it even before translating the ingredients. What do you think, did it make me go psychedelic or did it cure my wrinkles? Easy! It says chayote and not payote. It might have contrasted my free radicals, had I persisted with the recipe: pineapple, celery, prickly pear cactus leaf, parsley, aloe vera, cucumber squash. Sounds like Doctor Oz gone green.

I know you are waiting to see the pyramids and ruins. I’ll get to them, sooner or later.

Cheers

Gerburg

Cucurrucucù

29 Aug
Guantanamera?

Guantanamera?

A Mariachi band playing Guantanamera makes you feel

2013-07-13 01.17.10

They are playing  “Guantanamera”, because people from all over the world know  the song; do the mariachi think that tourists think it’s a typical Mexican song?  Never mind, Guantanamo is really not so far away from Cancun, geographically.  While waiting for the bus that takes us from the airport to Cancun I kindly ask the band in tourist Spanish to play “Cielito Lindo”. That’s Mexican (!) and I love that song. I have known it since high school times where our English teacher (a sturdy, short, quite unhandsome chap)had taught us the song in a bout of cosmopolitanism. He didn’t teach us much English but he certainly opened up our minds for the differences in human kind. For all my life I had believed that Cielito Lindo  is a name, like Cielito being the first and Lindo the family name.  How unromantic of me, it means something like “sweetheart”.  Before I could request “Cucurrucucù Paloma”, my other favourite Mexican song,  the bus came. (Actually I only know these two songs, but the lyrics almost by heart)

There are about a thousand (mas o menos 1000) good reasons to come to Mexico for holiday.  Bear with me for a couple of letters and you’ll know them all. 1st  The country is well prepared for tourism. In the airport  the employees speak English fluently, they explain to you how to get to town by bus. Everything is calm and orderly, no harassment of false helpers who want to lure you into their taxis and to their hotels. And don’t let any “Lonely Planet” tell you about Cancun’s chaotic traffic and reckless drivers.  It’s not true, that’s  reason no. 2: On the whole peninsula of Yucatan driversDSCN4428 are rather orderly, respectful and calm .

See you soon for the next 998 reasons

Cheers Gerburg

Highlight Bagan! … or is it a dream?

28 Oct

First of all, let me give credit to my special Italian ties:

Marco Polo said/wrote about Bagan before it was succumbed to its Mongolian conquerors: “The towers are built of fine stone, and one has been covered with gold a finger thick, so that the tower appears to be of solid gold. Another is covered with silver in a similar manner and appears to be made of solid silver. The King of Mien Guo [Myanmar called by the Chinese] caused these towers to be built as a monument to his magnificence and for the benefit of his soul. They make one of the finest sights in the world, being exquisitely finished, splendid and costly. When illuminated by the sun they are especially brilliant and can be seen from the great distance” …  a “gilded city alive with tinkling bells and the swishing sounds of monks robes”

A lot has changed since the 13th century but still today

Bagan is one of the most enchanting places in the world

My first sunset, near the hotel which is right on the archeological site

What you get to see is temples, temples, monasteries ………….. 11th – 13thcentury. Without thousands of temples destroyed in earthquakes there are still so many left you can’t count them, let alone see them all (there are three places to visit: Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyaung U and there are the Plains, a huge archeological site). Rent a horse cart or a bike. The horse cart has the advantage that the driver takes you right away to the highlights, tells you their names and gives you a short history in his own words.

Example: the Pahtothamya or Thamya Pahto was built during the reign of Kyanzittha around XI – XII Century or maybe by the less known King Taunghthugyi also known as Sawrahan (931 – 964) … inside typical of “pyu” influence … oldest frescoes …..

Now imagine dozens of such explanations, on a medium hot day of 32°C, with your brains getting churned thoroughly during the bumpy cart ride … no wonder all that’s left are the pictures. Just enjoy them, don’t bother about facts and names!

good horse!

… as far as the eye can see … in the back the Ayeyarwady River; problems with the pronunciation? Ok, Irrawady is fine, too

they come in all shapes and sizes

sometimes they resemble each other

big but not without charm

see the Buddha inside

Actually, go and have a look inside the temples

 reminders of the Hindu past

gilded buddha: too big for a normal photo

some statues  are really small

… they all resemble each other …. you never know whether you had already seen it

look outside

climb up the steepest stairs

have a look around

let your feet be the only nude part of the body

don’t forget, these are places of worship after all

That’s all for today

cheers Gerburg

Longyi, thanakha, and betel

7 Oct

Longyi:

Long trousers make you sweat? Shorts show too much leg?

Who wears the trousers here in Burma? The answer is: no one, they are one step ahead in gender equality.

Men are usually clad in shirts and dark, finely chequered longyis (“gy” pronounce like “j” in Jesus), a type of sarong folded over in front to be held in place. At first sight they may have a  confusing resemblance to skirts to you but give yourself two days and you will consider them the most masculine looking garment ever. No pockets, but so tight around the waist, men stick their wallets, cell phones, umbrellas in the waist band. Very practical. When they have to wade through high water or play sports they pass the back part of the cloth through the crotch and fix it in front. It then looks like an Indian dhoti and leaves the legs free to move. Women’s longyis are usually brighter in colour and with gold and silver thread (except the ones you wear in the monastery, they are brown).

Cool, isn’t it?

Longyis pulled up, youngsters play chinlone with a ball woven from rattan (0n the foto very small, yellow, on the left). No goals, no foul play. You only have to move beautifully like when you dance.

Curiosity: toilet stop on a long busride: men got off and squatted (impossible in trousers), women stayed on the bus, held back and pretended not to look. No photos of that one.

Thanakha:

Forgot to bring your sun cream?                                                                                                                                                                              Don’ t worry, you can buy thanakha everywhere. That’s a powder made from tree root and bark, mixed with water. Women and children put it on their cheeks, nose, front, occasionally also men, to protect the skin from sunrays, to stay as clear skinned as possible and to decorate their faces. Youngsters use it to cover the notorious pimple. Take my word: as bizarre as the sometimes artfully and sometimes plainly pasted faces might seem to you at first, after a week or so, all you want is paint your face white. I did it and, awesome!, in the humidity and heat my face stayed dry and didn’t get burnt.  Of course, next day I had to get back to working on my suntan, otherwise who would believe I’d had a marvellous holiday?

Girl in Bagan with artfully painted leaves on her face. Very shy she bravely poses for photos to earn some money.

Baby’s skin gets extra protection

Betel:

Forgot to bring your toothpaste?

After a while it becomes normal to talk to a white painted face with blood red lips and dark  stained teeth from betel chewing. Advice, just pretend not to be aware of the one or two lines of red spittle drooling down the chin, ignore the cheek pouch on one side of the face, get used to your vis-à-vis’ difficulty to talk to you with his lower jaw moved forward to keep the red liquid from running out of his mouth.

Apart from being an invigorating stimulant and a hunger suppressant  betel is supposed to help against bad breath(?!). And, don’t worry if you step on red blotches in the streets, it’s not blood-tinged sputum from someone really ill, it’s just betel spittle. Still prefer chewing gum against occasional halitosis? Consider that the red (betel) saliva on the ground gets washed away by the monsoon rains, chewing gum sticks and sticks and sticks.  In nice environments like museums and royal palaces you find signs that kindly ask people not to spit on the floor (with or without betel). People are so used to throat clearing and spitting “snark – chrrtsh – spit – splash” …                                  I cringe… scared I might get hit, inadvertently ….

One last thought on betel: Everybody’s got his own vice to keep him going: think of smokers, beer drinkers, coffee drinkers, they all leave unpleasant traces (ugh!).

Betel chewing daddy with kid. You know it from the cheek pouch. I didn’t take any more drastic pictures of the  habit.

Had I stayed a bit longer, I would have bought myself a collection of nice ladies’ longyis, I would have painted my face white every day (even though when I did it, I looked like a ghost, white doesn’t go well with big noses!) and I would have tried betel for sure. If you brush your teeth afterwards, it doesn’t stain.

Cheers Gerburg

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.