At the moment of writing this post, I was in a guest house, in a small town called Hpa-An in Burma (Myanmar).
The room we rented for 14$ is very small; there are two beds and one desk, one fan and linoleum on the floor. There is no electricity in the city, but luckily our guest house has its own generator, so we have light and the fan is working. Both of them highly needed, since it is 7 pm and probably still 35 degrees outside and humid. One hour ago, when there was still daylight, I went quickly to take a shower so that I can do this without using my head lamp. The shower/toilette is probably the most disgusting place where I have ever washed my body. I did my best not to touch anything around, just the water, and I constantly had to remind myself not to open my mouth during the shower, as most probably the water came straight unfiltered from the nearby river, but I didn’t have to worry about that anymore, as the shower didn’t really function, and I washed myself under a pipe. It’s ok, I have done it before. I looked at myself, happy that I finally had water washing my body, and didn’t care anymore that it actually stank like the worst public toilet one has ever experienced.
Since I arrived to Burma I have faced some jaw-dropping situations (at least for me), and I started to think a lot about poverty and filthiness. I guess any normal human being, who would travel to such a poor country, would have some thoughts about the world order and what is truly important in our lives.
Until today, I have travelled to a number of countries, some richer, some poorer, but never ever experienced poverty in such dimensions. On a second thought, it is not the poverty that makes me think about my own experience growing up in a poor country, but is the squalor that is here part of the culture, I assume. Otherwise, I can’t explain it.
I remember growing up in a country, which isn’t really on the side of wealthy Western countries, but more on the front of poor Eastern communistic countries. But I have to admit, poverty has certain levels, and we surely didn’t have the same level of poverty as the one experienced here. I am now grateful for the place where I was born and for all the opportunities that came after.
My own country has its own poor people, and they are many. I think about the simple villages where people don’t have much, but they work very hard every day to proudly show their neighbors and passing tourists that you don’t need much money to be a good housekeeper. That even if they don’t have wealth and fortunes, they respect themselves with a clean home, a clean yard and a clean barn where their chickens can sleep. This is what they are proud of. And these are usually the values that define a great nation or at least make me admire one.
Now, I don’t really understand why it is widely accepted by the entire world (and sometimes even encouraged by tourists who misunderstand the true meaning of “exotic”) that if you are poor you should be living in a filthy place. Because this is what disgusts me in Burma, the fact that people who are very simple, with houses that I’ve probably seen before only in documentaries, can’t keep their homes clean. I looked at them how they spend their entire day sitting on a chair, selling bananas and coconut, which they probably picked from the trees behind their house, surrounded by plastic rubbish, leftovers from the last dinner, broken shoes and motorbikes, whatever they don’t need and you can imagine in a big communal trash bin… there it is. And they live, eat, sleep here and their children play in such places. Somehow, tourists around me, find this… odd, but interesting. It is what makes their trip exotic. And they are all taking pictures of how these people live their lives, just like in a zoo.
How does one sit around all day long doing nothing, when all you need is a sweeper to clean the place where you eat and sleep?
Oh, I should not forget, one also needs some energy. And about that, I want to mention that 90% of Burmese people are constantly stoned, on some natural leaves, which are legal and widely sold. These leaves which are being chewed and then spitted out, basically anywhere (grouse), make you feel dizzy and slow, but also cut on the hunger and sleep needs. And so I assume that one of the reasons why this country is in the current state, can be the constant “I am stoned and I don’t care“ attitude.
I am probably rough on judging them as I have never been in their shoes to experience poverty like this, but I do not tolerate laziness under any circumstances. And it makes me very sad to see how Westerners travel to Burma to find all this mess exotic. Encourage the people to continue doing so, as they find it exciting to eat in a place where the hygiene conditions were long forgotten. They test their own limits of acceptance, after which they go back to their shiny clean France or Germany, proudly about what they endured. Well, is this hypocrisy or what?
The people here learn now, for the first time, about the Western world and standards. Is it this what we want to show or encourage? Be lazy, be dirty, sell us bananas for 3$ and do nothing all day long? We find this place very exciting and genuine, there is adrenaline in every little step we take and so we will come back when we feel the need of some more adventurous fun among the bugs, mosquitoes and rats. But am I the only one thinking that this is wrong? Most travelers we met were sharing with us their impressions of the great country and the “un-spoiled” society they find here. Most of them probably believe they have bought tickets to the zoo, which explains their behavior.
Maybe I am wrong; maybe I should just quietly calm my rage and learn that things will change by themselves, just by giving them some time. And everybody will learn one day that if you wish for diseases to disappear, well the first thing to do is to wash yourself.
I was born and grew up in Romania until the age of 27 years old, when I moved to Prague, Czech Republic. Here I’ve discovered traveling and it became immediately a passion. I am currently on a round the world trip for 1 year, which it has become more of self discovery and personal development trip, and so I started to write.