One never says never right? Arriving in Rangoon for a second time, the sense of familiarity takes a bit of the sheen from all that the city conjures up. If our first visit only 2 months previous was a challenge, then the second minus the ticked off tourist sights reeked as heavily of deja-vu, as the city did of open sewerage. True, the landscape had darkened the second time round to add succour to the thought that Rangoon’s charms are purely the inhabitants, and their masterly ability to survive in colour.
We spend time now in a different Guesthouse than the first, a steady stream of global travellers flit in and out of the scene. At the counter we are welcomed by yet another slim bespectacled elderly man (quite a trend in Burmese Guesthouses, we are gathering). A calendar picture of Aung San Suu Kyi stares out at us from under a lampshade with another picture of ‘the Lady’ on it. Her images, kitsch as the may be, create an atmosphere that is absolutely welcoming.
Staying on the upper floor we have a vantage out over the evolving city scape, with its mix match of old colonial era residences whose roofs are homes to much flora (even the odd tree!) and skeletons of multi story buildings that are under construction. Below, and at a vertigo prompting distance, we watch the street and all its inhabitants going about their daily lives. As darkness falls the horizon is lit up by search light glows and I can see hundreds of workers on the construction sites. Their labour seems unending, without pause throughout the night.
The rainy season had brought flooding and added measures of chaos to an already grid locked traffic motif; water appears cruelly from below as well as above and the crumbling edifice of pavement is inundated in foul brown waters. In attempts to cross the street, men lift longyi to knee height and dip flip flops to feel their way to safety, whilst ancient Mitsubishi busses slice through the water creating waves that lap perilously at the base of street food stalls. But others, as necessity requires wade through the street waters, plastic basket atop heads holding a resilient grace.
M and G valiantly hop from one concrete island to the next as the rain hammers down. We skirt around whole sections of road by clinging on to each other in the narrow slivers between traffic lanes, desperately seeking tea houses to duck our heads in to for revival.
One pressing matter that keeps us in Rangoon is our desire to secure Indian Visas.
We find that a scientific exactitude is required with every element of the application process, from a myriad of seemingly abstruse questions to a queueing system akin to a game of silent musical chairs, to producing crisp post 2004 American dollars to pay for the four stamps (or rather four biometric pages).
I am in trouble however. Something was amiss with last night’s meal and while standing in queue at the door of the embassy I waver, sweat drowns my body in an instant, and my stomach churns as if it was being ploughed. I intermittently leave the queue to rush away down the side of the embassy whereon I dispose of my stomach through my mouth. L supports me up the steps and begins to fill out forms and crisp up the dollars. I desperately try to keep a repeat performance of ‘the exorcist’ style vomiting at bay. We eventually get to the counter some two hours later, and within seconds we are told rather sternly by a mono expression clerk that the dollars don’t fit with the requirements, so I spend a hellish half hour running to and fro on the street, seeking a money changer, a bank, a bureau de change, a doctor anyone who will exchange my overly folded dollars for iron pressed ones! Between the jigs and the reels we manage it, but just about! The clock reads 10:58. All the while and as their parents scramble through both bureaucratic and intestinal barriers, M and G have found craft material, the blank overleaf of incorrectly filled forms become canvasses for their doodling.
The shutters go down at 11 am on the dot to the consternation of many others who have queued as early as us. A few days later we return in much better health, having being fed entirely local organic produce, and collect 4 passports with Indian visas attached. A sense of real excitement now oozes through both L and I. Job done as they say!
Quite fortuitously through some research we have also located an organic farm and model school 50 kilometres from Rangoon. Having made contact with the founder of the initiative, we have arranged to move from our base and wait.