Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Potters field in the heart of Burma

Thursday, September 25, 2014
On the Irrawaddy River

We left Mandalay as the sun rose behind us. We could see the payas, temples and stupas in the distance, shining through the morning haze.

Now we began to see small villages on the shore and people on the banks and in their boats. The scenes look unchanged as if a snap shot from an ancient past.

The river shows the contrast of this place, as women wash clothes on the banks, men plow fields with oxen and wooden plows while and overloaded tug brings the modern world upstream from Yangon (Rangoon) to Mandalay
We went downstream for 50 miles from Mandalay to Yandabo past a country side that was preparing to plant.Teams of oxen were pulling wooden plows while the farmers stood on them to push them into the dirt. In some cases rows of people were on their hands and knees planting.

For a while there were microwave towers and occasional water pumping stations, then all vestiges of the modern era were left behind. We became time travelers, moving through an ancient subsistence time. There were a few anachronisms, such an engine on a dugout or plastic bags or maybe the shirt the farmer was wearing over his Longyi (traditional wrap/skirt).

In Yandabo we came ashore to the usual heat and humidity. We walked by walls of pots waiting to be transported to market. This was a town whose economy was built on potters and it has the wealth to have a school and 5 teachers. We met one teacher and later I ate some salad and some chick peas at his house. 

We saw a young man mixing clay and sand with his feet. His family is the clay supplier for all the potter.

Next we watched a woman skillfully throw a pot while a man pumped the potter’s wheel with his feet. Here is a video of the woman making a pot: 
Woman making pot in Yandabo Myanmar
They do not make pots in the rainy season, but that season is ending. There are 30 potter families in the village, each making their specialty items and they all share the spot where they fire them. It is not exactly a kiln but a carefully made pile of straw wood and dirt a layered over the pots.
For the larger community kiln they gather around 3000 pots, perhaps the work of a few days for the village although I am not sure, and build a pile of straw and wood. Each family contributes to the pile. 

The pots they make are for utilitarian use but the ones we saw had a grace and appeal. They are dark gray but turn terra cotta when fired. The mistakes are use to build fences and to make cooking places.

Here are a couple of videos of the children singing: 
School Children singing in Yandabo Myanmar
School Children singing Brother John in Burmese

The children were released from school for lunch when we arrived and a group of them sang to us, a traditional song and Brother John in Burmese. We sang it back to them in English. It has become our group’s go to song since the orphanage in Mandalay.

The children first learn about pottery by making small animals. They an to show us the ones they were proud of. One young boy brought his copy book in which he had written two English words, leg and camp. I read them back to him and praised him. He was so proud. This town was not in our guide book and there were no beggars, no store, no vendors. Although there were lots of cute little pottery animals, the concept of selling them was not in their culture. We had been asked not to give them anything because they do not want to turn them into the beggar/vendor culture that had become part of Mandalay. I hope they can stay open and innocent. I think the novelty of our visits will wear off. I am afraid it will change them.

 We walked to the boat and left Yandabo.

 From Yandabo we continued downriver to Bagan. At one time the English called it Pagan, but it was changed back to Bagan. the map above shows the route we will take.
Back on the boat we learned how to tie a Longyi and apply Thanaka. It took practice to get the Longyi to stay up. The Longyi is a long tube of cloth. You fold it on one hip and tuck it in on the other. The trick I learned was to roll down the top so that it would stay tucked in.
After a long couple of days and a good dinner we had an unfortunately long and boring lecture on Bagan. The speaker was a professor from Bagan, English was not her first or second language, and everything she said, which was said in a quiet soothing voice, was already in our guide book. I did not fall out of my chair, but almost.
Mengala ba

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