Last year, I paid a visit to Dala village, a humble rustic residence which was so close to Yangon that you just need to cross a river to set foot on the largest city of Myanmar. In contrary to the hustle and bustle of Yangon city, the life in Dala village is so lagged behind, but also more peaceful and tranquil. The village is so poor, amongst the poorest villages in the region because of the lack of reliable water sources and bridge connections. The situation even got worse after a cyclone laid waste to the Irrawaddy Delta in 2008. The locals of Dala village mainly make their living from farming, fishing and occasional tourism service.
During my trip in Myanmar, I had seen hundreds of billboards along the roads which read “warmly welcome and take care of tourists”, but I had never expected that I would be invited to attend the “coming of age ceremony” of a young girl. Maybe the sight of two Western travelers, my friend and I, jammed in a trishaw on the dusty roads of Dala village seemed to be so extraordinary that it caught the attention of a local man and led to his decision to impromptu invite us, with his warm gesture “come, come, please come”, to his daughter’s importance ceremony. In the previous minute, I was just a foreign passenger on a trishaw wandering around the village for sightseeing, then the next I became a guest of honor in a sacred ceremony. I did not even know what was going on.
In the ceremony, a young girl sat in a yard, in the middle of a circle formed by men and women who put on colorful sari and sarong. The daily humble yard had been turned into a magnificent space by strategically using flowers, fruit, and tinsel in combination with tarpaulin and fabric swath covering the ground. The girl dressed in an elegant ornate sari of maroon and aqua and had her hand painted with henna patterns. She sat under a temporary shrine with her hands holding a bouquet of flowers. Magically, the sophisticated costume together with gold jewelry had turned the girl into an Indian princess.
Indian is an ethnic group of Myanmar which soaks up 2 percent of the population, adding to the diverse cultural identity of Myanmar. Although Indians have settled in Myanmar for centuries, their number just increased significantly after grand waves of migration during the British colonial era in the 50s of the 19th century. And Indian is an important resident group in Dala Village.
When all the formalities had been performed, the alluring smell of onion, cardamom, and garlic signaled the beginning of the feast. My friend and I were among the people who got served first because we were guests of honor. On the table, plates were replaced by pieces of banana leaf and metal buckets took the place of serving bowls, and there was no sight of folks and spoons. My plate was soon filled with spicy curries and tart pickles, rice and fresh fruits, a meal whose flavor can be compared to anything I had ever tasted during my trip in Myanmar. This made me wonder why people with the least belongings are always willing to share the most.
Though they are just separated by a river, Yangon and Dala is just like two different worlds in different eras. The life of people in Dala village is under a lot of hardship. When I visited this village, I saw the villagers walking several kilometers to collect water from wells, cattle and poultry roaming the dusty streets and children playing soccer on bare ground. Thank to the Myanmar River Cruise trip that I took and its land excursion to Dala, I have known that besides hustling and busy cities, there are still corners that Myanmar has to take various measures to improve the life of the people equally.