They say nothing special about Kalaymyo. Just another small town on the way. But sometimes it’s the small, unassuming places that stay in your memories forever.
The ‘hotel’ was a family owned affair complete with a niece on reception, a cousin in the kitchen, a son who continued the business and a mama grandmother who sat in her chair in the foyer, cleaning vegetables and keeping an eye out on everything.
With my room next to the kitchen, I woke up to the smell of frying eggs. Over fried eggs with pea rice and chai in a homely kitchen, I sat chatting to the young girl in the kitchen. She used to be a kindergarten teacher till her family called her over to work at the hotel. Warming my hands with a cup of chai, I listened to her story. Sometimes all we want is someone to listen.
The strict, plus-sized niece arranged for my further journey (making a some bucks as well). With a few hours to spare, I walked around Kalaymyo peeping into its citizen’s small worlds. Sunday mornings – no matter what part of the world you are from, there is always something about it. When time luxuriously takes a stretch. You linger over your tea, wash your hair and let the sunshine soak. And people in Kalaymyo were doing just that.
I found myself taken by hand and pulled in the kitchen by mama. She sat me down and fed my some freshly made pakora type of snack for the road. I knew I was going to be on the road but that didn’t stop from digging in!
The mini van was going to collect me directly from the hotel so I sat waiting in the front with mama with other guests floating in and out, tripping over the electricians’ wires who were doing some repairs. Occasionally I ran over to the world map to point out where Fiji was every time someone new walked in and asked where I was from.
A middle-aged guy came and sat with us and got into mama’s fritters as well. He spoke English very well and got talking about Bali etc. Couple of months back, one day Suruj told me that I talked too much and I should try keeping quiet sometimes. In a huff, I didn’t speak to her till the next day.
The guy sitting with us inquired about how I had made it so far and I told him about the exhaustive visa and permit process. How I had to lie and make fake itineraries and not let on at the time of the visas that I planned to cross the border. I asked him then what he did in Bali and he said he went there for a Human Rights workshop and that he was just transferred to work in Kalaymyo.
Then we got talking about the facial pack that Burmese women wear on their faces during the day. In our side of the world, face packs are worn in the confines of your home and god forbid someone saw you! He said it a paste made from wood which was also health beneficial. He and mama then made the grumpy niece grind some for me to put on. She wasn’t too happy about that.
Unlike the elegant way, Burmese wear it, I had smeared all over my face. But I thought this way I could get full benefits. The guy and mama were highly entertained and assured me that a husband was waiting for me on the other side of the border!
By now the bus was an hour late but everyone assured me it was fine. The guy excused himself and went out and about. Mama wandered off and the niece finally came sat with me. 35 and unmarried. We are now BFFs.
The middle-age guy brings his bags and checks out. Before he leaves and he comes and gives his business card to me and tells me to call him if I ever need anything. I wave him goodbye. I look down at his card.
Assistant Director of Immigration, The Republic of the Union of Myanmar
Well.fucking.done. Talk much? And once again Suruj is right. (I even have a selfie with him!)
Van came honking and screeching down the road. Mama and
grumpy niece my new bff, stood waving at the front steps till we turned the corner and I realized I was still hanging out the window.
The ride to Tamu, my final stop before I crossed the border was smoother. For once in my trip, the van wasn’t packed to the bream. Burma had started to get diluted. There were more churches than pagodas on the way, slight change in people’s stride The mini-van driver was also courier and we stopped along with way to drop envelopes, parcels and oil cans.
As we cruised to Tamu that cool Sunday evening, I felt a pang of regret. It was as if the roads of Burma were saying that I didn’t give them a full chance. They called out maybe for a little bit more time to get to know this enigmatic country of which I have only scratched the surface off…
4 hours later, we arrived in Tamu. I looked back at the road travelled one last time and said my goodbyes.