After watching the villagers of plant potatoes, (see previous post), our merry band went on a hike down a steep 45-degree hill – my knees were not pleased – that led us to small village called Ura. It was even darker now and rain had turned into a fine mist. It wasn’t the best way to see what had been described as a quaint town, but some lemonade came from Mother Nature’s lemons.
Outside of a small monastery we saw a small woman with a giant load of firewood on her back. She was heading towards the entrance, and after a few minutes conversation with our guide, Jurmin, we learned that she and her family were living in what looked like a large tool shed, for free, on the monastery’s property, while waiting for their home to be built.
Bless her heart if she didn’t smile and invite us in. The shed was dark, a shaft of light streaming in from a window opposite the door, the only illumination. To our right, the family had all their possessions stacked and under plastic. On the floor in front of us, her daughter sat cutting and rolling ornate strips of dough they would fry in oil to make light crisps they would later sprinkle with sugar.
The mother, sick and coughing - a cough that sounded as if here lungs would soon catapult themselves like Alien out of her mouth - held a piece of cloth up to her face as she fried the dough. When I first started shooting her she kept the rag up to her nose, but when I showed her the images in the LCD, she asked if she could be shot again without the rag. Of course I said yes, and she treated me to a sweet smile.
For over an hour our group of 5 was on the floor, snapping away with our cameras as the two women cooked and spoke casually with our guide. Because the shack was small, and the light was streaming downward, we found ourselves taking turns lying on the floor, each giving the other time to shoot the ladies in action.
A young boy waits, in what I assume is his relative’s arms, for his novitiation ceremony to begin. The next day he will become a monk. It is obligatory for a male in Myanmar to become a monk at some point between five and adulthood, to show that he is a good Buddhist. Poorer households may encourage early monkhood in order to guarantee that their boys will be housed, educated and fed on a daily basis. The novice monks have no obligation to stay for any specific period of time, and from what our guide told us, many boys return home within a few days.
Last weekend on the Upper West Side of Manhattan I had a delightful encounter.
I’d been walking along Riverside Drive, enjoying the last remnants of New York’s autumn color, when in the distance I could see squirrels racing around in an odd circle: jumping from tree to tree, then scurrying across the stone wall that separates the street from Riverside Park.
At first I couldn’t understand what they were doing, and then I saw Ginny; a petite woman, I’m guessing in her early 70’s, rocking a granny ninja look in head to toe black, popped with turquoise. On her head she wore a black beret and large black sunglasses that were one size too big for her face.
Ginny sat quietly on a bench tossing shelled peanuts onto the wall. Predictably, the squirrels pounced on each morsel and then, fearing that other squirrels might steal it, jumped into the trees to finish, circling back again and again for more helpings.
As I moved closer to take photos, Ginny looked at me sideways with a – you better not scare off my squirrels– expression. She was orchestrating the scene like a conductor and didn’t want me to interrupt the show. Then, with a slight shuffle, and the smallest hunch to her shoulders, she walked over to the wall and poured water on the stone, then added a few more peanuts.
Well, now she’d done it –peanuts and water! The joy was palpable. The wall was alive with twice as much fur and a few intrusive starlings. Ginny smiled and walked back to her bench.
I stayed at a distance to take my photos, aware that the squirrels were more at ease, and Ginny too for that matter. She admitted that she preferred me out of the way, “you won’t chase away the squirrels from there,” she said.
A half an hour had whizzed by when she’d exhausted her peanut supply. The squirrels looked at her incredulously, We’re still hungry – they’re little faces implored. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed too. They lingered for a moment hoping for a reprieve and then scattered to the wind leaving tree limbs pumping up and down in their wake.
And Ginny? Well, Ginny had other things to do, and with a smile and a wave she was gone.