The first thing that you have to deal with and of course with great difficulty, once you cross the international border in Tamu, is remembering names.
To begin with, every name sounds same. Maybe that’s because your ears are still ringing from the continuous journey on rickety buses and then on even more sickly-looking Burmese autos, or maybe because you just haven’t heard so many names with so many ‘n’s before. Whatever the reason is, you can’t help asking everybody again and again to repeat and even after they have already obliged 3-4 times, you still can’t quite get it, and therefore, still can’t help feeling stupid.
The first person I met after entering Burmese soil is Ko Htun Win, the army soldier on duty in Tamu bazaar. The second, the man who sold me a bunch of bananas, was Daw Than . The third, the young urchin who seemed to have curious mixed feelings of ‘who the hell are you’ and ‘love at first sight’ for me, told me his name was U Ngwe Thein. Hmm…no medal for guessing by then I had already forgotten the name of the soldier.
Mercifully, I didn’t stay long enough in one place to face the same person again and again and address him more than once. And mercifully, I looked smiling and strange and young enough to be forgiven, even if I did commit the sin of forgetting names.
But when it came to places, I had no such escape routes. 2 days before I crossed Tamu, I was in Chandel(Manipur), where, over a hot plate of mouth watering Changpa-me (rice gruel, cooked with chunks of smoked pork and herbs) I tried byhearting names of places I might be travelling through …. Nam Monta, Htan Ta Bin, and Man Maw, Ah Myint, Homelin, Thamanthi….
Later, on my way 70 km long journey from Chandel to Moreh town, which leads to Tamu –the first Burmese town I would be in, I tried remembering the very essential What’s your name? (Na meh be lu kaw leh)‘Thank you’ (Kyei zu tin ba deh) and ‘hello(min ga la ba)’s in Myanmarese.
But now, when I was here, in the land of pagodas, my memory failed miserably, making me feel like a complete idiot. In fact it was a classic situation for an idiotic gypsy. –No map, no knowledge of local language and just 20, 000 kyat(pronounced chyat) –the amount of money that could barely sustain me a couple of days and, thanks to the cyclone that had hit the land just a day earlier, with very few roads now open for me to take. Yes, my journey had begun in a true stellasque style.