The students at Tat Ein’s primary school get a two-hour lunch break each day. Classes stop at eleven each morning and resume at one in the afternoon. The novice monks in class, however, get to leave earlier, around 10:45, so that they can walk up the hill to their monastery for lunch.
When I’m teaching at the school, I’m invited to eat lunch with the other teachers and volunteers that help out at the monastery. The meals, a bounty of freshly prepared vegetarian dishes, are always delicious; stir-fried dishes, soups, and salads are the usual fare. They don’t serve any of the oily curries that so many people associate with Burmese food. Then again, this is Shan State and the cuisine is a bit different, my favorite in all of Myanmar, vegetarian or not.
After I’ve finished my lunch and one of the teachers has brought me coffee (on top of all the tea I’ve already consumed) and some fresh fruit, I feel the need to walk it off. Some days I might stroll up to the monastery and talk with the monks, or visit the head monk, U Sandi Mar, in his cave, but usually I just walk around the school yard and watch the children playing games, snapping a few photos in the process. What you see in today’s post are some of the typical lunch break activities at the school; children scampering down the slides and see-saw, playing football or dodge ball, picking flowers, or playing card games. They certainly know how to entertain themselves.
But, sadly, some of them don’t get to eat lunch every day. At least the novice monks are assured of a meal at their monastery, but that’s not the case with all the children. Tat Ein is a very poor village and some of the children don’t go home for lunch. It might be because their parents are working in the fields and don’t have time — or the money — to fix a midday meal for their children. U Sandi Mar and his crew try to feed as many kids as they can each day, but there isn’t always enough food for everyone. It definitely makes me think twice when they offer me second helpings. Politeness dictates that you accept what is offered, but I often beg off and tell them that I had a huge breakfast and I’ll already full.
On the other side of the mountain, a few kilometers away, the village of Loi Kin has a small primary school and many students there also go without lunch each day. My friend Htein Linn, at Golden Bowl Travel in Nyaungshwe, is concerned about this problem and wants to start a program where tourists can donate money to provide lunches for these poor students. I think that’s an excellent idea. If you are interested in helping, and are passing through Nyaunghshwe (“on the shores of famous Inle Lake”), stop by Golden Bowl Travel and talk to Htein Linn. If has time, he’ll even take you to one of the schools. You can reach Tat Ein by bike or a very long walk, but Loi Kin is further away, and accessible by only steep, rutted paths, so a motorcycle is the better option. Golden Bowl Travel is located on Nyaungshwe’s main street, between the market and Golden Kite Restaurant (good pizza and pasta there!). Htein Linn also has a good selection of secondhand books at his shop!