I had to go to a branch of Western Union earlier this to pick up some money that a woman from Canada sent me. I’ve never met this woman in my life. So why is a mystery woman sending me money? Ah, wouldn’t you like to know! Actually, I had corresponded by e-mail with this woman a few times before she sent me the money. And the money was not for me at all, but for a friend of a friend, Ma Pu Sue, in Myanmar. Sue is helping sponsor various young girls in her neighborhood in Nyaungshwe. The money goes to pay for their educational expenses, ensuring the girls can continue their studies through high school, which is more of a luxury than a common practice in those parts.
Western Union recently launched money transfer services in Myanmar, but only in the major cities of Yangon and Mandalay. Where my Ma Pu Sue lives in Shan State, they don’t yet have a bank that is offering this service, so we must do this the old way, taking the money yourself and handing it over to the recipient in Myanmar. Jimmy Buffett may have had his Coconut Telegraph, but I’ll call this method of sending money to people in Myanmar “the Fermented Tea Leaf Telegraph”. I’ve sent money this way several times before, either asking friends or relative strangers to deliver funds to someone I know in Myanmar, or acting as a courier myself to deliver money to friends of friends. Call it crazy, call it trust, but it always gets there.
This Canadian woman is one of many kind people I’ve met in the past decade who have gone out of their way to help locals they’ve met in Myanmar. She and some of her friends pooled their money together to help sponsor more children in Sue’s neighborhood. And I have full faith in Sue’s ability to put that money to good use. Another couple I know in Bangkok, Peter and Lyle, have travelled to Myanmar many times and have done a lot to help people they’ve met in the Bagan area. They also employ a Burmese maid in Bangkok and have gone the extra mile by helping her to pursue her education. In addition to that, they are also paying for their maid’s nephew, Zin Maung Maung (who is also my Burmese tutor) to attend classes at Ramkamhaeng University. Peter and Lyle are moving back to the US this month, after over a decade in Bangkok, but they have made arrangements to take their maid — better to call her a friend, I think — with them, and to enroll her in a university in the states. Now that’s what I call support!
In other Myanmar news, I received an e-mail over the weekend from Khin Nwe Lwin in Mandalay, telling me about the service that was held in for Aung Phyo Zaw, the young boy who drowned last month, to mark 30 days since his passing. Aung Phyo Zaw’s mother cooked food and offered it to some of the neighbors that morning. This practice, Khin Nwe Lwin told me, is “intended to get merit for Aung Phyo Zaw.” Above is a photo that Khin Nwe Lwin sent me, with Hein Htet Zaw and Zin Ko partaking in bowls of monhinga. I wish I had been there with everyone for this event, but I’m looking forward to seeing my friends again soon: I’m planning a visit to Mandalay in late August. This time I’ll fly directly to Mandalay, a relatively new option for air travelers, and bypass Yangon altogether. That’s going to save me both time and money, especially considering the outrageous rates for hotels in Yangon this year.