On the dirt road that leads to Tat Ein village, on the outskirts of Nyaungshwe in Shan State, is a brand new business: Baby Obama’s Shop. This is the first time I’ve noticed any sort of shop on that road, or anywhere near the vicinity of Tat Ein, but with the increasing number of tourists in the area, including some that make a short trek from town to see the primary school and monastery (and visit the famous “monk in the cave”) in this tiny village, I shouldn’t be shocked that someone would try to open up a stand and sell something.
The shop was named by a local villager after her son, a 3-year-old whose nickname is, not surprisingly, Obama. Ah, the power of the global village! Both mother and baby are very friendly and polite, and thankfully haven’t reached the pushy “buy from me” stage yet. At this makeshift outdoor “shop” they sell a variety of local handicrafts (I almost bought an old Shan style knife for a friend one day; it may not have been an antique but it WAS rusty!), snacks, and bottles of water. Nothing you really have to have, but I like the idea of buying something and supporting enterprising villagers.
One morning when I cycling to the school (where I taught English classes for 3 days; more about that in a future post), I stopped to buy some paper fans as gifts for friends back in Bangkok. The father of the young woman who runs the shop noticed that the basket on my bike was loose (somehow a couple of screws had fallen out; blame that on the huge load of mangoes I put in there the day before) and offered to fix it for me. He didn’t have any screws, but using his practical village ingenuity, he fastened the basket with some heavy twine. Worked like a charm. Before leaving, this gentleman invited me to his home the next time I was in the village, and also offered me a handful of snack beans (that looked like black-eyed peas to me!), Whatever these beans are called, they were crunchy and delicious. With my basket now secure, I pedaled off towards the school, with grandpa, mama, and Baby Obama waving goodbye, urging me to come back again. You bet I will.
I first visited the primary school in Tat Ein village about two years ago. Htein Linn, a friend who lives in nearby Nyaunghswe and operates Golden Bowl Travel Services & Bookshop (yes, the best selection of books in Nyaungshwe!), mentioned that this village was very poor and the school had many needs. On my first visit I donated shoes (your basic sandals, which the locals call “slippers”) for all the students. When I returned last year I donated a variety of medicine which we put into First Aid boxes that Htein Linn had made. This time around I came back to re-stock the first aid boxes with more medicine (I bought some stuff in Bangkok and the rest was easily purchased at pharmacies in Mandalay), to give the kids copies of photos from the previous trip (always a hit!), and also some footballs (soccer balls, for you Americans!) and badminton sets.
The school only opened three years ago. Before it was built, the village not only did not have a school, there wasn’t even a proper road here from Nyaungshwe, and many people still lived on the “other side” of the hill. Even today, the “road” is not much more than a bumpy, rutted dirt path, but at least cars, motorcycles, and my bicycle can access the village without too much trouble. Thanks to the heroic efforts of one very thoughtful monk (who lives in a nearby cave!) and several generous donors, the villagers know have new homes, a proper school, and a road. No electricity yet, but at least this is a start.
All the classrooms are housed in the same building, with no walls separating them. There are currently five classes in this room. Needless to say, it gets pretty noisy in there on most days. We are planning to build some partitions in the room later this year, hoping that will help cut down on the noise factor and make things less chaotic … or at least make it easier for the teachers to manage their classes. Right now, the rowdiest kids in the room are the little novice monks from the nearby monastery who attend classes here each day. And, as you can tell from these photos, they are also the biggest hams in the class!
By sheer luck, I was in town for the third anniversary celebrations at the school the following week. I’ll have more photos of that colorful and festive occasion in a later post.