Sweat runs down my back as we walk along a countryside road in a scorching heat. There are large trees growing on both sides of the read, but they provide no shade as the sun ruthlessly shines from straight above us. Occasionally, I feel a small gust of wind on my face, but only briefly, just to disappear again before I even get to fully enjoy it. The local ”taxi”drivers with their modest rickshaws cycle past us, offering a ride, but despite the ridiculously low prices (in western standards), we dare not to hop on as I’m pretty sure the rickshaw would not make it till the end of the ride under the weight of two westerners.
We have just arrived in Dala, a small and very poor township in Yangon. The twenty-minute ferry ride from the center of Yangon across the Irrawaddy river went by in a glimpse of an eye, just watching the locals. The ferry is the best way to cross the river and extremely popular with the locals, and just as popular with different vendors. During the short ride we witnessed food, drinks, newspapers, clothes, cigarettes and all sorts of crazy stuff being marketed – to everyone else but us. Strangely, the foreigners were left alone automatically, and we could just sit back and watch the locals do their trading. An interesting sight – and an extremely loud one too.
By now, I had thought I had seen a lot of poverty in Myanmar. Turned out I had not seen any, I had seen more like the middle class way of life. In Dala I witnessed real, heartbreaking poverty.
All we actually wanted to do was to walk around Dala for a few hours, just exploring the area in peace. And that is exactly what we did. Although after leaving past the busy port behind, the most striking thing you see is the vast poverty in Dala. But, there is more than just that – the people are extremely happy and friendly, and openly interested of the occasional western tourists who make it here. Kids play happily on the streets, adults chat with each other smiling. It is strange how everyone seems so happy with their lives even if their bamboo-huts they call home are on the verge of collapsing, even if their clothes are broken and even if they have to wash them selves in dirty waters. Still, the smiles they give are clearly coming deep from their hearts. The kids shout hellos, waiving their hands, photobombing as much as they can. They are happy with just about any attention they get from a super-interesting tourist. The adults seem not to be able to take their eyes of us either, but thanks to their friendly smiles and shy hellos, it does not feel that bad, it actually makes you feel a bit better as they clearly are not too sad here.
Even if there really is not much to see in Dala, I’d say it really is worth the short trip across the river. It opens your eyes in many ways. After seeing such poverty combined with that kind of happiness, it is easy to put your own life into perspective. It makes you question if it really is worth complaining if you computer is slow, there is no hot water from the shower, or if your flight is delayed. It reminds you that there really are so many things worth being grateful of, that most of the things we (or at least I) complain about daily seem really, really stupid after this.