Water we doing here?

April 16, 2018

The entire country of Myanmar is in the midst of a major flood. It is coming in the form of Thingyan. Thingyan is the New Year festival that lasts between 4 and 5 days in mid April every year. This event is known for loud music, dancing, drinking and water. Lots and lots of water. Water is used as the main celebratory mechanism. It is everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. Dihydrogen monoxide is propelled by small children with the use of buckets on the street or shot from water canons connected to pumps pulling water from the moat encompassing Mandalay Palace. It is a difficult proposition to travel anywhere within Mandalay without being drenched from head to toe. Luckily the daytime temperature has been hovering around 40* C. With nighttime temperatures dipping down into the lower 30’s. An entire body soaking is not only customary but quite refreshing as well. Most businesses in the city have shut down for at least 4 days and some up to 10 days for this yearly extravaganza. This is not my first rodeo when it comes to the water festival. In Thailand it is called Sangkran and in Laos it is called Pi Mai.

On a work related note we have finished with the installation of all the computers for this trip. This includes two 20 client labs, each equipped with an Internet in a Box server. These two labs are located in Hti Hlaing and Ye Twin Kaung. We also added 4 more client stations to the original lab we built at Daw Hut Taw in 2016. All installations went surprisingly well. There were a few wrinkles that will be ironed out going forward. We have pretty well established the room layout for desks and electrical. The main issue is relaying that information to local workers before we arrive for the installation. The electrical isn’t straightforward as we are using UPS battery backups as a safeguard against electrical brownouts or blackouts. These batteries act as both surge protectors and give time for proper shutdown of computers in case of power outage. Overall the local villagers have been extremely helpful in both the pre-installation prep and the unpacking and assembly of computer stations. They have also been extremely excited about the new hardware available to their children and adults alike. With these installations I have also put together an accurate budget and located local shops for all the hardware necessary for the entire lab. I was quite pleased when the total cost for a 20 client/1 server lab came it at just over $3,000 USD. Now it is time to find more funding to do it again.

In Hti Hlaing the most excited and hands on of the villagers is a Buddhist monk. He had the most computer knowledge in the village and wants to get a Raspberry Pi 3 to learn on himself. Every person that we have encountered has been very pleased and appreciative of the work being done. On occasion back in Canada I spend many hours in isolation developing the server or working on the client operating system. To be candid, these times I can get a bit agitated or disheartened if I am having issues that are difficult to solve. It can be easy to lose sight of the goal when your head is submersed in a cyber-vortex. It is often  necessary to back away from whatever you are doing, computer related or not, and reassess your motives and goals. It is easy to question if what you are doing is worth the time or stress involved in its completion. If the answer is no then it is time to reevaluate the situation. If the answer is yes, however, then it makes diving back into the project with a new sense of excitement and pleasure much easier. This is the latter case for me. It had been nearly 1.5 years since we had installed the first lab in Daw Hut Taw and I had nearly forgotten the smiles and appreciation which comes with this type of work. The villagers may not fully understand computers (yet), but they certainly see the benefits of training their children on them for the future. As with most technology it will soon be the children teaching the adults.

For every school and/or computer lab opening there is a ceremony at which most of the village comes out for an event full of balloons, food, music and dancing. There is also a representative from the local or federal government who attends. There are speeches and handshakes, smiles and thank you’s. I have taken part in three of these parties so far. The opening is also the time when rules are set out for the maintenance of the schools and the behavior of the students attending. There are certificates and “deeds” handed over to the village giving control and responsibility for the newly built schools and labs. There was just such a ceremony held last Tuesday for the completed lab at Hti Hlaing. Unfortunately I was not able to attend due to…well….um….not really sure how to say this….my gut turned into a juicer. I made the mistake of trying a local Indian food restaurant that I had never eaten at before. I ordered a mutton curry and the food was fantastic. At least during consumption it was. The next morning, which happened to be the morning of the opening, the experience was not so pleasant. I was out of commission for 2 days. The first day I had nothing to eat and could only manage some water. I am sure many reading this (or both of you reading this anyway) have had similar situations when it comes to food induced diarrhea. It is not a pleasant experience at all. This is especially true when your only recourse is a squat toilet, which also happens to be inhabited by a rather large, hairy spider.

Okay that will be the end of that line of questioning. Now we will squirt into the topic of handcrafts. One of the methods that we employ to raise funds for schools and computers is the sale of locally made crafts which are procured in Myanmar and sold in Canada and United States. In the past these crafts have included marionettes, silk and cotton scarves, petrified wood necklaces, paintings, mother of pearl rice spoons, water buffalo horn salad tongs and a wide array of jade items. This trip will be no different and I am looking for some new types of crafts to put on offer. I have already ordered cotton scarves from the lovely villagers at Ye Twin Kaung and will be heading to Sagaing to pick up more jade items. I am also planning a trip to the place that marionettes are made and also to visit a creator of bronze pieces. There is a fine line between collecting quality products and the finite amount of space allocated for air travel. There are wonderful art pieces created in many different mediums which are amazing but just not practical for a commercial airplane. One idea which has been mulled about is to rent a storefront on Vancouver Island to sell crafts and donate a portion of sales to the projects we do. With this could come an online shop perhaps. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Well WordPress is telling me there are now over 1100 words written here so I think that is enough for now. I would like to thank everyone who has made it through all this dribble I have written. It means a lot to me to hear feedback or questions about what we are doing, or anything else for that matter. It is now time to go and get wet. Water we doing here? Enjoying life and paying it forward!