Watch your step….BETEL NUT!!!!

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Here is a shot of a man preparing Betel Nut Quids.  Quids is the technical name for these betel nut filled parcels he is so carefully  assembling. It is a tad bit ironic that he is preparing the betel nut in such a methodically manner with latex gloves, almost appearing to imply a level of  sanitation…. take 5 steps back and you are standing in a makeshift stall assembled from  obvious pieces of  remanent wood at the opening of a narrow trash strewn street which we would call an alley in the states. This HIGHLY ADDICTIVE Myanmar past time is very much like a form of chewing tobacco. It is derived  from the areca palm which produces a soft, it is refered to as  Betel Nut. The nut of this palm is chopped up and slathered with a slimy  lime solution ( that cannot be good), then wrapped in the betel nut palm leaf ( a quid) occasional additional  tobacco and or other spices are added to enhance flavor and effect. Betel Nut pod is then placed in the mouth  between the cheek and the gum like chewing tobacco in the USA.  People who I have met have tried it says it kind of taste like eating soap… mmm appetizing!!

Then the most charming part of this national phenomenon is  the wretched red spit which is EVEYWHERE  and people spit it out randomly, walking down the street (right in front of you),  taxi drivers just open their doors and spit, men… women… young.. old  it doesn’t much matter. When the urge strikes I guess you have to  just spit. Just watch your step its EVERYWHERE!yuk! Germ-a-phobs beware!!  You will find the spit stains everywhere and anywhere,  sidewalks, stairs, trash cans, walls, dripping down car doors. These are the days you are praising the Gods for monsoon season that brings the daily down pours and near floods that washes away the crimson remnants.  Here is where you are not of the local custom and you strap on your rain boots that you had your wonderful mother send 9,000 miles because along with the tilde wave of people’s spit God only know what lurks in the constant sewage filled rain water. In this instance I do not make like the locals, I throw on my wellies and fly my ” she is a foreigner flag” high and proud!! lol!!

It really can be quite  distracting and nerve-racking, people will be talking to you while gargling this mouth full of  red muck, it’s not as if I  can actually understand them without the mouth full of chew but it definitely  add insult to injury.

I understand it is a cultural norm but if you ask me ( to which no one has) it is quite disgusting  habit. And let me tell you, it is hard not to be preoccupied with people’s oral health,  when some have these blood red stained, rotten teeth. Just maintain eye contact .. Pretend like you don’t notice and hide the horror from your face … Nothing to see here just keep it moving!

 

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In the beginning…

Sunday May 4,2014

As of this moment I have been awake for more than 36 hours, with faint intermittant bouts of sleep.
Whoooooa Jet lagged … Nope I think I was teetering dangerously on the verge of full on psychosis. In my wild imagination it is my perception of what a crack-head must feel like .. ( picture Halle berry’ circa Jungle Fever character) The roller coaster of emotion…. I’m tired … I can’t sleep, I’m exhausted , yet wired, I’m hungry, I can’t eat, I …. wait …am I tired?.. I am bleary eyed and physically exhausted. I can sleep for only a few hrs then, despite the onslaught of pharmaceuticals I have enlisted. I am startled wide awake at 1 am. You know…. that crazy paranoia that we all get when we’ve traveled and awake in the middle of the night, not recognizing your surroundings,  with no earthly idea where or who we are and panic because we fear weve been abducted or worse yet roofied (sp). Nope,unless you consider self medicating with a cocktail of bendedryl, lunesta and some classy mini-boxed wine roofied then all I am is jet lagged in SE ASIA.
So back to my self diagnosed psychotic escapades….
What’s on tv at 2 am? Oh yes the infinite loop of fast and furious movies , in Korean, in japaneses, in English with Burmese subtitles.what the hell people? Ok now I’m fully engaged in al jeezera tv  news network, this can’t be good. One of my moms concern was that I would turn into a buddist, no worries here Luz , with all the AlJeezera TV I’m watching the worst that could happen would be me buying into the radical Islamic movement … Only kidding!! It’s just the jet lag!
Wait am I NOW watching obie ( my affectionate code name for Obama ) deliver the White House corespondent speech… If I am watching this then I must be delirious!!

After a room change I am unpacked rather half heartedly as I have 2 rather small closets with exactly 5 hangers and 3 small drawers to divide up the 3 suitcase I have so methodically packed with the close supervision of my mother. Where am I going to put all this… I will decide later now I must sleep.. is it only 12noon? who cares, ahhhh sweet slumber awaits.
My first few days I am grateful I packed… Miniature boxed libations of Pinot griot( you laugh but at these moments it’s sweet salvation), scented candles, microwave popcorn, and a few hangers.

Sunrise From INYA LAKE

sunrise on inya lake

sunrise on inya lake

Myanmar Adventure

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April 30,2014 Wednesday

Day one of Global Health Fellowship Assignment. I have been in the air for just close to 22 hours and have covered at this moment around nine thousand and some odd miles clipping along at 478mph hovering at an altitude of 34000 feet or 10363m. As I type this KoreaAir flight 47 has just passed over Hanoi and only 600 miles to my new temporary home! I have passed the international date line , so now it’s May1,2014 . The first ieg of the trip we are headed out from Atlanta straight north , giving a wink and a wave during my fly over of the Windy City, Soaring across our Canadian neighbors , then West over the pacific only to arrive on the Asian continent and touch down in Seoul Korea. Which by all accounts is the “Far East ” for most of us. Seems contradictory heading west to arrive in SE Asia.

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Observations of travels thus far:
Korean Air, like most international carriers I have flown has been great. I know this will not surprise you and for your future reference as you make plans to fly Korean Air to Myanmar . I humbly did not spend the extra 6 thousand to upgrade to business class . Yes that is correct an extra $6k on top of the fare that Pfizer has so generously already covered. That being said I have found no issue slumming it here in “economy class”. Economy class internationally in my experience has never been bad… Consider if you will..

what economy domestic airline do you know that gives you:
Thick pashmina life ( emphasis on “like””) extra large blankets
Individual packaged headsets
Slippers
Warm towels for you hands and face before the continuous barage of meals, snacks,treats and free adult libations
“Real ” silverware no plastic here. Oh and no plastic cups so much classier to be drinking my nameless white wine from a glass and not a paper cup. So classy!!
Toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash

All the latest movies you can handle so far I have watched The Ride Along, the secret life of Walter Mitty, saving Mr. Banks, That akward moment, HER, the book thief , catching fire and a handful of TED talks I downloaded prior to leaving

Where the pristinely dressed flight attendants in their aqua silk blouses with large French cuffs, creamy off white pencil skirt all toped with a dollop of the cutest and most ridiculously starched neck scarf I have ever seen, take care of all your inflight needs with a smile!! One side note there are only female flight attendants ( the only fellas on this crew are flying this metal tube). My inner feminist longs to protest but I completely understand the cultural differences. Sorry as I digressed ! Attention to detail must be this corporate motto because I am awe struck as the attendants bring your drinks on a tray, along with treats and snacks in baskets and in my Quiet observation no soft drinks. I mean there were cans of Korean CocaCola but I don’t believe I noticed anyone drinking soda on the plane. Hmm us Americans!

Now the cuisine was a bit questionable… Most likely only to me as I felt like I was one of 10 Americans on this flight? First my meal came with a gaggle of condiments, most of which I had no idea what to do with however I committed to trying everything even if it was called a beef Bibimbap.There was a small language barrier but I’m pretty sure that’s what she called this complexity of a steamed rice packet, bowl of sprouts, ground beef , w 3 types of mushrooms and spinach .A tube of red pepper paste, which I bravely taste tested ( holy smokes…. It was super spicy, definately not for the faint of heart , sesame oil, peppered pickles? I did not know whether to mix everything up in the large bowl, add all the secret sauces and enjoy or to try everything individually. I scoped around to cheat off of my neighbors for assembly instructions and they had all mixed it together… But I couldn’t fully commit so I did a little of both. I tried each portion separately, each we’re interesting individually and quite honestly except for my longtime aversion to what I refer to as shrooms but lets get real people we all know its fungus. I pushed past it took a bite…. Nope still have a fungus aversion! The Korean Bibimbap sp?? Was decent and it could have been because I was ravenous. Either way, my first experience with Korea food, not bad! Ooooo! Except for the seaweed soup, now I appreciate a tastey warm broth of belly warming goodness but this was not that!!! It was more of a clear broth with a pungent fishy aroma and seaweed bits floating around limply. It was a bit too much! I kept hearing my father joke with me about eating fish head soup and Only hours into my adventure he was right! Although holding true to my word, I peeled back the bowl submerged my metal spoon and yup it was fishy salty broth and that’s all I have to say about that!

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Thank you sweet Baby Jesus !!! Landed in Yangon 11:50 pmWait what day is it? Only a few minutes short of Friday May 2nd and let me first digress just to say a thing or 2 about plane etiquette … I thought the Everyman for himself … Boarding zones .. Yeah right… sheer malay that ensued while preparing to board another international flight Bound for the US in Abu Dhabi was sheer insanity however I stand correct. the pushing, shoving and cutting -in line ( yes I have revered to my 3rd grade dialect,) to board and deplane I experienced on these flights is no joke. Grab your goods, shoulder up and gird your loins… Because that’s the only way to survive and not be lost in the wave of south East Asian stampede… Am I giving of my land of the free home of the brave American pheromones again! It like they can smell the overly courteseous American platitudes and whoosh they pounce! Chicagoans and New Yorkers got nothing on these characters. Americans are seemingly gentle and soft mannered compared to the 70 year old tiny Asian spitfire of a grandmother who body checked me to get her luggage down first or the not so sweet middle aged man who clearly noticed me waiting for the bathroom on the plane and breeze passed me only looking over his shoulder smirking ever so slightly as he entered the lavoratory. Please God or Buddha hit us with a large jolt of turbulence right now so he pees all over himself. Or my favorite young Korean mom and baby whom just waltz right in front of me as I was next in line to hand my ticket to the agent for boarding board… excuse me lady the line starts back there … Oh suddenly you no speak English!! Right lady!!!( of course that dialogue was all in my head, pause while I channel my inner Ralph Kramden with a my pretend fist in the air and a “why I Ought to”)

Safely on the ground in Yangon to be welcome with stifling blast of humid dense air. Wait no air conditioning in the airport? Even at at midnight the heat was sweltering, it hung in the air like a damp rag and as I walked I could feel the little beads of sweat racing down my back, with each step I tried to remove unnecessary clothing. Suddenly a hoody, a tank top and a tshirt all seemed like excessive clothing. My scarf while useful on the plane felt like it was strangling me I couldn’t break free from its octopus like strong hold quick enough. Amblimg down the long terminal corridor to the non functioning escalator arriving at immigration which took just under 40 minutes to clear.

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The airport is quiet and there are more workers than travelers, a kind of eerie apocalypse desolation. All that keeps racing through my mind is , ” Please let there be an angel holding a PSI sign when I get out of here” please GOD Please … Hallelujah! there she is, in her printed longy( I will explain later) and bright lime green PSI polo holding a sign with my 3 favorite words… PSI Kimberly Cotto! Let’s be real it could have said “yo homie -over here” and I would have been no less thrilled. My worst fear was American girl abduction in Yangon … I can just see Anderson Cooper on CNN, reporting my abduction in his severely concerned and dramatic fashion describing the intimate details of my life and what took me to Yangon…. Again, I digress, must be ” the lagg” lol!!! How fantastic not to have to use my ” Pfizer how to survive a kidnaping tutorial ” on the first day oversees, I much prefer to wait and use those skills if need be when I am not bleary eyed, starving and delirious with jet lagged. Kidnapping averted onward to my new home away from home here in Yangon on Friday May 2, 2014!!!