by Binyamin Glicksman
While these memories of my experiences in Myanmar are from a few months back, they still resonate with me.
Burma (or by its official name, Myanmar), is a poor country in the Far East, between Thailand, China, and India. Burma, like Israel, received its independence in 1948, but some years later it entered a period of oppression and military dictatorship, which caused significant damage to the country, while benefiting the military leadership at the expense of the larger population and society. The military rules Myanmar to this day, and I recommend that you read about their persecution of the Rohingya minority in the north of the country.
Already while riding at night on the bus from Thailand to the Burmese border I noticed the differences in the behavior of the Burmese people. I stood at the border crossing, together with hundreds of Burmese, on their way home, holding their suitcases and bags. The Burmese are sometimes spoken of as the “Thais of Thailand”, which is another way of underscoring the poverty of their country.
A few days later, having spent the time by myself, I had a number of very interesting experiences. I met some other foreign travelers and decided to join them on a trek for a few days. On this trek I felt like I was transported in a time machine to a period long ago. My imagination took me to stories of my grandmother, a proud sabra, and to “the good old Eretz Yisrael”, the Land of Israel of the generation of chalutzim, of pioneers. Everything was so simple, so modest – the villages and the fields. It’s difficult for me to convey the magical feeling I had there.
The main factor was the people themselves, people who were so amazingly pleasant, who gave me a deep feeling of being at home. The women and their smiles, even during the intense period of the chili harvest. The workers smiling while paving roads in the heat, with the simplest technology imaginable. Yet them seemed content. People that go out of their way to help you, without taking a shekel (or a kyat; the local currency) in return.
How is it possible that for a whole month I never heard anyone yelling or cursing?
How can I describe the camaraderie, and the dedication that they display toward their families?
I’ll give you one more example. I came to a place near the capital, called Taverava Center, which is basically a hospital for the mentally ill. Some people there are physically ill, others have severe mental or behavioral problems, and still others simply have nowhere else to live. The hospital is supported by donors and volunteers from all over the world. One morning I went with some monks to the neighboring village to ask for contributions for the Center. We walked in a line with a car in front of us informing the residents of our arrival. When we arrived, and I saw the lines of people waiting for us, with money and pots of rice, I was covered with goose bumps.
Here are poor people, giving what they have to those who are worse off than themselves.
We were walking barefoot, and it hurt me a bit, but at that moment I forgot all about the pain; it didn’t bother me anymore.
After I left Burma I sat down and looked over my diary, and I tried to reflect upon my experiences there. Mostly, I tried to examine what it was about the Burmese people that made them so special. What was it that made them, I mean all of them, so amazingly nice? I wondered, is it a byproduct of their religion and its commandments? Or perhaps it’s their culture, that has remained strong? Perhaps these factors do influence them, but I think the main factor is their way of life.
The Burmese people I met lead a simple life, in which no one looks at their neighbor with jealousy, a life filled with an awareness of what each one has and is grateful for, rather than what they lack and perhaps need. They don’t exhibit greed, they don’t steal from others, and they don’t have a compulsive yearning to acquire more and more possessions, a compulsion which is never-ending. They are simple, happy people, seemingly content with their lot.
I want to emphasize – and those who know me are aware of this – that I’m not some kind of hippie and I don’t just “laze around”. I’m well aware of the world I live in and its demands, but I truly believe that it’s possible to live a simpler life, and that the American way of life, with its materialism, should not be our ideal.
So what can we learn from all of this for the coming New Year?
Perhaps if we live more simply, and foster awareness of those things which we truly need in life, then we’ll be able to get closer to the essence of things. We’ll be able to devote more time and energy to helping others. And if we are more modest in our disposition, perhaps others will feel more comfortable in our presence, and more willing to approach us, for our help and support.
I wish everyone a happy and sweet New Year. May it be a year of simplicity, a year of giving, a year of fulfillment and meaning.
Binyamin Glicksman (Binya), Hannaton Mechina class of 2013, Cohort 1
Binyamin finished his army service two years ago and recently returned from a long journey to the Far East. This year he is working as a counselor at the mechina in Moshav Meitzar.