a blog about the cultural experiences my husband and I have because of our work abroad...what's delightful and beautiful about different countries and cultures...what we have learned from living and working in countries other than our home country...and how those experiences have changed us

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Myanmar (Burma) our next adventure

Stephen and I thrilled to announce that he has accepted a position as Health Project Manager in a 2-year contract with HelpAge International to work on one of their new projects in Myanmar (Burma). Though we were open to a number of locations in the world, Southeast Asia ranked high on our favored list. Our time in Cambodia gave us opportunities to experience a number of Southeast Asian and East Asian countries. Over those 2 1/2 years, we discovered so many wonderful aspects of life and culture that we loved, and we hoped to one day spend more time in the region. Now in only 20 days we will be on a plane bound for Myanmar!

The HelpAge hiring committee really liked Stephen right away. Only a few days after his first phone interview with them, they flew him out to Yangon for a face-to-face interview. The in-person interview confirmed the content of his CV and impressed them further. They offered him the job on the spot! This project has two main objectives. 1) Strengthen the capacity of the University of Public Health to respond to Myanmar's disease transition from infectious diseases to non-communicable (non-infectious) diseases. 2) Assist the government Ministry of Health in developing its response to non-communicable diseases.

When we arrive in Yangon, it will be Stephen's 5th trip to Myanmar and my 2nd. As country director in Cambodia,  Stephen partnered with an organization in Myanmar on health projects.  He made three separate trips to the country for these projects and I accompanied him on one week-long trip.

Myanmar is a country that leaves strong impressions. Because Myanmar has been closed to the outside world for most of the last 50 years, the country and people show fewer signs of influence of the western world and exhibit more strongly their own ancient cultures and practices. Which makes it a fascinating place. We are eager to learn about Myanmar. Though there are some 100 language spoken throughout the country, 2/3 of the population speak Burmese. And that is the language we will begin to study soon. There are 135 different people groups recognized by the Myanmar government but every citizen of Myanmar is called "Burmese".

Some fun facts:

Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the the political party National League for Democracy, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. We read her book "Letters from Burma" a collection of articles published in a Japanese newspaper about Burmese culture and life.

Myanmar is the same size as Texas but has twice the population. Texas has 27 million people and Myanmar has 55 million people.

The city of Yangon, soon to be our new home, has a population of 5 million people. As a reference, our former home of the greater Seattle area has 3.6 million people. :)

George Orwell's first book was "Burmese Days".

Stephen and I are so excited to move to Myanmar. This job seems so well suited for Stephen and I am hopeful I will find a teaching position that is a good fit for me as well. But we know we are going to suffer some hardships and lack of conveniences. Just like we did in South Africa and Cambodia, but in all likelihood, more so. Myanmar is a poorer country than either South Africa or Cambodia. It ranks 150 out of 187 on the UN's Human Development Index. South Africa ranks 118 and Cambodia ranks 136. My week long visit in 2012 (where I accompanied Stephen while he met with people in Yangon and out in a rural village) made Phnom Penh seem cushy by comparison. And as we found in Cambodia, what seems "adventurous" and "interesting" for a short while can soon begin to wear you down. The heat, the humidity, doing laundry daily, the food choices you want that simply aren't available, hard mattress, crumbling crowded sidewalks, crazy scary traffic. The list goes on. It is certainly not just a continuous exciting holiday. It's often quite hard. But we know that and we choose to go because we want to do this work more than we want comfort and convenience. When we left Cambodia we weren't sure what the future held. But after over a year in the states, we have new clarity that working on justice for people living in grinding poverty is how we do our part in God's dream for the world. It's what we can do and it's what we want to do. We just pray that God will be with us to guide our work and give us strength to endure the challenges.

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