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Monywa to Kalewa in Chin State

The journey from Monywa to Kalewa is the kind you do want to tell to people but you don't want to experience it yourself. It's the kind of story that does better after finishing, so, what happened?

Friends in Kalewa
Friends in Kalewa


In Monywa I decided it would be an adventure to go into Chin state. And there was transport, so why not give it a try? I had heard that Chin State was seldom visited, it was also close to the Indian border so I expected more Indian people.

Monywa had been a really nice little town although there was not much in town that made me excited except the Thanbuddhay Temple. As it goes with Burmese temples, you have to leave your shoes at the gate, whatever the condition of the floors in the temples are. The floor of the Thanbuddhay Temple was rough, full of glass and stones and certainly not an easy thing to walk on for someone like me who was not used to it.

The railway station in Monywa
The railway station in Monywa

In the evening I went to the local bus station to get a bus to Kalewa. As Chin State was hardly visited by travelers, I didn't expect a lot of good roads or even decent buses. Most of the buses in the country were anyway quite bad.

This lady was fixing my sandals
This lady was fixing my sandals

It would become one of the most horrible journeys I did. There was no bus but there were pick up trucks available. I was early, as I always try to be. Passengers came and came and kept coming until the truck contain 38 (THIRTY EIGHT) passengers. We left at about 6 pm. The journey was rough, very rough.

Roads were hardly paved. And most of the time I was standing in the back of the truck. Sometimes we had to push the truck through the mud in the middle of the night. Trust me, pushing a pickup truck in the middle of the night almost to your knees in the mud is not a pleasant thing to do.

Finally, after a long journey we arrived in Kalewa. It was still early but I had no problem to find a hotel. It seemed I was the only foreigner in town. The town itself was small and there wasn't much to do except talking to the locals and visit the markets.

To my surprise I found many Christians living here. That was especially surprising as most of Burma is Mahayana Buddhist. I was walking around and got plenty of invitations to drink a cup of tea with the locals. It was almost from home to home.

In one house I experienced what the so called "voluntary work" meant. The family told me to come inside the house to drink some tea and biscuits.

In fact, the people were shop owners, having a small shop with everything and nothing. They asked me to sit in the back so we wouldn't be disturbed, as they said.

As we were talking, I heard someone coming in the store. The man couldn't see me, but I could hear him talking. My host went in the shop to help the customer. I could hear them talking although I couldn't understand all because they spoke very softly.

monywa to Kalewa
The man in the middle is the man who had to do the "voluntary work",
yours truly on the right, before I stopped drinking.

After a while my host came back. He looked troubled and disturbed. I asked him what the reason was. At first he didn't want to tell me but then it came.

The Chin State jungle
The Chin State jungle

His family had to do "voluntary work". Every year every family has to deliver a family member to the local government to do voluntary work. This could be anything, from cleaning streets, to build a government house. He was ordered to come to the airport the next day to work there. The problem in this case was not the work itself. He considered himself lucky as he didn't have to go far away or do some hard or dirty work.  

However, he had to bring his own cleaning materials, broom and soap etc. If the work would not be proper done, he could be fined, or even brought to prison. You never know what the military people would do. So it was best to show up proper prepared and do as you told without making complains.

It was the first time I directly saw the effect of "voluntary work". In many of the touristy areas, the "voluntary work" was abandoned to show the world the Burmese government was changing. However, in areas without tourists, it was still a normal activity. Later in my journey in Burma I would meet more people telling me stories about "voluntary work".

As said, there wasn't much to do in Kalewa. I had hoped to continue my journey south but that road had been completely washed away by the recent rainfalls. All that was left to me was to go back to Monywa.

But another night through the jungle was not an encouraging thought. So I decided to fly back. It was a 45 minutes flight to Mandalay with a charter from Mandalay Airlines. It sounded good and there was a flight (3 times a week).

The airport was spotless clean, I spotted my friend but he didn't want to see me. After all, being befriended with a foreigner could have given him troubles so I left it.

There was only one flight. I found out I had paid as much for the flight as almost all the locals in the plane, about 25 or so. The flight left and went up. Below was the jungle. At first I looked through the window but soon I realized I felt a stream of air below. When I looked I saw a hole in the floor. The plane was never high, fortunately. But trust me, I was really happy when this thing landed in Mandalay.

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