The children in Burma waited for us, greeting us with smiles and postcards. Buy a postcard, buy a postcard, buy a postcard. They greet us with impeccable English, helps us merrily on our way to the next attraction.
The children in Burma told us which were the nice fruits to eat, the cheap shops to buy from. They wore perpetual smiles.
They wear yellow circles of Thanaka paste on their cheeks, for good skin and sun protection and mosquito aversion. The story goes that the paste will show a father if his daughter has been kissed.
Many of the little children we spoke to had never been to school. Tuition is free, but out-of-pocket expenses are not. So instead they help out at the market, directing tourists and locals to their parents’ stalls. They pick up English and German and Japanese at an alarming rate. They learn, even out of school. They are hungry for knowledge, they absorb it thirstily.
At the pagodas I see the little child monks, training for a holy life but children all the same, skipping along the marble walkways, laughing with their friends. And the little children patrons are dressed up as if for church, hungry hearts discovering their religion.
What do you do, when a little child asks that you purchase her painting? Do you refuse, because it condones her absence from school? But their world is not my world. Refusing to buy from them would not automatically send them to school.
I grew to love these little children. They remind me of the little South African children, eager also to learn; the children in the hospital who don’t embrace their sick role but want out, out. The children of Burma – Myanmar – made me feel closer to home, far away as we were. But I think that these children have more challenges than my little South African patients. I wish them strength, passionate teachers, compassionate doctors, and a kind government.