In our last blogpost you could join the team of Conflictfood on shaky rails through the green jungle of Shan-State. Today we continue our journey to the origin of the teas:
As we reach Hsipaw the sun is standing high up in the sky. On the train platform women balance wide baskets on top of their heads and hand out lunch meals through the windows. Shan-tofu, rice noodles, corn cobs, fried rice, slices of mango, fresh pineapple; there is something for everyone. Here all of the young backpackers are disembarking because Hsipaw is known as a paradise for hikers and adventurers.
At the train station we meet Yar Mar Myat Aye. Her whole body sunken, she sits there surrounded by a mountain of bags, fruits, garments and all kinds of other household stuff. Her remote village no longer offers her and her family any safety. The 80-year-old Yar Mar Myat Aye is in flight.
With a low voice she tells us about military arbitrariness, about gunfire every night. She herself is a Ta’ang. For many generations Yar Mar Myat Aye’s family has been cultivating tea. She doesn’t know anything else but the harvesting along the bushes and the drying on the mats made out of palm leaves. Proudly she presents a bulging bag of tea from her last harvest which she brings out from underneath her stuff.
HSIPAW – Here all of the young backpackers are disembarking. it is known as a paradise for hikers and adventurers.
The call from the locomotive prompts the remaining passengers to re-embark. The train rolls on through the hilly landscape which gradually turns into a spectacular red sunset.
Right before midnight, after 20 hours travelling and 188 kilometres crossed the train reaches its destination Lashio. In the small trading town one can feel the proximity to the Chinese border. Farmers from the surrounding areas, businessmen from the neighbouring countries and smugglers hope to make big money here in the golden triangle. Or they are, just like us, simply in transit. Tired from the wobbly train journey we let ourselves fall onto our beds in the hotel exhausted.
Early in the morning we are rudely awakened. The church bells in Lashio are calling the Christian community loudly for Sunday prayer. The small town is even the seat of the bishop. Since Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century also spread the word of God in Myanmar, today around one per cent of the population is Roman Catholic. We visit the ornate church which is filled to its maximum capacity. Everyone there sings the church songs with great ardour. The topic for discussion after the mass is the group of fleeing farmers who a day ago arrived in town and are now hosted in the neighbouring Buddhist convent.
The 80-year-old Yar Mar Myat Aye is in flight. With a low voice she tells us about military arbitrariness, about gunfire every night.
She herself is a Ta’ang.
We drive to the convent to talk to the ‘new arrivals’. They are tea farmers from a remote valley in the North, a dozen families, over 70 people. Three days ago there had been violent riots in their village so they had to flee in the dead of night. The grief over a lost family member who has been killed through the government army is still written in their faces. In the convent they are getting a place to sleep and a warm meal. For now the social net in the Shan State is still functioning so that individual groups of refugees are received and provided for. Often they get split up according to their religion but sometimes they are also scattered in an indiscriminate manner.
Join us on our journey to the origin of the teas! Our next and last blogpost will bring us to the lush and green but fiercely disputed mountains of North-Shan. Read more in our next blogpost!