Last Updated on August 29, 2018 by Soumya
It was midnight when I got off my bus at “115 Miles”, a rest stop on the Yangon-Mandalay expressway. The place was alive with activity as if those were early hours of the evening. There were people everywhere, eating, drinking, talking and laughing.
We were on our way to Mandalay from Yangon. This was our first stop and I had to get off the bus for my usual loo routine. Neither the crowd nor the noise seemed to engage me at that point of time because my mind was fixated on a water closet and an urgent need to relieve myself. I rushed out without a second thought and unfortunately, without my cell phone.
My sense of direction is generally awful so I devised a simple plan to get to the toilet. I would follow a fellow Burmese passenger (“my Lady”), use a toilet close to hers and follow her back again. I spotted my Lady as soon as I got off the bus and stayed close by. I thought my plan was rock-solid until I realized that it wasn’t, especially in a new country among new people.
The toilets were nestled deep behind the kitchens of Feel Express, a ubiquitous convenience store in Myanmar. As we got closer to the toilets, the crowd started getting thicker and noisier. There was some jostling around and in the blink of an eye, I lost sight of my Lady. There were hundreds of women in front of me and suddenly, I had no clue who I was following! I was afflicted by a common condition called the Other-Race Effect and it had severely impacted my ability to distinguish between Burmese faces. Everyone looked alike!
In a desperate attempt to find my way back, I tried to locate a trash can that I had passed by on my way to the toilet. I found six identical ones and beyond each, stood hundreds of similar-looking buses. Tears started welling up inside me. I had no money, no phone, and no Burmese language abilities. I was, clearly, lost.
I sat on a rock nearby and saw a bus move out of the parking lot. Through the clearing, bright yellow shone at me from a distance, probably just another bus. Wait, was my bus yellow in color? Most likely, it was! I ran towards the yellow with all hope and strength. My husband was waiting right in front of it and I collapsed into his arms!
We drove away from 115 but I had a lot to think over. Only now did I realize the importance of spending time with people. If it could take me days to recognize faces, how could I even hope to comprehend their lives in a few weeks? “Understanding”, surely, was the journey of a lifetime!
Read more on my travels to Myanmar here!