Joaquim Magalhães de Castro
The next day I was on my way to Nabet, perched atop a Toyota Dyna, my back turned to a bunch of suitcases, crates, litter bags, PVC pipes, along with other male passengers. The women sat in a lower part of the vehicle, not for the sake of masculine gentleness, but because Burmese tradition requires no woman to stand in a place higher than a man.
That type of van, moaning over the tarnished roads because of its overweight, was the most common mode of public transport in the country. In one Toyota Dyna there was always room for one more or something else. More tubes. Another television wrapped in a square towel. Another fighting cock with its plumes impeccably bright… Here and there, we crossed villages, Buddhist pagodas, always. If the van stopped to drop or pick up passengers, villagers materialized with baskets on the heads, trying to sell bananas, quail eggs, dried meat stuffed with sticks, puddle shrimp slices, sliced cheese, grilled fish and frog legs, vegetable minnows of corn and vegetables, all inexpensive and served as appetizers during the trip. In a small road restaurant where we stopped, the driver made a point of paying me lunch. Perhaps because he admired my “courage” in traveling in those conditions, something few foreigners, accustomed to taxis and buses for tourists, were willing to do.
Once the trip was resumed, it would be the turn of the ticket collector – who went up and down, from the box to the roof, from the roof to the box – to show his generosity. He did not stop offering me the peanuts he ate. Such were the Burmese, genuinely friendly and helpful.
We would come across countless other Toyota Dynas with the words “Hino of Japan” wielded to the roof railing, and on the sides of the road, tied to trees, cloth bands announcing “National Immunization Day” were calling our attention. To the right and left there appeared to be an extensive plain made of coconut palms and paddy fields, separated by rows of large trees and palm trees, from which toddy, the most popular alcoholic drink among the “bayingyis” is extracted.
“Bayingyis” are distinguished from other Burmese by their predisposition to drink and good humor.
Amongst the localities we crossed, I have to highlight Myamo, a pleasant little town with buildings of Sino-Portuguese style and one or other building of horrendous “nouveau-riche” influence, where we made a technical stop at a mechanic’s shop. Immediately, people came to us, moved by the unusual presence of a foreigner. As soon as they learned the reason for my trip, they took me to visit a family of “bayingyi” merchants, proprietors of the rice garden grocery store, who welcomed me with the traditional affection, urging me to photograph a relative who was bedridden. The man, who was between 105 and 110 years old, was certainly the oldest person I ever met.
Nabet revealed, not to my surprise, a heap of dwellings lined up on a dusty street. This was the first impression of this town with three thousand inhabitants, six hundred of them Catholics. Twice as many as in 1925, contrary to the trend in the remaining “bayingyis”.
Perhaps because I was not accompanied by Father Kolay, which made all the difference, I felt that the natives, with obvious Caucasian features, looked at me in a strange, almost hostile manner. It seemed obvious that the village had not been visited by foreigners for a long, long time; perhaps even decades ago.
Also Nabet, like Monhla, was divided. The western part, larger, was Buddhist; as for the East, which was much smaller, there lived Catholics.
In 1780, Monhla’s seminary would be transferred to Nabet, which would henceforth become a famous center of ecclesiastical formation, illustrious Barnabites like D’Amato or Sangermano, author of numerous prose on Burma, having lived and preached there.