"No mishy mashy, only the truth.”
I sat with Daw Bertie for a while on the multi-colored plastic stepping stools that dotted the sidewalks and roadsides of Burma. We sat drinking Birdy Brand instant coffee out of mismatched china teacups and talked about Burma.
Daw Bertie spoke loudly and seemingly without a care to the political implications our conversation had. She swept her gnarled hand in gesture across the array of surrounding tables. “No jobs,” she said matter-of-factly. “No jobs in Burma,” she repeated. I cringed at her tone as more people turned to look at us.
After a second cup of coffee, it was time to be on my way. But before I left for good, Bertie stood and for the second time I felt her leathery hands grasp my wrist. She did not lead me to her office this time, but instead we stole into a nondescript alleyway, one of the small veins leading away from the main artery surrounding the Sule Pagoda.
For the first time since I met her, I felt brevity in her words. She stared into my eyes, holding their every focus. "The people here, they have pineapple eyes," she said, "pineapple eyes and elephant ears."
With a flourish she pulled out a 1,000kyat note and showed me a marking on the back, a design that reminded me of one of the wooden hats I’d seen dotting rice fields. Daw Edna pointed to it, her wrinkled hands shaking with excitement, "remember The Lady [Aung San Suu Kyi]. Remember Burma.”
And then she returned to her concrete throne and left me to go on my way.