When I first arrived in Burma, I was hit with a pungent smell that was indescribable and very foreign to me—this smell that clung to our clothing, hair, and skin like a second coat of sweat. The origin of this distinct scent was a combination of citrus, incense, and tanakha, a substance created from ground up tree branches mixed with water.
On our last day in Rangoon, Angie and I visited the famous Shwedagon Pagoda. On our way out of the historical temple, the last rays of the setting sun were reflected radiantly off the giant golden stupa. There, we ran into Arun, our tour guide from our two-day trip to Kyaikhtiyo, a village quite literally in the clouds. We invited Arun to dinner with us and he happily led the way, taking us through crowded streets that became even more crowded and noisy at night, weaving among the tea houses lit up with candles and gas lamps. Arun told us how he had taught himself English, his job as a tour guide, and about his family. When we asked him if he had children, he shook his head. “I don’t want to bring any children into this world until my country is free… I cannot trust my neighbors because they might be spies, but I am not afraid to tell you. Our hope is with foreigners.”
The aroma of Burma has been washed off my clothes but it still lingers in my mind, just like Arun’s voice and the brilliant reflection of the setting sun on the golden pagoda.