Myanmar’s “WoW”

February 2016:  Traveling towards a township on a provincial road in Myanmar, I was scanning the roadside scenery for some good photos when I spotted something on the road that I initially did not believe I was seeing.  A portion of the road was under repair, a number of workers were busy doing the construction, and they were all women!  Not believing my eyes, I asked my companion if this is something normally happening in the country.  The answer was yes and all I managed to mutter was  “WOW!” before my camera started clicking and our car started to regain speed.

Women in Construction

A sight quite unique to Myanmar: a road construction workforce comprised of women

On the way to another place a few days later, I closely watched the road, on the lookout for the admirable women.  I managed to make a few clicks and went to bed that night a bit disappointed.  I didn’t realize my luck until the next morning when I gazed out from the balcony and almost spilled my coffee because of what I saw.  The women construction workers, in their glorious traditional hats and thanaka-covered faces, were  assembling right at our parking lot!  It turned out that the guesthouse arranged for us was also the headquarters of the local Works Department — the same agency that employs all these women  — and the place is used as the assembly area before the workers were brought out to the construction site.  And so, remembering the only word I muttered the first time I saw their kind; I christened them WoW for “Women of Works”;  and the two splended mornings I woke up in that place became exciting WoW pictorials.

Here’s their story….*

Women in Construction

We are not into acting although we look like we are doing a stage play or a pantomime.

Women in Construction

We are not into modelling  either although we look like we are advertising a mobile phone or a make-up kit.

Women in Construction

We are, in fact, construction workers waiting to start the day’s work fixing and building roads.

Women in Construction

Of course we came dressed up for the job. We wear long sleeves, traditional hats, and a good portion of thanaka cream fully covering our faces — all to protect our skin from getting burned by the searing heat of the sun out on the road.

Women in Construction

While waiting for work to start, we chat with friends, call home or share messages on the phone.

Women in Construction

And then it’s time to go and we board the trucks.

Women in Construction

Climbing up a big dump truck is not that easy.

Women in Construction

Sometimes we need to clamber up from the truck’s side and our long longyi (skirt) makes it difficult.

Women in Construction

But there is always time to pick and smell the flowers.

Women in Construction

And then off we go.

Women in Construction

Sometimes we need to ride on bricks and offload them from the truck at the project site.

Women in Construction

Out at the project site, we clear the roads…

Women in Construction

… and level the land fill.

Women in Construction

We scatter the gravel…

Women in Construction

… and carry stones for the foundation.

Women in Construction

The foundation must be set well before we lay the asphalt.

Women in Construction

And then we prepare the asphalt and carry more land fill.

Women in Construction

Finally, the road is almost finished.

Women in Construction

It’s time to let it dry and cure.

Women in Construction

And we catch a breath and let our aching muscles get some rest.

Women in Construction

It’s time to go home to our families.  For now. Tomorrow will be another day on the road.

I later learned of the big debate within Myanmar and even in other countries about whether the situation of these women can be considered empowerment or just plain exploitation.  There are merits to the argument of both sides but I don’t want to get sucked into the debate.  All I know is that, for their families to survive, these women are doing something that their counterparts in most countries can not even imagine doing even if their families go hungry.  That, to me, deserves respect.  That, to me, is a WOW!

*The photos were taken from various places in the Bago and Yangon regions of Myanmar.

 

 

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