The Women of Ywangan
Fate has so decided that they be born in a remote village of an obscure township called Ywangan. Situated in the hilly region of Southern Shan State in Myanmar, the place can be called a paradise to a nature lover. Blessed with fertile soil and a favorable climate, the township is basically a patchwork of vegetable and flower gardens like a very large colorful quilt laid upon endless rolling hills.
On rainy days, when water is in abundance, the hills simply explode in color from the dark green cabbages to the golden rice stalks, from the bright yellow mustard blooms to the dark red roses and pink mums, and to the many colors of almost any crop the villagers can think of. And when the rains stop, the hills gradually turn from light green to golden yellow and then to earthen brown as the vegetables start to wither only to grow once again into bright hues when the cold mountain winds carry the rain clouds back above the thirsty hills.
But life for the women in these villages is not always a bed of roses. The Danu tribe where they belong encourages both men and women to share work at home, in the gardens and in the community. And so, while the Danu woman is mothering her kids, she also works hard in the vegetable gardens planting crops, clearing weeds, as well as harvesting, hauling and marketing the produce. And when there is a need to build a new bridge or repair the village road, the woman is also there at the construction site, digging a ditch, piling rocks or hauling construction materials.
But the women show no hint of unhappiness or discontent. They perform all these roles with cheerful spirit having seen their own mothers and grandmothers do the same and having been trained in Buddhist teachings of patience, sacrifice and merit-making. They always wear a smile in their faces as they tend to their kids, fetch water from hundreds of meters away, or do the harrowing work in the gardens or the construction site. So admirable is their attitude that an unaccustomed observer would almost envy their strong sense of contentment.
This kind of life was not necessarily borne by choice. The environment in which they were raised also offered limited opportunities and choices for women. Schools are not always accessible, girls marry and have kids even when they are yet teenagers, and a woman can be considered extremely lucky if she was able to acquire a university degree. Alternative sources of income are scarce or non existent. And so their families have no choice but to be contented with their life in the village. Living a life in the vegetable fields was the only option to the greatest majority of the women born in the village. It is most probably where they will spend the rest of their lives.
And so, like a rose, the women in these villages bloom and then new buds bloom after them but the rose’s roots are firmly planted in Ywangan’s fertile soil and thus its lovely flowers are not going anywhere.
And then the community worker who comes to the village, filled with ideals and concepts of ‘development’ — strange perspectives copied far away worlds — is perplexed. Rural development is supposed to make these women happier and more comfortable but the women are already happy and contented, apparently happier and more contented than the person bringing the development ideas. Perhaps development can make their lives easier. But would it make them any happier than they already are or would it only make them less contented and more resentful of their fate?
To all the women of the world, A SALUTE!