Thursday, December 4, 2008

One of the Biggest Mistakes I Ever Made, and the Recovery Made

During the period between 1998 and 2002 I was working as a township socio-economist for a UNDP funded FAO implement project in the Dry Zone of Myanmar. In the Kyaukpadaung Township to be exact. I have been working there for a year now and was very confident in the work that I was doing and in the professionalism in the way I got it done too. On the day of this story, I was on my way to a village, approximately 35 miles away to the northwest of the Mount Popa, the extinct volcano, the most distinct landmark and the point of reference for dead reckoning navigation by all travelers of the area. After turning off the main road and onto dirt track of the village trails the soft sand become too much even for brand new Yamaha DT 125, to handle, so I had to revert to pushing the thing along the way. After thirty minutes of pushing the bike a few villages came into sight in the distance, and to a few villagers nearby on the way I asked “which village is Tabauk Kone?” they all pointed in unison to one village not too far. I estimated that it would take another 20 minutes of pushing to get there. Although I was very fit at the time, I still was terribly exhausted when I pushed the bike into the village gates and asked the direction of the headman’s house. Again, all pointed in unison to a particular house. When I finally pushed the bike into the house, I was totally whacked. I stumbled over to the headman and he graciously pull out a bench for me to collapse onto. I told him who I was; there was little explanation was needed as the bike was already identified as a UN motorbike. I asked if he could assemble the population of the village as I would like to make an announcement concerning the community and the reason why an UN official has come here. Then I simply tried to recover as fast as I could for the project introduction speech I was going to deliver. Since I had done numerous times before, I had it down to tack. Just needed to get my breath back.
In the compound of the headman, a respectable audience soon assembled, the news of a UN representative had already circle the community, probably twice, so people were quick in the coming.
An old woman sat in near the front of the crowd, I told the headman that I was going to start, always get permission to speak in someone else’s community, and got to my feet and introduced myself, to the beaming smiles of the community. Then I did it! to personalize the speech a bit I would always mention the name of the villages and the people there. So I chimed “ People of Tabauk Kone!, Thank you for assembling here to listen to what I going to say,” there was an instant hush, silence in the 200 people that had assembled. I immediately recalled every word that I just said, no problem, at all, then why? That’s when the old lady in front said to me “this is not Tabauk Kone Village, this is Than Bin Village, Tabauk Kone Village is another 4 miles down the track” she said pointing along the same direction the villagers on the way had pointed. Cold sweat and hammers in my chest pounded out the situation. But luckily Than Bin was on my list too. So I did what I did, smiled hugely and said that’s the village that I’m going to after Than Bin Village, much to the relief of everyone there.
I had simply never asked if this was Tabauk Kone Village when I had arrived there.
The comedy of the situation is very well known in the area.
The time the UN guy went to the wrong village.
I don’t know why but the memory just came vividly back to me.
I am smiling.
No one in Singapore knows this.

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