BY EVA CLIFFORD
As I drove out one morning down the empty highway in Bagan, dawn light rousing the colours of the plains and the pagodas cold-looking against the sky, I suddenly noticed a small girl on the roadside waving at me like I was a long-lost friend. When I stopped my bike, she greeted me as ‘sister’.
We walked side by side across the sand and her sisters came over to introduce themselves too. Thiri, 13, was wrapped in a purple longyi and offered to show me up to the top of the temple. There was nobody else around apart from us. She hopped up the steps easily like a gazelle, while I dragged behind wary of the scorpions.
When we reached the top, the sky was quickly brightening and we sat down looking over the plains and the temples and at the last of the balloons floating up into the sky.
She pointed to a tiny ramshackle hut below in which she lived in with her parents, five sisters and baby brother. In the wet season the water level is so high they have to move all their stuff and sleep inside the temple, and in dry season farmers often keep them awake at night praying for rain. Four years ago they lived by a different temple which she pointed to in the distance, but the roof blew off in a storm so they had to move. She told me all this as we sat on the top of the temple watching the sunrise…
Then unexpectedly, Thiri said she’d make me a tea leaf salad and before I could say anything, she was racing back down to the hut to prepare it. It is moments like this that many of us try to seek when we travel – spontaneous acts of kindness and tiny glimpses into other people’s lives that are so different from our own.