pearls around the neck • 63
Note from the author:
Myanmar, with its natural beauty, rich culture and traditions, and its crushing poverty, is entering a
new phase in its history and development. With so many priorities, sex education does not rate high
on the list of issues that need to be addressed. Yet so many young women in Myanmar today end up
having unprotected sex that leads, all too often, to pregnancy, shotgun marriages, and divorce. Going
forward, civil society needs to at least talk about these issues so that the lives of young women in
Myanmar do not become impossibly overburdened, especially now that the country is on the cusp of a
This story illustrates the problem through the eyes of a young Myanmar woman. The pain and burden
is real. Hopefully it will engender some empathy; ideally it will spur the reader to action.
Mya Mya wakes up.
Once again the crowing “ao eee oh” sound of the pet rooster has interrupted her dreams. She was just
about to kiss him, Htay Khin, for the first time, down at Ayarwaddy riverbank. The sun was setting
and she had shivers going down her spine and goose bumps on her arms. Her heart was pounding fast
and loud. She could feel that magical unity of excitement and loss of time, when he touched her face
and her lips with his young and strong hands, slowly approaching her...
But now he is dead.
It is around 5am. Next to her, Aung Aung, her older son, and Win Win, her little daughter, are still
asleep. The peaceful innocent looks on their faces make her smile…. Innocent and vulnerable, totally
dependent on her. She herself is not sure what the future has in store as she lives day by day. What if
she becomes sick or if one of her children becomes sick? She manages, but there is not much extra for
savings in case of emergency needs.
She wants her children to go to school and enjoy an easier life; she wants them to have the freedom of
choosing the life they want. But how this could ever happen, nobody knows. The only thing she can
manage today is to give them an education. Not many of her friends send their kids to school for more
than 3 years, only enough time for them to learn the very basics of reading and writing and counting.
Most families need their children to work in the fields or to help with the household chores, and many
just cannot afford the school fees. But Mya Mya has been lucky so far: her business with PaeByote
(steamed beans for breakfast) and Longyi sewing (the traditional sarong worn by men and women)
in the afternoon are doing well. Many people in the village love her PaeByote recipe and buy from her
The fields casted with mist are so quiet she feels somehow embraced and protected.
She goes to her garden, collects some blooming Jasmine branches and takes a bowl of water. At the
shrine in her house, she empties the five small water bowls, refills them with fresh water, and after
cleaning the flower vases, places the newly picked Jasmine in the vases. Kneeling down in front of the
tall ceramic Buddha, she repeats her daily prayers. Inner peace and calmness slowly settle in her soul