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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

|

MARCH 2015

85

Arthur Dymond is a first-tour management-

coned officer posted to Rangoon as an

assistant GSO. Before joining the State

Department, he spent five years as an analyst

at the Pentagon. Earlier he worked in the

private sector in Europe, Africa and Asia.

Arthur and his wife, Stefanie, have a 3-year-

old son and a 16-month-old daughter.

Rangoon: AWalk in the Rain

BY ARTHUR DYMOND

REFLECTIONS

T

he other day I left work at 5 p.m.

to do some exploring in down-

town Rangoon before sunset

withmy wife, Stefanie. We gave

instructions to our nanny, who had agreed

to stay late, then departed.

By the time we arrived at Sule Pagoda,

in the heart of downtown opposite the

former U.S. chancery, dark clouds had

collected in the near distance. Their steel

gray color made a beautiful backdrop to

the golden pagoda, but seemed less than

inviting for an early evening walk.

Nevertheless, we jumped out of the taxi

in the direction of the beautifully mani-

cured, bright green lawn calledMaha Ban-

dula Garden. It’s named for General Maha

Bandula, who commanded the Burmese

army against the British in the First Anglo-

Burmese War (1824-1826).

Then, as if in an attempt to wash

the city of a day’s worth of sweat, muck

and filth, the heavens opened up sud-

denly. With a throng of pedestrians, we

squeezed ourselves under what was left

of an awning that had once been a grand

entrance to the colonial high court. After

about 15 minutes, the torrential rain gave

way to something more “normal,” and we

ventured out—with one small umbrella

between us.

Across from the courthouse was a nar-

row alley lined with tall, colonial-era apart-

ment buildings. Their walls were green

withmoss, grass and even a few small

shrubs growing horizontally frombetween

bricks. The colors of the walls, already

faded by decades of tropical weather and

vehicle pollution, took on an even gentler

hue as the sun began its descent.

Fluorescent lights had begun to paint

light semicircles around the entrances to

a few of the ground-floor shops. A couple

of street dogs followed us with their eyes,

apparently not interested enough to

expend the energy to turn their heads.

Ahead was a small neighborhood street

market that was preparing to close down

for the evening.

Frombehind us, I heard a man’s voice

calling out, “Hello... Hey, you... You...

Hello.” I did not want to buy anything, and

had already lost valuable daylight that was

helpful in exploring this quarter of the city.

But he continued shouting, and I finally

organizedmy thoughts into the limited

Burmese phrases I had learned, to say

politely that I had no time and nomoney.

My Burmese lessons left me unprepared,

however, for what happened next.

Turning to find the source of the voice,

I looked up to the third floor to see a

warm smile on an oldman leaning over

a balcony. In his outstretched arms was a

red umbrella ... for me. He motioned that

I should catch it. I declined repeatedly,

but in the end relented. He gently let go of

the umbrella, and it fell perfectly intomy

hands.

I thanked him, and we continued on

our way down the narrow alley. But the

attractions hidden along the street and

around the next corner faded. I glanced

with only passing interest at the dirty tables

with their perfect rows of fish waiting to

be sold; at the whole chickens, naked

and headless; at the neat stacks of fruits

and vegetables; at the tired women and

children who had been selling their goods

all day while trying to fight off the tropical

heat. I hardly even noticed the rats gather-

ing scraps of discarded food frombeneath

the tables.

I felt completely overwhelmed by the

genuine kindness and hospitality this

stranger had shownme. At the same time,

I felt shame for having cynically misread

the situation.

As we retraced our steps back to the

narrowmarket alley, I carried the umbrella

with a certain pride. It made me feel

welcome and familiar, as if I somehow

belonged in this place that was so different

frommy posh diplomatic neighborhood.

We wondered if the generous man

would still be there. As it turned out, he

was. And he welcomed us into his foyer,

and we chatted for about 10 minutes

before heading back home to get the chil-

dren ready for bed.

Though our excursion was cut short by

the weather, I feel fortunate to have dis-

covered somuch about Burma during that

brief evening walk in the rain.

n

The torrential

rain gave way to

something more

“normal,” and we

ventured out—one

small umbrella

between us.