THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
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
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
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
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
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
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.
rain gave way to
“normal,” and we