This time last week I touched down in Yangon for the first time in just over two years. I've now spent a very happy week back in a place I've called home since 2015. Following Covid and the February 2021 military coup in Burma, I was expecting to land in a very different place to the one I left.
And of course lots of things are different. The electricity is shocking - you get 4 or 5 hours a day on a good day, but usually far less. The infamous traffic has improved, a symptom of 80% of children being out of school and many adults staying at home, jobless. Old favourite restaurants have closed, with ubiquitous Chinese restaurants popping up in their place. The streets fall quiet at 7pm and are silent by 10, well ahead of the midnight curfew. Imports are very limited, so the supermarket shelves no longer feel fully international. And the mood is tempered. Not uniformly sad, but far from enthusiastic.
I've been asked how people are feeling. It depends who you talk to. There's great hope amongst the revolutionaries who feel that victory against the military regime is around the corner. There is resignation amongst the elderly, many of whom have lived through multiple coups and feel that they know how this goes from here. And there is disappointment amongst the business community who feel they have no choice but to cooperate with the increasingly restrictive demands of the new administration if they are to survive.
This in itself is quite a stark change from the general calm, upbeat temperament of the Burmese people, who until the coup had spent 15 years happily watching their country emerge from a dark past.
In many ways, though, nothing has changed. Most people are doing their best to carry on with their lives. The markets are still bustling and colourful, the tea still strong, milky and sweet. The crows still signal the start of the day at dawn, and announce sunset with alacrity. The light still flits around like a thousand dancing fairies. The monsoon rains are still a wild release from the furnace, and the calm that follows still as clarifying as ever. Any shoe which isn't totally waterproof is still totally inadequate, and the daily loss of one's umbrella to the umbrella gods remains an unsolved conundrum.
At Kalinko, our purpose also remains entirely unchanged. We have learnt this week that over the past 18 months, our orders alone have kept 50 families afloat in Ye Gyi, the rattan weaving district. Aung Phyo Linn from the glass workshop explained to me that we are the only people still giving work to the hand-blown glass team. A weaving project we've been working on in the IDP camps north of Yangon has been their only income, keeping nine families going for a few months. And even Lin Tin, our always-busy-carpenter has been working exclusively on our orders for some time. As a company, we have felt the pressure of the logistical and financial pressures of Covid, the coup and now the cost-of-living crisis, but our purpose - to place as many orders as viable with as many makers as we can - cannot and will not change.
If you haven't been following, click HERE to see videos and photos of what we've been up to.