BY NIKITA BLACK

I have to say, I was blown away by Thingyan. You see, not only did I learn many Burmese words during those few days, but I was also reminded that the world is essentially a beautiful place and life is worth celebrating – as often as we can. Sharing my story is my way of saying that I am thankful for all the wonderful things and people out there, to be alive to experience and witness it all.

Having never experienced Water Festival before, I was not sure what to expect; I only knew I would be having fun somewhere between Bagan and Mandalay for the occasion. I didn’t realise how receptive I would be.

 

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PRE- WATER FESTIVAL: First splashes in Bagan
My friend Lea and I were passing through the streets of a tiny village on the outskirts of Bagan, when a bunch of kids spotted us and began organising their offensive. A older gentleman who witnessed the scene, rushed out to us with a bowl of water to fill up our water guns, under the tender supervision of his wife. Soon the neighbours came out, curious with the commotion. 10 minutes of laughter later and drenched (we were outnumbered!), we were invited for tea and nibbles outside someone’s house. We exchanged more smiles than words, but the message was quite clearly shared by all: “If you are happy, I am happy”. And we all were.

 

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DAY 1: I LOVE YOU! HAPPY-BA?! OKKKAAYY-BAAA !!!!
Talk about Mandalay Madness! Water fights big enough to flood streets, too many jeeps and motorbikes than you knew existed, grannies clenching onto fire hoses and drenching the young and drunks underneath the stage area… this is not a dream – this is totally happening right before my eyes.

 

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As we were walking down some street, we met a bunch of youngsters who poured litres of cold water on us, and gyrating to the beats coming from a huge loudspeaker. They were lots of fun; spoke little English. It didn’t take long for us to jump onto their jeep and drive off to the stages.

 

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We danced on the jeep, on the streets, under the gushing hoses of the stage. The whole afternoon, we spoke the same words over and over again: ARE YOU HAPPY? YES! THANK YOU BA! HAPPY BA! I LOVE YOU! OK BA! Well, until we reached THE stage, that is. Almost immediately, we were spotted by the Stage Master and were asked to come up and address the crowd with a few rousing ”Mingalaba Mandalay!” and “Happy Water Festival!” We were taught some traditional dancing by old ladies on stage and were very warmly invited to join them again on the following day. Very kind and all, but we were simply exhausted by the end of it. So we decided the next day would be spent doing the usual tourist Mandalay sightseeing.

 

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DAY 2: THE SCARIEST DAY OF MY LIFE
The first half of the day went as planned: Pagodas, got wet, some rice and pickled tea leaves for lunch.

 

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Then came the afternoon.
We were walking on the side of a road when I suddenly felt great pain on the back of my left leg and suddenly found myself laying face-down on the road. My left arm was an angry-red streaked with blood and i could feel burns and pain in other places on my body. It took me half a second to pull myself to the side of the road, nearly missing two motor bikes that crashed into each other because they stopped we watching me instead of where they were going. Once safe on the side, I looked up at Lea, who shaking all over and sobbing.
I had just been hit by a motor bike. The driver hadn’t stopped and by then had disappeared; but many other motorbikes did stop to provide help. Thankfully, I did not suffer any major damage – just some scraped-off skin and bad bruises- but got a hell of a fright. I could have died. And would have lost all the wonderful things life has to offer. I had never cherished my life as much as I did in the hours following the incident.
We continued walking through the back streets (yes we carried on!) but I was too afraid to come close to any big road. We joined the pockets of fun here and there and were given food and drinks by young girls as well as by older women. It took us a few hours, but we made it all the way up Mandalay Hill for sunset. Crazy taxis attempted to get us back down for a 15,000Ks fare. We laughed, climbed into the back of a truck for a 1,000Ks and hitched-hiked home from the bottom of the hill. We were even given a carton of sweet soy milk by the driver! Isn’t that the most comforting way to end a tiring day?

 

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DAY 3: Riding around Mandalay
On the night of the accident, whilst having dinner we made friends with a local who was on holidays too and he offered to show us around on his motorbike. Eeehhh.. no thanks – we still scribbled down his number anyway, cause you never know.
Indeed, you never know! Next morning, we figured there was no other way to see the sights outside Mandalay without a ride so we gave our new friend a call. 30 minutes later, all three of us were on his bike, slowly driving down back streets of Mandalay to avoid major water assaults.

 

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We’ve all seen pictures of the iconic U Bein bridge – the ones with a few monks crossing over it, apicture of serenity and calm. Not this time; it was very crowded during the Water Festival that we could hardly move. People were also just casually chilling on plastic chairs in the lake. Why not, right?

 

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The motor bikes behind us were mostly happy to see us. Two foreigners on one bike are bound to draw attention…and litres of water.

 

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Looking back:
What did I take back with me from my first Water Festival trip ?
Memories of genuine fun, water-splashing cheekiness, a sun-kissed tan, and the most beautiful experience of open-ness, sharing, caring and trust.

I needed to be reminded that strangers are just ‘friends you haven’t met yet’.

 

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Throughout the 3 days, it was a special feeling to willingly offer my back and neck for others to pour water. To me, it’s a strong symbol that says people are essentially good and are worthy of your trust. During those three days, everyone opened up and trusted strangers.
I appreciated spending those days talking about happiness, and almost nothing else. I was asked so many times if I was happy. That’s what life is about in the first place, isn’t it – rather than your job, your status or where you come from.

 

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Nikita Black
Nikita was a project manager at MYANMORE. She's from Bordeaux in France and consequently, she loves her red wines and delicate pâtisseries.

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