Chugging Slowly Upriver in NW Burma, Part 3

We made a long trek to reach the Chin State. We had a day pass (tourists are not allowed to remain overnight in the Chin territory) and a guide to translate for us. Our hope was to reach the villages where the local tribes still have elders with tattoos, by tradition only the women. The government represses the tradition, and it was feared that it had died out.

We had no guarantees that the women would come out to meet us once we reached the villages. At some point in the journey I stopped caring, because every minute in Burma was filled with wonders. The long slow passage upriver had become a journey to a some where, a some thing else. We chugged slowly upriver in NW Burma on the Lemro, from the Rakhine to the Chin state.

Arriving
Arriving

After walking around for some time in the first village, the elders stood before us! It was literally as if we looked up, and there they suddenly were.

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We asked through our guide if Uwe might take photos. The elder women calmly answered in the affirmative. They were, after all, the reason we’d come so far to visit. The tribes are self-sufficient and produce nothing for the tourist market. To meet the female elders is the reason why foreigners come to the villages.

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We were meeting Laytu Chin women (also called Lemro or Laito). The Chin are of Tibetan-Burman ethnicity, and tattooing is practiced only among the southern Chin.

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To a woman they were calm, poised, and radiated confidence. When did the Chin begin tattooing? One claim is that the tattooing was done to make the women ugly so the Burmese kings would stop stealing them to use as slaves, but this claim has been discounted as myth. It’s our modern world that sees tattooing as unattractive and labels it ‘ugly’. It’s far more likely that the Chin women were tattooed in a rite of passage, and that the facial tattoos are a mark of social status and coming of age. The tattoos make the women beautiful.

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No one in the outside world knows just what these patterns signify. The tattoos may be stippling, dots, circles. The Laytu women we met have the most elaborate Chin tattoo, a spider web or rising sun pattern. Our guide told us the men had gathered the materials used in the tattooing process. Jens Uwe Parkitny reports being told that the actual tatooing is done by female tatoo artists.

The women walked us through the village, up to the school. It was originally funded by a foreigner and we were invited to make a donation. It was all very formal: the guide wrote out a receipt along with the amount, our names, and our nationalities.

D30_4957_0800One of the women was in charge of taking the money and handling the donation, but the task is rotated. He translated our questions, explaining that on each day a different woman takes on this task. The responsibility of supporting the village is shared communally.

On that day we were invited up into a home on stilts. In another Chin village we watched one of the old women work at a handloom. We visited a burial ground on the river banks, where the dead are cremated and offerings are set out for the deceased. When we finally set back down the Lemro River on that December 31st, the last day of the year 2009, Uwe and I knew we had journeyed a very far way indeed.

Once we were home in Europe I found myself haunted by the old women’s faces. We got online and began to search for anything we could find on the Chin.

We discovered that the tradition of tattooing hasn’t died out altogether after all. In his exquisite brochure “Im Porträt: Gesichtstatuierungen der Chin-Frauen in Birma” (“Chin Women of Burma and their Facial Tattoos: A Portrait”), photographer Jens Uwe Parkitny documents the Chin tribes and different tattoo patterns of each group. He has made it his on-going mission to document and bear witness to this extraordinary group of people and their traditions. The text is in German and English. This stunning booklet of photographs can be ordered from either of the following sites:

Munich Museum of Ethnology: http://www.voelkerkundemuseum-muenchen.de and

Hirmer Publishers http://www.hirmerverlag.de/

When Uwe and I discovered Parkitny’s brochure on the Munich museum website, we ordered it immediately. Parkitny has also published a new book entitled “Blood Faces” http://www.bloodfaces.com/ . All proceeds from his book go to a children’s charity in Yangon, Burma.

 (All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

More pictures from our trip to Burma, and of Uwe’s photography, may be viewed at viewpics.de.

The Year the World Came to Party

I’ve lived in Germany for over 20 years. Stuttgart has become my second home (third? fourth? It’s hard to say when you moved every few years as a child). Stuttgart is the ideal city, with all you could want:

  • great restaurants
  • parks & public spaces
  • shopping
  • museums
  • outdoor cafés
  • public transportation
  • proximity to Nature

What a great place to live! I used to think, If only Germans would relax and have more funand then the World Cup came to Germany.

It was 2006. May was cold and damp, and June was no different. Everyone waited anxiously for the start of the soccer tournament and prayed for good weather.

The weather gods decided to smile. Our prayers were heard and a few days before the tournament opened, the skies cleared and the temperature rose. We suddenly had perfect, sunny summer weather. The country let out collectively held breaths and said, Let the Games Begin!

Watching the World Cup at the Schlossplatz
Watching the World Cup at the Schlossplatz

Stuttgart set up 3 gigantic outdoor viewing screens in the heart of downtown.

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Every restaurant and café had flat screen t.v.s. For once, patrons all wanted the set on and the sound turned UP!

Croatian fans
Croatian fans

I arranged my work schedule around the games and each afternoon my friends and I headed in to town to watch the afternoon matches.  DSC_4771DSC_4655AustraliaWe never knew what we’d see on the UBahn trains or on the streets. An Aussie might be carrying a life-sized blow up kangaroo, or we’d spot French fans with their hair and faces dyed in the tricolors of the French flag.

Downtown Stuttgart swam in soccer fans.

The entire city turned orange on the days the Dutch team played.

Got beer?
Got beer?

One early afternoon several hundred British fans partied hard, getting more sunburned – and more inebriated – by the minute as they cheered on England.

He brought along his date
He brought along his date
Needs no caption
Needs no caption

Another day the Brazilians draped themselves in flags and samba-ed their way up our main pedestrian street, the Königstrasse, accompanied by musicians.

Go Brazil!
Go Brazil!

My husband joined us each night after he finished work. We’d grab a bite to eat and then head back to the main plaza for the evening match. The sides of the area that erupted with cheers when a team scored let you know: that was where the Italians were sitting. Or Portuguese. Or Americans. Or…

What Team Italy had planned for Team France in the final game...
What Team Italy had planned for Team France in the final game…

The German team was coached by Jürgen Klinsmann, a Schwab whose family still runs a bakery in a Stuttgart neighborhood. The team kept advancing! The mood in Germany grew more animated! EVERYONE stayed in a good mood.

Bella Italia!
Bella Italia!
France
France
Home team!
Home team!

It didn’t matter who won. (Okay, it did, it did!) Let me rephrase that: Fans cheered and groaned and stayed civil and good-natured no matter how the matches ended. The crowds swelled to over 100,000 people as it got closer to the finals.

Fan Sea
Fan Sea

The Königstrasse literally became a sea of happily excited fans.

DSC_4839It was a social happening: people from all over the world came to Germany to share these games together. You wanted to be in a beer garden or plaza or outdoor café, anyplace with a crowd of people. The 2006 World Cup Games is the greatest international event I’ve ever attended.

Merci Allemangne!
Merci Allemangne!

My adopted country is one hell of a host. Forget dour and uptight: these people know how to throw a party! Now if they could just hold the World Cup annually instead of every four years. And let Germany host it again, soon.  I’ll be wearing a team shirt and face paint. And I will be hollering, Let the Games Begin!

(All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

Chugging Slowly Upriver in Northwest Burma: Part I

I met my Australian mate Iain in immersion language class: he’d married a German, too. Together we confronted the ‘small’ detail of learning the native tongue. That was 19 years ago. Both of us are still here, still married to our Germans, and we’re still friends.

Iain likes my blog, but he’s irritated with the photo I selected for the top border. “Why do you say ‘Greetings from Germany’, and then use a photo on a river somewhere?

Billowing sail
Billowing sail

“It’s a nice picture and all that, but why don’t you have a picture of Germany?” he went on. “When all’s said and done Deutschland‘s your home now.”

“It’s my blog and I’ll do what I want,” I thought. But he’s right, and I promised Iain I’ll work up a post about beer or Christmas Markets or beer at the Christmas Markets. (Actually, at the Weihnachtsmarkt everyone drinks an amazing hot mulled wine called Glühwein, but that’s a different post.)

So, in the interests of clarity:

The photograph runner at the top of my page was taken as we chugged slowly up the Kaladan River in northwest Burma. For close to 8 hours we sailed by other boats.

Family transportation
Family transportation

We passed a continuous landscape of grazing water buffalo,

Water buffalo

high round haystacks,

Haystacks along the river

and villages along the water.

Everyone works busily

Our goal was to travel from Sittwe to Mrauk U (pronounced more or less “Mrou Oo”), once capitol to the ancient Rakhine kingdom that based its money and power on maritime  trade with Europe, India, and Arabia. Mrauk U’s king employed Japanese samarai as body guards!

There is just 1 road over land to Mrauk U. As of 2009 only the Burmese were permitted to use it. Tourists arrived by boat, or not at all.

The excitement of a boat sailing past

We needed to reach Mrauk U as a jumping-off point to get to the villages of the Chin State. This semi-autonomous region is very near the border to Bangladesh. We hoped to see the traditional tattoed elders and could visit the area with an assigned guide, a special day visa, and a goodly dose of luck. Maybe the elders would come out to meet us; maybe they wouldn’t. We’d have to hire a boat to take us even further upriver and see what happened from there.

On the last day of the year 2009 we climbed into a second, much smaller boat, this one on the Lemro River, and continued up to the Chin State.

Part 2 to be posted soon.

(All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

It Was a Bitterly Cold -22°

For 14 years my husband spent half of every winter up in northern Sweden, working on a frozen lake. The engineers flew up for 2 week stints, leaving home on Mondays and returning two weeks later on a Friday evening charter flight.

The very last year that Uwe did this stint, his company began to allow family members to take advantage of the flights. At the end of March 2001, on the vernal equinox, I flew up to meet Uwe in the region broadly known as Lappland.

Limited access roads

My flight was delayed while President Putin flew through European airspace back to Russia. By the time I arrived it was close to midnight, and we had to drive an hour further north to reach Arjeplog. It was a bitterly cold -22° and on either side of the deserted road the snow piles loomed. But we kept stopping the car to get out – the Northern Lights were dancing in the heavens! So far north, surrounded by nothing but woods and the glittering of stars, the aurora borealis played across the horizen.

I heard a weird background swishing noise underneath the sound of my heart beat. I was listening to the borealis. As I stood on the frigid road my optic nerves took pictures of the Northern Lights. It was so quiet that the part of my brain which processes sound picked up signals leaking out from the images. Early explorers in the Arctic Circle reported this experience. (They discovered when they put their hands over their eyes, the sounds went away.)

The Lights are caused by disturbance in the magnetic field of the earth’s poles. Energy generated by solar winds is hurled from the sun at incredibly high speeds. The solar winds get stopped when they hit the magnetic field. Electrons and atoms from the windstorms collide, and that creates the lights.

In some parts of Sweden and Norway, people earlier described the aurora borealis as the reflection of Silleblixt, millions of herring swimming in the sea. The Eskimos have a legend about the Northern Lights. They think the aurora borealis lights up the trail of the afterlife. This is a dangerous, narrow path that souls must take when they leave dead bodies and head to heaven.

Some cultures mention the lights as dancers in the heavens. Scotsmen call the Northern Lights ‘Merry Dancers’. In the Middle Ages, if people saw the Northern Lights and they contained red, it meant a war was starting somewhere in the world. The red color was death and the blood being spilled in battles. I just saw different shades of white lights and no other colors in the spectrum. And I definitely thought they were alive, like dancers.

The next day we drove north and officially crossed into the Arctic Circle. The trees ended altogether and the landscape beyond this point was a dome of snow meeting an azure sky.

It had warmed up to -6° and the day was clear and beautiful

The Swedes refer to this time of year as winter-spring, the 5thand most beautiful season of all. I made a snow angel

A snow angel for the Arctic Circle

and spotted a rare Arctic white ptarmigan. We drove past spots on the deserted roads where black garbage bags hung dark against the snow. These are a signal for drivers that a herd of reindeer is grazing somewhere nearby.

That weekend is the only time I have seen the Northern Lights. They have danced in my memories ever since.

(All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

The Music of the Heavenly Spheres

Schwedagon Pagoda, Rangon

In 2009 we spent 4 weeks in Burma, the maximum time permitted on a visa. For years we’d debated back and forth about whether to go. Does one travel to a repressive regime? Just the year before, monks were shot for demonstrating peacefully in the streets. In the end we decided to go and bear witness. A country closed tight and ruled with iron fists, the poverty and corruption are unbelievable… as are the loving kindness of the Burmese and the beauty and magic of their land. I have been pondering what to post about our trip to Burma and how to write it, because Burma is unlike anyplace on earth.

But these are only words.

Let me begin again, this time with a story:

Sacred Pali script

On our very last day in-country, in Yangon we stopped at a café on a busy street with outdoor tables. All of the tables were filled with other tourists. The locals did not have the money for anything so extravagant. A beer, a pineapple juice, and hot green tea arrived; I wrote out some last post cards. Hovering in the street were the post card seller, a hawker for newspapers (used and days old), and a skinny boy with an endless “Hello? hello! Hello? hello!” When a tourist looked his way he said “Eat,” and mimed someone putting food in his mouth. He hovered looking over the wall dividing the café from the street, persistent with hunger.

I became aware of an ethereal music swimming its way up from the background of my consciousness. I thought someone down the street a ways with access to a power generator was playing a recording of a beautiful, haunting voice. Then the sound came nearer, and it was a young Burmese person. At first I thought it was a man slowly making his way down the road. It was a woman: she had her hair up under a cap and thanaka paste on her cheeks to protect her skin from the sun.

A voice from the Heavenly Spheres
A voice from the Heavenly Spheres

She halted and stood very still as she sang, or chanted verses, or recited a Buddhist prayer. It wasn’t clear if she was singing or speaking and didn’t matter. The purity of that voice pierced all barriers and reached all hearts. Every so often the little metal cymbals in her fingers went ching! in a perfect counterpoint.

When she stopped, the entire café burst into spontaneous applause. People kept getting out of their seats to put bills in the can on a string around her neck. I checked my wallet. I knew my last offering in Burma was going to this young woman with the voice that sang with the music of the spheres. This music usually can’t be heard. The Greek mathematician Pythagoras of Samos believed the movement of planets (heavenly spheres) creates ethereal and earthly harmonies; Shakespeare wrote often about how these harmonies affect events. All I know for sure is that on that afternoon, in a dusty street in Burma, a young woman was channeling that music for us to hear.

I walked out with a 1,000 kyat note, stepped around the restaurant’s retaining wall to donate – and saw my singer had just one leg. She was propping herself up with a rough plank of wood.

This is my final image of the country sometimes called Myanmar. This is my avatar for Burma: a transcendent voice beyond language, standing with only one leg, singing gloriously, regardless.

I will post more about Burma in the coming months.

(All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

The View from my Window

Hello! Welcome to my blog space! Allow me to introduce myself: I’m Jadi Campbell. I’m an American who grew up in the Northeast, went to college and lived as an adult on the West coast, and am now married and reside in Europe.

I’ve been in southern Germany for over 20 years… two decades that have gone by in the blink of an eye. As a boss I once had used to say, life is short and art is long. My husband and I live in a village with 1,200 years of recorded history, near Stuttgart. As I write this a construction site is progressing on our street. The builders are required to do an archaeological survey first, and so far they’ve discovered graves and a weaving hut from 500 A.D. Last week they dug up a skeleton and tool dating back to 4,000 – 5,000 B.C.! The layers of history and civilization and cultures here, literally in my back yard, are amazing.

I’ve visited over 60 countries, including a few that no longer exist (I’m talking to you, Czechoslovakia and West Germany.) Maybe it’s life overseas, perhaps it’s a desire to know what makes other people tick; something keeps me very curious about other people and places.

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to write. Finally, in my mid-50s, I’ve combined all the fun of travel, the harder work of living life in another language and culture, and half a century of living. I took all these elements and wrote my first book of fiction: Broken In: A Novel in Stories.

Allow me to introduce you to a few of my characters: Lou Bocci, who had a twin who died. Adam Kersch, overly charming and fighting off a depression. Lisa Mitchell, a brand new adult who learns about the world… in Bangkok. Judy Diver, gourmet chef and serial monogamist. Bartender Gabe Burgess, who spends 4 weeks every winter exploring a new part of the world. And JJ’s Bistro, the restaurant where these characters and others all cross paths.

I am often asked, “But is it true? Do you write about things that really happened?” The answer is no. And, of course, yes. I write about events both wonderful and terrible that could happen to all of us. All of my characters are people you might meet, and perhaps you already have. And you can remeet them now, in paperback and eBook available on Amazon. You’ll find the books under my name.

Welcome. We await your getting to know us and becoming friends.

– Jadi