“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Cyclone update 1

May 6, 2008

Aha!!! Success!!! I have made it into email and can send a message
out. I'm at school and our DSL is working, but probably not for long.
My inbox is full as full. I am okay, as the US embassy were supposed
to inform my parents, but it ended up in their junk mail! How's that
for crisis planning? It's been a crazy last few days and I don't know
what's going to happen. Yangon is just devastated... every large tree
in the city--all that beautiful green--is gone. My house is okay
compared to most, but suffered enormous damage. The roof above the
upstairs bathroom was ripped off, and all the windows on the north
side of the house were blown off or had broken windows, so that side
of the house was flooded. We still have no power, no water, no phone,
although apparently water came back today, but it won't change
anything for me because I have no pump!! At least I have three ground
tanks at the back that I can use like a well, filthy water as it is,
but most people have been going and getting it from the lake. Cholera
and typhoid are feared. It's thought it will be reconnected in a few
weeks. There's been widescale rioting and looting, but haven't seen it
myself. All those people in big apartments have generators, but diesel
is running low... it was around $15 a gallon today, and the wait at
the service station for the allotted two gallons was around 5 hours
(snaking lines up the streets). The port's blocked off, so
infrastructure of the city is going to crumble. Drinking water is the
biggest worry at the moment, as is sewage.

The American, Korean, and Thai embassies have all recommended
evacuation, and so our school is probably going to close down, but as
we only have two and a half weeks left, many things are up in the air
(my shipping, for example!!). The kids commenced their AP exams today,
but they're the only ones in school. It'll cost around $2500 per day
per generator to keep the school running, and we have around 1 week of
diesel stockpiled.

Don't know when I'll be able to connect again, as at the high school
it's not working, and we may be evacuated!!

May 7, 2008

Hi there again. Turns out our internet at school is pretty regular,
but in the elementary school only. Hayley and Stu made the front page
of the Dominion Post. Here's the link:
http://www.stuff.co.nz/4514391a10.html Other than that, not much has
changed. The death toll has rocketed upwards, and imagine it will go
higher still. One village was washed away entirely (10,000 people
alone). Managed to watch the BBC yesterday, and it was filmed from
Trader's hotel!! Imagine you saw the same broadcast if you watched it.
I'd send them my pics to them, but it's a big hassle! Many seem to be
getting online already.

The American Embassy is evacuating families and their school has shut
for the year (they've got two days of book returns and goodbyes, and
that'll be it). Same for the other school, who lost the top four
floors of their building (it was a high rise). The British Council are
being evacuated on Friday for Bangkok, but as it's not their end of
year, who knows how long they'll be away. Our school is still making
up their mind. We have school today. I had about 75% of students in my
classes, and all were upbeat and wanted to know about final exams and
the science fair which was supposed to be on Friday!! Report cards and
AP exams are also up in the air. The kids have complained about how
hard they were, but as that would have happened anyway, it's no
surprise!! I imagine we'll either end on Friday or next Friday, but
I'll probably stay and keep my original plans, though haven't bought a
ticket yet so feel very free--if only it wasn't for my stuff!! I'm
still not sure what to do with it all, as the port is closed, so no
shipments will go out. Luckily half was going to be air freighted
anyway, so that'll be okay, but their office is damaged, they have no
boxes, and diesel is very expensive, so pickup could be expensive!!
I'm seriously considering flying out with it all as excess baggage and
dealing with it in Bangkok, but that's a huge hassle as well! It may
be easier just to leave it here care of a friend and then return and
deal with the shipped half next school year!! Who knows?

School suffered very little damage surprisingly. My room didn't even
leak as it normally does in storms. I've also just asked for an
extension to my boring assignment, hopefully the situation is
compelling enough!! :)

Must go back to class, but will send news when I know what, if
anything is happening!!

May 8, 2008
The NZ consul aren't very good and I am not happy at all with the
British Embassy here which has done absolutely nothing!! They did far
more in the last crisis in September. Our school buses are still
running, so am getting to school that way, but did a lot of biking
around in the first few days as taxis were exorbitant. Had an
interesting ride this morning. Ironically, University Avenue is still
closed because of Aung San Suu Kyi's house, so we go down a back alley
(the one where we went to the Christmas party). It was insane. The
traffic there was incredible and so ridiculous considering the huge
main road that is available but not usable! One power pylon had broken
and half fallen over with it's multitude of lines across the road.
Each time a car went over the lines, the whole tower shook and wiggled
alarmingly. We ducked barely under a fallen tree and it amused me
greatly to see us stop briefly so the driver could lift up and throw a
loose power line onto the roof so we could pass under it. Crazy!!

We had our last day of school yesterday (we were told with an hour of
the day left, so it was all a bit hectic!) and so am cleaning up
today... what a hassle!! Hopefully all due payments will come, but I'm
sure they will as school've been really supportive so far. Still no
news on shippers, but at the moment am planning to get out of here
late next week... might go to Aunty Helen's for a while and do the
essay I just got an extension for!! I meant to get some pictures
online today but haven't gotten there with all the interruptions.

Have heard from all sorts of people that normally don't bother to
contact me!! I was on RadioNZ yesterday morning and family and friends
all heard. Apparently you can hear it at
www.radionz.co.nz/morningreport. People here are comparing it to the
Tsunami which it is looking to be more severe than (at least for this
one place). What an enormous tragedy!!

May 10, 2008

Hi there from a luxury appartment!! Am sleeping at a friend's and am
freezing being in airconditioning, but am enjoying
the TV and internet not to mention electricity and running water!
Things not much better at home, but much of the city has improved.
Life moves on here! Have you seen the satellite pictures of the delta?
Aren't they amazing?

Got an email from a relative who works for an NZ aid agency and
they're trying to find volunteers, so am going to try and do that for
a while, but am also of the mind that I want to just be done and get
out. Anyway, am not making any decisions at the moment, and since I
don't actually have any tickets or firm plans, I can take it slow.
Nothing else is figured out. Lots of teachers are trying to help, but
whether or not we can do anything effective is up to debate. Some have
gotten out to the delta and are saying how there's either too much
rice or the rice is contaminated. Most do say the rice in Yangon is
going to run out, but the main concern is still clean water and
sanitation. It's really a question of how effective we can actually
be. They want media spokesmen and then there are lots of journalists,
but how does that actually help the people? This is such an
opportunity to get into aid work and to really make use of being in
the right place and the right time (or the other way around), but we
were beginning our annual break. The idea of a having holiday seems
really frivalous so I'm not
going to make any decisions yet, and since I don't really have any
tickets, I suppose I have that luxury. I have to be in Switzerland for
my new job, but that's the first firm plan I really can't change or
get out of. I'll stay in Europe once I'm there so Belarus will also go
ahead, but other than that, the answer is, I have no idea, but will
let you know as I make plans!

Some people want to volunteer here, but it's doubtful they'll get a
visa at this stage of the game, and to be honest, once you get here
you really have to get permits to get out into the delta, (most going
have ignored it, but that's not really going to last long and is only
going to be detrimental to govt/aid relations in the long run). I'm
curious as to what will happen now that the referendum is
done (no sign of that today, at all, though it went ahead in most
places)! There are hundreds of agencies that have stuff going on.

The last day of school is on Monday, although the kids AP Psychology
test is on Tuesday and I promised them I'd be there at least to have a
last minute review all morning, so I guess that's my last day. The
shipping companies are open now and await my call but the cost will
only go up now! We had our first major storm today and the bathroom
flooded again even though they've "fixed" the roof. The new tenants
moved into the house amid the rain and "flooded" the same room again
with as their dripping things! Watching the
barefoot men using all the chainsaws that have sprung up across the
city is frightening--we have a huge tree still across our power line
at the gate--they really have no idea how to use such things!

Anyway, all this gives you an idea of how hectic things are--end of
school year aside!! Will keep you posted on the happenings.

LATER: So what's the situation then?
Yangon is slowly returning to normalcy, but most places still have no
power/water/phone. Water was first to come back. It is truly eerie
walking the city at night in the pitch blackness--seeing the stars and
hearing the true quiet. To save candles, people are going to bed early
and the whole city sleeps. So many places have not reopened yet, but
hopefully tomorrow that will happen. I really hate to imagine what the
delta is looking like now.

I've heard about so many agencies looking for volunteers simply
because they cannot get foreigners visas to get them into the country.
I feel strange thinking that any foreigner will do in this case... why
can't Burmese do it for themselves. What can I do that they can't? But
still I want to help if I can.

The delta is really badly hit. Several villages lost almost all their
people, and the ones that survived are surrounded by water as all the
land was washed away. Dead bodies (animals and humans) are in the
water and disease is rampant. Food crops were annihilated. The soil is
now salty, and food and clean drinking water are a problem. Please
give money to aid agencies so they can help!

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