By Ally Wells
If there was ever a real chance I was going to contract bird flu while travelling around South East Asia, it was in Myanmar, Burma. You see, I never really get close to feathers. They wig me out. Immensely. But, there I was sitting on a commuter train heading around the city of Yangon, soaking in daily life of this new country I had just arrived in, when I found myself trapped in a carriage with the birds I fear most, chickens.
For one dollar you can catch a ride on the commuter train around Yangon. For three hours you can sit surrounded by local people going about their business; women picking up veggies at the track side market, young couples sheepishly holding hands, men smiling through red-stained teeth and children hiding shy faces away in their mothers’ shoulders. The train ride shows a glimpse of everyday life in a county that is just starting to open itself up to tourism and you get to sit back, relax and interact with some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met.
That is, until two young women arrive with chickens. Not pretty, country hens either. Mangy, feathers falling out, full of fleas, off-white, yucky, dirty chickens. Now, I’ll admit, watching these women get on the train with a metal bucket full of chickens balancing on their heads – yes, their heads – all while holding the feet of a bunch more chickens in one hand was impressive. But that didn’t stop me from fearing that I would catch bird flu or some other random disease. I wasn’t the only one with such a fear.
Local women sitting opposite me brought handkerchiefs to their noses and mouths when our new carriage companions arrived. When one woman departed, taking her feathered friends with her after what felt like a lifetime, I felt myself start to relax a bit and breathe a little easier. It wasn’t long before we reached the destination of chicken lady number two and I felt the entire carriage exhale with relief (followed by a deep inhalation of the chicken-less air).
I strongly recommend the Yangon circuit if ever you travel to Myanmar (and you should travel to Myanmar – it’s wonderful). It’s a great introduction to an incredible country. You might just want to stay away from the chickens … or carry a mask!
PS, just in case you were wondering, I didn’t contract bird flu – or any other random disease either – but I still can’t stand chickens!