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Fifty Years of My Life (1939 - 1990)
A Memoir by Jeff R. Noordermeer

Far away from civilization

Honey's wife, Esther, is just beautifully natural looking, and the three girls were darlings. Of course I was the attraction of the whole village. Visitors from America are not often seen by the villagers. In no time Honey's house was filled with all his neighbors who wanted to know all about me. Honey's house was a bamboo house with a solid teak wood floor. There were no windows, just openings in the bamboo wall which were supposed to be windows. Furniture was sparse — just a few self-made chairs and a small table. Sally and U San Lin left and I spent the remainder of the day with Honey's family.

Honey's house
Honey's house

I felt like a king for a day with all those people around me. Everything was very primitive around the village. Cooking and heating the water for tea or coffee was all done with firewood. They went out of their way to please me. One of the Karens who lived in that village had worked before for an Italian diplomat and was up to date with all the Western table manners. Honey and I talked for a little while, and before I knew it, I had my lunch prepared with a fresh broiled hamburger with baked eggs and a fresh glass of milk. For an appetizer I was given a bottle of lemonade. I even had a fork and knife next to my plate. As I was eating my lunch and using my fork and knife, I was watched by the villagers on every move I made. Honey understood and could speak a little English, but his wife and children were too shy to speak to me. For me to have a normal conversation and to find out what was going on in the village, I needed someone who could clearly converse in English. There was a small Baptist church in the village and a school next to it.

One of the ministers who were associated with the church and school was Saw Samuel. Honey invited him to come to his house so that we could talk about the village and its people. He spoke very good English. I asked him all about the people and the village. He told me that half of the people who lived in the village were Baptist, and the rest were Buddhist and other believers. In school the Burmese and English language were taught to the children. All around the village the Karen language was spoken. All of the people in the village made their living with agriculture. Like Honey, he was getting a small disability check monthly from the Burmese army. It was very little and amounted to only about $17 in American money. With that little bit of disability pension he couldn't feed all of his family. The other income came mostly from his garden and a piece of land in back of the house. I noticed he had many banana trees and different kinds of vegetables on the land in back of his house. He had chickens and pigs running around the house and through the village. They just eat everything they can find around the village property. By night time all of those animals come back to their own home again, honey had five large pigs, and he told me that he sells one every year and the rest he uses for his own family and shares with the people in the village. It's a sharing society and they have to live off the land and what nature provides. It's a very happy society where children have no toys to buy or play with. They play with each other and have their own games. The older children look after their younger brothers and sisters. Babies are never left alone as the mother constantly takes care, and if she has other things to do the father or oldest sister will look after the baby.

There were no TV's around. Some of the villagers had radios in their house. They lived too far away to get a newspaper, so most of the villagers didn't know what was going on in the outside world. The little things they had to live with they were very happy people, and always had smiles on their faces.

From people I heard that most of the village people in Burma made their own wine from rice. As I asked Honey about it he laughed but it was clear enough for him to understand that I wanted to try one of their homemade drinks. For a little while he talked with several of his Karen friends. Then one of them left and after a while came back with a bucket filled with some kind of juice. I was told it was the sap of a palm tree and they called it 'toddy'. One of the men had climbed to the top of one of their palm trees where sap was drained into one of their buckets. They filled a large glass and gave it to me to drink. It looked like a non-filtered white wine. It had a nice flavor and I drank the whole glass and asked for another one. But as I was drinking my second glass I started to feel a little drunk. I was told that after a certain time during the day when the sun comes out it started a fermentation process, and that makes it very strong to drink. All of their drinking water came from the village well. Every villager had a few large pottery vases in front of the entrance of their bamboo house. These vases were made out of a certain clay. As hot as the sun was and with no cooling system around, I was surprised at how cold the water was in those vases. I drank several glasses of water because it was very hot that day I visited Honey and his family.

CONTINUED: No toilet facilities
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© Copyright  - Antonio Zamora

- Foreword
- Old Rotterdam
- World War II
- After the War
- Coming to America
- Washington, D.C.
- Southeast Asia
- Philosophy of Life

- Book Index