Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Pushing and Shoving

We were caught in a washing machine of people. As much as I towered over the Burmese, crowds of them still managed to lift me from the ground as they churned this way and that. Esther and I grabbed each other's hand and squeezed them together as tight as we could, afraid if we let go we'd be carried off in different directions, forever lost amongst the crowds.

We were three miles north of Pyin Oo Lwin, a tiny colonial town where the altitude is higher and the air a bit crisper. Our arrival occurred on a weekend when the sleepy hamlet came alive with visitors from all across the country to attend the culminating week-long lantern festival events, to which we joined along in frequenting.

Having stood far enough back in the expansive field to feel safe when the firework spitting, hot air balloon sized, Chinese lanterns were released into the night sky, the anticipation we held was shot down - the balloon being filled having collapsed to the ground before it was even off it. Instead of standing around waiting for the next one to inflate, we decided to take a wander around the market stalls.

Unbeknownst to us, everyone else decided to, too.

Having approached an intercross, we stopped to assess the stalls, trying to determine which route to wander down.

It happened in a millisecond. The crowd. They came running from all four directions, colliding in the center. Bodies slammed against me, crushing me in my spot. The noise from their loud voices accentuating the intensity of the situation.

"Claire!" Esther yelled as she was being carried away.

"Grab my hand!" I yelled back as I threw my left hand towards her while my body was being pulled to the right.

We held tight, yet our hands still slipped until only our fingertips were linked. And then even they were broken apart.

It couldn't have been more than 30 seconds, but it felt like ages. Stories of prior news-worthy stampedes flashed through my mind. I knew I had to keep myself upright to not be pulled under, becoming the next statistic.

Then it was over as quickly as it had begun. The crowds dissipated in an instant, and we were left standing in the intersection as if nothing had ever happened. I hurried over to Esther and we turned down a path before the next wave came crashing.

The crowds thickened and thinned as we made our way past food stalls, admiring what was on offer. Hands were strategically placed on my butt during the indeterminable moments of whether it was intentional or not. Though my glaring eyes pierced through the person behind me each time I whipped my head around to see who it was.

We heard the next stampede before we saw it, and darted under the tent of a restaurant stall just before bodies collided with an audible smack.  The woman behind the table we stood near was pan frying meat and noodles on gas-flamed hot plates. Bodies brushed up against the table amidst the commotion, threatening to topple it and all its contents. Each time the table shook, she picked up a small 2x4 piece of wood and whacked it repeatedly on the tabletop while simultaneously yelling things we didn't understand at the crowd.

Minutes later, gaps were visible between individuals that grew wider and wider each passing second. Then the world stopped as another sound was heard, and everyone outside the quickly formulated circle immediately stood in their tracks.

The sound of fist hitting face reverberated in my ear, even at the near 20 foot distance.

"Stop!" I uncontrollably yelled. "Stop!"

My voice was the only other sound heard.

Once the friends of the assailant saw the near lifeless body of his victim on the ground, having given up the fight numerous seconds prior, they encouraged him to walk away.

All bystanders began walking away too, stepping over and around the body laying motionless on the ground.

I rushed over to help. When he began to pick himself up, I petitioned the remaining idyll bystanders to help him over to a seat near the stall where Esther still stood.

Three men were already seated at the spot we placed him.

"Tell him to drink this," we requested the men while pressing the mouth of a water bottle to the wounded boy's lips.

We stood by for a number of minutes, until he regained enough consciousness to explain he was more embarrassed than anything else.

Not wanting to embarrass him further, and ready to move on, we urged the guys next to him to make sure he doesn't fall asleep.

"But we're not his friends," they said. "We don't know him."  Like that was justification enough to let him be.

We walked away, having explained the importance of making sure he stays awake - friend of theirs or not.

"Well that was enough excitement for me," I half-heartedly joked to Esther while climbing atop a cement-walled fence we had to jump over in order to avoid the pedestrian trafficked paths.

"Yeah, I'm ready to go back to the hotel too," she agreed.

I took one last glance around me from the wall I sat upon, watching the flow of people wander up and down the pathways in one direction and a balloon expanding in the other.  Oh, Myanmar, I thought.

I turned my head forward and hopped off the wall, landing face first into a pool of thick, fresh mud.

1 comment:

Patti said...

Thanks for the emotional release at the end. I know it wasn't intentional, but my heart was in my throat through most of that post. It needed a pratfall to regain a little normalcy.