To make time fly, throw your watch out the window

Karmaretk Birmas
Published in
7 min readMar 4, 2020


Namlan. 02.03.2020

In Myanmar you don’t have to throw your watch, time already has a different way of running. Again, scientifically not proven, but in my experience in fact so. Time doesn’t fly, it disappears. „Puf!“ and vanished! Like Mr. Potter would wave his wand and would whisper an Evanesco spell.

My time here in Namlan has truly passed quickly. At first it was all new and that went both ways — I explored the village, locals explored me as I am officially the only foreigner in the city. But now I already know that it is common to wave back to all motorcyclists passing by, having children hailing „Hello!“ in their just-learned English from their schoolyards, being photographed so many times at local market that I could call myself almost an „influencer“, a new popular occupation among the youngsters now.

Home street: Industrial Zone road. Namlan, 27.02.2020

I have met many promising young students, many friendly locals, a lot of green uniforms and on my first day in Namlan I also got to meet the local police as the word got out quickly about a foreigner walking down the main road. What I didn’t know was that there are no police cars wearing blue signs or policemen in uniforms here. They are disguised as locals. So it might happen that when you are stopped by someone local and you think you are having a nice conversation about the beauty of the country, emphasizing especially the untouched rural areas that you like, you might be wrong. When you are not speaking the same language, it is not a good idea to guess what they are saying and make the dialogue up in your own head. Also not a good sign to refuse going along with them when asked. Still raised in a country where you take no candy from the strangers and do not sit in a strangers’ car even when a nice gentleman asks you out for a coffee. One might think that strict polite refusal of all offers or demands is the only way to go, but I suggest to ask for some translation help when the conversation partner starts to follow you in his car. And when I asked Luant Mon to come and help out, fortunately he came already prepared with the documentation and my permits and it turned out we were having totally different conversations earlier with the guy who turned out to be the Chief of Police. Still it was nice speaking to the locals.

Meeting with the Boarding House supervisor and Luant Mon. Namlan, 02.03.2020

Namlan itself is a small place with only one main road passing through where all local businesses have their little stands offering local fruits and vegetables, handicrafts and household supplies. During the lunchtime it is the busiest road in town as truck-drivers stop on the side of the street to have local rice with vegetables cooked on the spot. Nevertheless, new CRED Office, on a crossing road, seems to be the actual center of the whole village. People come and go, kittens and pups, chicken and spiders all appear and vanish as they please. So does electricity. But it’s all freeing in a special way, everyone has its own methods of doing things, everyone has his own agenda and purpose and therefore everything is in the move at all times. And surprisingly, in the end of the day all important issues do find a solution. Maybe not being fully used to the „Swiss clockwork“ systematic approach Europeans have mastered in but noone sits around doing nothing. Everyone is busy at all times and the only downside in this picture is that the time is unfortunately a lacking resource.

Late night discussions with Naw Kham and Cat Stevens (three cats, two dogs, named them all!). Namlan, 27.02.2020

That said, it can be slightly challenging to reach the goals and deadlines in time. Not knowing all the local laws and ways of handling official businesses it’s not a good idea to work alone. But you have to be creative when it comes to needing the time from people who does not have it freely. Imagine wishing to have a brainstorming session with the President of Estonia. One day she’s heading out to Antarctica, next she’s making a speech for the whole nation, then she’s holding a ceremony where she’ll shake hands with hundreds of important people and after that she’s off to across the Ocean. So the choices of getting your time are slim, but not impossible — tag along with her to the States to meet Ivanka or ask her to a late night beer. Trust me, in my experience both ways will work and it is socially suggested not to drink alone!

Student Boarding House. Namlan, 02.03.2020

As an NGO it is crucial to have support from other organizations and to have partnerships with other countries. CRED has had a partner in Mondo for several years now and Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has funded many projects, it’s really cool to come across Mondo’s logo on the generator in the kids’ kitchen or see „Eesti Arengukoostöö“ written on the water tank in the Student Boarding House. Estonia’s attention here has been much needed and the positive outcome is visible in many places.

Mondo has been around. Water tank in Boarding House. Namlan, 02.03.2020

But to get things even further we have been trying to get CRED certified within EU Aid Volunteers initiative. That would give an advantage of sending more specialists from different EU countries for a longer period without large-scale project-plan-writing. For example English teachers are much needed also for the new non-governmental school project and it would be good to have them on board for at least the half or the full school-year. According to the Initative’s statement, it aims to strengthen the capacity and resilience of vulnerable communities in third countries, through the implementation of joint projects between experienced humanitarian operators and local organisations in third countries. And it really is a two-way street, at the same time it provides opportunities for European citizens from a wide range of backgrounds and with a diversity of skills and professional experience, to get involved in humanitarian aid projects, to share their knowledge, offer their support and engage in a fully new experiences.

Previous volunteers from Mondo have started the certification process and my job is now to finalize it and to put a dot on the „I“. In the last application round CRED was unfortunately stated ineligible as some documents remained missing, but that gave us a new opportunity for this application round ending in September 2020. And wow are there loads of documents to produce and sign and stamp! Working in a country that doesn’t document their every move it is for sure a challenge. But challenges are adorable! Naw Kham doesn’t believe me anymore when I say in an e-mail that these are the last forms to be printed and signed. I don’t blame him. But the long story short — today we have uploaded all necessary documentation and officially applied for the EU Aid Volunteers Initiative certification for hosting organizations. Win!

Not only rice! Namlan, 03.03.2020

Now that we have one thing down we’ll continue our work with the business and financial plans for a new school and go have fun with the Boarding House students. This week will also bring some English lessons with the local boys working for CRED, we decided that instead of a regular lesson in the classroom we’ll head out to the hills where they can show me a cool view of the area, during the hike we can interact in English so they can learn by doing. In the end of the week I’ll travel back to Mandalay to have a Saturday morning meeting with Dr. Gary Robson, the Head of Ayeyarwaddy International School and the Managing Director U Aung Ko Latt to learn from their experience in opening a non-governmental school in Myanmar. Next week we’ll have some meetings in Lashio with Naw Kham (I’ll tag along) and the week after that in Pyin Oo Lwin. And that’s March! „Puf!“, and gone!