Through out SE Asia we’ve ridden our fair share of night buses. They are the cheapest and most efficient way to travel through the lands. And so it was, that we took a night bus from Bagan to Yangon, Myanmar (Burma). Renting a car was out of the question because of the laws in the country prohibiting how tourist can travel. A flight would only take one and a half hours but was well out of our price range and so, the night bus it was. We booked the trip on JJ (Joyous Journeys) Bus line, one of the most reputable in Myanmar. The trip by bus would be approximately 10 hours and would drop us off at the Central Rail Station in Yangon.
These treks via plane, train or bus are all part of the journey and although we’d rather the transitions be more efficient, this particular trip allowed us to see a few things. One, we saw parts of local life on that overnight bus that we would not have experienced in any other way. And, secondly, on a personal note, it was on this particular night bus that I found my breaking point.
As we boarded the bus at 10pm, our seating was scattered throughout the bus and we noticed that we were definitely the minority. The hostess was kind and meek. She spoke enough english to communicate logistics but struggled to command authority from the other foreigners that were riding the bus. For instance, one of the bus riders insisted on taking the whole back seat of the bus, even though the seats were already assigned. The hostess was trying to explain to him in her broken words that the back was meant for the crew to take shifts sleeping in throughout the night. In the end, she didn’t argue but left the man to his own devices and resorted to using his single seat as their refuge during the ride.
We were all given a bottle of water and a wipe to clean our hands, as well as, a blanket and a small pillow. The bus fired up, the lights went down and people started to settle in for the long sleep. As I stared out the window, I noticed every now and then, activity along the roadsides. Even at the late hour, people made their way here and there, small burning fires, making street food, hoping for a sale from passers-by. And then all of a sudden, the night would go black again. No street lights or signs posted, just the ebony of night and the majestic stars dancing in the wide open sky.
At 3 am we eventually stopped at a “rest stop” which offered some western amenities (toilets and a cafe). The lights inside the bus went on abruptly and we were all told we had to exit the bus as this was to be a 30 min stop for our driver to eat his meal. We all stumbled off of the bus, while ladies with different food items on trays approached us aggressively trying to sell us their goods before we went into the cafe. Still getting our bearings, we took a quick look around the dark parking lot. There was a chill in the air as clouds blew in and shadows began to cover the sky like a thick blanket. There were small camp fires burning here and there. The locals were covered in traditional dress and scattered throughout the parking lot; some sitting or sleeping on mats and some cooking over open fires. We saw truck loads of migrants (men, women and children) and other trucks with loads of women and children, just silhouettes, being transported in the middle of the night, to who knows where, to do who knows what.
We all made our way across the parking lot to the toilet block but hadn’t discussed where to meet up after. However, assumptions had lead us all back into the cafe, all of us that is, but our son. My husband, daughter and I sat for a moment waiting on him but after an uncomfortable amount of time a wave of concern began to wash over us. We all split up and began to scour the area, checking the toilet blocks, wandering the faintly lit laneway, looking in other buses and trucks, checking the vendors and doing it all over again. Our hearts pounding, we were in a quandary. He was nowhere to be found. We had lost our son! I started to think the worst. He was taken. I mean why not? Our son is a handsome 14 yr old fella. And, after everything we saw and learned in Pattaya, Thailand, my mind started to wonder. Panic set in as the bus driver yelled for us all to get back on the bus.
We all moved towards the bus, Craig boarded first and announced that he was going to look on the bus, to see if our son had gone back before us. I was last to board, waiting with bated breath to hear from the back of the bus. Time seemed to stand still as I took my first steps onto the bus, darting my eyes back and forth over the grounds. This couldn’t be, we couldn’t just leave. Of course we couldn’t! I was about to alert the bus driver that we had a missing child. Language barrier or not, he should be able to hear the distress in a mother’s voice and take heed. Then, just before I could speak, Craig yelled from the back of the bus, he’s here! He’s here!!
He had been on the bus the whole time and had no idea that we had nearly lost our minds looking for him. He had gone directly from the toilet block back to the bus. He was just there, curled up like a baby, sleeping soundly in his seat.
As my rational mind returned I took note to breath, inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly. I gave him a big cuddle and went back to my seat. Sleep evaded me so I prayed. I could feel myself breaking. The episode at the bus stop had exacerbated what was already there, lying under the surface. All these years on the road, all these faces we had seen throughout the US, Canada, Australia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and now Myanmar, all the divine appointments, all the stories, the sounds, the smells, they all took my breath away. It was all becoming overwhelming and I was weary. Yes, we’ve had many amazing experiences but we’ve also felt the sting of injustice and tasted the bitterness of corruption. We had gladly allowed ourselves to be woven together with the saints, sitting and listening to story after story from those the “Empire” would deem unimportant. We had taken time to feel and understand, to help share the burdens of the afflicted, to offer prayer and share our gifts of encouragement. However, I had to admit that our battle wounds were deep and the load was becoming to heavy to bear. It was here in this moment that I realized that I had been shouldering some of these burdens on my own accord and finally surrendered them and laid them all down at the feet of the Almighty.
I wept, longing for “Thy Kingdom come,” asking for a new song, for a sort of prayer for restoration for those I had met along the way but, also for my own soul. A thirst for healing began to flow out of me and this poem is what followed.
….And, this river of life, these healing waters, are all that make any sense to me right now. And, as each face, name or story comes to mind, I knew then, as I know now that I’m going to just need a little bit time to sit. Time to just rest at the water’s edge and pray. Time to allow the pieces of my heart to be woven back together.