Sooleuy: a fisherman in Myanmar


With Sooleuy in the waters of the river

I met him when we were riding the bike through New Bagan. We were in a hurry to tour that part where almost nobody goes and go to the place where we should meet our friends to watch the sunset. The New Bagan comprises many resident houses and few pagodas compared to Old Bagan. We saw a large pagoda facing the river and crowned by a huge dome made of gold. We stop to see it and explore the riverbank. A Burmese boy approached me to ask the typical: Where are you from?. I answered: Spain and he began to say names of Spanish soccer players. With the soccer pussy he was walking by my side all the time.

We went down to the river and Sooluey guided me along the simplest path. It started like this: with a typical soccer conversation. To then say that talking about football is a typical topic. Yes, but it unites people who have very little in common. And it is not an isolated fact of a country.

He Sooluey's English was more than basic because I had never studied it. He is a 26-year-old fisherman who went to school just enough to learn to read, write and some math. His English had acquired him from talking to tourists who were passing by. Amazing.

Explaining things in the most basic way possible we managed to have a long conversation in which we both learned things about how the other lived. He confessed that he loved to read about distant countries and, to my surprise, he knew many things about Spain, such as that different languages ​​were spoken, the Catalan nationalist sentiment and the figure of Franco. When he told me the latter I was freaking out. Without knowing how, I saw myself drawing a map of Spain in the sand of an island that formed the river. In it he explained our system of regions, the theme of Catalonia - saying until the time of Jaime I the Conqueror - of the Basque Country and even the Arab occupation! Sooleuy nodded and asked again. It was a sponge that just wanted water and more water.

We talk about many more things about Europe, Spain, the World. His curiosity was endless. He explained to me the issue of the 2007 riots in which so many people killed in the streets died, monks among them. Sooleuy participated and paid a high price for it. He was jailed for 18 months. He was tortured - he showed me marks on the head and torn teeth - and knocked down his house with a bulldozer. He confessed to me that, despite everything, he was happy in Bagan but that the Government was very bad with the people and hated him.

After the demolition of his house and the sentence, his passport was taken away and he can never leave his country. So, how it sounds. I write it now and my hair is still on end. Of rage

Now he has a small rented fishing boat with two more friends and the three use it to fish and feed their families. As he was left homeless, he had to rent one in which he lives with his wife and a year and a half girl. They have no electricity or running water. The numbers just squared in his mind. The days that the fishing went well, I used to get about 1,000 K, when not about 500 K. I paid 4,000K a week to the owner of the house and he told me to feed the whole family one day - based on rice, fish and little more-left for about 600 K (half Euro). Check out

He told me about places I thought I was going to go to in his country as if I knew them well, but then he told me that he knew it from friends because he couldn't afford to travel.

I said goodbye to Sooluey and his family that day promising him that I would return the next day to look for him. He insisted on inviting me to his house for dinner but I said no, because Tatiana was waiting for me and it was already 9 pm. The generosity of a person who barely has enough to support his family seemed incredible to me anyway.

At 5 pm the next day I returned to the river and there was Sooleuy waiting for me already in the water. I parked my bike on the riverbank and it recognized me in the distance and began to make fuss. After 2 minutes we were already in the water - where it seemed that you could catch anything but edible fish - swimming towards the island of the previous day.

There we continue our cycle of questions and answers. We both wanted to know so much about each other that we sometimes interrupted.

I worried a lot about my lymphatic drainage problem that I have had in my right leg for 9 years. I had explained how it happened and he applied me a Buddhist massage. I began to squeeze areas of the sole of the foot and parts of the leg. It was painful but I swear that, when it was over, the size of my leg - always swollen - had shrunk. He explained that all the nerves in the body end up in the feet and are therefore essential for therapeutic massages. He also advised me - and taught - to do yoga as a method of improving everything in general in life.

He had a totally different wisdom from the western one.

Again it was done to us at night and he asked me if I would return the next day. I was very sad when I said no, that I should leave because we had a few days left in the country. He asked me if I would return the following year and I could only smile and drop a "Maybe" that sounded like a big lie to me.

Before we parted, I handed him some English books that I had bought at a store I found. I wanted to give him something that was about the World and not about Myanmar, but it was impossible for me. All I could find were magazines with stupid articles to practice English, dictionaries and books about the false beauties of a corrupt regime.

At 9.30 I took the bike and we separated at the crossroads of the main road that leads to Old Bagan, where many tourists rested in their hotels preparing for another day of delight with pagodas, temples and stupas. Many of them would remain oblivious to the serious problem that oppresses people of such noble heart. Fortunately, I was no longer one of them.

I hope to return to that river one day and find Sooleuy better than when I left him. He told me he would be there and I told him that he knew he would receive me in his own boat, with several more children and being freer. I hope that the people take the necessary steps so that it is not just a dream.