I had no idea this morning that today was going to be a Day To Remember. I had no idea when I posted my update and change of image about Shwe Dagon and the days of the week that this would be in the international media only a day or so later. Of course I knew, however, that President Obama was visiting the country today, and in the back of my mind I was vaguely aware that he might visit Shwe Dagon during his visit. But I had absolutely no expectation that today would be such a day to remember, and chime so closely with the post I wrote less than 48 hours ago. This has been a highly significant day for Myanmar, and this post is but my own personal reflection of such a memorable day.
There was a palpable air of expectation, pride and excitement in the city this morning and I could hear “Obama” in conversations all around me. It was very difficult to know what his itinerary or route would be, for security reasons, so we were all trying to gather snippets from folks we knew in various places. We knew he would be in country for around six hours and we knew his key meetings and engagements. My close colleague had in fact phoned me on Saturday to apologise that he would not be at work today. When he explained to me that he had been invited to the speech at the university I could not work out whether I was insanely envious or massively delighted for him. I decided that I could quite legitimately be both!
We knew that President Obama would arrive mid morning and sure enough, the internet told us that he had arrived, and that Pyay Road was closed. At the traffic light junction outside our window, the traffic was confused and congested. We assumed Obama would be passing along Pyay Road, which runs parallel to our road, at the other side of the park. No expectations to see anything at all.
So I was mildly surprised to see one side of our road clear, and along with a friend decided to investigate. We were not alone! Curiosity and speculation were rife and expectation and hope high. Before long, the road was closed off in both directions and the junction was becoming busier. Even the bird seller had abandoned his birds and was waiting expectantly!
We soon heard that Obama was in his meeting with our Myanmar President, so we knew they had passed along Pyay Road. Then we heard a whisper that he would visit Shwe Dagon. The very same Shwe Dagon that I wrote about this weekend. There were counter rumours that removing shoes could be a problem so perhaps they would not visit the temple. Then we saw through the trees in the distance at the top of the road, the line of the motorcade with its flashing lights, cars passing one after the other. Disappointment at being so near yet so far slammed into me.
So I am not quite sure why my friend and I decided to walk further up the road. We still had no expectations, but the road was still closed, so perhaps, perhaps the motorcade might pass by us still. Opinions were varied but tended more to assume that he would not pass down our road.
We waited though. As long as the road remained closed there was still some hope. Gradually, I could feel an increase in expectation and would jump every time a police car or motorbike sped down the road.
Then, in the distance I heard a siren, and engines. And within moments the long motorcade was heading around the corner, slowing as it curved around the road and right past us. There were only five of us at that bit of the roadside, squealing with excitement as the first stretch limo with Hillary Clinton passed. It was followed by an SUV and then the Presidential limo. All five of us were cheering and waving frantically. What is about these occasions that turns us into teenage squealsters?
As the car passed, we could not believe our eyes as we saw President Obama turn his face to the window and raise his hand to wave back to us! This was massively beyond any expectations any of us had harboured and we erupted in a hysterical outburst as the motorcade continued past us, some very stern and serious faces at the following car windows.
So I knew that President Obama had visited Shwe Dagon. It was not wild speculation to assume that he would have given offerings at the shrine of his born day. I was curious about whether his entourage would all visit barefoot.
And this is what the reports told us later:
Obama made a surprise stop at the Shwedagon pagoda, where he, the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and their entire entourage, including secret service agents, went barefoot up the giant stone staircase of one of the most revered sites in Myanmar.
Obama took part in a ritual often carried out at the pagoda—saying a blessing at a section of the pagoda platform that recognizes the day of his birth, Friday. Obama poured 11 cups of water into a basin, turning to reporters to explain that he was dousing “the flames” of anger, hatred and other vices.
So now you know. President Obama is Friday born. And this Saturday born dragon-gecko was fortunate enough to have a truly memorable day and a tenuous presidential endorsement of my very recent words on the blog!
And what a monumental day, for this amazing country that I am so privileged to live and work in.