MYANMAR / Aithabyu (Ayeyarwaddy Division)

Aithabyu is a small town in Ayeyarwaddy Division in Myanmar. Abu Adam traveled to this town one week before Eidul Adha to survey for a location to do qurban. There are many moslems in this town as well as nearby towns like Yegyi, Athok, etc. This town is located on the road to Pathein (or Bassein) from Yangon. Read on to know why he takes this less traveled road.

This place is not touristy at all. Tourists do not come here. Not because there is nothing interesting here. Simply because there is no transport to get them here from Yangon, I mean reliable means of transport. Even if you arrive to this shanty town, there is no place to stay. Open pickup Toyota truck is the way to travel, apart from old wooden buses, which sometimes, need to be pushed by passengers to get engine cranked and started to hit the road again.  If you are avid reader of Lonely Planet guidebook and don’t mind enduring 4 to 5 hours traveling on dusty gravel roads, then welcome to Aithabyu.  As for me, I was accompanied by a moslem friend, working together in Yangon now. And this is his hometown. He said he was born here next the Aithabyu police station. He knew almost everyone his age, for miles and miles around. He lived up to that reputation during the whole journey, as at every junction there were people who initiated the greeting unto him, and us. Started with moslem traditional greeting of Assalamualaikum, everybody he met was so excited  to see him. They wanted to know what he was up to now in a big city of Yangon.

Aithabyu is about 120 miles from Yangon, in the Ayeyarwaddy Division

Aithabyu is about 120 miles from Yangon, in the Ayeyarwaddy Division

I was here for a short day trip on November 2009 to survey korbani location in conjunction with Eidul Adha. Eidul Adha is more popularly known as Bakri Eid by locals here. We received many requests by fellow friends in Malaysian to participate in Korban program in Yangon, and being responsible and looked upon, we tried to accomodate.

This town is about 120 miles from Yangon. If you could not find the name Aitahbyu on the map, you can be forgiven. Check nearby towns on the map on the more established website like NATGEO, towns like Yegyi or Athok. If still cannot find, just trust me, it is somewhere there between Pathein (or Bassein) and Yangon.

There are many moslem families living in Aithabyu and nearby neighborhoods like Athok and Ngathainchung. Aithanbyu alone, has one masjid jamek and one madrasah tahfeez next to the masjid.   The madrasah houses 75 students. The upper floor is used as a hostel where students study and sleep. The ground floor is their classroom and during meal times, converted to become dining hall. This facility needs some uplift (see pix below). I managed to strike a small conversation with teachers, three of them altogether, through a translator. These are unsung heroes to me. They (teachers) made the most sacrifice, no doubt about it. One hails from Pathein (Bassein) and has family. Two are still bachelors. They live in a bamboo house behind a wuduk area. They barely make 70,000 kyats per months. (abour RM245 per month). No monthly tuition fees for student to study here. And the only source of income is through mere donation, no grant whatsoever from government or jabatan agama. I cried inside, comparing my current salary with theirs. My sacrifice is nothing compared to them.

Behind the madrasah there is a pond where they rear fish, for food. They catch  and cook the fish to go with rice when other food are not available. The teacher told me during last monsoon season, all the fish in the pond escaped into the vast paddy field plot just behind the madrasah, when it rained heavily and started to flood.  Next to the pond is an open space as big as not more that three or four badminton courts, used by students in the afternoon after they finished their lesson.

Earlier on, we also stopped at Ngathainchung en route Aithanbyu.  Here, there is a jamek masjid with a madrasah attached to the masjid. Day students were studying Koran under the guidance of a young mulavi (Ustaaz) in the back room, not conducive for learning activity. We met a man who introduced himself as a masjid secretary and proclaimed he had a Bachelor Degree in Math.  He invited us for a cup of tea and not-so-fresh fruits at his house, behind the masjid. He called his friends and they rushed to his wooden house to see rare guests from Malaysia. We felt like celebrity at that moment. We talked like chicken and duck as they did not speak English and we did not speak Myanmar. On my way to the toilet behind the house, I passed a section of his house where bags of paraffin wax were lying at one corner. Later I came to know that he had a small backyard ‘factory’ to produce candles used mainly by prayers at pagodas. He showed me some sample products. The candles came in a pack of 10 in various sizes, marketed under his Burmese name.

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