Myoe Keng Lay
𝓜𝔂𝓸𝓮 𝓚𝓮𝓷𝓰 𝓛𝓪𝔂 (pronounced Miocáim) moved to Huay Pu Keng village with her cousins in 2006 when she was a young girl, leaving her parents behind in Myanmar.
“She is one of the Kayan or ‘long neck’ ladies.” But what does that mean?
Even through a camera I can feel the calm and yet vibrant energy that she emanates.
Tourism has changed in her village: “It used to be a Zoo in the past, people were coming, passing by, taking pictures of us without even asking permission and then they go.”
Thanks to organisations such as Fair Tourism and the support of people like Charlotte, Community-Based Tourism has been implemented and now the community is at the centre, and its members are seen as people rather than as objects.
With an open smile that I was unable to decipher she adds, “People should know the difference between the animals kept in a zoo and us. We are humans, like them.”
A sharp sadness creeps its way inside me like a double-bladed knife cutting through my flesh and dissolving the sweetness of her smile.
Destructive, unethical and inhuman practices are not so uncommon in tourism, unfortunately. The good part of the negative stories, though, is that they can change.
From among her memories of the new ethical tourism that exists in her village nowadays she decided to share with me the one about a funny young European lady.
But why her? Someone without even a name, from an unknown country?
As soon as she carried on with the story my silent questions were answered: they laughed together.
They bonded on a human level, where labels don’t stick.
And this is how a funny young European lady with no name made a nest in Myoe Keng Lay’s memories.
But who is the long neck lady Myoe Keng Lay?
If one day you meet her, you will find a lovely smiling lady who loves the colour pink, and who creates fine scarves and other artisanal wearable items.
She cannot wait to restart the hands-on workshops to carry on teaching tourists how to get lost in the dreamy lines of her loom.
During the pandemic she has lost most of the English vocabulary she had gained through her body language interactions with the international visitors hosted in her homestay, and she is also extremely hungry to restart that daily practice too.
The garden is a place she enjoys spending time in, either looking after the needy sesame seeds or just walking among the other plants.
The forest with its mushrooms and bamboo is another of her preferred destinations but it is the loom where she can be more herself, where her passion becomes visible, and the art becomes a tool of her personality.
Thanks to her laborious hands and to a bright touch of creativity, the traditional hairbands worn by the grandmothers have gained a crown of colourful fabric flowers.
And through the mood-lifting modern adaptation of traditional standards we are reminded that culture is truly alive and constantly changing.