Myanmar Beauty is More than Skin Deep

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April 30, 2014

Myanmar women, like wise women elsewhere in the world, make effort to protect their skin from the sun damaging effects. In Myanmar, women (and children) wear a yellow chalky “thanaka” paste made from a fragrant tree balk…spread in a circular, square or more sophisticated pattern on their cheeks, nose and forehead for sun protection.

 Many of my patients work on plantations or rice fields so their hands and feet are harden from years of cultivating the earth, a contrast to their protected face. The readily available “thanaka” allows women regardless of economic status to maintain a beautiful skin complexion. After being with the people here, I’ve concluded that Myanmar beauty is more than skin deep.

In Naung Shwe Hospital, a 64 year-old tofu maker presented with back pain and “dizziness.” At the end of our visit, I thanked her for her trade and told her that she is helping a lot of people since tofu is nutritious, containing a healthy source of protein…and it happens to be one of my favorite food. To that, she smiled proudly and insisted that I visit her home so she can give me some special tofu. As a family doc, I would jump at the chance for a home visit to meet her family, which allows me to understand her daily challenges and offers more helpful advice. When I look outside and see hundreds of patients still waiting for care,however, I know that I cannot leave my dedicated colleagues to enjoy a leisure home visit.

It is the beginning of a seasonably hot summer here in Myanmar and none of the facilities we work in have air conditioning. My patients, seeing me perspire, would spontaneously wave their well-worn paper or bamboo fan over me to provide me with some relief. Many patients invited me to “stop by” their homes so they can share their fruits, vegetables, various freshly roasted nuts and seeds or homemade tofu. 

Several of our team members have remarked on how our patients, while living very hard lives, are so gentle and kind. They wait patiently for hours for medical or dental care while treating each other with dignity and respect. They generously yield their place in line to the elderly and the acutely ill. Most of my patients don’t have much material goods but they are wealthy in human spirit. 

Our clinic days in Myanmar are uncomfortably hot and long yet I find joy in every moment for my patients’ eyes are filled with compassion and gratitude. I look at my patients with their “thanaka” covered face and bow with respect for I see that their beauty is so much more than skin deep.


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