The Myanmar Well: Blessings of His Passing

About 6 months after my brother, Matt, died I did an interview with a man named Keith Prescott. He shared with me how 25 years ago he lost his 20 year old son, Jared, tragically and very unexpectedly.  More importantly, though, he also shared with me what that experience has allowed him to do for others. I was really inspired by the choices he’s made, and in awe of the path those choices have put him on.

I was recently given the opportunity to travel with him to Myanmar to record videos and share what’s taking place there. I’ve been given the opportunity to help him do more good. I’m grateful for that...

 

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So, picture this: Here I am, twenty-one hours in the air, crossing vast oceans and then another eight hours in a cramped van, driven too fast down 3rd world bumpy roads. I’m parked on an unpaved dirt plot in front of a shack-of-a-house, across from two ox carts in rural Myanmar. 

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The children outside their thatched hut-homes stare at us. Their parents stare at us. They’re saying something to each other across the way; I imagine it’s something about how uniquely bizarre the scene is: 7 white strangers pouring out of pristine white, tinted glass van. We get out and look around and then at each other, asking, “is this it? Is the well here??” One of our guides walks over to us and in broken english says, “they’re going to take you on the motorbikes.”

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Keith responds, sarcastically, “Can we take the ox carts, instead?” But they didn’t seem to understand that dry humor, so, moments later we’re climbing into the back of these hay covered, wool-blanket-padded, primitive wooden ox carts.

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The village road is narrow, more like a trail, really, and super bumpy. It’s pretty clear to me now why our van parked where it did. After a moment I say, “this is easily the best hay ride I’ve ever been on. Way better than any tourist-farm could even dream of.” Because it really feels like some kind of special hay ride that lots of kids and parents would wait in long lines for. Where parents would willingly dish out the cash to give their kids that more-authentic experience. “Only one family per cart? Wow! So much better than the huge wagon experience…” So, here we are magically bumping our way past dried up rice fields on the left, coconut and palm trees on the right.

 Our cart driver keeps glancing back at us with our cameras and iPhones out ;  His giddy grin and the look in his eyes says it all: he’s just as confused and amused by this scene as we are.

Our cart driver keeps glancing back at us with our cameras and iPhones out; His giddy grin and the look in his eyes says it all: he’s just as confused and amused by this scene as we are.

We’re hours and hours outside Yangon, far out of sight of any main road. If you could even call them that. And we’re pushing farther out still. The air out here is completely still; Void of any distant motor vehicle sounds: so refreshing. It’s only the rhythmic, large wooden wheels turning over and over that we hear now. That and the ox trot and the wagon creak.

It’s been 20 minutes or so and we’re coming into another forrested patch of teak trees. We eep past a villager and her chickens. A minute or two later we are passing by her neighbors’ tiny, thinly constructed wooden home, something like 20 meters from hers. Yes, I said a minute or two. We’re really going that slow. The wheels turn another round and we stop. The cart rocks back slightly. Before I can get any words out to understand where we are or what this is we hop out the back of the cart.

I turn and am slightly startling at seeing what must be the entire village, standing in front of us, staring at us as we walk toward them with smiles, bowing slight as they do to greet them kindly. Everyone seems to be here: from the emaciated, leather-skinned elderly men and women, to a few fat babies scared to even blink at the sight of these strange white faces. It might only be something like 30 villagers here, but looking around and considering their isolation, I assume most anyone who lives anywhere nearby must be here. 

Slowly, the likelihood that this is the well site is sinking in. I say “slowly” because I’m still not seeing anything that resembles anything even closely to a well. Nothing circular, bricked. No covered structures with ropes dangling in the middle. And I don’t hear any water anywhere either.

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Clarence is the man who orchestrated the drilling of this well. He actually lived here with his wife, Jayne 10 years ago, serving an LDS humanitarian mission. He still has relationships with all the right people in this country. And so, despite no longer being associated with any organization but his own, he uses these connections and others to continue doing wonderful stuff here in a country that desperately needs it.

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Before we left the United States, Clarence told me how bad the drinking water is here. He had shown me pictures of the terrible water sources, but seeing it with feet planted firmly on this soil is something else entirely. Standing at the bank of a filthy rain-water-collecting pond near this tiny village we watch as a woman dips her hard-plastic, yellow water jug into the stale supply. Livestock bath in this water.  

He explains to them that my family and friends had given Keith the money needed for the trust to fund their well project. Then he asks them if they would be OK to name the well in Matt’s honor and asked if it would be OK to put up a plaque with his name on it. The translator asked the villagers and they all started nodding empatically.

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Someone asks if we could see some more of their village. They happily escort us down the street. I get a little behind the others, taking in the sights and smells: small pigs penned nearby and free range chickens in the street. When I catch up, Keith standing there, surrounded by a few of the villagers, bouncing a chubby baby boy with a dirty face and a blue and white kiddy hat. He looks down at the child in his arms as if he’s a long separated child of his very own. The light in his eyes reveals a certain, pure kind of love.

All I can think about is how bizarre everything about this experience is. Asking myself, “how is this even happening?” as I crouch down in front of the villagers for a photo op behind their newly drilled well, holding a plaque that says, “Matt McFarland Well.” Tears begin to fill my eyes but it’s all so surreal that they’re gone as fast as they came.

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A moment later, the most highly revered individual around, a frail-shaven Buddhist monk begins a prayer. The high seated government official, a congressman from far off somewhere else in the country lowers himself before him, ceremoniously pouring water in a small container over and over and over again as the monk prays for Matt and blesses the well.

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Before Matt died he told us all that he was bound and determined to get out and travel and to help people along the way. If anyone had told me then where that would put me now I wouldn’t have believed them.

-jason

Kelly Otteson