With little to no electricity in Twante, you rise at daybreak to the noise of chirping crickets and roosters making themselves heard. It’s 5am and you’ve got a long day ahead of you, much like every day of the year.
Your daily routine starts with a splash as you pour a bucket of water over your head and begin washing yourself. With no running water, you’ve had to collect water from the nearby river and boil it to make sure it is clean. You can’t use too much though as others in the house will need some later on. Next up it’s breakfast, which will almost certainly be pebyoke with rice. Otherwise known as boiled peas, pebyoke is much like baked beans to other parts of the world and forms a large part of your diet in Myanmar due to how cheap it is and its nutritional value.
All this happens before you start work at 6am on the dot. Luckily your factory is a short 5 minutes’ walk from home so you can be out of the front door at 5:55 and still be on time.
Being a full time potter since the age of 18, this is one of the few skills that you possess and as a result you take great pride in your work. The aim today, as with every day, is to make 100 pots. Each pot takes around 5 minutes to make, so if you work fast and carefully, you’ll hopefully have made 50 before lunch. That’s factoring in a short break to have some tea in the morning as well, a favourite pastime of yours.
You have an assistant who works with you every day, bringing the clay from the grinder, powering the turntable with their hands, and moving the pot once it is complete. It’s nice to have company, but few words are spoken as both of you are concentrating hard on making as many pots as possible.
First you wet the clay before slapping it down on the turn table. As your assistant begins to turn the table, you carefully add 3 or 4 more strips of clay to add height to the pot your making. The wheel begins to pick up pace and using your hands, a damp bit of cloth and your many years of experience, you begin to shape the clay. Each pot has to look identical, so it’s important to work carefully as well as fast.
When it gets to 11am you’ll hopefully have created around 50 pots, more if it’s been a good morning. Now it’s time for some lunch so you head back home to your family. Homes in Myanmar can be busy places as usually the entire family, from grandparents to grandchildren, uncles and aunts, will all live under the same roof. Lunch will have been prepared by your wife in advance, and the whole family will come together to eat. This is very much part of Myanmar tradition.
As noon approaches, you make your way back to the factory for the afternoon session. Ideally you’d like to make a further 50, but as you begin to get tired, unfortunately that’s just not possible. Focusing on the detail, and having patience, is far more important for a potter then speed. Having devoted your entire life to this craft, you’ve learnt that the hard way.
At 5pm, as the light begins to fade, it’s time to wrap up your day and head to the local teashop to greet your friends from the village. It’s been a long day of backbreaking work that has left you in need of some social contact and downtime. Sipping some green tea, you look back on your day with satisfaction knowing that there’s not much more you could have done to provide an income for your family.
Today’s work will have earned you $5. Most of that will be put away in savings for your children and grandchildren.
Nothing’s easy in Myanmar, particularly in remote villages where there’s little work to be had. For a 67 year old man, there’s only so many years you have left to provide your family with the best possible chance to succeed. With this in mind, you head home for dinner, knowing that tomorrow will bring the same again, and the next day after, and the next.
This is the life of a potter in Twante.
Come and explore Twante for yourself, learn more about village life in Myanmar, and help make a difference to the local economy on our Twante day tour.