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July 03, 2020

Post-COVID – 19: Live and let live with Betel Quid

By Sayar Mya (MOFA)

Buzzword is “New Normal” nowadays, and that the language is being deployed almost as a way to quell any uncertainty ushered in by the coronavirus. The “New Normal” must not be the microscope through which we scan in changing our way of life.
Scenario is that (1) More Saving, Less Spending; (2) New Supply Chains; and (3) Small Business Looks Scarier.
Although life is not fully back to normal, “Old Habits Die Hard”, and some guys bite the “Betel Quid” as usual.
Picking up the popular movie entitled “Live and Let Die”, I have embedded “Live and Let Live” to the hearts of those who cannot stop loving “Betel Quid”.
Definition of live and let live used to say that a person should live as he or she chooses and let other people do the same.
Ironically, the philosophy was to live and let live.
Health experts demonstrate that betel quid chewing, with or without added tobacco, increases the risk of oral cancer in an exposure dependent manner, independently of tobacco and alcohol use.

 Vendor makes betel quid for chewing. Photo: Aung Thant Khaing
Vendor makes betel quid for chewing. Photo: Aung Thant Khaing

Betel quid are made from areca nuts that are placed in a green betel leaf with slaked lime. In our country usually mixed with tobacco. Betel chewing is an open invitation to mouth cancer, oral cancer, then larynx cancer, then lung cancer and also stomach cancer.
Absolutely true that old habits die hard because it is hard to stop chewing betel quid that one has been doing for a long time. Our guys, and some women, just cannot seem to give up chewing the greenly bite.
What is normal in Yangon, but weird in other places?
Being a diplomat in Myanmar Foreign Service, I came across many friends from other countries at various diplomatic functions during my long career.
Consumed with curiosity and humor, I usually asked close friends “What was the most striking scene you have seen when you were visiting Yangon”.
Despite different aspects of sentences but they answered in a common way, “Spitting the reddish thing on the pavement”.
It was quite shocking to hear that.
However, it is normal in Yangon.
Why?
Asked a betel quid lover, surely, the answer would be, “It is cool and tasty.”
Arguably it is a modern-day poisonous bite to eat at least for some Yangonites.
“Stay at Home and Stay Safe” period of pandemic, the scene of spitting reddish thing is out of sight.
Responses of this weird tendency are simple to witness from the roadside stands across Yangon, before the pandemic, and the reddish stains on the pavements coming from the betel quid spit.
It is called “Kun Ya”.
Betel quid are made from areca nuts that are placed in a betel leaf with slaked lime. In Yangon it’s usually mixed with refined tobacco coming in round tin small containers from neighboring country.
World Health Organization stressed that more than 60 percent of males in Myanmar chew betel quid and almost 25 percent of the females consumed the addictive item.
In saving the columns and space, I tend to avoid the hazard of chewing betel quid as this writing is not meant for health education.
Why there are many betel quid stands all over Yangon City?
One needs to be a bread earner for the family, especially if there are more womenfolk in the household. More betel quid selling stands are might spread like wildfire in post COVID – 19 pandemic.
Life is unfair that my nieces were born and bred in a household with low bracket income with women only category under pitiful education for better and decent livelihood.
Unintentionally, last twenty years ago, I have had committed a sheer “blunder”.
Having a tough, rough and bumpy way of life, my nieces asked me to suggest for their livelihood.
I told them to sell “Betel Quid”. It is normal to see people spitting reddish things on the pavements in Yangon, but weird in other places on this planet.
I am a heavy smoker since my early twenties, and that the old habits die hard. I tried many time to give up smoking, but unsuccessful.
While the wheel of smoking cigarette and cheroot was still in spin, and that no one could coaxed, urged, and insisted me to stop smoking. Being a loser myself for many years, but I hope to be a winner because the time and situation are changing.
I did not remember the day or the year, but it was the moment that I bought a pack of Marlboro and saw “Smoking can cause a slow and painful death”.
Considered completely harmless, I took the warning slightly, and I was indifferent, unmoved and careless.
Changing the other brand of cigarettes, the warning keeps coming to me whenever, I bought a pack of cigarettes.
The messages consist of the word “WARNING” paired with one of the following: “Cigarettes are addictive,” “Tobacco smoke can harm your children,” “Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease,” “Cigarettes cause cancer,” “Cigarettes cause strokes and heart disease,” and “Smoking can etc…….”
It creeps in slowly and was scary.
Later, I quit smoking after seeing a dozen of packs.
Therefore, I am painting a picture with my own words in my mind such as that of “Chewing Betel Quid is addictive,” “Betel Quid biting can harm your mouth,” and “Betel Quid cause fatal oral cancer”.
Amazing, astounding and arresting words indeed, I told myself.
Tying a red ribbon, a small warning placard must be placed at each and every betel quid selling stand.
Who will tie the bell on the cat’s neck?
When my son was at pre-primary play school, he used to tell a story. The fable concerns a group of mice who debate plans to nullify the threat of a marauding cat. One of them proposes placing a bell around its neck, so that they are warned of its approach. The plan is applauded by the others, until one mouse asks who will volunteer to place the bell on the cat.
All of them make excuses.
I asked my nieces whether it is acceptable to put a placard of warning at your betel quid stand.
Consumed with fear, the adamant answer was, “No way”.
Fair rebuttal indeed, but, I asked again “Will you accept, if a team of Lu Gyee orders you.”
She thought for a moment and replied in a reluctant smile.
“Okay! If the right authority comes over and tells us to do so.”
No easy way out for me to suggest to the higher authorities.
Unless there is a “total ban on betel quid selling”, my nieces and the womenfolk would go on holding their head high and survive at least for now, and the years ahead.
It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.

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