Monday, 11 May 2015 08:20

The following is a transcript of a recorded interview with Ma Aye. Ma Aye is a Coconut seller on the steps of Shwedagon Pagoda. The recoding was made as part of the My Yangon My Home festival, Mohinga Street Food Narratives exhibition that was exhibited in March 2015.


My Yangon My Home-Yangon Art sand Heritage Festival
"Mohinga Street Food Narratives and History"


Interviewer: Now we are arriving at the coconut shop at the eastern stairway of Shwedagon pagoda. I have frequented this shop for nearly two years, I usually come here and drink coconut juice. So, I have become acquainted with her. Today, I'm going to ask her about the shop and herself. How long have you been selling coconuts?


Coconut Lady: I have been selling it for about eight years. Various kinds of coconut are available. For health, there is 'only-for-juice' coconut. The others are 'jelly-like flesh' coconut, 'spoon scraped scraps' coconut, ' full spoon scraped scraps' coconut, and 'roll-up flesh' coconut. The most medicinal ones are the 'only-for-juice' coconut, and 'jelly-like flesh' coconuts.


You tap the coconut when it is hard (to discover what kind of flesh it has). This one sounds hard. This one is soft. It sounds like (tapping) pots. You can (also) guess whether it is hard or soft. Because of handling coconuts daily, I can make a visual guess and tell what kind of coconut it is. Cutting the spicate shell from a coconut, you can tell the stage of the flesh inside it. When it becomes hard, the shell becomes segmented. This one is still soft. Looking at that, you can say that this must be 'only-for-juice' stage, or 'jelly-like flesh' stage or half 'spoon scraped scraps' stage.


When I was taking coconut juice for my health, the thought dawned on me that I could contribute to the welfare of others. With that I opened up the shop. It isn't my family business. Women usually drink coconut juice during pregnancy. People drink coconut juice for health reasons. I give them 'only-for-juice' and 'jelly-like flesh' coconuts, which are also medicinal. 'Jelly-like flesh' is medicinal for both sexes and for all ages young or old.


When coconut flesh becomes 'spoon scraped scraps', it becomes sweet. When one tastes it, it tastes like milk curds or shrimps. Metaphorically, customers compare it to these things and buy it ('spoon scraped scraps' coconut). After this stage, it becomes 'roll-up flesh', which is sweeter, and one can hold it and eat it. It can go well with jaggery.


'Roll-up flesh' has more heat element. If someone with low blood pressure eats it, it will raise their blood pressure. 'Only-for-juice' and 'jelly-like flesh' coconuts are suitable for hypertension and diabetes.


Previously my customers didn't know much about soft coconuts. They just knew about hard ones. Now, they make jelly made with coconut milk. They cook coconut rice too. The thick coconut flesh is used for glutinous rice and sticky rice too.


Expecting mums or people who suffer from poor urination and kidney problems, or who suffer from diarrhea; drink coconut juice due to medical advice. The coconut is rich in potassium, so it is suitable for the treatment of potassium deficiency as well as for dieters and Sabbath keepers, because it rejuvenates them.


The 'Roll-up flesh' coconut brings up body temperature. Only 'Roll-up flesh' can cause hypertension. If it is in soft stage, it's not sweet. Coconuts in the softer flesh stages are beneficial to people with hypertension or with low potassium. They are good for the bowels. I focus on my job and I don't want to make any mistakes with the people who come here for health reasons.


As for cancer patients, if they drink the 'roll-up flesh' coconuts, the situation will be worse. They should drink 'only-for-juice' coconuts. If they drink it with a catalyst like lemon, so to speak, and squeeze the lemon into the juice, it will gradually lessen the disease. If someone has kidney stones, drinking coconut juice together with stone-crushing medicine can cure bile or dissolve any stone in the body.


According to Myanmar traditional medicine, there are two small balls in the head of a croaker (fish). One has to burn these balls and grind them. Later put the powder into the coconut juice and drink it. Then, the stones will gradually disappear. If the stones are small they will disappear completely. If they are bigger, they will reduce in size and when you take an ultrasound test there will be no need to operate.


The shop opens at 11am and closes at 11pm There are customers all the time up until 11pm. From 12 to 1am, I clean the shop because there must be no piece of rubbish here. I go to bed around 2 or 3am or the earliest time is 1am. When I get up, it must not be later than 6am because I have to attend to my son and my daughter who have to go to school. For my paralyzed mother, I have to get up at 6am to attend to her needs. The whole afternoon sees no relaxation. When customers come, I sell happily. This is my daily routine.


There are more coconut sellers these days. Everyone shows no reluctance to drink coconut juice. (Sometimes) Previously people have got wrong information about coconuts. The coconut is a natural fruit free from any chemicals, even planted coconuts. But, ready-made coconuts have chemicals. For the other fruits chemicals are used to ripen or to make them bigger. Coconuts are free from such things. They grow from seedlings to maturity naturally without chemical additives.


Interviewer: Why are you staying up at the monastery?
Coconut Lady: Because of economical matters and my mum's health situation. I borrow money from others at high interest rates. My daily income goes to that interest, whilst the rest is for the cost of family matters and the healthcare cost of my mum. So, things can't run very well. I have become a tenant because I can't afford to buy my own house. I have to sell on the roadside, and I have to earn for my family. I have to pay debts. In this way, things go round and I end up with staying up at the monastery. This is my profession and they are my benefactors. I don’t want to make any mistakes when people come to me for health reasons. If not, they will be affected by my mistake.


By Abadi Art Space. 2015
(The story has been edited from the original translation to fit the magazine)

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