gray to green

So I’m sitting here in a boutique salon waiting to get my hair cut and the speakers are playing 80s dance pop. This is a far cry from my experience a few days ago. I feel as though I’ve stepped into the future and my mind and heart are trying to make sense of it all.

A year has passed since Cyclone Nargis overturned the Irrawaddy and much of the brown and gray are overcome with paddy green. A little too serene. In the face of a woman who lost five children to Nargis I find myself lost in her strength and hope. She served me food and as I ate she insisted on fanning me.

But before all this we were in Yangon. We were scheduled to conduct a one-day youth camp in a church but before we arrived, the church was shut down by the authorities. Yet this was normal to them. We met at a park instead — in full view of the public and patrolling junta. When the latter came by, us non-native speakers kept silent in hopes of blending in. And they left us alone.

We praised God and washed each others’ feet, literally.

The next morning we put on our disguise, which came in the form of I Love Myanmar t-shirts. From Yangon, we took a boat across the river and then hopped into a taxi towards Bogale. Our bones ricketted with the old Toyota Corolla, crisscrossing paddy fields and villages. At the Bogale check point I hid my camera under a hankerchief and shut my mouth. Foreigners have limited access into the Delta and even more so when you carry a camera. I mostly prayed to be invisible.

From there on, we headed south down into the Delta. We faced the unkind sun and embraced the monsoon rain with hearts filled with hope and expectation. And it failed us not.

It won’t be an overstatement to say I’ve fallen in love with the land, 8 hour journey and all. We traveled along the marshes and more paddy fields. We walked into flooded areas and visited schools. In everything that we did, I prayed we did in love.

So today I’m back in Malaysia wearing the I Love Myanmar shirt not as a disguise but as a step towards solidarity with the people and spirit that left a dent in me. A very good dent. No one goes to Myanmar and comes back unchanged.

Below are images from Tee Chaung village. More to come.



  1. Hey Rach, lovely photos!

    A lot of the kids seem to have their cheeks smeared in a similar fashion. Are they accidental or intentional smears?

  2. rachelchew

    thanks, mich!
    it’s thanaka. it helps keep their face cool and protects skin from being sunburnt

  3. leyon

    Dear Rach, have you considered shooting for National Geographic or some other magazine? Some of these photos are almost Pulitzer Prize material.

    Your snobby friend.

  4. rachelchew

    Snobby friend, thank you for thinking so highly of my work but I’m not at that caliber :) – quite far from it actually. Thanks again for such thoughts though :)

  5. your images are spectacular. i’m always excited to see a new post from you.
    this group in particularly grab me, as you’ve captured the spirit of the people you’ve photographed – not to mention incredible light and colours. just beautiful.

  6. rachelchew

    thank you, micah! :)

  7. Beautiful set of pictures Rachel. But I wouldn’t expect anything less from you =) Your blog is a constant source of inspiration.

  8. rachelchew

    thanks, joshua :)

  9. I don’t know what compliments I could possibly give you that you haven’t already heard yet.

    Your writing is always so thoughtful and your photos are always so warm and inviting; it says a lot about you.

    Thank you for the posts!

  10. Deborah Lee

    that boutique salon… issit in SS15? “Lahlahland”? :p

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