Author: Lay Min Pyae Mon - Slender fingers rhythmically work at the brilliantly-coloured threads; legs undulate like a dancer’s as foot pedals are pushed down - the cloth on the loom growing a little larger each time. The faces of the weavers, covered in pale thanaka paste, scrutinise the next set of motifs in the pattern. Weaving is the craft where colour beats the rhythm. And this is the weaving shed of The Manaw Star Weaving Company.
Come Friday evening at 18:45, the weavers turn on their cheap Chinese radios, hanging from the crossbars of their looms, and tune into Myanmar Radio, the government broadcaster. They are searching for the shrill, sweet sound of a flute, which, after a few phrases, yields to a rich and busy instrumental – this is the signature tune of BBC Media Action’s radio drama, The Teacup Diaries, a sound that touches hearts and silences the chatter of the weaving shed.
The drama – which aims to increase peace and understanding between different ethnic and religious communities in Myanmar – really resonates with the weavers, as my colleagues and I were about to find out.
We were visiting after the weavers had contacted us on Facebook.
We knew they were fans, but nothing could prepare us for their warm greeting as the young weavers surged forward, armed with android phones ready to take selfies with their favourite actors. They were wearing their best clothes and touchingly offered us a feast of snacks and soft drinks.
The Tea Cup Diaries provides a welcome break for these weavers who, for a monthly salary of around $100, work a ten hour day, with only two days off a month.
The weavers travel to Myitkyina in Kachin State in the north of Myanmar, all the way from Shwe Bo in the Dry Zone, where water and jobs are scarce. They send money back to their family every month, together with letters, often describing stories from The Tea Cup Diaries. This is how much they love the drama. Some of the weavers confessed to me that the characters in The Tea Cup Diaries appear in their dreams.
They compete to tell us their favourite stories and people in the drama, but above all, they follow every twist and turn of the story of the teashop owner, U Chit Maung and his wife, Daw Khin Thit.
Soon the weavers were calling for the actors to perform a scene in front of them.
Even though they are tired from travelling, Daw Khet Su Myat (who plays Daw Khin Thit), U Rupa (who plays U Chit Maung) and the other actors, rally round. They perform a scene from the first series, where Daw Khin Thit gets fed up with doing all the work in the teashop. She shouts at U Chit Maung and the young weavers roar in sympathy, but when U Chit Maung produces, with a flourish, a rose for his wife, the audience is equally enthusiastic.
Once the performance is over the questions and comments start. We all tried our best to answer their questions, all the time amazed and happy at their level of engagement, knowledge and understanding of the drama.
In the modern day, technology allows us to have more options than ever for entertainment. We choose what we want and leave what we don’t, but for a group of weavers in Myitkyina the choice is simple: they listen to a radio drama - every bit as colourful as the cloth they weave – and it’s called The Tea Cup Diaries.
Image credit: BBC Media Action
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