For 50 years, Maung Maung has been a horse-and-buggy driver within the historical metropolis of Bagan, ferrying vacationers round to its hovering spires and iconic Buddhist pagodas and temples.
However vacationers have dwindled to a trickle, due to the mix of the Covid-19 pandemic that reached Myanmar in March 2020 and army coup the subsequent February.
“Not too long ago, a number of vacationers got here again however not as many as earlier than,” stated Maung Maung, who’s 70. “Now there are only a few. Some days, I don’t make a single dime (what phrase did he use?). Others, I make solely a bit cash.”
Making issues worse, rising inflation has eroded his spending energy.
When enterprise was good, he sometimes made 20,000-30,000 kyats (U.S. $6-10) a day, however that’s dropped sharply. He stated he prices 1,300 kyats (about U.S. $0.40) per hour for pleasure rides round Bagan and devoted costs to particular temples pilgrims wish to go to.
Because the junta took energy, a year-and-a-half in the past, Myanmar’s financial system has tumbled. Final yr, its GDP contracted by 18 p.c, and the Worldwide Financial Fund estimates that 1.6 million jobs have been misplaced in 2022, or round 7% of the workforce.
Financial development estimates for 2022, together with the World Financial institution’s forecast of three% development, appear overly optimistic now that about 40 p.c of the inhabitants resides below the poverty line.
Hovering Inflation, Plunging Forex
Inflation was 14 p.c in mid-2022 and accelerated to greater than 18 p.c by mid-September, with rice costs up 35-50% and gasoline costs spiking amid shortages. That‘s impacted every kind of companies, as many depend on turbines attributable to frequent electrical energy shortages.
Myanmar’s foreign money, the kyat, misplaced 60 p.c of its worth in opposition to the greenback in 2022. The kyat briefly traded at a file low, under 4,000 kyat to the U.S. greenback, whereas the official conversion price is 2,100.
The son of farmers, Maung Maung’s father purchased him a buggy when he was simply 20 years outdated. He informed RFA Burmese that the automobile had offered him with a gradual stream of revenue for a few years behind a mare named Mi Chaw.
Bagan, in Myanmar’s central Mandalay area, has lengthy been a cultural capital and a serious vacationer hub that’s house to the stays of greater than 2,200 Buddhist temples and pagodas, largely courting from between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. The previous capital of the Bagan kingdom that will unify the areas that collectively turned often called Myanmar, the town was formally acknowledged as a World Heritage Website by UNESCO in 2019.
Regardless of dwindling revenue and few guests, Maung Maung continues operating his enterprise as a result of driving horse-drawn buggies is what he is aware of, and is among the few jobs he can do at his age.
When he was youthful, Maung Maung would farm in the course of the tourism low season, however he not has the power for agricultural labor.
Kyi Kyi Swe, Maung Maung’s daughter, informed RFA that he cares deeply concerning the horses he has bred and brought care of their entire lives, and would by no means consider abandoning them.
“Earlier than, he requested his son to drive the buggy whereas he labored on the farms,” she stated. “As he has grown outdated, he can’t do farm work and is again in buggy driving.”
“He takes excellent care of [Mi Chaw]. He does not wish to see her lean. He feeds her on a regular basis. Even at evening, he will get as much as feed her,” she stated. “The horse additionally is aware of him effectively. She whinnies for extra meals at evening. My dad leaves house round 5:30 a.m. each morning to drive to the buggy station and watch for his flip to drive.”
Different buggy drivers in Bagan informed RFA that the town council has granted licenses to round 300 individuals to function horse-drawn carts, however solely round 100 of them are actively working as a result of lower in tourism.
One driver, named Soe Tint, stated horse drawn buggies are as a lot an emblem of Bagan because the panorama and temples, and are sometimes seen collectively in promotional materials for vacationers.
However even previous to the pandemic and the coup, the variety of buggies in Bagan had declined as they have been changed with fashionable autos.
“I wish to promote my horse since I’ve farm work. I paid round 1,500,000 kyats for them, however now they’re value solely 700,000-800,000 kyats. I might even promote them for 600,000 kyats solely, he stated.
“If issues get higher and the guests return, the buggy enterprise would develop once more. Touring Bagan is most pleasing by horse-drawn buggy. However they gained’t come again if the nice instances don’t return.”
Maung Maung acknowledged that if enterprise situations don’t enhance, he should hand over his enterprise and depend upon his household.
“My enterprise is so unhealthy that I’ve been struggling to make ends meet. I simply wish to make sufficient for meals and different requirements, like rice, cooking oil or salt,” he stated.
“If I get only a few extra guests [than average], I could make simply sufficient to cowl requirements. If I don’t have any, I’ve to purchase them on credit score. If the enterprise doesn’t enhance, I should promote my horses and dwell on my kids’s revenue.”
Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung for RFA Burmese. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.