Buddhists in Burma form what are called “water-donating societies” (wainay ya thukha) and set clay water pots along roads and in rest stations for the convenience of passersby. Their wayside water stations act as a welcoming signal for travelers, community members, or anyone who has a thirst that needs quenching. The act of supplying and maintaining these wayside water stations is another way a devout Buddhist can “make merit.” (Merit – and how you make it – is, like everything having to do with Buddhism, more complex than it seems on the surface. It’s all about interrelationship of the donor, the alms, and the recipient. The purer the alms and the holier the recipient, the more merit you make, as a donor.)
Anyway, you can see these wayside water stations all over Myanmar – in monasteries, market places, and roadside rest areas. They dot the countryside, and we saw them frequently in cities as well.
Typically made of clay, with a single cup attached, it sits on a stand or step and invites the passerby to partake in its cool refreshment. We were told the clay keeps the water cold and kills any bacteria. Okay, I had a little trouble with the antibacterial properties of clay – try as I might, I still view the world with a Western lens. And no, I didn’t drink any of the water. I wouldn’t have partaken in our home town, either, if, say, a huge pot of water suddenly were to appear in front of the local grocery store.
In any case, the water-filled clay pots are lovely, and we saw them in use everywhere we went. No worries about anyone spiking the water in Myanmar. These rest stations are just another way in which the Burmese welcome and reach out to others – a not-so-random act of kindness.