Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Then the Rain Came

I sat. Sweating.
Partially from the heat, partially from the expectation.
I sat in the chair, in a room I'd sat in a million times before, but this time I was not the student.
I was in fact, the teacher.
Eight expectant faces looked up at me.
"Mingalaba Saya Ma." (Hello Teacher.)
"So uh... What do I do?" I glanced to my left. Hin Bai sat nursing her three month old baby. She had been my Burmese teacher until Theresa came.
"Just talk. They want to learn to speak English."

I gathered my wits and began a weird exercise. I made things up as I went along.
I think it went well. They expect me to come back next week, so it couldn't have been that bad.
And I gave them homework... like a good teacher does.

When 6:00 came we switched back to Burmese.
"Will you follow us? We're going to a birthday party."
"Sure." I replied.

We hopped onto motorbikes and took off for the local migrant school where the Birthday girl lived.
As we drove I noted the peculiar color of the sky. Kind of a muggy, light pink color. Then the rain came. It was that kind of rain that soaks you to the bone. By the time we got to the school, I was drenched. I stood outside her door, my jeans dripping onto the hallway floor.
"Katie!" She cried out. "Come in! I have some clothes you can wear!"
She ushered me into her bedroom and carefully selected a longi and t-shirt. I peeled off my jeans and shirt. She helped me tie the traditional Chin longi and led me back to the living room. In those few moments I felt completely transformed. I came in as a Westerner but I emerged as... I'm not sure what. Some people say Karen, while others think... who knows. My looks baffle people here.
We sat on the floor and gave her encouragement. She was turning 58 that day, and we each took a turn reading scripture and giving her words of wisdom. We prayed over her. I sat on the floor, suddenly feeling warm. But, it was a different warm from before. It didn't bring sweat to my brow, but it brought comfort to my heart. Here, with dry clothes and surrounded by these people, I felt so at home. We joked with each other in Burmese and they showed their obvious enjoyment in the fact that I could make conversation in Burmese.

I rode my motorbike home in my borrowed clothes, the soaking American clothes in my basket. As I drove past the restaurant I often eat at with friends, I glanced in and saw three of my closest Burmese speaking friends. I turned around and circled back. As I walked in I retied the skirt and they applauded. They appreciated my Burmese-ness I think.
I know I will never fully be Burmese. I have a slight advantage with my Asian looks , but I can never know what it's like to be from Burma. I think I'll have to be content with this. I'm glad I have friends who are so welcoming, who want me to be close to them, who want me to understand their lives and culture.

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