I lean over and say to Murray, with a slight lump in my throat, “It has taken me almost 20 years of traveling with you to come to this point.” He smiles and nods at me with understanding in his eyes.
Our excursion today is a trip over to Kyun Thiri Island to walk through a farming village and visit a monastery. We four Canadian travelers love this kind of interaction with the local people. We wave and smile and say Min Ga Lar Par (Good Morning) and take pictures of the village people and observe the goings on in their daily lives. They think it kind of funny that we would want to come see where they live. But I explain to our guide if one of them visited me, I would show them my house, where I work, where I shop and introduce them to my family and friends. It would be no different.
We have noticed that a smile goes a long way. Just smile at someone, and say Good Morning in their language and you will get a big beaming smile back. Wave at a child and smile and he/she will surely wave and smile back. I think about how as a tourist, we must show respect, good manners, friendliness and loads of smiles as we wander through people’s lives.
As we come to the edge of the village proper, a fellow on a motorbike stops and invites us to a ceremony for the dedication of new monks’ robes at the local monastery. One lady has sewn new robes for all the monks herself. Our guide asks us if we want to go, as this is a totally spontaneous offer. L and I look at one another and say OK.
The monks are gathering for lunch as we arrive at the monastery and we are invited into the main hall where they are eating. It is stifling hot inside and as Mur wanders around taking a few photos, I ask an older lady if I can sit beside her. Big smile! Of course. Next thing we know, someone has brought tea and a few munchies out for us. We sit around the tray and drink the offered tea and sample some very small orange sections. Our guide then tells us we have been invited to share lunch with the lay people and would we like to join them. After a bit of discussion, we agree.
While the food is finished being cooked, we wait in another part of the monastery. I again go sit with some women and children. L joins me and we ooo and ahh over a couple of the children. I ask our guide to ask one older lady how many children she has. She tells me that she has 7 children and 11 grandchildren. I tell her that I am from a small family and that I have 2 children and no grandchildren yet.
Even though we cannot speak the language, we can tell when something is happening. A buzz builds and then we are told that lunch is ready. We are guided back into the main hall where a table has been laid out with lunch. The food is Myanmar food – rice, clear vegetable soup, 3 meat dishes (chicken, pork, beef) 2 vegetable dishes and some sauces. Most of it is very hot. Unfortunately the meat is not quite chewable. We try small amounts and find items that we can eat so as not to offend our hosts.
L tells me later that the one fellow that seems to be in charge hovered around me like a hawk. Not sure why – maybe my grey hair. He seemed to be quite concerned about what I was eating. The sister of the Abbott also stopped by to make sure I was eating enough. I ask the guide to tell her that I am a little person and so do not eat that much. (I thought I was eating lots!)
After we finished lunch, we were guided to another table where they had laid out dessert for us. Various “Twinky” like cakes, orange pieces, condensed milk like icing and other local delicacies. R experiments the most, I eat the oranges. It was at this point that I leaned over to Murray and made comment I opened with.
When I first started traveling with Murray I would never have done what we had just experienced. Even walking through the village would have been a stretch for me. Over the years, I have gotten more comfortable with interacting with local peoples. I enjoyed our experience today and only wish I could have communicated with the ladies and gentlemen more. This experience will remain one of the highlights of this trip.
After lunch, we say Jay Zoo Demari (Thank You), wave Good bye and take our leave. I smile to myself and think about the journey that took 20 years.