Today I followed my Ah Phey (father) into the forest. Don’t worry mom and dad I haven’t forgotten about you guys. It started out just like every other day: confusion. I woke up at 3:00am to blaring lights and the living room bustling with noise and movement. In my sleepy state I vaguely remember something being yelled aloud in Burmese as my Ah Koh (brother) pounded across the room. When I finally woke up at 6:30 there was no one in the house. So, I did what any rationale teenager would have done in this situation which was to fall straight back asleep on the plush wood floor. At 7:00 I once again got woken up by some indiscriminate shouting of my parents through the house. I decided it was time to get up and assess the situation for the day. When I arrived in the kitchen my Ah Phey looked at me and said “pagoda” pointing through the wall at some unseen monastery I assumed we would be visiting that morning. So just as I had done every morning this week, I sat down to read as I waited for someone in the family to summon me for the trek to one of the seemingly hundreds of pagodas within a three mile radius of our home base in Sin Leh village.
As my Ah Meh (mother) approached my reading spot I looked up from my book. (Ironically I am reading ‘The Martian’ because I often feel like the title character being in this very foreign village). I got excited thinking that we were about to embark on another great adventure to some gorgeous monastery for tea and conversations, but instead she smiled, said something I didn’t understand, and made a beeline out the door. After she left, my father moved from the kitchen to his room to lie down. At that point I could feel my hope for an adventurous morning slipping away. After about thirty more minutes of reading my Ah Koh who I hadn’t seen since early this morning came bounding in and started talking to me in a very excitable fashion. I had no idea what he was saying! He pointed to my rain jacket and said ‘pagoda,’ thinking that this was my cue I geared up and was ready to head out. But just as I was putting on my jacket I looked outside and saw him bounding away with a girl. Well there goes that adventure I thought to myself. I settled back down to my book for another thirty minutes before I decided that I would take matters into my own hands and go find some people or something to do. Throwing my backpack on I prepared to head out the door, but just as I made it to the stairs my Ah Phey popped out of his room with his jacket on and started talking to me in Burmese and pointing at the wall. If you think I had any idea what he was saying, you guessed wrong. Eventually I made out jacket and camera, so I armed myself with those tools and followed him out the door.
Right now you may be wondering why did I just lay out my entire morning hour by hour for no reason? Well there is a reason! It’s to show that this morning, like every morning is beautifully chaotic.
Anyway, as I settled in next to my Ah Phey (who also happens to be the village chief-no biggie) for our walk through the town, I gazed out over the luscious green rice paddies and gorgeous mountains, and was reminded just how far from home I am. Being the village chief, he talked to everyone we saw even people who were just sitting in their living rooms, and even though he was talking he never stopped walking. He oftentimes didn’t even turn his head. He just kept walking. Halfway up the hill that leads out of the village my Ah Phey made a noise from behind me, and I turned around to find him on a slick mud path in the middle of a rice paddy. Now, I’ll be honest I love the flip flop culture that exists here in Myanmar, but whenever I look out over a path of pure mud pocked with water buffalo tracks I groan inwardly. While dodging water buffalo poop and slipping through the mud we passed an old lady who pointed her cheery toothless smile at me when I said hello. Upward we went on this mucky path, my flip flops threatening to give way underneath me with every step. Eventually we passed through a small village, and the big path we were on once again gave way to a mucky water buffalo highway that was more water than solid ground. At this point I was just thankful to not have stepped into pure muck up to my calves. It was right then that I did finally step into a pile of muck and almost lost my flip flop. Great. When I looked back up my Ah Phey had taken a turn into a smaller path in the woods. Carefully watching my step I followed him onto the path.
When I was finally able to take my eyes off of my feet, I was confronted by a raging jungle the likes of which I have never seen. Every way I looked was a cascade of green. A small stream with pure spring water stretched out next to the path. My Ah Phey had led us into paradise. As we walked, and stream hopped, he took the time to name some of the flora around us. Unfortunately I do not remember their Burmese names. Eventually he led us to the pagoda he had initially promised except this was not the type of pagoda I pictured. There were no monks, and no monastery. There were just two Buddhas sitting in front of a massive Bodi tree (a holy tree in Buddhism). Behind the Bodi tree was an earthen cliff with a sparkling spring at its base and two additional trees leaning against each other. The spring was feeding the creeks we had previously jumped over. We entered the space, and took off our flip flops. While my Ah Phey said his prayers, I simply took in all the natural beauty. This place felt truly holy, even for someone like me who does not practice Buddhism. I could sense in that place Mother Nature’s presence. If its possible to be at home halfway around the world where I barely speak the language, than at that moment, I was at home. There is no place I would have rather been than in the jungle, right there at that place.