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My Home Away From Home

I love watching Amei cook. Yesterday’s rice and vegetables from the garden disappear into her pot and magically emerge as sumptuous curries, sauces, and soups. I crouch next to her on the floor, sometimes chopping beet root or tearing greens, but mostly just sitting. It is early morning, just after sunrise, and the air is still cool from last night’s rain. A layer of mist covers the valley, concealing the rice paddies below.

Amei crushes garlic, humming in a cheerful, tuneless sort of way. She passes me a knife and a head of cauliflower, and we work in silence. For the moment, the morning is blissfully quiet. Apei and the boys have already left for work, but will return home for their tin lunch boxes.  At 7 o’clock, my 11 year-old sister will stumble downstairs, bleary-eyed.  Friends will pop their heads into the kitchen door to swap gossip and sniff the air appreciatively. Small children will come in and beg for a bite, which she will dole out indulgently. Two cats, both curiously named Mimi, will curl up by the fire.

But, for now, it is silent.

Certain things here remind me vividly of home. The way my little sister leans on her dad when she’s tired. My host brothers squabbling over the last sesame stick. The neighborhood cat, who is regularly and enthusiastically forced into baby clothes by a horde of children. My whole family gathered around the TV, cheering as the Myanmar chin lone team comes thrillingly close to beating Thailand. And at the end of our team check in, as I shoo a chicken off of my sandals, I catch myself thinking, “I’m going home now.”

At dinner on my last night in the village, my host mother asks me if I am returning to America now. I explain that no, I’m staying in Myanmar for two more months. She smiles and points to me, then traces a big circle in the air, and then points to her house. She doesn’t speak, but somehow, I know exactly what she means.