I was laughed at a lot during our time in Chin State. I was laughed at when I sliced too far into a giant gourd, when I drew a very stupid-looking goat in front of a sixth-grade English class, and when my Chin drum-playing skills were not up to par. I was laughed at when I tried to pound rice with an extremely heavy tool, when I shot rubber bands at a target with some school-children, and when I tried to speak a few words in the local dialect. I was laughed at almost every time I pushed myself out of my cultural comfort zone.
One night, in a village called Hawo Long Lon, I did a traditional Chin dance in front of a crowd. We had all gathered around a bonfire and a few of the villagers were playing instruments. A generator-powered street light had been set up for the occasion. A woman who looked to be in her fifties or sixties showed us a dance. With a blanket wrapped around her shoulders, she bounced up and down and side to side to the beat of the music. A young man demonstrated another part in this dance. He had a machete-like knife in a basket at his hip and he did a few steps, forward and backward, left and right. Then, to all of our surprise, he took out the knife and started stabbing the air with it. When the dance was over, the woman took the blanket off of her shoulders and the man removed the knife-basket from his hip and they went into the crowd in search of a Dragons student to dance next.
During Dragons orientation, I learned about comfort zone, growth zone, and panic zone. That night, as I looked at the assembled crowd, I was certain that dancing in front of these people was a challenge that put me past my growth zone and deep into the panic zone. But when my turn came, I danced anyway. To my surprise, I truly enjoyed the experience. While I was dancing, I heard a lot of laughter from the sidelines, accompanied by clapping and cheers of support. And, at that moment, I realized that I don’t mind being laughed at in these situations.
I think it would be wrong to pretend that I fit seamlessly into the new cultural experiences I encountered in Chin State. Of course I can’t do the dance perfectly, slice the gourd correctly, and speak a single word of Chin without a heavy accent. It makes sense to acknowledge that I fall short in this new culture. Laughing with the people I met made me feel close to them in a very simple, human way. At home, I fear being laughed at. My time in Chin state taught me, among many things, to take the power out of my fear and simply laugh along. I will never forget the laughter I shared with the people I met in Chin State. And I will never stop telling the story of the knife dance I did there.