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Mandalay Memories

My Favorite Day
I wake up to American pop music blasting outside my door and what sounds like thousands of kids heading to class. The morning light streams in through the netting that hangs over my mattress. I smile–there is never a quiet moment at Phaung Daw Oo Monastic School. I dragged myself out of bed and take a shower. I relish turning on the faucet. Cold water is nothing after bucket showers. By the time I am done showering my roommates, Sarah, Lexi, and Mal are awake and I wait for them to get ready so we can all get breakfast together.

Outside of our room there awaits a cluster of young novices. “Hello,” they say, as we go by, eager to test out their English. “Hi,” I reply this is met with giggles from all of them. It’s easy to forget that the troves of students wearing monk robes are still just kids.

Together the four of us make our way to our favorite tea shop. It’s our favorite largely because we don’t have to cross the hectic main street to get there. Despite the fact that it’s only 8 o’clock the heat is already oppressive and we are all sticky by the time we reach the shop. We take our usual seats at the table near the fan. The owners son comes to take our orders. He is around twelve years old and is one of the loudest people I have ever met. I know this because he likes to shout the orders he takes rather than walk the distance to the kitchen. I choose to find this highly amusing instead of highly annoying.

I order my new favorite breakfast ‘fried egg bread’ and a cup of tea. While we wait for our food to arrive. Mal runs out to buy some fresh fruit for all of us from a near by stand, as she does every morning. It’s nice to fall into a routine after all of the traveling we’ve been doing.

When we’ve finished eating we head back to the school. For the past week we’ve been working with the pre-college students at the school. And today it is the dragon student’s turn to structure the day. I spent most of yesterday researching and preparing my lesson for today. And I’m nervous even if I don’t go until the afternoon. The morning is filled with lessons from other dragon’s students. It’s fun to see them in this light — talking about what they are most passionate about.

Their excitement is mirrored in the faces of the pre-college students. It’s inspiring to see how motivated the students are to learn. Their dedication makes me regret the countless moments when I took my education for granted. Never again.

We teach the kids a dance, play some games, have a conversation on gender and a lesson on American politics. And play a surprisingly successful game of baseball using only a chinlong ball and a stick.

Then it’s the pre-college students turn to lead. They choose to have a tea leaf salad making competition in which the Dragon students cook and they instruct. While the judges decide which salad is the best, the students preform a traditional dance. Then everyone of us dances together.

At four class is over. And as I’m leaving to go back to my room I hear someone call me “Hey, New Jersey girl!” A group of the pre-college students calls me over and invites me to come to a tea shop with them. I eagerly agree. We pick up more Dragons students and they take us to a tea shop I hadn’t been to before. We all squeeze around one table. We are served sweet tea in delicate tea cups with intricate flower patterns. There is no menu, so they order for us. The desserts are something that I would never have known to order. But, of course, they are all delicious.

As we laugh and talk it strikes me how natural this feels, like we’ve all been friends for years. As we walk back to the school the sun is setting casting a golden glow over the city. And for 100th time today I’m grateful. For this place, for the people I’m surrounded by, and that I’m here in Myanmar having these experiences.