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Homestay Reflections

Sinleh Homestay Reflections…

I write to you on a winding bus ride somewhere between Kalaw and Nyaung Shwe. We are passing countless terraced rice paddies, water buffalo, and garlic farmers going about their daily routines.

The past four nights, we have been immersed in the hospitality of the Danu ethnic group in the hills of Shan State between Kalaw and Inle Lake. We are indebted to Ko Harri, our incredible Homestay Coordinator, who has been a friend and supporter of this village for over a decade and has connected Dragons students with this community since 2011. Our thirteen students were spread amongst eleven gracious homestay families, who – despite the language barrier – welcomed us with open arms and full hearts. Our days have been filled with learning and laughter, our bellies full of home cooked meals.

Yesterday was our last full day in Sinleh Village; this morning, we trekked on to Inle Lake. In light of this, I asked our group a series of journal prompts. Below are their responses.

MY HOST FAMILY INCLUDED:

Sara:

My A-May, or host mother; my three host sisters (one nineteen, one fifteen, and the other six years old); and my host brother (four years old).

Cade:

Two brothers, one sister, a mother, and a father.

Tristan:

A father, a mother, a daughter, a son-in-law, a son in a different city with a wife and child.

Emma:

A-May, A Pei, A Miou, Mia Say, and Win I-teh.

Alisa:

My host mother, a very very sweet woman, and her friendly husband.

Charles:

My host father, mother, and brother.

Will:

Po-Po-We, Dong-We, and Tay.

Shiva:

Grandparents, their daughter, and granddaughter.

Hannah:

My mom, dad, little brother (age 6), and three cows.

Alice Rose:

Two people. A wife and her husband. They have a daughter who goes to school in Kalaw.

Oscar:

My mother and my father and their baby, accompanied by my brother’s uncle, his mother, and his father.

Lucy:

A grandmother, Daw Hia May; a grandfather, U Gan Tah; a mother, Tun Wun May; a daughter, May Zin Oo; and a father and brother in Yangon.

Charlotte:

A grandma, young woman, and man.

MY DAILY ROUTINE INCLUDED:

Sara:

Being knee-deep in the mud, rice planting with my host mom. Taking morning.  Hikes with Dragons friends.. Cutting garlic with Charlotte’s host mother. Doing dishes with my host sister. And helping my host mom cut cauliflower for dinner.

Cade:

Following my brother around for work, cooking with mom, and watching MMA with dad.

Tristan:

Eating a lot of food, working, resting, and cutting garlic.

Emma:

Cutting garlic and making baby Win I-teh laugh.

Alisa:

Waking up under a bug net and putting my ‘bed’ away. We then continue to eat breakfast in which rice is always incorporated. Every day, we cut garlic for hours with our homestay mother in peaceful silence, save for the snip of the scissors trimming the garlic.

Charles:

Waking up around 6am, writing journals, helping my family cook, enjoying meals with my host family, cutting garlic, weeding, watering and packaging cabbage, climbing the mountain, and interviewing villagers.

Will:

Exploring mountains and fields, in addition to hanging around the house and getting to know my family.

Shiva:

Putting on bug spray!

Hannah:

Waking up at 4:30am, eating by myself, hiking up the mountain with Charlotte and Sara, playing with my host brother, going to 2pm Dragons group meetings, sitting with my family on their porch while my host mom cooks dinner, and sitting my candlelight with my host mom practicing my Burmese before bed.

Alice Rose:

Bandaging my foot, cutting garlic, taking a nap, then un-bandaging my foot.

Oscar:

Harvesting ginger and rice, reading and eating food with my host family. On other days, walking around the countryside or hiking the ridge that overlooks the village.

Lucy:

Cutting bushels of garlic, going on strolls into the nearby mountains, and snacking on sunflower seeds.

Charlotte:

Eating breakfast and then hiking up the mountain with Sara and Hannah. After that I would cut garlic with my host grandma. At 2pm I would meet up with the group and we would do activities and a Burmese language lesson. I would eat dinner at my house and go to bed around 9pm.

A CHALLENGE I OVERCAME:

Sara:

Getting used to waking up at 5am to have breakfast with my host family.

Cade:

Blistering my hand up and working in the rice paddies.

Tristan:

An outdoor squat toilet, an outdoor shower, and although not fully, I overcame communication across languages.

Emma:

The smell in the outhouse and the leeches in the rice paddies.

Alisa:

Sleeping with bugs crawling around me. I have learned to make peace with the fact that there might be a moth, spider, or cockroach sharing my space despite my terror.

Charles:

The language barrier that hinders me from expressing my needs and results in much confusion. I attempted to fight the challenge by establishing bonds with my family members and learning as much survival Burmese phrases as possible.

Will:

The language barrier with my family; both ends have come to better understand each other in the past few days.

Shiva:

A leech on my ankle.

Hannah:

Climbing the ladder to get up the porch with no hands (so I can clean my dishes). It just takes balance and coordination.

Alice Rose:

I showed my host mom a picture of my family. I struggled to describe my family in Burmese.

Oscar:

Communicating with my family. It still is difficult but I have started to understand their body language and gestures and I’m improving my Burmese.

Lucy:

Communicating with my family; there has been a lot of nodding, smiling, and laughing.

Charlotte:

Sleeping on the ground.

SOMETHING I LEARNED ABOUT THE VILLAGE/COMMUNITY and AN ASPECT OF THIS COMMUNITY I ADMIRE:

Sara:

You don’t need to have a lot. My homestay house has almost no furniture and bare walls in almost every room. When you walk in, at first glance, the rooms seem very empty. But as you begin to observe the family, you realize the rooms are not empty after all. They are full, with love and after and pride. They are full of experience and memories that the family have shared together. Even though the rooms are empty, their lives are more full and more enriching than most people I have seen.

Cade:

I’ve learned that Myanmar knows football! And I admire the simplicity–this community is not wasting resources.

Tristan:

I’ve learned this village’s cuisine, culture, and costume. I admire the deep sense of connectedness.

Emma:

There is not much stuff in this village but joy and laughter take up all the empty space. I admire the support people show one another.

Alisa:

Their genuine care for each other, whether they are closely related or not. They partake in each other’s jobs to support and keep one another company with little emphasis on monetary returns. I admire the friendly nature and the normality of meeting together and enjoying each other’s company.

Charles:

The people here are content with their lives despite relatively few possessions. I admire their genuine friendliness to one another as well as their guests.

Will:

I’ve learned just how much they rely on and trust each other in various aspects of life. I admire how innovative they are and how they problem solve.

Shiva:

You don’t need much to be happy; they are so loving.

Hannah:

It doesn’t take much for people to be happy. The women work long, hard days in the rice fields but talk and giggle the whole way through. Sitting o the porch, everyone is smiling and waving to each other. I admire how they don’t depend on screens. There are always ways to have fun and be entertained.

Alice Rose:

I’ve witnessed how co-dependent the villagers are, and admire their generosity.

Oscar:

The absence of wealth, the fondness for each other, and the great taste of food. Their faith in a higher power. The life is strange to me yet beautiful in its own way. I admire their dedication to food, how they farm their food, and how they end their day eating the food they’ve grown.

Lucy:

Just how happy they are, even with such simple living spaces. I admire their kindness and hospitality.

Charlotte:

This community has high stamina when it comes to work. Most of the people wake around 4:30am and go to the rice fields at 5:30am to plant rice (which they do for six or more hours straight, every single day). I admire this work ethic.

SOMETHING I’M GRATEFUL FOR IS:

Sara:

The compassion and acceptance my host family gives me while welcoming me into their home. Through the language barriers, cultural differences, and charades trying to communicate, their compassion and hospitality is unmatched to anything I’ve ever seen and it truly touches my heart.

Cade:

My host brother taking me on a hike and trying a bunch of different foods in nature; also helping me aim a slingshot!

Tristan:

This group; this village; the diversity of lifestyles.

Emma:

The lesson of happiness that this community has taught me. Happiness is a state of mind you choose, not one you acquire.

Alisa:

Our amazing team of instructors; they are truly here for us whether we need a laugh, a hug, or a shoulder to cry on.

Charles:

My host family and their willingness to understand and accommodate my personal needs.

Will:

Worth of comfort I have become accustomed to at home.

Shiva:

Each and every member of our group.

Hannah:

My family’s hospitality and how at home I feel in their house after just three days.

Alice Rose:

The kindness everyone has.

Oscar:

The unending indiscriminate kindness they’ve showed me, despite the dozens of differences that separate us.

Lucy:

The generosity of my host family.

Charlotte:

The simplicity of our travel.

THIS EXPERIENCE HAS MADE ME THINK ABOUT:

Sara:

The differences in the society I come from and the one I am immersed in now. The priorities and daily focuses of the culture I came from back in the USA is much more materialistic and monetarily based than the day to day life here. Being here is truly a humbling and eye opening experience regarding community, hospitality, work ethic, and simplicity. It definitely prompts a new perspective to keep in mind for the future.

Cade:

The similarities across cultures and hospitality. We are shaped based on our upbringing and experiences. They carve each one of us to be different from one another but at the same time, we still share similar values.

Tristan:

Where our food comes from and what is necessarily for a good life.

Emma:

Family, and how you can make a family out of anything–out of this village, out of this group–and how family can create joy anywhere in the world.

Alisa:

My love and care for both my family and community allowing me to wonder of the best method to bring these crucial parts of my life closer, in order for all to get a more satisfying product from even exchange.

Charles:

How much people in ‘modern’ societies have detached themselves from nature and their past (tribal, indigenous forms of community); the pros and cons of modernist development in this village; and how a true democracy ought to function after hearing the traditional practice of electing the chief here.

Will:

My family roots and how their life was, growing up here in Myanmar. Furthermore, how difficult assimilation into American culture must have truly been for them.

Shiva:

The deeper meaning of life and the values that we may sometimes neglect in our fast moving and technologically advanced society.

Hannah:

How much I use my phone and how much time I have wasted sitting on it.

Alice Rose:

How American culture made us want a lot of unneeded things in our households.

Oscar:

My home and lifestyle and how I can take some aspects of their lives back to my life and into my family.

Lucy:

How different life is here from home and how much happier people seem to be here compared to those from New York City.

Charlotte:

We should be Moore content with what he have and take more pleasure in the small  and simple things in everyday life.

 

 

We thank our loved ones at home and around the world for your ongoing support. Because of your support, we are able to explore, learn, and leave our comfort zones, challenge ourselves, and immerse ourselves in this once in a lifetime experience.

With respect and best wishes from the field,

Hannah (instructor) on behalf of our Myanmar Dragons Summer 2019 community.

(pictured: our homestay village, nestled in the Shan Hills)