I had fallen in love with the western part of Myanmar – Chin state – so much that I´ve kept looking for chances to go back there. So when a long weekend came, I decided to travel to Mindat and visit a new friend I had met during my last trip, Hlaing Hlaing. I expected to spend a day and a half in Mindat at best, and the rest, 36 hours, I would spend on buses, which was fine – it’s Myanmar, transport takes long. It would still be worth it, hanging out in this little town, where one needs to only walk around for a bit to become friends with locals, but what followed when I had arrived was even better than these plans. Hlaing Hlaing was getting married.
We are going to my village and there will be a wedding
There’s no word to ask direct questions to a person you’re talking to in Burmese and thanks to that I had no idea that the wedding Hlaing Hlaing is taking me to, is his own. It didn’t occur to me even when he was distributing invitations or when his close friends would join us to visit his village. I thought it’s normal that everyone can attend a wedding in the nearby village if they wish so. Just before reaching the village, I was finally enlightened. Our arrival was epic, Hlaing Hlaing, his friend Shwe Bagan and me on one motorbike, crossing a river in various places, passing curious villagers and arriving in Hlaing Hlaing’s village where no foreigner was before. I was received with wary looks that had soon been replaced by typical Myanmar smiles.
Being invited to stay at houses of locals is rare
Technically, it is still illegal to stay at people’s houses in Myanmar. They have to inform the local authorities and get my stay approved. I have a feeling that no-one bothered to do that and everyone seemed okay with me staying at Hlaing Hlaing grandma’s house. The house turned into a campsite anyway and I found myself sleeping on the floor surrounded by random people. No luxury, just clean pillows and warm blankets on the bamboo mat – enough for me to sleep like a baby until an announcement from loudspeakers about the wedding woke me up at 4:30 in the morning next day.
I am always amazed by the incredible generosity of people who have significantly less than me but share considerably more. I was given a tamein, the long skirt that is worn by Myanmar women, Shwe Bagan put thanakha on my face and I was invited to sit among elders at the ceremony. People in Myanmar treat foreigners in a special way, but this was even way beyond what I have experienced. I wish more people in the Western countries would also treat foreigners with such respect and enthusiasm rather than being afraid of their diversity. Have you ever taken a picture with a stranger just because he or she looks very different than you? I haven’t, but many people in Southeast Asia have asked me for a picture (that I will never see). It’s brave and it’s sweet to connect with different people through such a simple deed as taking a picture.
The Burmese wedding
The wedding ceremony was simple. Elders shared their wishes for the couple’s luck and prosperity (at least I think that was what they were talking about), broadcasting to the whole village through loudspeakers. Yellow is the lucky colour for bride and groom, who sat and listened attentively, sometimes their gaze wandered, lost in thoughts (or bored) and I caught Hlaing Hlaing smile at me at his friends. After everyone was done with their speeches, the newlyweds were put through the compulsory photo shooting and the money collection started. This is a pretty interesting tradition. All the villagers come to wish good luck to the couple and donated to the families. The most common donation was 2000 Kyat (1.5 $) and the villagers were then given a shampoo package and a cigarette in return (apparently something people in the village value a lot) and were invited to have lunch in the nearby house. All the contributions were recorded in notebooks and everyone knew who gave what. When I donated 15$, which was so much more than anyone else but still didn’t match the generosity that I had received from Hlaing Hlaing’s family, it caused a little sensation. Apparently receiving a lot of money and gold as gifts is important because it means the couple will lead a prosperous life.
A Buddhist boy and a Christian girl
Hlaing Hlaing and his family are Buddhist and the wedding was in a Buddhist tradition, although Eain Yaung Pai comes from a Christian family. After the ceremony, some of us accompanied the couple to the monastery to ask for a blessing from the eldest monk. He is over 90 years old, can’t see anymore and spends his days resting in a separate area in the temple. He still came out and accepted Hlaing Hlaing with his wife and had some funny conversations as long as I can tell, because there was a lot of laughter.
Come: drink with us, eat and talk
My day continued with being invited to people’s houses for tea, salads, watermelons and a small talk. In some cases (quite many) for palm wine. With some people I’d stick to my classic topics: family, work and kids, with others we talked about electricity (and the lack of it) and the colour of my skin. Somehow the language barrier didn’t prevent us in making connections that I will treasure for a long time and hopefully develop further when I come visit next time. I must’ve visited over 20 families and all these visits left me wondering how lucky I am to spend my weekend here, with all these people and made me grateful for these precious moments I had not expected at all. It was a ridiculous weekend full of generosity and sharing.
The village life
Hlaing Hlaing’s mum took a good care of me and made sure I never stay hungry. Other women took me to the river for a bath, some friends shared millet wine on a meadow, while being constantly curious if I have a boyfriend and hinting that there is a lot of bachelors in this village. It was a life without an internet connection and the usual busyness and I did not have a minute on my own. There was always someone who would be keeping me company. This socially-rich life of Myanmar people makes me often jealous and I wonder if it will be lost when the communities get more developed and connected to the outside world. On one hand, there is a beauty in living off-grid, creating strong social bonds, on the other hand, I can’t be that selfish to want to leave these people without the privilege of living a modern life because I like the romantic side of a simple life.
That’s it for now
This weekend has yet again proved the unpredictability of living in Myanmar and the redundancy of making plans. It has also proved that the best things happen when I don’t expect them so I don’t need to be afraid of uncertainties, it usually works out for the best – as long as I have my heart open and trust people around me. In the end, despite spending only one hour in Mindat, I had the most amazing time in a Myanmar village by becoming a part of local life and getting lost in translation and being grateful for the incredible openheartedness of people.