An element of comedy is often the unexpected.
Just now, I was trying to open the refrigerator door. It was resisting, so I gave one… two… three pulls. And, off comes the entire handle. The approximately 1.5 meter tall door handle felt unexpectedly light in my hand. Well, that’s different, I said to myself.
Life is Myanmar is best conducted under the rule of Zero Expectations. However, 2018 has still managed to surprise me.
About ten days ago, at approximately 1am, I had my first encounter with seismic activity. Five earthquakes hit Bago, and were felt up to 100 miles away. The first earthquake was a 6 on the Richter scale, the following were 5 each. I was awake– sitting askew on a floor cushion when I felt a strange energy move my body. (Now, I understand why a certain little Thai man said he thought ghosts were “playing” with him, during one of the last earthquakes.) I quickly realized that it was the whole room that was moving. Anything suspended was swaying back and forth. As we live on the 15th floor, I imagine that we get a little more sway up here.
Approximately 6 hours later, the sound of crows woke me. Hundreds of house crows* were swooping directly, and somewhat specifically, in front of our apartment unit. Our windows are thin, so anything like tropical heat, the sound of howling street dogs, or the squawking of crows easily slips through.
(*My amateur identification.)
Earthquakes. Poetic omens of death. Wonderful.
The day that followed the 6 hours of strangeness was occupied with miscellaneous Myanmar people filling our home. Some expected, some not.
The doorbell rings, and who knows who is there- or why. Three workers come in. One leaves. Two sit in our bedroom for some 10 or 15 minutes. One returns with a ladder. The best I could do was work at my laptop, and watch the newly cleaned floors acquire comically dirty footprints.
I’ve considered making workers put on hotel slippers when they come inside… But, that’s probably taking it too far.
For now, with the refriderator handle loosely in place, the sound of construction is our only visitor. Which at least, is expected.
We rang in 2017 with a low key celebration at our Japanese friends’ home in Vevey, Switzerland. When Shu answered the door in bootie slippers and a Moroccan djellaba, I knew it was going to be a good night. He and Nana donned my handmade party hats like the incredibly good sports they always are. Following a terrace bonfire, a distant firework show, and numerous glasses of wine and sake, we slipped into 2018.
Countless events have passed since then, and seemingly have been devoured in a time vortex. Somehow, the calendar has flung itself to the week of Thanksgiving.
Naturally, I think of my family who will be gathering in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But, Vevey was our first home together. The place we shared “Our First Thanksgiving” with our family of friends. We started our own traditions, some of which were slightly forced upon us. Like having roasted chicken instead of turkey. A special-ordered frozen turkey would have cost us circa 150 U.S. dollars, so we embraced the fellow fowl.
Vevey was training ground for me to learn how to cook with different ingredients, and exercise a little creativity in the kitchen. (Those reading this in the United States, please take a moment -for my sake- to be thankful for your abundant food choices in the myriad of grocery stores.) The supermarket in Yangon may have very inconsistent stock, and definitely some black market goods... But, it is a supermarket! Myanmar has been teaching us to manage expectations and maintain a flexible attitude, so our 2017 Thanksgiving menu will do the same.
All that being said, there is another international lesson that I am grateful for having learned:
There is always more than one way of doing something. And, those ways that are different from yours are just as real, and just as valuable.
My home country is founded on immigration. Pilgrims road up from Europe, and started all kinds of who-knows-what. Good and bad. History, of every land, has a bias of its teller. My ancestors came, and we left- for our own visions of betterment and a different life.
Today, we hang our hats in a country that is 9,125 miles (14,685 km) away from our birthplace. We look so different from the locals that it is common for them to ask to take photos with us.
For me, these contrasts are eye opening. Not, negative. Honestly, I often think of a friends’ comment that I should dress like a Disney Princess, walk down Yangon’s streets, and see what kind of commotion I would cause. The people here are precious, so it’s my pleasure to take a photo with anyone.
In light of the holiday, I seemingly am moved to share my appreciation for what is different. Not what is, or was, traditional to me. Though, I am grateful for those who came before me to lay out such a path of opportunity.
The United States is comprised of people from around the world. Undoubtedly, this fourth Thursday of November will mean something different to each of them. We are American, and have been in various places around the world on Thanksgiving Day. Each year, I think it means a little something different to us. But, I think different is worth all of the gratitude that I can give.
Let’s paint a picture.
I’m sitting on the floor, working from our coffee table. There are tiny Myanmar men in our storage room inside our apartment. What they’re doing exactly, I have no clue. I can hear tape being pulled and the rattling from their ladder. The ceiling is falling down because the air con is leaking. At least in that room, when I hear creaking and cracking, I know it’s not ghosts- just the ceiling literally falling apart. (It's widely accepted that Myanmar is full of ghosts.)
The city view from our balcony is slowly disappearing, as the monsoon season drags itself over our building. A message dings to tell me my delivery is on its way, “But they have traffice jam.”
This is Myanmar.
We live in Yangon, Myanmar. Sometimes I say that aloud, and it makes me laugh. We actually live here! It’s bananas.
According to our landlord, we were the fourth set of people to move into our building. That which is new is definitely not without problems here. It more signifies being a guinea pig. As the apartment units are individually owned, workers arrive as the units are rented out. Sometimes the noises I hear, from above and around us, genuinely sound like the pyramids are being built. That, or someone is playing marbles. Unidentifiable noises are a constant companion.
Note: David mentioned to me that our home is the most peaceful place in Yangon.
Since we have moved to Myanmar, I have grown extremely comfortable with having multiple strangers running-around inside our home. On our officially moving day, I counted 16. However, they are nearly always adorable, tiny people. Sometimes they are very stinky, and I follow them around with incense. Because I’m especially foreign, I figure they have no idea what I’d normally be doing.
Three additional people have walked through the front door, followed by the tropical humidity. The door was open for possibly two minutes, and the tile feels tacky.
Oh, I do have other things to paint today.