Today was something pretty special. At our teacher training school in Kawnghka (Shan State) we received an invitation from a fellow colleague (who I was yet to meet due to building his new home) to attend a traditional house warming celebration a two hour drive away in a place called Nampaka, close to the Chinese border.The prospect of going to such an event was really exciting because not only had it been ages since I last went to a house warming but to do so in a different country with a completely different culture to my own would be one unique experience! And it certainly turned out to be just that!
After getting up at the crack of dawn, we headed into the nearby town of Kutkai to have breakfast together, all of the teaching team together along with our Director, Ah Din’s father, a very well respected man within the community who also very kindly paid for us all to have our meal together. We dined on traditional noodles, drank green tea and gradually lured ourselves out of our sleepy states, ready to take on the big drive ahead. I knew we would be following the road towards the Chinese border and based on this fact, I had come to the unrealistic conclusion that this would mean the route would be well maintained. My assumption couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Bumbling our way along a wide dirt track, winding our way up the foothills of the eastern Himalayas, I drank in the breathtaking scenery of deep green rolling hills dotted with hand built mud and bamboo constructed homes. Livestock wandered across the dusty roads, wild dogs barked, rolled in the dirt and looked pretty pleased with their wild status. Children bathed in outdoor tin bath tubs as mothers hung out their laundry to dry, sold fruit and vegetables to passers by and swept the never ending layers of dust from their doorsteps.
Along what is known as the Oriental Highway, lorry after lorry chugged along, climbing mile after mile at painfully slow speeds along the twisty road to their final destination – China. In their wake, the roadside vegetation was grey with dust, the pot holes were almost impossible to avoid and their snails pace of travel causes many drivers to have to overtake. Sometimes in less than convenient locations.
We took things steady, and they were still a bit bumpy at times! But we made it to the Nampaka safely and with ample time to spare before the celebration began.
We were greeted, (as I have often found over the last week of being in Myanmar), warmly with a very honest and true feeling of being welcomed into this families new home, into their community and to share in this milestone event in their life. We sat down with tea, the children played, adults chatted in the local Kachin language of Jingpaw and I watched on drinking in the atmosphere.
Soon enough, everyone had arrived. There was quite a turn out! Hundreds of people in the yard area, garden and within the new home, surrounded by beautiful decorations of huge flower arrangements, a beautiful big bright balloon arch and an array of beaming smiles!
We sat down and the ceremony began. The small children were dressed in their traditional costumes from Kachin State, lined up on either side of the front door with a beautiful pink ribbon, complete with a big bow. Prayers were said over the loving family and their new home. I didn’t understand any of this but the words were expressed with passion and love, so it was clear to see the meaning and depth of the sentiments exchanged. Then without further a-do, the ribbon was cut, and everyone burst into a round of applause.
The house warming ceremony and additional church service continued inside the home. Many people stayed sat outside but the PA system, which was installed for the day, allowed for everyone to stay in tune with what was happening, hanging onto every word of the Reverend. I stayed sat outside, believing that it should be the immediate family and close friends should be within the threshold of the new home.
The service continued… words I didn’t understand went in one ear and out of the other. Until I heard what sounded like my name! I tuned in, confused at first, then realised everyone was looking at me. The lady next to me tapped me on the shoulder and gestured for me to go inside. I shuffled over to the front door in my flip flops, slipping them off outside whilst crossing the entrance and saying ‘Hello’ to the room with a big cheesy grin on my face and waving my hand around in what must have seemed clumsy and uncontrolled, but I was just so flabbergasted!
I couldn’t have been more shocked or confused, but truly complimented at the same time! I felt really included within their celebration even though I didn’t have the foggiest idea about what was being said. The announcement was introducing the teaching team at SJN and so my volunteering was included within that which was so lovely.
We sat on the floor of the new home as prayer after prayer was ushered over the home and family. I had a sneaky peek from one of my eyes as the prayers went on as one elderly gentlemen with a rather rounded tummy, started to loll into a snooze in the chair. His snorted slightly and awoke himself again… the children infront of me were keen to get back outside and play, I felt I had lost most of the feeling in my legs! But the service was beautiful all the same.
Before too long we headed back outside where ten to fifteen round tables had been set up complete with 10 chairs around each. Waitors and waitresses served the tables with huge bowls of delicious food. It was like a wedding! Such an amazing celebration!!
After we had eaten we unfortunately needed to make headway to ensure we weren’t travelling back in the dark. One major thing I learn that day is how when Kachin people have something to celebrate, they celebrate with the most electric energy and enthusiasm. It’s infectious!
What an amazing experience to have had so soon into arriving here.
X x X