January

by jeannabauer

Happy New Year! & Happy ONE Year to me, to me. It’s almost here. On the 21st I’ll be visiting Rangoon (Yangon), Burma. BURMA. How awesome is that? I mean, last year at this time I was freaking out (& by freaking out I mean over-consuming pasta, cheese & wine).

I had a lot of expectation. Do you remember? I packed all my ‘old clothes’. I was going to learn a few languages & the craft of weaving. I was going to spend my days with the people of Burma & climb mountains. Then I landed & nothing was as expected. My old clothes – were well, old & out of place in Chiang Mai. I lost the little I knew of Karen to make room for Thai (which is entirely food-focused). My role was behind a computer, not a loom. Most of my friends are American & the mountains I set out to climb had paved roads with bus schedules. Where was the adventure? Where was the fish paste?

As I spend time in reflection over the last year – I’ve accepted – being here is the adventure. & something like making friends in a foreign land is an accomplishment in itself. Things have been different than expected sure, but you know what? Overall, they’ve been great. Pig roasts at a farm that feels like home. Motorbike road trips to … anywhere. Ma & Pa shops that know my order. Becoming a rice fan addict. Stumbling through cultural adjustments, systems & quirks.

Professionally, my world view was opened beyond Karen refugee resettlement to Burma as a whole – Shan state, Arakan state, Kachin State & so on. I’ve learned about the complexities of war & peace. About migrant life & international NGOs. About teaching, not doing. About sustainable, community based development. About sincere listening & positive empowerment.

Just last week I was able to travel to the border with a team from the Karen Organization of Minnesota. Where, life – for a few days, was exactly how I expected the entire year to go. The rocky mountain paths were steep, the bamboo bed (floor) was hard, the bucket showers cold & fish paste was served at every meal. I tried weaving again. As we drove into the mountains, I realized – the roads & villages were familiar. In the camps I gave the lesson on bathing in a longyi. As it turns out, the exciting – rugged life I’d been craving, was the life I’ve been living more often than not.

Spending time with loved ones from MN was a full circle reunion in which l was reminded of why I came & realized just how much I’ve learned since being here. I feel renewed in energy & spirit. & while I may know more about Thai food than anything else, but my heart is more with Burma than ever before.

Thank you, for being a part of this experience with me. The ups & downs. The expected & the unexpected. I’m eternally grateful for the kind words & continued support* in all senses of the word. Cheers to you & yours in the new year.

xo

*two days left on my IndieGoGo campaign, thanks for all of you who have donated. If you still want to join the party in these last hours – check it out!

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