This is our last morning to be up too early, talk too much, laugh too hard. This is our last morning to rise with a buddhist temple in the background. This is our last morning to haphazardly flash monks and fuss with the air conditioning unit. This is our last morning to drink too much instant coffee. This is our last sunrise over mildewing buildings and parading streets. This is the last morning to savor the sticky sweet rice cakes. This is our last morning to slurp down vermicelli noodles for breakfast. This is our last morning for quail eggs. This is our last morning for Myanmar Milk Tea, hot and homemade.
This is our last opportunity to give our feelings, to hear what others are saying, to debrief the day before and pre brief the coming day over breakfast. This is our last day with all six of us. This is our last opportunity to work together as a team.
This is our last, this is our last, this is our last.
This is our last morning in this country we have come to love so very much.
This won't be the last.
Daniel is greeting us in the lobby. We are telling Oo "mingalaba" as we climb into our silver van. We are practicing our worked for phrases and names, still correcting each other and asking Daniel for help. We are rounding the roundabouts, changing lanes, comfortable and at home in this pace of traffic now. We are headed over the river, barges and skiffs of every size butted against the shore.
The countryside is jungle and rust, except for the glittering spires of gold on the temples.
We are back at the preschool, clambering out of our van and onto the street. This place is familiar to us. We are known now and we know. We greet adults warmly, old friends, and wiggle fingers at those children we recognize and recognize us. It feels natural to be here with them. They are well behaved and kind in school, it is a different feeling than the days before. A little more organized, we are seeing them all in a more normal pace.
It is hard to see when it is your own, but there is nothing more lovely than ordinary life.
I am sitting on the floor. Tiny hands reach out for mine, giggling as they are told to stay with the class. We are teaching them songs they already know, singing along with the perfect voice of each small child. Some of the words are in English and some of them are in Burmese. I could listen forever.
We are telling the story of Noah. Together. Each child with a picture, each child laughing at our lack of organization, each child excited about their paper. We are in a circle that can't seem to get any bigger, yet it does. I love the small spaces with too many people. Everyone on top of everyone else, pressed comfortably against the arm of another person, not shifting or struggling for space.
Content living in the tension.
We are coloring. Well, I am not coloring. I am handing out coloring utensils and stickers. They share easily, because there are never enough coloring things for everyone.
They pick their favorite color then trade with another little girl or boy once they feel they have used the color to it's capacity. Or everything is just yellow. Or blue. Or red. Or brown.
"When you all you have is nothing, there is a lot to go around."
They love the stickers, what child doesn't? Brilliantly painted faces beam at us as they proudly display their creations. We sigh exasperatedly as their smiles disappear as soon as we try to capture a photograph. But we laugh and take the pictures anyway, cultural norms are beautiful in their own right. For no reason other than the fact that they are different.
We are eating lunch out of styrofoam. The little ones don't use chopsticks, so they use fingers. They are happy splayed out on the floor eating noodles. And so are we.
The kids are running about with toys and climbing over us. A suffering teenage girl takes a seat next to Kenton. He has no words to comfort her, but she puts his hand on hers and sits. We are preparing to leave. The preschoolers all shuffle back to their classrooms and we take last deep breaths of this room. The linoleum and white wash, the stale warm air, the leftovers of noodles and cabbage, the musty salt from drying sweat. We are hugging and wandering toward the van without real intention.
Kids run after the van. They always do.
We are driving out of the city. Long luscious fields of green, tightly packed homes of bamboo over refuse, bicycles and open bars, abandoned homes and lively ones. Oo turns the van under a large white arch for which there does not seem to be a purpose. A group of buildings pops up around us, chickens and cows enjoy open air cafes for shade.
The building is charcoal and hot pink, appropriate for a college. The street is dusty and there are more broken cobblestones to watch. The trees here press in close on close streets. Students pour over textbooks as we are offered water and Coke. Poor Pepsi never stands a chance outside the USA. I'm pouring over books and trying not to fall asleep. Ross is asleep. Kenton and Becca are pouring over pictures and asking questions. Howard and Linda are trying to fan themselves and feel even a little less overheated.
I am so tired...
Until singing pours in through the window. All the students have been dismissed and their sweet sound reaches up to us through the window of the third floor office. We want to be where the voices are. We want to be with them.
And so we go, down the stairs with sudden bursts of energy. Voices, perfect lovely voices echoing in the stairwell and out into the street. We want to burst in, but instead we shuffle - embarrassed to discover we have to enter at the front of the room and sit in plastic chairs arranged by the door. Guests. Awkward, awkward guests.
We sing. And when we start to sing, everything blurs and the awkward disappears. It's cooler down here in the basement and the air seems to be moving with the rhythm of each song. We introduce ourselves, most of the students speak English, but Kap and Daniel translate a little for those newer to the college. Ross and Becca and Kenton deliver stirring speeches to encourage the students. I forget to mention anything other than my name.
Kap invites us back again. Back again. Back again. We shake hands and give hugs and smile. Then we climb back into our silver transport. There is never enough time. We are back through the country. We are back through the suburbs and slums. We are back over the bridge and into the tightly knit city streets of Yangon. We know the way home. We give our love to Oo. And we head up the stairs to pack.
We are wandering the city streets. One more time. One last night. We photograph the tree Ross loves. I photograph Ross taking the tree's picture. It's better that way. We wander past men playing with wicker balls in the street. We start to look for trinkets or a market place. But can't find any.
Instead we find a tea house. It seems fine. We take our shoes off and the sliding glass door shut behind us. We are walking on astroturf to the counter. It's all a bit odd. A bit funny. There is a weird Victorian feel to everything, plus American niche restaurant. It's all a bit odd.
We are waiting for teas and the owners put tiny white puppies in Becca's lap and then on Ross. Linda refuses to put her feet on the floor. What happens next is so funny I can't breathe. It's better if we pay and run. So we do.
We are wandering the streets. busy with traffic and hectic with life. We pass another monastery, another temple. We wander over train tracks and through restaurants. And finally I find something resembling a street stall. But trinkets aren't really something they sell here apparently. I am homesick for Latin America.
We pass a mosque. Things here are very different than I imagined. I love the white robes and taqiyah or kufi. I love the look of men in longyis with their button up shirts. I love their wallets sticking out at odd angles, never a fear of pick pockets. I love the women with shaved heads and longyis or jeans. I love the plastic bags hanging from chip clips with kyats or products stuffed into them.
We are looking for dinner. And we find it in a tiny little restaurant that represents a specific small culture and tribe in Myanmar. Everyone and everything here is so diverse. We eat and we laugh.
And we laugh.
This is our last night together. Our last night. Together. We are tired and happy and exhausted and full and laughing. We are still laughing. We wander the streets back home. One last time.
We give hugs and farewells and scoop up our belongings. Becca, Ross, and I meet Daniel in the lobby one last time. He gives us gifts and hugs and smiles and we shove our bags into a taxi. It is late and we are tired and quiet as we pull up to the door. I prefer check-in and security in Yangon. We are falling over each other, too tired to stand. But we make our way to the gate and collapse just in time to board. We aren't seated next to one another, which gives me anxiety. I'm in-between two oversized men I don't know. I am tired. So tired.
I don't sleep, but when we arrive in Hong Kong, I don't sleep there either. We have breakfast instead. Irish Coffees and laughter. I love airports. They feel like home with their big windows and mindless wanderers. We are sharing music. Interested and barely awake. My hair is flat. That's how I know we are headed away from the equator. I miss it.
We are on another flight, an empty flight. Everyone around us hates us. We are laughing too loudly, too often. I can't breathe, Ross has to throw up from laughing too hard, and Becca can't stop. Everything is funny. I fall asleep on top of them. Lack of sleep, lack of oxygen. Everything is just so funny.
We take turns sleeping in weird positions, watching movies, reading, and having deep intellectual conversations. And laughing. We never stop laughing. I almost don't want this plane ride to end. When we arrive in Vancouver, everything is a mess. Our tickets, our plan, our baggage. We can't figure it out. Luckily, it works. We make it through security, we transition, Becca makes it to the plane by the seat of her pants. We aren't seated together again. But I fall asleep to Flobots in my ears. The pilot is telling us we are landing. I don't remember taking off. There are clouds below, but the sun feels so good on my face.