I’m cooling down in our air-conditioned room in the middle of heat-scorched Yangon, trying to comprehend all the amazing, inconceivable impressions from the past month we spent at Nyaung Shwe, Inle. It was a time filled to the brim with all kinds of emotions, tons of laughter, new challenges, unique experiences, and most of all with amazing people, who have effortlessly become our lovely, heart-warming Myanmar family.
Since we started travelling, this was the first time we stayed at one place for a longer period of time, which was an experience we both wanted to try out, even though we had yet to find a plan for it. But the stars aligned, when we met Sue and Leslie in the middle of March on our first visit to Myanmar. We took a class at their Bamboo Delight cooking school, which they host at their lovely home, and liked them immediately. How could we not, when they are both so welcoming, friendly, and most importantly really good people. Besides running their successful cooking school, which provides for their extended family, they also started an English summer school and library project for local kids that, at least in some part, helps them overcome the poor national education system. The project depends on the profits from the cooking school and of course volunteer teachers, who, with the lack of other means, they usually recruit through their cooking school. And that is how it also started for us, when we ended our cooking class with hand shakes and promises to return the next month as volunteers, even though we really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
April inevitably came and with it our repeated encounter with our beloved Myanmar. Arriving in Nyaung Shwe, we were full of weird excitement of the unknown and the walk to our new temporary home was paved with all sorts of mixed emotions. But they all quickly settled after a warm welcome and were even faster replaced with full blown amazement at what awaited us there. Sue and Leslie have totally spoiled us the whole month we were there! They gave us the prettiest room in a lovely bamboo hut and fed us three delicious home-cooked meals and extra snacks every day (no, we definitely didn’t lose any weight there), while only expecting us to teach English to the cutest kids in return. Even after the first few days, we already knew their generosity was beyond anything we had expected and also felt we deserved. As the days went by and we got to know them a bit more, our amazement with their work grew even bigger. Leslie turned out to be the rational, business-managing half of the couple, while Sue its large, unspoiled, giving heart. She takes care of her brothers’ and sister’s children by giving them a home, helps the neighbours with finances and favours, tries to improve the future of kids from the whole community, does random acts of kindness, … and is just an inspiration of embodied goodness, who never stops thinking up new ideas of how to help.
Our “job” as teachers was definitely unique experience in its own, since neither of us have ever found ourselves in that particular role before. Fortunately, we didn’t have to figure it out all by ourselves, since we were lucky enough to have a co-volunteer, Sam, who arrived a month before us and was therefore already familiar with all the peculiarities of our task. Even though thinking up ways to teach, entertain, and manage two to three groups of children and teenagers with quite different levels of English proficiency each day can definitely be demanding and tiering at some points, it was always, always worth the effort. Seeing them carefully listening and trying to understand, curiously asking more and more questions, losing their shyness, going on a school trip, excitedly singing and playing games with them, and just being surrounded with the kindest, cutest kids imaginable easily melts your heart. And even though during this month I realised teaching is probably not really an ideal career choice for me, at the same time I can’t imagine not doing it ever again. Because spending time with these kids was just so damn awesome!
Besides experiencing what it looks like to be a teacher (at least to some extent), the whole part of living with Sue, Leslie, and their family was beyond anything I would dare to imagine. They openly welcomed us into their home and truly made us feel like a part of their family, which is something I’ll be always grateful for. We got to experience some things we probably wouldn’t have a chance as regular travellers … we went to see a monk noviciation ceremony, went to the monastery for almsgiving, splashed water like crazy for three days during the water festival, stumbled through a traditional dance with the girls on stage in front of the whole village, swam in the local river … and just lived with this lovely family in a small Myanmar town, which is something I cannot even begin to find proper words to describe. Without a doubt, this will definitely be an experience I will never forget and hopefully repeat again sometime. And even though everything was not perfect all the time (as it never is), the only thing that was truly hard was saying goodbye. I still get teary-eyed thinking about the school kids crying on our last day, giving us the most adorable gifts, singing a song they composed for us, asking for our mobile numbers and e-mails, and just being them. And then, saying goodbye to Sue and Leslie, our new extra family … I probably don’t even need to describe those sobbing moments of mutual thank-yous and come-back-agains, let it suffice to say it was far from easy. But in the end, there is still a sliver lining to all this: I might just come back.