Life and Work in Myanmar, the land and the children

Part two of my submissions to my hometown newspaper:

http://www.clarionnewsonline.com/content/life-and-work-myanmar-land-and-children

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Ch-ch-ch changes

I’m at the end…well, almost the end.

The teaching portion of this year-long adventure has come to an end. My head is swimming because, in many ways, I feel like I just arrived. Many new teachers have come through our school system, with the same organization I used. Just as the tight-knit “Dop” group from our Thailand TESOL course bonded in just a few short weeks, so have I found yet another family here in Burma/Myanmar.

Its heartbreaking to say goodbye to people you care about, and travel is one of those things that tests your ability to let go of people you love. Losing people is one thing; when people pass away you have to say goodbye, but every goodbye to a friend who you may never see again (for whatever reason) is a sad one. You can reminisce and recall quirks that made each of them uniquely who they were, and be reminded just why they were so special to you.

Travel tests your ability to be vulnerable with people and to let them in to your life, to swap stories and share a coffee or a train ride or a night out, and to possibly fall in love with them just a little for being so open with you.  It tests your resolve to bounce back from the pain of having to say goodbye after feeling that “but we just met each other” instant kind of connection.

Many of the friends I made in Thailand have gone back to their homes (well, to wherever was home for them before this year in Thailand) or off to continue to travel, and to wander different bits of the world. I haven’t really fully embraced the fact that soon I will be joining them. Nostalgia has tugged a bit on my heartstrings when they’ve departed, even though our time together as a group has been long over. In Burma I’ve accumulated a really wonderful set of friends and family, (other teachers both foreign and local, students, neighbors) and it’s really starting to become real that soon, I too will be departing. This became more forcefully clear as I realized that another teacher here will be leaving even sooner; the more time I spend with her and with all the branches of our constantly expanding little family, the more I realize I do not want her to go. And I don’t want myself to go, either.

There simply is not enough time to do everything I want to do. There is not enough time to spend an adequate amount of it with the people I care about. There is not enough time to feel like I have prepared myself for anything that lies ahead. I’ve done some great things this past year. I will do more great things in the time before me. (These things are largely unplanned, but will be unfolding soon, and quickly.)

But it will always break my heart to say goodbye to the people I love.

It’s absolutely breathtaking and insane how instantly you become friends with people when you travel. You skip straight from being strangers to being “we’ve known each other since we were 6 years old” in a very compact space of time. Being able to relate to and bond with other travelers is a wonderful experience that you get to have over and over, but the real sweetness lies is forming friendships with the people around you. Once you get past the first small talk and comparative notes of “where are you from, what do you do for a living, how long have you been here, where else have you traveled,” you can experience the nuanced beauty of compassion, curiosity, empathy, and kinship to your fellow person.

Many times, with these experiences, you may not speak the same language, and you will most likely disagree on at least one thing that you feel passionately about, perhaps a new topic. But if you allow yourself to be open to the possibilities, to look past snapshot negative impressions, to overcome shyness or anxiety about looking foolish, then you are allowing yourself to live a version of your life where you feel full: the knowledge and insight you gain, the love you feel, the challenges you conquer, will all help you grow as a person.

Everyone has their own pain. Everyone knows one thing that you do not.
Embrace these truths, challenge your outlook, change your landscape, and you will transform in miraculous ways. You may find that even though change is frightening, and even though it usually hurts quite deeply… the process of living outside your comfort zone and within the turbulence of change is always, always worth it.