I knew there would be more of these. The sheer notion of visiting a tea shop each week with friends across cultures is bound to bring up some interesting stories.
This week, we found ourselves at the tea shop with four ladies. One of their names is Nyein Nyein, which sounds a whole lot like one of the Burmese words for “small,” and she happens to be quite small, so we asked if there was a correlation.
This led to a long discussion of the difference between her name and the word for small, and somewhere in the middle it was explained to us that her name means “fire dead.”
Obviously this required more explanation.
With many attempts, a Burmese dictionary on our iPhone, and writing on a the back of a tiny 7/11 receipt, we learned that her name means “extinguish.”
Really, it just felt like every thing we learned brought more questions. Why was she named extinguish? Is this a compliment or an insult (i.e. You are an extinguisher or You will be extinguished)? We were able to learn that she was a very quiet baby. So maybe they felt she had already been extinguished? Not sure.
Again, this begged more questions. What did everyone else’s names mean?
Chit Ne Oo was with us, and her name means Love Snow Oo. Really, “Chit” is love, “Ne” is snow, and she said she isn’t sure what “Oo” means! So we asked if they had seen snow, and as much as we could gather, the answer is negative. It was a name given in hope!
The others with us were Pyo Pyo, which is a nickname for baby, but her full name means “fat baby,” because, well, she was a fat baby.
We also learned Jean Wei means Silver Shock, as in an electric shock. This is more fitting than I could ever describe, and Stephen and I have affectionately donned this nickname for her.
We never really know what we will discuss at the tea shop each week. Sometimes we learn that we are mispronouncing names, or we learn who is related to who. We talk about their home town in Burma, since many of them came from the same place. We’ve talked about how long they have been in Mae Sot and if they might go back to Burma someday.
One day, we talked about marriage. We told them we had been married for five years, but had no children, and then had each woman with us say how long they had been married and how many children they have (though it seems like we would know how many kids they have, we often discover they have more in Burma staying with a relative or serving as a monk). Oddly enough, each of them said they had only been married 1 year, but some had one or two kids; one woman had four!
We then realized we had a miscommunication, and perhaps they thought we were asking how many times they had been married. We tried to clear up that Stephen and I have been married five years but only one time…but you never really know what you can clear up or communicate. They may think we’ve been married five times before 30, and since we set the standard for what they know about the West, that kind of reflects badly on all of you, too! 🙂
After we go to the tea shop for breakfast, we get some things in the market. One person is designated money to buy food for Aung Moo, who is still gaining back his sight from meningoencephalitis. For some of the people with us, the market is a normal stop that they have at least made before. For a few, though, these are some of the first times they are leaving our neighborhood. Many of the women and children haven’t been further than a kilometer or so from our house, so the market is kind of overwhelming. Particularly on Sunday morning, it’s bustling.
At the beginning, they were worried about us–they would try to grab our arms to protect us from motorbikes, bicycles, and cars. What we all quickly learned is that Stephen & I go to the market far more often than they do, and really, we have to watch out for them–it’s very easy to lose people in the traffic and chaos, particularly those that are horrible at crossing the street.
At one street, all of us ran across at a break in traffic, except for one girl who was looking around and didn’t see us go. A huge truck passed just after us, and she couldn’t see any of us for a split second–long enough for sheer panic to cross her face. Stephen was shouting and waving his arms across the street, trying to catch her attention before she started to cry!
Now, when we cross the major streets, they all grab our arms and we pull them across. Never thought I’d be the expert at that. And to be honest, I think the others in the market think it’s odd, too; as if we’re not drawing enough stares already 🙂
While we mostly purchase just vegetables in the market–only meat for certain dishes and very, very early in the morning–the neighbors buy meat most weeks. Sometimes it’s fish paste, or just whole fish; beef, or chicken; or parts of all of these things. Either way, it’s not my favorite part for a lot of reasons. Mostly the neighbors don’t mind picking some meat up, throwing a few around on the table, and then picking the one they want. The shop owner shoves it in a bag with their bare (most likely unwashed) hands, and then throws the bag on top of the other raw meat on the table. The neighbors just pick up the bag and go on their way; they don’t seem bothered by the meat juice on their bag, hands, and…well, everything, now.
Side note: Stephen & I have learned to stand back as far as you can during this process, without getting into traffic. All the throwing of meat throws blood, scales, guts, and whatnot all over you. Just stand back.
Well, we thought they didn’t mind all the juices, and to be honest, I think most of them don’t.
Chit Ne Oo has been coming with us recently, though, and she is by far the cleanest person in our neighborhood. She’s so clean that we noticed years ago–she wears perfectly cleaned clothes and rarely looks disheveled. She washes her hands constantly and often asks to use our sink to wash her hands again. A few weeks ago at the market, she accidentally touched a chicken that one of the other ladies had bought, and she was panicked. She held out her hand in front of her as we walked through the market and had disgust written across her face.
I pulled out my Bath & Body Works hand sanitizer (thanks, Mom!) and offered her a bit & explained how to use it. She loved it! She was enthralled with the smell and held it to her nose the rest of the trip! (Apparently she thinks the market stinks, too.)
So now, we all utilize our scented hand sanitizer in abundance. She loves it, and really, I’m pretty thrilled about it too!