Life among the pagodas
A journal of our wintertime
This has been my first tropical winter overseas. While our North American counterparts were donning scarves and hats and trotting out to the Christmas tree farms with hatchets or sledding snowy hills, we have been absorbing an entirely different sort of winter season. Sweet December—this is what the Karen and Burmese Christians call this time of year. And they are right. December and January have been pleasant months filled with cool breezes, 85-degree days and a (slightly more distant) winter sun. The sun rises at 6:30 am, and dips below the horizon at 5:30 pm. These are the shortest days of the year, but the daylight here will only increase by about two hours by the time we reach June’s summer solstice.
In the mornings here, we breakfast on our balcony and watch the traffic go by. Women carrying platters of fish or chicken on their heads, selling it to housewives as they walk up one street and down the next. A cluster of older men walking back from their morning meet-up at the tea shop. Young women headed out to catch a bus to their jobs in the center of the city. At least half of these are people bundled up in heavy jackets or knit hats to ward off the cool of the 70-degree mornings. Soon enough—within another 4 weeks—the days will be so hot that it will take all night for the temperature to dip below 80 by sunrise, only to hit 95 by 10 or 11 a.m. We savor these days and the comfort of the outdoor temperature while we can, going on bike rides and taking every opportunity to sit on the veranda to work, or to rest and catch a view of the sunset before dinner.
Being able to avoid extra travel for the last few months means we are finally able to iron out some sort of routine in our days. The freshest food is available at the market if I get there by 8:30 or 9 am, so every other morning I try to get to the market early enough to obtain ingredients for our meals. Jim spends a few mornings each week meeting with friends in our neighborhood, a large number of whom drive motorcycle taxis and congregate together at tea shops in between jobs. Late mornings and afternoons we spend working on our respective projects; Jim is keeping busy with translating a children’s Bible with the help of our language tutor, and I am working on learning to read and become conversant in Burmese.
Evenings and weekends are the best time to meet up with neighbors and friends. Most evenings you will find us walking around our neighborhood and visiting with friends. On Sundays we are rarely starved for company: be it Jim’s friend who comes over to practice English, a group of friends who want to study Genesis, or lunch with a couple who has adopted us (well, adopted our baby, to own the truth). People here are already warm and friendly, but exponentially more so with a baby. For someone like myself, typically introverted and often exhausted by the social effort of language learning, having a baby makes for some pretty fabulous social lubricant.
Our winter has been a sweet and restful one. Yes, different from our other winters and Christmases before, lacking sweaters, smells of Christmas, cozy fireplaces and a good deal of loved ones. But for every “missing” thing, there are many other things and people that have laid claim to new spaces in our hearts; were we to be suddenly transported to North America, there would be dozens of things I would instantly miss about our home and life here. The past year of living here has not removed my love for the familiar things about life in the U.S.; it has enlarged my affection for the world, its people, and all the varieties of lifestyle and traditions. A few years ago my affection was only the size of one continent, now it has grown to two. The tough part of that: there will always be something to miss, until we find ourself in the place where there are no goodbyes.
Until such a time, we are grateful for our life here, with all of its charms and hiccups, and for the daily reminder of God’s kind faithfulness—visible in every place where the sun does rise.