The moment occurred unexpectantly causing me to think back upon it for days, weeks even months later.
It found me pacing in a dilapidated hall located in the mountains of Northern Myanmar. I was surrounded by a crowded circle of over fifty children, teenagers, adults and monks. They stared at me in earnest with hungry silence filling the filthy hall. The dust was clogging my nostrils. Not a chair in sight they hunched on their knees. Coming from Shan villages of the surrounding mountains they were some of the poorest of poor. Hunger of many forms was evident on their faces and in their all too serious eyes. I walk slowly in circles trying to teach English, to be as friendly to them as I can be and gradually I get comfortable nearly confident.
Finally one of older looking men raises his hand. I beckoned to welcome his question. He stands up. I pause uncertainly. “Am, yes?” He squared his shoulders and puffed out his chest. With a very conscious effort I held my body language of palm open and up hopefully approachable. I tried not to flinch under the intensity of his powerful stare. He stared in silence for too long. No one moved.
“You have seen my village. I am twenty-three years old. My English is so good now that I teach it. Now. How do I get a career? How do I become a real teacher? How do I study in college in Thailand? How do I get a visa? Tell me what you think I should do.”
His deep brown eyes pierced my soul. My mind raced through possible answers not wanting to give him a vague impossible one, nothing really came to mind. The others were looking up at him with evident respect. I didn’t have an answer. Was he part of one of the tribes that weren’t even recognized as humans by this state. I couldn’t remember. His eyes didn’t leave mine as I stumbled across an average and disappointing answer.
“I really don’t know how. I do know you should continue to work hard. You should keep asking that question until you find the answer and do not lose hope.”
The words even felt empty. He bowed his head. “Thank you.” He sat down. I took a deep breath which rattled out feeling anxious but not really sure why.
I continued playing questions and answers with the students. Every now and the I found my eyes catching his. The long four hours were finally up and a queue was formed. One by one every single student shakes my sweaty dusty hand saying sincere thank yous and beaming with happiness as I praised them trying to remember their odd sounding names. I felt amazing after the experience. But as I journeyed back to Hsipaw then the 12 hours on to Yangon the back of my mind whirred. I felt very emotional. I cried a few times. I couldn’t write anything down as there didn’t seem to be a tangible feeling. I found myself comparing my chip on my shoulder of circumstances preventing me from getting ym degree to this boy who probably wasn’t even seen as a human in his own country. I thought of his obstacles and tried to come up with a better answer for him. I found I was deeply upset. The silence those fifty humans had was not obedience it was a hunger, a thirst for knowledge and education anything to give them a better shot at life. The difference compared to the utter lack of interest by most kids in the Western world was astounding. Education is this rare gift, actually only given to a few. With only two weeks of travelling left I had thought I had done all my learning. Turns out that this perhaps was the most incredible eyeopening moment of it all. Surely if he somehow believes he can overcome his obstacles well then surely I can believe in overcoming mine.
Over a year later which feel likes centuries of hard work and pain. I stare in disbelief and overriding relief. I honestly thought the email was just another telling me to add something else to my application. It has only been three days. I don’t understand. After so many avenues explored. After over five years. After so many meetings and false hopes. After so many loan rejections. Here I am reading an acceptance letter, back into third level education. So many times when I nearly gave up, when I didn’t feel good enough rejection after ejection in many forms. I just read this story of ‘The Moment.’ which I had handwritten and stuck to my wall. I remember that feeling of guilty gratitude of being born in the Western world.