A Lesson in trust

Life in Kachin State - Photo: Michael JavierLife in Kachin State - Photo: Michael Javier

It is part of our daily morning exercise routine for myself and my fellow lay missionary, Lenette Toledo, to pass by the busiest market in Bhamo. Bhamo is a city in the Kachin State in the northernmost part of Myanmar (formerly Burma). This is the market along the river that we would check out regularly to see if there is something we could buy for the house. That morning was an extraordinary one for me because I encountered something pretty unusual.

What happened? Well, we were browsing through the market to look for some vegetables when we noticed that there was a stall selling fresh pork. We decided to buy a portion – just enough for lunch. After weighing it, the vendor told us that it would cost 7,000 kyats (US$4.68). When I reached into my pocket, I found out that I only had 5,000 kyats on me. So I asked if I could buy just 5,000 kyats worth of pork. As the vendor had already put it inside the bag, she smiled and said, “Nin pyan la ma pe bar.” Since I could not make sense of what she said, Lenette translated for me and told me that she said it was alright and that we could pay the rest of the amount the next time we would pass by the market. I was so surprised that the vendor was willing to trust me to pay the balance later even though she did not even know me.

It is just like trusting God when one is on a mission – to trust despite not knowing what to do or how things would turn out.

Later that day, I told my language teacher about my experience, and I asked her “why” the vendor did what she did. She explained that it is a typical custom to “trust” even strangers. The following morning, we retook our walk, and we dropped by the same meat stall to pay what we owed, and to live up to the trust that the smiling vendor had shown us.

Myanmar culture is very rich, and it makes me curious to deepen my understanding of its uniqueness which sometimes surprises and amazes me.

It is just like trusting God when one is on a mission – to trust despite not knowing what to do or how things would turn out.

One way for me to understand the people and their culture more deeply is to learn the language. The people here speak both Burmese, which is the country’s national language and Jinghpaw, which is the local language. I am focused on studying Jinghpaw, but I’ve learned some words in Burmese. When I attend some gatherings like prayer meetings, this is the time when I get to practice what I have learned. The people here would always tell me, “Law law shago law law chye” which is an encouragement “to talk a lot, to know a lot.” Wise words indeed. When I start talking with the local people, despite my limited vocabulary, they become more comfortable with me, as I do with them. Now, I could ask more “whats and whys” about their customs and traditions, which is often expressed through actions and body language. These people whom I have known for some months now answer my questions and try very carefully to explain things to me.

In my everyday life in Bhamo, I have experienced a lot. Some experiences have amazed me, and some have challenged me. However, one what will stay with me forever is the trust shown to a stranger like me. Maybe, what I had experienced was just a simple gesture, but it made a significant impact on me. It is just like trusting God when one is on a mission – to trust despite not knowing what to do or how things would turn out.

Columban lay missionary Michael Javier lives and works in Myanmar.