Thursday, April 21, 2011

Little Burma Tea Party

(Slightly more artistic version of Monday's post...)

“Oh lo num sah hee! Oh lo num sah hee!” I tap my fingers on my mug and sing unfamiliar words to an old familiar tune – one that my mother, grandmother, and many a Sunday school teacher sang to me in English: “I will rejoice for He has made me glad, glad glad!” I stir my spoon and sing a familiar song in an unfamiliar tongue, because that is how baby Moi San’s mother and grandmother sang it to him. I sing because it makes his angel face light up and his chubby hands clap for joy.

Today is baby Moi San’s first birthday, and we are having a tea party together.

“Oh, Kah Ni, you wan’ sahm tea?” the lovely Burmese woman asked me just a few moments ago. Here in my international home in Indiana, I am not Connie Lynn – I am Kah Ni Lin. Here in Little Burma, I am the blonde-haired Burmese, who is a much better English teacher than a Zo learner. But my Burmese families know I like their thick, rich tea.

When my Burmese friends serve me tea or food, they do not often sit with me. I’ve learned that it is a sign of respect for “Teacher Kah Ni.” So it has taken me a while to find relationship over a steaming cup.

Today I find it. My friend hands me a hot mug and I sit at our kitchen table, where little Moi San bounces in his highchair and gnaws on a spoon, which he soon throws to the floor. He is my companion, contained in a blue plastic seat.

“Happy birthday, little man!” I cheer and squeeze his hand, then iang the song in both languages. His mother, scooping sticky rice from a pot, makes little noises of approval and nods while saying to herself, “Good, Auntie Kah Ni…”

I stir my tea well for a long time. I’ve learned this is valuable, because Burmese tea is heavily laced with sweetened condensed milk, which stubbornly sticks to the bottom. I take a sip, mentally prepared for the sweetness so thick you can chew it.

I blow gently on my spoon to cool it off a bit, then hand it to Moi San, who eagerly shoves it in his mouth and sucks on it. He prefers the comfort of condensed milk to the marshmallows I offered him last night. He jabbers on a mile a minute in the rambling gurgles of toddlers, and I nod and sip my tea slowly, assuring him that I am hanging on his every word. At his age, we both know language isn’t so important as expression… and he has a lot of expression. He knows it’s his birthday – I can tell by the cheeky little grin he wears without shame. We take our time and savor the tea, the milk, the moment we have together, thankful that even though we cannot understand each others’ tongues, we understand each others’ hearts.

I lift my mug to sip again and realize it is empty. Moi San sees it too, and decides our party is over. He throws the second spoon on the floor and reaches his hand out to me. I lean in close and he pats my cheek then touches my lips, and I kiss his tiny fingers. It’s as though he says, “You honor me by sitting and drinking tea with me!” He smiles sweetly, so big that his eyes close and all five of his teeth show, and it warms my heart. And I am honored to be called “Auntie Kah Ni” to such a precious child.

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