Fluffy goats and happy tummies

You thought I would make it through 2016 without a single blog post, didn’t you?

I’ve started and stopped writing so many times over the past year. In Addis, the words would just pour out of me each day, like I was meant to be a blogger all along. Now I have too much on my plate, too many things I can’t write about. It seems overwhelming. But if there is anything that my brief period of frequent blogging taught me, it’s that you just have to get it all down on paper. (Rather, on the screen, I guess.) It might not be particularly good, but it’s something, and if you don’t start, you’ll never write a word.

So let’s recap. Here’s an except from an unfinished post in April 2016:

These days, opening the front door and walking outside feels like opening the oven door a little too close to your face, that blast of hot air taking your breath away. It’s hot season again, but I no longer sweat like I did last year. When we arrived, I marveled at how the locals didn’t seem to sweat as much as the foreigners in the intense heat and humidity. I wondered how my fitter friends managed to exercise outside. Now, I do lots of yoga and play tennis, all outside, and I’m usually fine with it. I still feel like a newcomer most days, though. My storage room still has plenty of boxes I haven’t unpacked since we left Pretoria three years ago. I have yet to replace the shwe (gold) drapes in every room of our house. At this point, I’m starting to wonder if this house will ever be home.

Guess what? It never was! I just never felt good about that place. We gave up half our square footage and moved a few minutes away to a high-rise apartment building. From the living room and all the bedrooms, our large windows reveal an unobstructed Shwedagon Pagoda view. There is a pool, a gym, tennis courts, and a minimart. I now live in a resort, and they will have to drag me out of here kicking and screaming.

More from April:

I want to make an effort, though. I have to make an effort. This is how I cope with uncertainty and discomfort when overseas: I throw myself into my surroundings. I join groups, I volunteer, I reach out to strangers and random acquaintances. Somehow, it just took me longer to do that in Myanmar. Teleworking is a wonderful way to have a portable career, but it is isolating. When you move to a new place, you can’t isolate yourself for the first several months while you work on a project from home. You will simply delay your transition period. When you finally finish your project and are ready to learn about your new surroundings, it’s as if you’ve just arrived all over again. In my case, I was busy for the first nine months after we got here, and then we had a wonderful stream of visitors for a few months, so I just started this process of settling in–over a year after our tour started.

Here we are, almost two years into the assignment, and I finally feel like Yangon is home. I know where to get things, I can show a newcomer the ropes. I’m on the school board and I even sing with a band (yes! I sing with a band). But I still don’t speak the damn language.

From May:

This month I started Burmese lessons: what a joy! Why did it take me so long? I think I should always be learning a language. I hated school, hated homework and tests, but I love studying languages. Learning their structure, the vocabulary; understanding different cultures in a new way… when I think about what I really miss about Ethiopia, it’s Amharic. No question about it. I still talk to myself in Amharic sometimes.

Everyone told me Burmese is impossible to learn. Last year, I took one introductory lesson and decided it was just too much. It’s a tonal language, so meanings of words will change depending on how you drag out a vowel or give it a high or low tone. Even the way they transliterate into the Roman alphabet is ridiculously hard to understand! (For example, they spell it “Aung San Suu Kyi” but her name is is pronounced “Aung San Sue Chee”… the currency is written as “kyat” but pronounced “chat.”) But I should have known, this confusion would only be temporary. It’s like moving to a new city (back before everyone had GPS in their cars) and thinking, “I’ll never be able to navigate these crazy roads!” And then after a few months (or years) you know short cuts and back roads and don’t even need to look at a map. Okay, I might never feel that way about Burmese. But after a few weeks of classes, I’m starting to retain more words and phrases; I know simple sentence structures, lots of verbs, and all the colors and numbers. I know that you can say something like “fluffy goat!” when someone sneezes, and that to say you’re glad to meet someone, you talk about how your tummy feels good. Or maybe my teacher is just fucking with me. Taxi drivers look at me like I am crazy when I try to speak Burmese, so I have a ways to go.

I took another month of lessons in September, but it just became too frustrating. I don’t like doing new things when I can’t see progress being made. In the end, I had to choose what was more important to me: having time to exercise and keeping my schedule flexible during the week, or being able to say simple phrases with taxi drivers after extensive study? Sorry, taxi drivers. If only you spoke Amharic, like they do in D.C.


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