Meet the delightful woman who welcomed us to the tiny hamlet of Lo-Peh—after our harrowing two-hour zig-zag minivan drive from the town of Mindat down a backcountry road across western Myanmar’s sharp ridges to a trailhead, followed by a three-hour trek on a foot-wide path that climbed up the mountainside.

We stumbled into a small clearing, hot and sweaty. This woman and I hit it off immediately—this woman whose name I never knew. Instant rapport! She was fascinated by my white beard. I was drawn in by her twinkling eyes, her warmth and beauty, and her foot-long homemade pipe.

We had no common words we could share, but we communicated easily. She reached out, stroked my beard, lightly clasped a handful—obviously a welcoming “Hello, my new friend.”

Lo Peds Husband with Terry

How do you respond when a woman you’ve just met grasps you lovingly by the beard, especially a woman whose face is so intricately carved with tattoos? You don’t reach out and stroke her tattoos. Or grab her and hug her. Especially not with the whole hamlet—all 30 people—at a standstill, all staring.

I just smiled. (Annie says I grinned from ear to ear like a ninny . . . but that’s her opinion.)

She introduced me to her husband, pointed to his wispy Ho Chi Minh-style goatee, laughed. He, too, reached out, touched my beard, pointed to his goatee, shared his wife’s laughter.

They guided us into a gathering of villagers—some kind of local celebration, we concluded—introduced us around, offered food and drink.

We “chatted” amicably, communicating with nods and smiles and hand motions. We took photos. We spent a delightful hour, then trudged on toward nearby Jha-Deh hamlet where we would spend the night—sleeping on the floor, and eating cross-legged on the same floor, which also served as dinner and breakfast table . . . but that’s another story.

For the past year, we’ve been worried mostly about Covid-19.

We still are, but of late, though, it’s news from Myanmar that alarms us. The protests continue. The deaths mount. The regime seems bent on crushing the dissenters and ruling the country with an iron fist. Democracy and the rule of law are not on their agenda.

terry and myanmar woman

It’s not merely the numbers that concern us. It’s the fate of people we’ve met, men and women who have touched our lives—these for example:

  • The charming K’cho woman from Lo-Peh village in the Chin highlands who stroked Terry’s beard in admiration . . .
  • The monk at the Shwedagon Pagoda who charmed us both into spending a morning practicing English with his adult education class . . .
  • The teenager who painstakingly shepherded us over a precarious, lopsided footbridge across a deep, rocky ravine—despite his own palpable fear that it was far too dangerous for any of us . . .
  • The girl in Yangon who shyly asked us to take her photo with Annie . . .
  • The rugged guide who led us down the mountainside: As we descended, he took Annie by the hand and she taught him, “I Am a Happy Wanderer”—and he taught her a likely Chin equivalent.

We don’t know any of these folks by name . . . but they’re friends of the heart. We worry about them. Are they, too, caught up in the protests? Are they among those shot or gassed or spirited off to a dungeon by thugs in uniform? In the US, we hear only the numbers—not the names, not the lives altered forever . . . or lost.

ann and myanmar woman

Our fear stems from Myanmar’s history, the fact that those in power can be ruthless.

Example: Today’s continuing Burmese genocide of the Rohingya—women raped, men slaughtered, entire villages burned to the ground, hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children fleeing to Bangladesh.

Example: The long shadow of ancient history. In 1787, the Burmese army laid siege to Ayutthaya in what was then Siam (Thailand). Ayutthaya was a city of one million people (1,000,000!)—when America’s largest city was Philadelphia, population 40,000. Situated inside the confluence of three rivers, Ayutthaya was the trading center for eastern Asia. The Burmese army surrounded the city and burned it to the ground! Imagine the death toll!

We’re distraught with thoughts of the people of Myanmar. We appeal for the return of sanity and humanity.

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