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.”
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.