The people of Myanmar are, without a doubt, some of the kindest people we have met on our travels. Nothing is too much trouble. They always smile and are friendly. We’ve had people give us lifts, offer us shelter and share their food and water (and on some occasions tea) and we once even had someone give us their umbrella when it was pouring with rain.
There was also a time when a man took us on a mini temple tour on his bike for free. We ended up paying him the next day as he took us on a full day tour. But he was so kind and friendly; he even offered us lunch and dinner at his home.
People did these things with good intentions and kind hearts and not once did they ask or even hint at wanting something in return, be this money or a favour. We have experienced this many times throughout our subsequent visits to the country.
Here is one such time that I remember well and want to share with you. This is a short story about a situation that happened to me recently. Despite highlighting my own clumsiness, it goes to demonstrate the sheer kindness and selflessness of the people in Myanmar.
I was walking along the road in a peaceful rural town called Hpa-an (pronounced “Pa-an”) in southern Myanmar. Whilst walking on an uneven pavement I slipped and caught my toe on a sharp edge; it began to bleed. I sat down and started to clean it with a tissue. A tall slim Burmese man sauntered over, looked down at my foot then walked away. Moments later he returned and handed me some more tissue, then left.
Thinking that was the extent of his kindness, I thanked him as he went. But he then returned again and crouched in front of me, dabbing salt onto my wound. It stung but not too badly. He gestured with his hand for me to remain where I was, so I did.
As I sat, not quite sure what to do, he soon returned, beckoning with his hand and gesturing for me to sit on a bench. He cleaned my wound with water, dried it with yet more tissue then applied a plaster. Finally, he put his thumb up to signal “OK” and gave me a spare plaster. With a smile, he went back to his stall, prepping and selling betel nut (a popular chewing tobacco product in Southeast Asia).
All this was done with hand gestures, nods and smiles, without a word being said between us. This was because he spoke no English and I no Burmese. He performed this act out of the kindness of his heart, taking the time to look after me without a hint for anything in return.
Before I left, I used the little Burmese that I did know to thank him – ‘Je-zu-ding-ba-de’, meaning ‘thank you very much’. He smiled and nodded and that was the end of our interaction.
This situation is one I will remember forever. Why? Because it demonstrates that no matter who you are, where you come from or what colour your skin is, even if you don’t speak the same language, the kindness of the human spirit and the willingness to help someone in need, be it big or small, still exists.
I may never be able to repay that man for his kindness on that memorable day in Myanmar but I will endeavour to pay it forward in some way. By paying kindness forward, another person and then another will know that our ability to help each other is still possible in this world of limited face to face contact.