The sun was just peaking over the horizon and already every one of my pores was liberated from its supply of water. The sweat ran down my arms and dripped onto the clean and empty streets of Nay Pyi Taw. I was still trying to adjust to the time zone and the heat in Myanmar. A beautiful and simple pagoda caught my eye down a side street so my run took a turn in that direction.
I arrived out of breathe but with an appreciating eye. Around the pagoda I found a few locals living in very simple housing. A makeshift housing area out of the way but close to the jobs they worked. A few of them were doing morning prayers. The incense smelled of earth and flowers and rain. Rain would have felt so good.
The moment was serene. Until I was reminded of the immense need present in this country. Her hair was black and pulled into a bunch leaving her worried wrinkles exposed to the morning light. Her dress was simple and checked and weathered with continual use. I could see the fear in her eyes as she approached and asked me to take her child with me. “You take with you. He have a chance. School. Life.” I think the fear was both that I might say yes and that I might say no at the same time. One way she lost her child and one way her child lost what she perceived to be opportunity.
What are you supposed to say to that? How are you supposed to feel? I bowed away wishing them well and continued my journey with a few tears rolling down my already salty cheeks. Back at the wonderland of the hotel I wondered how happy the staff was, but their beaming kindness and smiles were never failing. They were all so kind and spoke warmly of our mission to treat children with cleft lips and palates. They were a part of our team in both of our minds and they beamed.
For that matter many of our patients beamed. They shared in our joy of taking pictures and seemed so at peace for people who had never had access to basic help. They didn't feel sorry for their situation but were grateful for the opportunity to find help. They faced the fear of surgery with grace and kindness. They believed in us.
Many people aren't even sure where Myanmar is. It has been a country closed off to the rest of the world for many years. Nestled between Thailand and Bangladesh on the Indian Ocean. Operation Smile Thailand has been serving the border towns with Myanmar for years. Hundreds of people of all ages showed up at our screening day. The halls were crowed but peaceful. It was hot but the warmth of the people somehow made the heat more bearable.
Kindness transcends all differences and it was expressed in abundance during our time in Myanmar. The local people were full of positive energy despite their difficult situation and were much more prepared to deal with some of the missions hardships. They just laughed and pushed the flying termites aside when they swarmed post-op one evening. And happily sat on the floor waiting for their child's surgery to end when we couldn't find enough chairs.
There was a kindness present in everyone there that made the 14 hours days seem wonderful. We didn't all speak the same language but we all brought the same currency of kindness. We accepted differences and learned from each other. I was especially struck by one monk's presence through the entire process.
He didn't have to speak my language to show me his kindness and his serenity in the face of his problems. He had a most beautiful smile even before surgery. He never faltered and even through the pain and swelling that immediately follow surgery his presence was so strong and positive.
I'd like to go back and see him again. See how handsome his smile must be now. See how he is serving his fellow people. See if we helped him make a bigger impact. But more importantly I'd like to go back with another team to serve the people that we couldn't help while we were there this time. To continue to reach such a kind and humble population so full of people in need of help. There are so many of them out there just waiting for their opportunity. I just hope we get a chance to give it to them.