It was a simple meal of rice, fish curry, vegetable, lentils and salad, but I could feel the love that had been poured into it. We had just left the beautiful women and children at Pobitra and were hungry and a little emotionally drained. There is something about entering raw places with other souls that is both exhilarating and exhausting, and sometimes you need to step away for a moment and nourish your body.
The cook who prepared this meal was a dear friend, well-loved by our family. Seeing his happy smile again nearly undid me. As my eyes took in the spread before us I could feel the love with which he had created each dish.
I sat in the company of my brave female travelers, and our driver. We broke protocol here, as men and women traditionally do not eat together, and drivers most certainly do not eat with their passengers. (I will introduce him later, though I can hardly wait. He deserves his own post!) It was the first rice meal that some of our group had ever eaten with their fingers, and they dug right in. Our driver became the teacher, showing our youngest member exactly how to do it.
Cross Cultural Lesson 101 – Enter into each new environment as a learner. Any culture that is different from ours, has so much wisdom to teach us and beauty to share with us. It is humbling to have to start with something so basic as learning how to eat, but it put us exactly where we needed to be. We went as learners and came home richer for it.
The Rohingya, one of the world’s most most persecuted ethnic groups, are a Muslim people who have lived for generations in Myanmar. Denied the right to vote and given nearly impossible rules for acquiring citizenship, they are hated and looked down on by the Buddhist majority around them.
The Rohingya speak a dialect of Bangla and are seen by many as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, though many of them can trace their family history in Myanmar for many generations. While they represent roughly 2% of the total population, their Buddhist neighbors fear they will take over and try to make Myanmar a Muslim country. Untold numbers have been hunted down, raped and murdered in a genocide that the Myanmar Government continues to deny is happening. Many have escaped across the border into Bangladesh or by boat to Thailand, Malaysia or the Philippines where again and again they are turned away.
Bangladesh, the most accessible country by land, is currently planning to house them on an uninhabited island that is immersed in water during the monsoon. Many are taking the risk of returning to Myanmar rather than lose their lives to nature. A small number have been accepted as refugees into the US, Canada and Australia but, for the most part, the Rohingyas remain an unwanted and fiercely hunted people group.
Rohingyas eat rice, fish, vegetables, milk and chilis. Meat, such as this Beef Curry is served to guests or for special occasions. We shared this meal family and prayed for a place of belonging and safety for the Rohingyas.