We have formed a deep bond with a Shan community over the last 6 months of going in and out with travelers. The relationship began 9 months ago, visiting their village for the first time, and from day 1, they have been warm and open to tourism and the potential opportunities that inevitably come. But its a real tribute to them, as being open to new things and very foreign-to-them people is really new. For those who grew up in the west, we've grown up often in places where the world has come to them, places with large populations of immigrants that have formed the fabric of society, but in rural Northern Shan State, new cultures and new ways are all really new, and harder to embrace different cultures and ways of life, so being embraced by this community is exciting for us.
We are particularly forming a bond with the village leader and his family. His wife cooks amazing Shan food, and we joke with them about how Shan food is far better than Burmese food, as even many Myanmar nationals also love Shan food. We always tell her she should open her own restaurant in Lashio, as every time we go there it is something different and always so tasty.
Recently when we've been there to visit, their home is the place where the youth come to practice their traditional dances for Shan New Year celebrations coming up in mid-December and for the recent Tazundaing celebrations (which we'll get to more later.) The kids in the village know when the foreign travelers have arrived, and are all eager to play games that we bring with us, like Uno (a card game we've taught them to play). We often spend time together with the kids and their parents learning about their way of life, their culture, and having fun with them.
For us, it is really fun and a warm environment, and I think they enjoy us as well. And we do our best to fit into local culture and dress. However, it is also a new income stream for their family, as we make donations for their hospitality and pay for their amazing Shan food. And we are happy to have created new opportunities in their community, and are always on the lookout for new income streams for them, as that is our purpose and desire for impact in Northern Shan rural communities.
Recently they invited us to participate with them in their recent festival, where their village played host to 5 other Shan villages that made their way to their village in the evening to celebrate in dance and music and feasting. It was a wild and raucous event, and lots to learn about their culture and religious understanding. It is also an event where young men will meet young women and kindle a relationship that is started through an expression of desire to marry.
Not every night is a festival night like this, but it is great to be invited into a tight knit community to share in their celebrations. To us it communicates a depth of relationship and trust that we don't take lightly, and it inspires us to keep on investing in this community.