Every Sunrise is a Resurrection
It is five in the morning, and I hear the head monk chanting his prayers which by now are quite familiar to me. The night before I asked my friend's brother Ko Thein Zaw, if I could join them the next morning to harvest rice. Makauk Village sits next to the Irrawaddy River. The Irrawaddy River runs through most of Myanmar (Burma) from the north to the south. The village is part of Shwebo District of the Sagaing Division of the country. This part of the country is rich in fertile land. Most of the villagers are farmers who plant different kinds of beans and peanuts but also rice. The village is covered in water when the river water rises for a period of months. At this time the villagers go to higher ground to find land to cultivate. On the other side of the village is a beautiful pond filled with lotus flowers.
Ko Thein Zaw is Swhebo's brother. Swhebo is a Buddhist monk who had invited me to come and stay in his monastery. I have been living in this monastery with the monks for the last twenty days. The monastery is located next to another monastery which sits on top of a hill. The village itself has three monasteries calling it home. I also call it home now.
Before the sun shows itself I went off to Ko Thein's house. He was preparing the bulls to bring us to the rice field. The bull cart is called "hle" – and two bulls are tied to a yoke. The neighbors asked if I have the proper attire to go to the field and I said this is my attire. They looked at me and just shook their heads. They gave me a long-sleeved shirt, a big hat and started putting "thanaka" on my face and arms. It is a traditional skin-care lotion from the bark of a tree. I climbed the bull cart and sat comfortably. Then we started to move.
The cart trudged along the rocky road until we went into the wet and muddy field. Ko Thein Zaw hit the bigger bull with a stick to make it move to one direction as he makes a clicking sound. The bigger bull moves and the smaller bull follows. But both bulls share the burden of the yoke. The sun by now is already shining, and you can already feel its heat warming up the entire village. Some women were already in the field. Ko Thein Zaw stopped and parked the cart. He loosened the rope around the bulls and allowed them to feed. He told me to wait, and he went off. They were examining the crops. The women looked at me probably amused at the way I look. They called out for me. Ko told me to put on the rubber boots, and I made my way to the rice field.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29
The image of the two bulls carrying the yoke over their shoulders kept coming back at me. I am reminded of the verse above. Jesus calls us and invites us to take his yoke and learn from Him. He is gentle and humble. And if we seek to find rest, rest in His arms. When Ko was beating on the bigger bull, the bull moves to the direction he wants it to go. The smaller bull follows, and the cart moves. The bigger bull is like Jesus who invites us to take His yoke. He takes on our burdens. He shares in our pain. But for most part I realized He takes on most of the beatings. We are then able to find rest and peace like the smaller bull.
I told the women that I would like to take pictures of them. I wanted to help, but they insisted that the scythe is sharp and it would be better for me to stay away. So instead of cutting crops I helped with collecting the cut crops and placing them together to be tied. After almost two hours we finished harvesting a big part of the field. One by one the women carried the bundles of rice crop to the side of the road. I tried to carry one and found that they are quite heavy. Ko Thein Zaw's father came bringing lunch for the group. I decided to walk back home with him.
Arriving at their home, they started to ask me if I saw a "mywe." They explained that the reason they asked me to wear boots was to protect me from it. So I told them that there was plenty of mud. But it turned out they were asking me if I saw some snakes. Luckily, no snake showed itself to us. The women arrived after two more hours. They had harvested the other side of the field. The women will received around 3,000 kyat, $2.25 U.S., for a days work from six in the morning to twelve noon. So I joke then that I could get around 1,500, $1.12 U.S., for my share.
"Amay!" I called out Ko Thein Zaw's mother. "I am going back to the monastery for lunch." I explained I was not able to tell the monks that I would not not eating with them. I walked back to the monastery by myself. "Philippine!" I heard some kids calling out. They had baptized me with a new name. I turned and said, "Mingalaba!" Mingalaba is a Burmese greeting for hello. It is a greeting of success, goodness and blessings on the person who receives it. May every sunrise bring us mingala!
The night comes to us like death. We encounter obstacles and tragedies, but it is the hope that every sunrise brings to us—new beginnings. For every sunrise is a resurrection, the promise Jesus gave us.
My hope with my journey here in Myanmar is for deeper peace, tolerance and understanding and harmony to come for the people of Myanmar – a joyful and colorful mix of Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and Hindus.
Fr. Kurt Zion Pala lives and works in Myanmar.