Yangon, don't rain on my parade
My sopping wet t-shirt hung from a closet door in our hotel room and draped over a travel towel dripping dark lines in the fabric to the floor. A small puddle formed on the hardwood below the hanging cloth as I lay on my comforter still in absolute shock after witnessing the biggest water fight of my life. My head and hair, damp from the festivities, were chilled by cold air conditioning and I sat only in a pair of dry boxers I wore two days prior. I wondered about the water festival - the dancing, drinking, music and mischief - and I asked myself if I was I ready to go back out.
Its name is Thingyan and because of it, my first meeting with Myanmar is a wet one. The widely popular holiday lasts four days and is a Buddhist festival held in celebration of the Burmese New Year. Water, a symbol of life, is used to celebrate the genesis of a new year and only monks and pregnant women are safe from the spirited spraying.
Rewind to our arrival, and we had no idea it even existed. However, we would soon be in for a crash course. The moment our plane touched down in Myanmar the rest of our day would fly by in a haze of roaring crowds, laughter, and nonstop splashing.
After a quick stop at our hostel for a nap and some mental preparation, my friend Darren and I struck out into the laughing, wet city. It was only two minutes in when a car drove by and splashed my shirt as I snapped pictures of all the visible happiness. People hugged, waved and cheered all around me as I pointlessly wiped a couple of droplets off of my chest.
I placed my phone into a crown royal sack and then into a Ziploc bag after wiping off some errant drops. I slid the bag into my damp pocket. My friend and I walked down a few blocks and Yangon's joyous roar had us buzzing. We happened upon some kids splashing each other outside a party of people spraying cars. After the group noticed me and walked up with water bottles in hand, I put my hands up in surrender. The kids lowered their bottles and curiously looked at my phone as I took pictures. Three surrounded me and watched me capture the jovial moments of their family and friends. I put the phone away and opened my arms to let them know I was ready for my watery assault. Instead, they filled a small bucket up and handed it to me while pointing at oncoming cars.
There was no way I'd turn that down. I gripped the wet rim with my right hand and steadied the bottom with my left - poised for the perfect splash. I was nervous, but too driven by all the laughter around me. The car pulled up and I swung the bucket forward unloading a concentrated splash onto the back of someone's head. Kids surrounded me laughing and a small girl flung a ribbon of cold water into my eyes with a cheeky grin."Are you happy?" they asked. I paused, smiled and wondered if I'd heard them correctly. "Uhhh, yes!" They grinned and poured more water for me. I handed the bucket out and shared turns dousing oncoming traffic.
An older man, Sebastian, walked up and introduced me to everyone and always made sure to ask if I was happy. He wore an old army hat and a tank top and just as I began to ask about his family, an elderly man asked me to splash his three daughters for good luck. After I did, two women started dancing with me, people drenched my head with water, and offered me a drink. Again, they asked me if I was happy and I truly was even if I was showing off my particularly horrible dance moves to traditional Burmese music.
They asked me if I liked Myanmar to which I replied "It's beautiful! Big party!" They gave me a thumbs up and I was comfortable even though we couldn't always understand what the other was saying. Loud music pumped out of speakers and a colossal sound system was dangerously close to all the action, protected only by a thin sheet of black plastic.
A man leading a group of dancers gave me basic visual instructions on how to move to the lively music. My arms snaked and swayed to the sky as I tried to imitate the man's precise movements. Body, mind and rhythm struggled to stay in sync.
Two hours quickly came and went with more laughter and a lot more dancing with smiling strangers. All of them asked me if I was happy and I continued to wonder why. A soft, orange sun reflected off of street side puddles as the day reluctantly drew to a close.
Still on a high of slap happy dancing, we were sent off by a crowd of friends and family celebrating one of the biggest holidays in their country. Not a frown was to be found among the bunch. The streets went dark and water was everywhere. As Darren and I dripped back to our hotel I walked past a young boy and asked if he was happy. My question was promptly met with a splash of ice water and a quick giggle.
There was something comforting in being able to make a complete stranger smile so easily.