Feb 21, 2014

Late Night Eviction

For almost 3 months now we’ve been living and working in Myanmar, sharing photos and writings about beauty, cultural learning, spiritual growth, and friendship. All of that is true, but what I haven’t shared is the undercurrent of frustration and legal challenges culminating in being literally run out of town in the middle of the night.

This whole time I have not had “travel authority” – legal permission to live and work in this Township. I have a house, staff and office here, but am not officially allowed to use them. After over a month we got a letter from the national Minister of Co-operatives authorizing the project, but we still had to await “remarks” from the Regional “Prime Minister” and immigration and co-operative departments, then the District, then the Township immigration and administration authorities. It meant that I could visit co-operatives and partner agencies all over the country but not consult with the farmers I’m here to design a project with; I could meet with my staff quietly at my dining room table, but only sneak into the office before or after hours to “quickly” do emails (which takes over an hour each time).

It also meant that for the first 2 months we moved our family to 23 different hotels. Finally the most local level of government – the Quarter Administration – took pity on our emotional and financial plight and quietly granted permission to move into the house. The huge exhale of “We Are Here” relief, and inhale of “Welcome” and friendship I’ve been writing about, started then, just 3 weeks ago (Sarah made me double-check – we slept exactly 21 days in that fuzzy pink love nest).

Then it all fell apart, in the final week. At 10am on Wednesday, 3 days before we our final departure, we received official “oral” permission from the Regional level to live and work here. But at 10pm on Wednesday, we were informed by the Township level that we’ve been illegally staying in our house and given 15 minutes to pack a bag, wake up the kids, and leave town. By 11pm we were safely across the river in our old hotel, desperately trying to hold onto the neighbourhood warmth we’d been basking in, and honestly worried about arrest or deportation.

Today they have given us permission to go back to the house just to pack up our things, but under strict rules to not leave the house and to be out before sunset. We are not allowed to go to the market to pick up our clothes from the tailor, can’t take our favourite walk past the noodle-maker’s bamboo house, can’t play one last game of soccer or chinlone with all the neighbourhood youth. My mom arrived the morning after to find us in a hotel across the river instead of our home. She flew 17 hours and 14.5 time zones to visit us here, and all she’ll get to see of our town is through the bars of our windows.

This abrupt ending is in sharp contrast to the endless warm embrace of the people of Myanmar – presumably even the same people whose official government role forces them to take this inhospitable action. I wonder what inner conflict they are feeling between what their heart would want to do and what they believe their laws tell them they have to do. I’m never allowed to even meet with them, which is probably a good thing since I too vacillate between wanting to yell at them and feeling compassion for them.

Compassion – that’s a good word. Also patience. Acceptance. Embrace. These have been the lessons of Myanmar. We only got 3 weeks of living in the place we thought we’d have 3 months, but they were rich, real and full. We travelled and saw much more of the country than expected, and felt held and awe-struck and blessed everywhere we went. I did not have permission to follow my very ambitious and very detailed workplan, but still managed to creatively accomplish all the goals.

The legal restrictions and complications may have confined our stay here, but they did not define it. The people and culture of Myanmar were the real Stuff of our stay, and our family’s own resilience and togetherness the Strength. Today the house will be flooded with people who genuinely Know and Care for us, giving and receiving presents and hugs and tears. How can I remain angry or frustrated at our eviction, or even sad at our leaving, when we’ve been gifted with such lessons in love?

PS – I wrote a whiny, apologetic Please Please Please letter to immigration, and they did allow us to be outside the house today. So the boys got to proudly parade their Grandma through the market, we got a final visit with our tailors (who as always insisted on feeding us), and there were even more tears and hugs and presents than I could have imagined. The twins got permission from the school headmaster to stay home all day with us, and there were rarely less than a dozen people helping us pack and feel held. A perfect ending to a perfectly bizarre and beautiful episode of our life.

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