Sarah Peterson on Myanmar

MonasteryI was fortunate enough to a take a three month sabbatical this year (thank you TFC!), traveling through Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. This is one night that sticks out for me.

After a day of trekking in the Shan State, Myanmar, my friend and I spent the night at a rural monastery. The monks allow the space to be used by travelers to make some money for the community, but they don’t interact with them.

We arrive at dusk and enter a dark, cavernous, rustic space the size of a small gymnasium. The outhouse is way up the hill (definitely not going there once night falls!) We eat by candlelight sitting on the floor in the center of the space. In one far corner is the elderly monk, who goes about his rituals as if we are invisible. In another corner are six young novices (about 7 years old), wearing their maroon robes and headlamps.

novicesOccasionally they scurry outside, and to different corners, also without acknowledging us. We “sleep” on mats on the ground in another dark corner (suppressing a lot of phobias to get through the night). Morning starts at about 4:30am – first the roosters battling it out, next the monk’s morning chants, then the novices waking up and to set off fire crackers (why?), followed by their own chanting (occasionally interrupted by smacking one another upside the head, since they are, after all, very little boys). And then, finally, its sunrise.

What, for the locals was an average night at the monastery, to me felt like a bizarre experiential theater piece.

Photographs by Sarah Peterson

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