Semester at Sea Fall 2006 Voyage banner


Getting What You Ask For

  Chloé Hirschhorn
      We were offered a canoe ride, two students in a canoe with one Burmese boatman in the back to row with traditional leg rowing.  I left my floating cottage on Inle Lake to pass the time before a trip to see canoes being made. We went in a group of six, the first boat held Mr. and Mrs. Allison, two adult passengers that were traveling with the group, in the second were Michelle and I, and in the third were two boys from our group. 
     Our boat men didn’t speak much English, so when we said we only wanted to be out for half an hour- not the whole hour and a half trip, we worried that they would not bring us back in time for our next engagement.  Our boat caught up with the Silver’s boat, where we were floating side by side for a little while. 
Mr. Allison attempted some conversation, “where do you live? Do you live in this village?” he questioned as we passed through a small floating village on the lake. “Do you have a wife?” he asks, pointing to his wedding ring and giving his wife a kiss on the cheek. “Children?” he asks, pointing to a child sitting in front of one of the houses we pass.  Our boatman understood, he told us about his girlfriend; she is short and she does not live in this village. We pull in front of the Allison’s boat for a moment.

     A few minutes later, our boatman points to one of the larger houses in the village, he motions that this is his home.  We all smile and nod, and continue to smile until the Allison’s boatman pulls up to the bottom of the staircase and stops the boat.  Our boat does the same, and soon the two boys follow.  Unsure of what we are expected to do, Mr. Allison asks another question, “can we get out?” Without words the boatmen get off and hold the boat steady so we can get out.  I felt a bit like Maura Stevens in her article The Heart Of Burma, finding myself with Burmese friends.

     One by one, we get out of the boats and take our shoes off at the bottom of the stairs.  We climb up four wooden stairs to an entrance room where there are many people from very young to very old sitting in a circle on the floor.  They smile and one older woman motions for us to continue to the next room.  This room is larger than the last one and has two younger women and one older stan
ding in it, as if expecting us. One of the girls’ motions for us to sit at the table.  After we all sit down, one of the boatmen kneels down and pours each of us a small glass of tea. Soon, the older sister brought out oranges and bananas to eat.  None of the people in the house sit at the table with us, they all stand and watch or sit on the side, away from us. 

     We begin to ask about who these people are, and soon find that our boatman’s f
amily lives here, his two sisters, mother, and father (who he then ran out of the house to find and dragged in to say hello to us).  His mother says she had five children, and was very unclear as to where the other two were.  I was shocked to find that the boatman was 25 and his sisters only 22 and 23. We all look at the baby pictures on the wall and laugh at the height markings on the wall, which Mr. Allison is a good foot taller than the highest one.
After getting a little bit of information across with written words and pictures, unsure of who was studying whom, we politely thanked each other for something.  We had been out much longer than expected, but all agreed that it was well worth the time spent.

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