Before the school closed for Thingyan, we had a celebration. Thingyan, also known as the Water Festival, is the Myanmar New Year. People often celebrate the holiday by throwing water at each other, hence Water Festival, which is especially refreshing because the holiday takes place over the peak of hot season. At school, the students performed traditional dances and prayers, sprayed each other with water, and ate a traditional snack. I wore a longyi, which seemed to please a lot of teachers.
I arrived at school in the morning before the celebration started. Out behind the main building of the school, all of the cooks were seated around low tables making a traditional snack for the students and their parents. The snack is made of mashed sticky rice, which is balled up around a piece of jaggery and then coated with coconut shavings. The cooks had three stations lined up. One station was mashing the stick rice together. Another station was taking pieces of the sticky rice and wrapping it around a small piece of jaggery to create a ball. The third station took the sticky rice balls and boiled them momentarily. When the balls are served, generous portions of coconut shavings were put on top. The snacks have a very mild taste until you bite into the jaggery, which releases a sugary, maple flavor. I sat down with the cooks at the second station and helped ball some of the sticky rice around jaggery. It was great helping out and also bonding with some of the women who serve me breakfast and lunch five times a week. They’re always so cheerful and inviting. I spoke some Burmese with them, and they ensured me that making the sticky rice balls was easy (although I felt that there were many steps to such a simple treat).
The beginning of the celebration was the performances by the students. The girls were dressed in matching longyis in different colors depending on their class. They wore glittery tinsel necklaces and bracelets and had their faces coated in makeup. The boys wore simple nude colored shirts and longyis. The dancing performances were done by the girls, and the traditional choreograph consisted of a lot of swaying of their hips and twisting of their arms. The school had a dancer come for a few days to teach the teachers traditional moves so that they could teach the students. The boys mostly sang, while the girls danced. The boys from levels 5 and 6 performed a call and response prayer with traditional musical instruments. I enjoyed watching all of the students and appreciating their hard work; some of my classes the previous week had been cancelled so that the students could practice for their performances.
After the performances, the students gathered on the basketball court to splash and spray water at each other. Many students carried intense water guns to squirt their classmates. I tried to observe without getting wet, but failed. Some of my students came running after me with squirt guns and shaving cream bottles. It was a lot of fun to see the students enjoy themselves so much. After the students were done playing, their parents were ready with clean clothes for them to slip into before heading to their cars to go home for the holiday.