EATING BURMESE CUISINE IN MADISON COUNTY, GA.
Easter doesn’t always fall on March 31, but that date is always Cesar Chavez’s birthday.
I note this because I planned this week to write a column offering my dining recommendations for your next trip to the Boston area, based on my time at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last week.
But I woke last Sunday to read a bit of news online as my family slumbered and was reminded by the United Farm Workers, via their Facebook page, that March 31 is the farm labor activist’s birthday. While we should always remember the workers who sweat in the fields to fill our supermarkets with fresh green goods, that’s not the reason I mention Mr. Chavez.
I read a few of his popular quotes that morning and was struck by one in particular, specifically because of an experience I had planned for later that afternoon.
“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him,” begins a quote on the UFW website. “The people who give you their food give you their heart.”
He was speaking, I’d guess, about his community building work, where he likely entered the home of many strangers, sat down to meals and talked about their lives. And perhaps it had a deeper message about the costs of food hidden by grocery stores: “The people who give you their food give you their heart.”
That afternoon, Easter Sunday, my family and I drove deep into Oglethorpe County to attend a jubilee celebration of Karen refugees from Myanmar. The Karen are a Christian people persecuted and driven from their native home, and you can therefore find pockets of Karen around the country.
Every Easter, the Karen celebrate Christian missionaries coming to Myanmar, which is predominantly Buddhist.
This year marked the 200th anniversary, and in a small rented church on a dirt road in a rural county, Karen from all over Georgia and the South gathered to remember their religious history. Six couples also took the occasion to have their marriages blessed by a national pastor of the Karen church.
And like any good religious celebration, the families prepared a vast buffet of Myanmarese cuisine.
We were invited to witness this celebration by Eh Kaw Htoo, whose family I wrote about here in the Banner-Herald back in October and November in a three-part series. He lives in Comer, and many of his direct relative live in Oglethorpe County. Refugees who settle in rural areas without much government assistance are a rare occurrence, and their presence in the area interests me. But I also cherish the friendships I’ve built from the experience of reporting the story. Every time I met with Eh Kaw, he has made attempts to further welcome me into his community. And this jubilee was no different.
Eh Kaw’s relatives had placed bowl after bowl of food out on a wide wooden table amid tall pine trees. Everyone filled their plates with goat soup, daikon radishes, vegetables so spicy as to draw tears from my wife and what seemed like every part of a goat and pig barbecued to crispy, smoky satisfaction. When the rains came, we all grabbed a bowl and rushed inside, where we finished our meal sitting on the floor and talking.
Eh Kaw is so proud of the community he and his family have built in Oglethorpe, and he’s also proud to show it off to me. While I’m always pleased to be offered Myanmarese food, especially the delicacies prepared by Eh Kaw’s wife, Pa Saw, I’m forever grateful to be offered the opportunity to participate in a life that is, well, quite foreign to me, an office-working urbanite. Like many refugees in Oglethorpe, Eh Kaw works hard, much harder than I ever have, at a chicken processing plant and grows his own food and raises his own chickens. Yet he wants nothing more than to share his and his community’s bounty with whomever is willing to kneel down at their table.
After supping at fancy restaurants around Cambridge and Boston, this meal reminded me about why I fell in love with food and farming so long ago: the relationships that meals build. If a person who gives you their food gives you their heart, the sentiment is absolutely reciprocated. Thanks, Eh Kaw.
To read the three stories I wrote about Eh Kaw, click on the following links: part one: http://bit.ly/Ulbux6; part two: http://bit.ly/XC4Mm1; and part three:http://bit.ly/SjRiXk.