“May I take your picture?” I try to ask permission when photographing someone’s face. They smile and nod, sometimes answering in English, “Yes!” A photograph says “I see you. You exist” Sometimes I show them the photo on my camera and I say, “Beautiful!” They smile and often return the compliment. The people in Myanmar are beautiful. I love their faces, their clothing style, and easy smiles. There is beauty in their gentle spirits and hospitality. Each of these photos is an affirmation that this person is important.
Many faces have markings. Ron, one of my colleagues that grew up in Myanmar tells me that it is makeup made of ground wood called Thanaka. It is worn to be beautiful. At the Ywarma Baptist Church’s street children’s mission the children offer to paint our faces. They laugh and sing as they paint. They keep saying, “Beautiful!’ Later we go into the city. I forget my face is marked. Women pat their own faces, smile, and point to our faces. They say “Beautiful!”
I grieve the faces that I haven’t photographed; the dirty preschooler carrying the infant, the women with desperate eyes, the laughing Indian faces that fill the back of a truck. They dance while music blares from large speakers. There are many reasons for missing a photo. There are times when I don’t have my camera. It is difficult to get good shots when riding in the bus, so I miss the Bollywood truck photo. Some faces aren’t photographed because it feels too invasive. I sense that it is wrong. Some faces are to hard to see, much less carry home. I feel their image is all they have and I can’t take it.
As our two cohorts gathered one evening, Dr Marshall asked where did we see God smiling and where did we see God grieving. For me it is the faces which bear God’s image. As I walk away from the preschooler carrying the infant, God grieves. When did I see you Lord? I saw you Lord, but I didn’t know what to do. As we dance and sing with street children at the mission God dances and sings with us. As I share these photographs of faces with friends, I am sharing the face of God. When I return home, my best souvenir will be the beautiful faces of God.
Central DMin Student
My name is Thawng Hnin Zam. I come from Chin State in the most western part of Myanmar, near the border with India. Presently, I am serving as the Principal of the Union Theological College, a member of the Association for Theological Education in South East Asia. I received a B.Th. degree in Madras, India, as well as a B.D. (Bachelors of Divinity) from Serampore University, also in India.