Tag Archives: Myanmar

How Do You Say It In [insert language here]?

There is a sweet little girl I work with regularly whose family has recently come to the US from Myanmar. English has not been a breeze for her but she is working hard and it is coming along. Today her third grade homework was to read a story about a tiger and then continue the story and answer the questions. We had read the whole story but when it came to making up a sentence or two to finish it off, she was stuck.

“How do you say tiger in your language?” I asked. “Kya” she responded. “Well, write that,” I said. In her imperfect print she wrote out “In my language a tiger is called kya.” This started a conversation amongst the other kids on how to say tiger in other languages. All of the sudden I heard tiger in Arabic, Georgian, Russian, and Spanish. I even added in Italian for good measure.

Siberian Tiger – taken by National Geographic

I think this will now be a regular question I ask these little ones. It helps them connect with their home country, teaches the other children and me something new, and keeps them speaking their native tongues.

Want to know some other ways to say tiger? Check out Wiktionary’s list. I’ve included a few for practice.

  • Afrikaans: tier
  • Amuzgo: kítzia
  • Belarusian: тыгр (tyhr)
  • Burmese: kya:
  • Czech: tygr
  • Finnish: tiikeri
  • Georgian: ვეფხვი (vep’xvi)
  • Hindi: बाघ (bāgh)
  • Irish: tíogar
  • Japanese: 虎 (torá)
  • Rohingya: bag
  • Russian: тигр (tigr) 
  • Swahili: chui-milia 
  • Zulu: ingwe

Giving the Bird

I have to say that working with the children in the refugee community has been quite a learning experience. It’s funny what comes from their mouths and just how innocent they are.

Before I started volunteering, I did my research on Burmese and Iraqi customs. Don’t touch their heads. Don’t point with my feet. Don’t give the thumbs up sign. I was reminded this week that just as I am learning their cultures, these kids are learning ours.

As I was playing with a group of children at the playground this week, an interesting topic came up. The middle finger. All the sudden one of the little girls runs up to me and says, “I can’t use my middle finger, right?” Before I could even answer, several of the little girls are pointing their middle fingers in the air and saying, “You can’t do this, but you can do this.” And then they quickly switch to their pointer finger. From there a whole conversation ensued about why we don’t use the middle finger in America. Thinking back on the conversation, I’m sure it became a topic of our discussion because one of these little ones unknowingly gave “the bird”. I can imagine one of these little girls raising their own middle finger to read a book or scratch their face, and being met with discomfort, discipline, or distraught behavior by their fellow American peers or teachers. If I were in their shoes, I’m sure I would make the same mistakes. If I went to Iraq, could I stop giving a thumbs up? If I was in Myanmar, could I ensure that I never touch a child’s head? I highly doubt I could. I just hope and pray that I can give the patience and guidance to these little ones, just as I would need if I were learning the customs of their home countries.

Volunteer Prep: Burmese and Iraqi Etiquette

When we moved to OKC, I knew I had to get involved. I’m too social of a person to sit at home all day. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading a good book and writing this blog, but a whole day without talking to someone is a long day for me. Taking the advice of my friend who did a guest post for me on volunteering with the refugee community, I started researching different organizations in Oklahoma City that assist refugees. And that’s when I found Spero Project. The Spero Project is a local non-profit organization that partners with local churches to serve under-resources communities. Their programming extends to single mothers, children in the foster care system, and families who are refugees in OKC.

I will be serving in their Learning Center where children from the refugee community can come and get help with homework, English, and just play. Adults can also come work on English and study for the TOEFL, their GED, or the citizenship exam. I had my first training on Tuesday and will have my first hours in the Learning Center this evening. Most of the children that I’ll be working with come from either Iraq or Myanmar. While I feel ready to help with fractions, I realized that I am not very familiar with the Iraqi or Burmese cultures. I know I will learn a lot while I’m with the kids, but I thought it might be good to know some basic etiquette to get me started.

Burmese Basic Etiquette:

  • As a female, a smile or nod is the most appropriate ways to greet men.
  • Never touch a person’s hair, head or cheek, even if you consider it as a friendly gesture.
  • The upper part is considered sacred while lower part is considered inferior to the upper part, even considered dirty. Never mix the things you use for your upper part with that of the lower part.
  • Do not use your feet to point at anything or anyone.
  • Don’t cough, sneeze or blow your nose in the dining table.
  • Present gifts (even a business card) with both hands.

Iraqi Basic Etiquette:

  • The most common greeting is the handshake coupled with eye contact and a smile.
  • Use your right hand to make contact with others and to eat.
  • Do not point with a finger but rather with the entire hand.
  • Always keep your word. Do not make a promise or guarantee unless you can keep it. If you want to show a commitment to something but do not want to make caste iron assurances then employ terms such as “I will do my best,” or “We will see.”
  • Do not make the thumbs up or “ok” sign. They are considered obscene.
  • Present gifts (even a business card) with both hands.