“Why did you reject us from coming into your house?”
“We thought that you people were scammers; we have been cheated far too many time.”
“So why did you let us in?”
“Because you all looked lost in the heavy rain. You need to beware of snakes in the village, especially in the rain. What time are you leaving the village? There have been many incidents of drunk men slashing people. Stay safe please. Stay in the shelter, come in. The rain is very bad.”
We are all strangers. We don’t understand their greetings in Burmese. They cannot understand why I wore only shorts even in the cold rainy weather. I don’t understand how Burmese ladies carry litres of water from a faraway well to their houses barefoot. They probably don’t understand why we wear cumerbsome raincoats to hide from the drizzle.
Despite the mutual sense of unfamiliarity, this family allowed us into their home. It was not done out of sympathy. It was not done begrudgingly. It was an act of kindness and love. It was easy for them to ignore us, more so given their fear of con men. They opened the doors of their heart to welcome us in and it was love that broke down walls of mistrust.
Why have we as Singaporeans stopped welcoming strangers into our homes? Our houses reek of wealth and overflow with things we can share. We cannot even give flyers to people’s doors because they would complain. We have shut ourselves off each other. In our own land, we have become each other’s uninvited strangers, even though we are all Singaporeans.
In fact, xenophobia festers because people have stopped embracing a new culture. We perceive the influx of foreigners such as Bangladeshis, Chinese and Caucasians as people diluting the Singaporean identity. Conflicts have already surfaced. Some people already suffer discrimination daily. Have we forgotten that when someone knocks on our door, all we need to do is to open our door and hear their stories?
Stranger-ness is a choice . I am incredibly blessed to have been shown compassion in a country we perceive as poorer than ours. In that moment, the little , humble house we visited seemed like a mansion compared to my own in Singapore.
“May we take a polaroid of you?”
“Yes, but let’s take it together. I want to remember everyone of you.”