‘Come, come!’ the man urged me as he handed me the razor. The boy cringed as I gently touched it to his already-bleeding scalp. I carefully scraped away a few tiny bits of hair and tried to smile prettily for the camera.
It was my very first day in Burma (on this trip, anyway) and I had managed to stumble upon a monks’ and nuns’ ordination ceremony. Around 50 males and females roughly between the ages of 5 and 70 were taking part, in order to take up residence in the monastery.
In Burma it is expected that every Buddhist male will enter a monastery twice in his life. He goes once between the ages of 10 and 20 as a temporary novice monk, (I swear some were younger than this, but I can’t seem to judge kids’ ages here) and once later in life as a fully ordained monk. Although nuns are not as revered as monks, girls are also encouraged to temporarily join the monastery. Some older women seem to join more permanently, I think most likely if they are widowed or never married.
As a foreigner who wandered into the monastery while this was happening, I seemed to be considered an honoured guest and was made to feel extremely welcome. This included being encouraged to take as many photos of the ceremony and head shaving as I wanted, eating my fill, and having my picture taken shaving this kid’s head. He’d already been nicked so many times, I didn’t want to hurt him further, so I did as little as possible and gave the razor back to his mom!
I couldn’t help but wonder what these kids were all thinking. It was interesting to see their reactions; whether boys or girls, some seemed a little upset, others ecstatic. As I watched one teenaged girl have her long silky locks of hair cut off bit by bit and gathered up by her mom, I tried to imagine what a Canadian girl of similar age would think about having her head shaved. This girl didn’t look super pleased, but when it was all finished everyone seemed pretty happy! I also couldn’t help but wonder how the little ones would react when the time came for mom and dad to go home, and they had to stay at the monastery.
I’m going to let the pictures tell the rest of the story!