Myanmar Guest house

“Please don’t eat my head!”
Opening a guest house in Myanmar, and why it’s worth it.

It happened for the first time when I stopped to see how the builder was doing with installing hot water heaters. Our new building was complete, at least on the outside. It had been eighteen months since we had broken ground on this three-story project that was to be completed in twelve months. We were erecting a translation center that could also serve as a guesthouse. We intended to build it to international standards but with a budget that required hiring local workers. That partially explains the extra six-month process and the fact that the building was “completed” without hot water hookups anywhere.

Our builder had agreed to hire out the work for thirteen water heaters, and I was curious how they had been installed. I walked in to find huge gouges in the cement walls of all our finished guest rooms! Even after multiple explanations, I still could not figure out why they chose such a messy, complicated install method. As I stumbled through my limited Burmese I tried to find the right words to express my incredulous feeling — something along the lines of “You’re giving me a headache.” But the Burmese phrase is much more colorful, “You’re eating my head!” An expression that can, in fact, be turned into an imperative, “Please don’t eat my head!” Eventually, they put the rooms back together, and we ended up with some oddly placed showerheads, but we had hot water!

Although neither an architect nor an interior designer, in the Lord’s providence I was in the right place at the right time. BI allowed me to put my other projects on hold and oversee the furnishing of our 35-room building. It would prove to be one of the most intense tasks I’ve ever volunteered for: a fascinating mix of enjoyable and infuriating.

Enjoyable — because I got the privilege of working with many local carpenters to custom design teak and rubber-wood furniture for our guest rooms, dining room and library. What beautiful resources Myanmar has available at very reasonable prices if you know with whom to negotiate. And the carpenters we worked with did a phenomenal job of delivering on all the concepts I concocted for them. 

Infuriating — because I wanted to receive exactly the work that I contracted a company to do. I custom ordered metal shelves; not a single one was the correct length. I specified every piece of the kitchen cupboards, tile, sink and stove; the stove was installed sideways, the sink had no hot faucet, and the cupboards would have been made of scrap wood if I had not micro-managed the project. The curtain company made the wrong curtains for 22 of our 39 windows and it took five attempts to reach an acceptable compromise. And then there were light switches that went to nothing, plugs in odd places or not at all, sinks that drained on the floor, and worst of all an oven exhaust hood that sounded like a trash disposal.

Over and over I asked workers to do things a certain way; over and over when I came back to check I felt like telling them to stop eating my head! In their defense, most of the workers had never built a kitchen like this, never hung curtains this way, never had to put thought into bathroom amenities. Furthermore it is not part of the culture to admit when you do not know how to do something or to talk about why you did something a certain way. “Let’s not place any blame; let’s just talk about what you want to do now,” one smiling boss said to me after his workers had repeatedly messed up a job! This building process could have been a recipe for disaster; instead it provided prime cultural insight into the challenges and strengths of the people with whom we are trying to live and minister.

So all that begs the question, why? Why go to all the effort and headache for a building? Myanmar today has over 50 people groups yet to begin any translation of God’s Word into their language.  We want these people to know about Bibles International Myanmar Society. We want them to know we are committed to long term work here in Myanmar and that we have the resources to help them. We want to see a growing nucleus of foreign and local workers develop along with this new center, to assist Bible translation work not only here but also in broader Asia and the Pacific. That is the kind of potential God has opened before us and it is well worth the headache and cost of a new building, even if it means having one’s head eaten!

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