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                                 Photo by Wathan 
Neighbors Bearing Bushes

While living in my village in Burma, I enjoyed offering our home-grown flowers to our house shrine and eating the peas and gourds we grew for dinner.  Near our village, the fields were full of rice, sunflowers, chilies and peanuts. We caught our fish in Maletto Creek. Farming and fishing were the staples of our village life.
After I got married, my husband and I moved about five times from one place to another. Because of our financial state of affairs, we weren’t able to afford a place with extra space to garden.
It wasn’t until 2007 that we managed to buy a little house, which, fortunately, came with a small patch of land about 14 by 5 feet in front. I began to grow so many plants—some in pots and some in the ground—I could barely turn around in my tiny garden.
Now I live in a row house in America. It’s owned by the City of Asylum/Pittsbugh. The house has a spacious backyard, including a small, concrete basketball court and a lawn about twenty square feet. Behind the basketball court is a patch of land.
Spring has arrived in the city and the stores are full of seed packages, potted plants and flowers. Eyeing that patch of land behind the basketball court, my old disease of gardening has reoccurred.
“You can start a garden in the backyard if you want, you know,” said Henry Reese, founder of City of Asylum/Pittsburgh. He’s our neighbor next door as well.
“Is that right? I would love to, I am very fond of gardening,” I said.
“We will help you with it,” Henry replied with a supportive smile.
The next day, the bell rang and it was Henry at the door, holding a small potted rose bush. “This is from my neighbor,” he said. “She wants to give it to you because you are interested in gardening,”
A sudden rush of happiness came to me from the loveliness of the roses and the warmth of my neighbors.

The Trouble with Weeds

I had been gazing at my new American backyard, longing to be able to garden as I used to in Burma. My neighbor, Henry, brought me a rose bush that another neighbor gave me because she heard I was interested in gardening. Henry runs City of Asylum/Pittsburgh, the organization where I am now the writer-in-residence.

About three or four days later, Henry appeared bringing two people and some equipment. “I brought these two gentlemen to clean up the backyard so that you can start a garden,” Henry explained.
The two removed the bushes and shrubs and repaired the fence bordering the property. When this was done, they tilled the ground to ready it for planting.
In the first week of April 2009, Henry sent me an e-mail saying that Jana, one of my neighbors across the street, wanted to visit me to discuss gardening. On April 16, Jana arrived with her gardening tools.
There were still some bushes left in the backyard and weeds had already started to grow in the tilled areas. Jana said, “The first thing we need to do before planting is to remove the weeds.” As she was talking, she began to pull some plants out, explaining that some of the bushes are wild flowers and some are just pure nuisance.
“This is the worst one,” she said, pointing to a creeper. “Its roots are white and long. The roots move into other plants’ roots and destroy them.  They consume the nutrients of the soil. We need to basically get rid of them.”
The weeds she was pointing to looked like our Kazunywet, a hollow-stemmed water spinach that grows wild anywhere there is water. It is a good vegetable for the poor to live on.
But this weed’s stems were not hollow. Jana poked the trowel deep into the ground and pulled out its lengthy white root. “If some parts of the roots are left, it will quickly grow back,” she said.
Pointing to some other plants, she said, “I am not going to pull those. They are wild flowers and soon they are going to blossom.”
On that day, we planted seeds to grow lettuce, turnips and green peas. Jana then said that in ten days or so, they would start to sprout.
I watered the area where the seeds were on rainless days. I put stones and sticks around for markings to make sure my two sons would not accidently step on them. Then, I had to go to New York for a week. I called my sons every day to make sure they watered the garden.
Upon my arrival back home in Pittsburgh, I put away my luggage, ate, and then rushed to the backyard to see my little plants. I was so thrilled to see these little green things in the ground.
To my shock, the little green things were those terrible creeping weeds! I had thoroughly cleared those weeds before I went to New York. Without resting from my trip I picked up the three-pronged garden fork and began to dig hard to get rid of the white roots.
It had only taken a week, I thought, for the second generation of weeds to surface.

A Change of Seasons

My very first trip to America was in 2007 to participate in the International Writing Program held at the University of Iowa.  Here I am, again, in America for the second time. I arrived the second week of March 2009 as a writer in residency at City of Asylum/ Pittsburgh. On this trip, I was allowed to bring my family with me, including my artist husband and two sons.
The plane ride from Rangoon to Pittsburgh, with layovers at various airports, took almost forty hours. When we left Burma, the March heat was in full might. When we eventually reached the Pittsburgh airport, the lingering winter suddenly drilled in our veins. We, the children of a hot land, trembled from the unfathomable cold. My two sons suffered severe allergic reactions causing them to bleed from their noses and through their mouths.
About two weeks later, the cold noticeably waned and everything—including my sons—began to act better, feel better and look better. The beauty of spring warmly welcomed us with an amiable display. The naked branches of the trees started to bear fledging leaves. Other trees were exclusively covered with tiny buds. About ten days later, the buds blossomed, choking the trees with beautiful flowers.

Spring in Pittsburgh—it was an unforeseen wonder to my eyes.

                                                                          Photo by Wathan                           
The Root of Everlasting Happiness

As the Pittsburgh spring finally arrived, I began to see some stores displaying packages of vegetable seeds and bags of soil and fertilizers. Sometimes, on the sidewalks, I saw shops selling colorful and strikingly beautiful flowers.
Perhaps because I was brought up in Maletto, a small village in Burma’s delta region, I have a great interest in gardening. In front of our long-legged house, there is a mango and a coconut tree that my mother planted.
During one rainy season, as I was bathing in the Maletto Creek which flows behind our house, a small plant floated by. I took it home, padded it with some coconut husk and tied it with a Thinoo rope to the trunk of our coconut tree. It rained almost every day, and my orphan scion grew quite well. At the beginning of summer, three or four stalks with buds appeared. I was so happy to see them.
One morning, I woke up and opened the front door to see the coconut tree. I clapped my hands and cried out “Dear God!” There they were: Four stalks of ruby red orchids in bloom.
Suddenly a motto I learned when I was a child came to mind, “Grow trees for everlasting happiness.”

Destroying to Protect Creation

About ten days later after battling the weeds in my garden, I began to see the little reddish sprouts of lettuce. The green peas were perhaps shy at the beginning; just one or two came out.
Since I had never seen a turnip plant, it was difficult to know which sprouts were turnips and which ones were weeds. Then again, I saw places where the seeds I had laid were germinating. What a pleasant mood they put me in!
Since it rained every two or three days, I did not have to give special care to the garden. However, my daily task was to fervently dig out the ever-growing, useless creepers with my three-pronged fork. They are fast to grow, and fast to destroy other plants. Some must have fallen as I carried the uprooted ones to the garbage, because the next day I found the roots were already clinging to the surface of the ground.
Every day, I wrestled with these pests. The weeds were not only ready to rise from death, they were also difficult kill. My neighbors and passersby must have been thinking, “This woman, stooping on her knees every day, is doing serious gardening!” They did not know I was pulling out plants, not planting them.
My saga turned into jubilation as I saw the little plants finally grow larger and larger each day. It improved my outlook as I realized that cultivating goodness includes protecting the process of growth. My weeding efforts were essential to the welfare of my garden.
The wild flowers that Jana did not pull out are now in full blossom with beautiful purple flowers. The lettuce is now about an inch high. The turnips and the green peas are growing well.  And the lone beet grown from one we bought at the supermarket, is now fluttering with leaves.
In the evening when my sons come home from school, we go to the garden.  The two of them connect the long hose to the faucet to water the plants. I, holding the three-pronged trowel, am ready for the search and destroy mission. As much as I will enjoy the bounties that are to come from my garden, I am at present enjoying the role of the terminator of the wicked weeds.

Translated by Aung Aung Taik
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