My Great-Granddaughter…
A Ngal Lay

This is a sequel to my last essay, When I Become President of the World…Things Are Going to Change. Again, this has to do with a critique of an old friend who thinks I want to control everything. If I had that ability, I would control a lot of dumb things some people are saying or doing in America. However, my desire isn’t to control everything.

That being said, I do have some control over some things like making sure Ti Ti gets a college education in Myanmar. Granted, that country is dealing with the coronavirus and a coup, over which I don’t have any control.

This is where my control issue rears its head again. Allow me to give you the backstory. I have been to Myanmar three times in the past eight years. On my first adventure, I had a tour guide at Inle Lake by the name of Moh Moh. She was an excellent guide. While showing me the area around Inle Lake, she would watch my reactions to what I saw.

I wasn’t aware of Moh Moh’s observation prowess until my second trip. Nonetheless, she watched and took note of things that fascinated me. The central thing that she noticed was my fascination with young kids. Whether the child was a toddler or older, I took pictures of them. Often, I would show the child the photo that I had taken of the child.

While it took me until my second trip before I realized it, Moh Moh noticed it within the first couple of days on my first trip to Inle Lake. While touring the area, she said she had to stop at her home to pick up my itinerary after leaving Inle Lake. Moh Moh apologized for wasting fifteen minutes picking up the paper about my next destination. However, in the same sentence, she said I could meet Ti Ti, her daughter, who was at home during winter break. Ti Ti was nine at the time.

Ti Ti greeted me with this question. “Hi! My name is Ti Ti. Do you want to play some games?” We played Scrabble on their living room floor. It was during that game that I found my granddaughter.

I have returned two times since that first trip. The last trip was our family tour together. Moh Moh and her husband, Ko Ko, set up our family tour. I told them that I wanted to revisit Bagan and Mt. Popa, but they were to pick places I hadn’t visited or even knew existed. Set Set Yo was such a place. It is a very small village not far from Bagan.

When we arrived at Set Set Yo, Moh Moh and Ko Ko brought pencils and notebooks for several dozen children. It was there that I happened to meet A Ngal Lay.

One of the fascinating things about the people in Myanmar is that they will create nicknames for their children. When a child is born, the child is given a name just like every newborn in the world. Sometimes, the child will get a nickname. For example, Nang Hsu Yati’s nickname is Ti Ti, which merely repeats her last name’s second syllable. There is another means for creating a nickname, which is naming something about the young child. Ti Ti’s two younger sisters’ nicknames are Snow and Fatty. Snow’s name is based upon her lighter skin color that is white as snow. Now, to be honest, I have been with Snow on three different trips to Myanmar. I haven’t noticed that her skin color is particularly different than her sisters. Fatty’s name is based upon her being a cubbing baby.

This is a recent photo of my granddaughters.

While Moh Moh and Ko Ko gave their gifts to the children, somehow, I wound up holding A Ngal Lay. A Ngal Lay is my nickname for her. Essentially, it means the little one. I got tired of calling her the little one when I would write about her. So, I asked Moh Moh to translate the phrase, the little one, into Myanmar.

That video and this picture of A Ngal Lay haunt me. I have pictures of my American and Myanmar families all over my home. The only other photo is of A Ngal Lay.

Moh Moh said that A Ngal Lay is my great-granddaughter. Fatty is my only granddaughter that refuses to call me PaPa Al. Instead, she calls me Bo Bo Gyi, which interestingly means great-grandfather.

I asked my friend, Than, to paint a picture of A Ngal Lay. Than is an excellent artist, and there are several of Than’s works around my home. However, the painting isn’t for me but rather for A Ngal Lay. At the time of our meeting, she was about to celebrate her first birthday.

Than sent me a step-by-step creation of his painting of A Ngal Lay. This is Than’s painting.

Now, this is where my wish to become president of the world enters the scene. I can’t control the coronavirus or the coup in Myanmar. However, this is where Moh Moh and Than enter the picture. They decided to ask A Ngal Lay’s aunt to deliver the painting when it is safe to travel. Than packaged the painting.

This is a photo of A Ngal Lay’s aunt and her husband getting the painting.

This part of the essay is the part that truly haunts me. One of my mentors is Gilgamesh, who lived nearly five millennia ago. He, too, wanted to control things in his life…like his immortality. After realizing that his clock was ticking, he said, “Forget death and seek life.” He did by discovering various reasons for being alive.

Eight years ago, I discovered my family in Myanmar. On each of my trips, I interacted with my family. My granddaughters have accumulated a litany of times that we shared together. That was especially true during our family tour two years ago. In one way, I have achieved immortality, at least in the memories of Ti Ti, Snow, and Fatty. Each of them knows that I see value in them. I hope to return for more family tours and add to each of them more memories.

This is the part that troubles me. A Ngal Lay will be three on New Year’s Day of 2022. I am not immortal when it comes to her like I am with my granddaughters. At least, she has a painting of our moment in time together. She will look at that painting and wonder what that guy in his twilight years thought about her.

I saw hope. As she and my granddaughters journey down their yellow brick roads of life, I want them to grasp that I saw something special about them. There is hope for Myanmar and the world in the younger generation.

Bobby Kennedy gave me hope that I could make the world a better place in which to live. He said, “Every generation inherits a world it never made; and, as it does so, it automatically becomes the trustee of that world for those who come after. In due course, each generation makes its own accounting to its children.”

Ti Ti, Snow, Fatty, and A Ngal Lay, remember this, “You go, girls.”