One of the first things that caught my attention when I arrived in Ranong, Thailand in June 2010 was the white painted faces of children, men and women. Later, I knew that those white painted faces were distinctive to Myanmar people. The cream they use to paint their faces is called “tanaka”.
Tanaka is a yellow brownish paste made of a fragrant ground bark from Tanaka tree. The paste is applied on face, neck, arms and legs to moisture the skin and protect from the sun. It has been used for over 2000 years in Myanmar.
Wearing tanaka symbolizes beauty, culture and tradition among Myanmar people. Young and old, men and women are wearing tanaka on their faces.
Living in Ranong for more than two years, I see the real faces behind the tanaka; faces of suffering HIV-Aids patients, neglected youth and children and exploited workers. They are the underprivileged people from Myanmar who live in Ranong as migrant workers.
Yet despite of the difficult situations where they are in, one can see how they bear all those hardships for the sake of, at least, experiencing a better life that they haven’t experienced in their own country.
Teaching the students at MEC and relating with other people enables me to immerse much deeper into their own situation. Students and our Burmese staff whose parents, brothers and sisters are in Myanmar, or working somewhere in Thailand, mother and father separated from each other, hide their loneliness behind the “tanaka”.
Tanaka, once applied to the skin, gives a cooling effect. It makes someone feels beautiful. As I perform my task as a teacher and as a friend, somehow I am able to help them realize that there is something greater, something good in life than the difficulties they experience. I like them to see that life is beautiful spite of the ugliness they feel in own lives.
As we continue our work amongst the Myanmar migrant workers in Ranong, our presence may give a soothing effect to the difficulties they carry. We may somehow be a “tanaka” to them.
“Rev. Arnold Garferio, sm is a Marist deacon. He was the first Filipino Marist to be ordained as deacon in Ranong, Thailand. In this article, he reflects on his journey on mission in the Thai-Burma border. This journey was part of his Marist Mission Experience (MME) in Ranong, Thailand. “