The boys looked hesitant, more nervous than fearful, as the older monks approached them with razors. Using short swipes, the monks carefully shaved their hair as family members held white sheets under them, catching the fallen strands as a later offering. It would be the first step in their new lives as monks, and the feelings showed openly on all faces.
I was at Kyaikthanlan Pagoda in Burma, where I'd just come across a monk initiation ceremony taking place for five boys from the town. At first, I'd heard a type of traditional music which drew me to one end of the pagoda. There, I saw the family members dressed in their finest, gold jewellery and freshly pressed longyi at the ready, and though I was originally hesitant to watch, I tried to take a respectful distance from the ceremony in case gawkers weren't welcome. However, I had barely hovered at the fringe of the ceremony for a minute before one of the mothers saw me and invited me to join, gesturing that I should take pictures and extending the white cloth for me to hold. After that, my afternoon was commandeered. The family wanted me to meet the head monk, attend the formal initiate ceremony in one of the inner halls, and come to lunch with them later. Though we had little common language outside of mutual curiosity, this family opened a very important moment in their lives to a complete stranger, for which I felt nothing but thankfulness.
And once the razors were away, the boys had smiles all around.