Do butterflies get wet in the rain? My “other life”

It was Saturday morning and I was sitting listening to the monsoonal rains pounding the garden, the earth welcoming this drenching.

This was the time I had set aside to think about Marie’s suggestion in her blog Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer that we describe our non Breast Cancer “other” life.  I find that I protect areas of my “other life” when blogging, in particularly in relation to my family and work, and try and maintain their privacy.  So I was struggling a bit to decide what was appropriate to share.

Instead of focusing on the task in hand, I found that my mind was wandering and my attention being drawn to a little black and orange butterfly outside in the bushes beside the mango tree.  He was flittering around, doing his butterfly work and seemingly oblivious to the rain.  The rain was not as heavy as it had been earlier, so perhaps he had come out of a sheltered spot.  My mind was off on a completely different trail.  I just could not help wondering – does this little butterfly not get wet?  I know his life span is short, is it further threatened by such torrential rain?  I learned very young that butterflies are very fragile and that even a touch could destroy their wings and kill the butterfly.  So where does he hide when the rains at are their heaviest, when it is too wet for most beings?  Does he have a rest from his tasks and wait for the rains to ease?  Or is he destroyed, defenceless and exposed to the elements?

I found myself unable to contain my curiosity about the butterfly and the rain, and finally conceded, keying in my question and sending it to the Natural Science cousin of Dr Google.  I was relieved to learn that butterflies are pretty wise little beings and they take refuge under leaves, in hedges or in other sheltered spots and protect themselves from the damaging rain.  Kind of obvious really.  But that was just the start of a path of discovery of all sorts of interesting things about butterflies.  It really made me smile to learn that female butterflies have a really neat little manoeuvre if they want to avoid unwanted male attention.  They just fold their wings flat, and they become invisible!  Don’t you just love it when you find out something new like that, when you are not even looking?

And that’s when I realised that I had not been avoiding my reflection on my other life.  I had been living it, allowing my curiosity to pursue a puzzle and my imagination to take off unhindered.  In my “other life”, I am always unbearably reminding family, friends and colleagues that “you learn something new every day”.  It is something I find particularly pertinent in my professional role as in education programming. As an adviser, I am anxious not to appear condescending, or “know it all” as I guide and support programming.  If I can demonstrate that I learn something new every day, then it reinforces the importance of learning and being open to new knowledge throughout our lives as well as ensuring that we all have that same chance to do so.  Learning is not discriminatory if we can be open to it.

When I think of my “other life” I recognise that it is a composite of many “lives” and I know that these have all played a role in the building the present day “other life”.  Even so, often I find it hard to believe that I am in this place, in such a fascinating environment and professionally enriching space.  I met up with a friend several months ago, as we just happened to be passing through Bangkok airport at the same time.  I was travelling from Colombo to Yangon and she was heading from Delhi to Hanoi.  Two Glasgow girls!!  Incredibly we not only transited through the same city on the same day, but we did so in the same short 2 hour window.  We had a crazy, 15 minute, standing in the transit passageways, squealy excited rendez-vous before rushing off to catch our respective onward flights.  Being Scots, and from a similar background we both giggled like schoolgirls as we marvelled at where we were.  Neither of us could have imagined living such a seemingly exotic, and definitely exciting life.  Neither of us came from the conventional routes into this, and hard work had been the main route to where we were, as well as having the mettle to grasp exciting opportunities even though they appeared daunting.  Most striking though, was the fact that back then, I could never have dreamed that I would be living this life now.  I always had a fantasy of living overseas, but with home responsibilities, a lack of what I believed was relevant skills and experience, and no obvious opportunities, it was a distant and unlikely dream.

So how on earth did it actually become a reality?

I realise that I have had a relatively unorthodox life and career path even when I was Scotland-based.  I went to university when I was 30, as a mature student with demanding domestic responsibilities.  I studied modern languages because that meant that my family and I would have the chance to spend time abroad.  We lived in France for a year, and spent a term in Belarus a few months after its independence as what was the Soviet Union was collapsing.  Not the best setting to improve my Russian language (in a revival of Belarusian) but a fascinating experience.  Those university years were tough, especially financially, but we undoubtedly gained much from it.  After graduating, I took up an interesting position in international affairs and programming in local government.  A great mix of the previous community development experience I had before university, and my love of language and international work.  I loved bringing an international dimension into lives of people who otherwise would not have that experience, including artists with disabilities and school pupils from difficult backgrounds.

Family responsibilities changed as we approached the new millennium, and after my Trans
Siberian Train adventure
I spotted my “dream job” advertised in the newspaper.  An international agency was looking to hire overseas, field staff to manage the development programmes.  Incredibly and fortunately, my unorthodox mix of experience and skills seemed to provide what was needed and I was offered a position in the Nepal programme.

I had only been to Asia once when I stepped off the plane in Kathmandu in July 2000 to take up that new job.  I had no idea what to expect.  The work was new, the country was new, the organisation was new, the language was unknown to me.  It was simultaneously terrifying and utterly thrilling.  I knew that I was taking a risk, and that it might not work out.  I also knew though, that if I did not at least give it a try I would have massive regret for the rest of my life that I had lost such an opportunity.

The fact that I am still in Asia, 11 years later, and still enthusing about this life, speaks for itself.

The thing I love about my work, throughout the 5 ½ years in Nepal as well as the following contracts in Mongolia, India, Sri Lanka and now Myanmar, is that there is a wonderful mix of practical grassroots work with strategic level work.  I love spending time in communities in remote parts of the country, listening and learning about the challenges in these areas, and developing an understanding of the context.  This gives me the background I need to be able to work at a strategic level, to support work towards ensuring that all children have a chance to have a quality education.  I enjoy working with colleagues to feed into the bigger picture and ensure that our work is grounded and appropriate.  I love the fact that one day I might be in meetings with the UN or diplomatic level colleagues, and another I can be in a very remote village, accessible only by bullock cart, talking with parents about their children’s care and development.  I still find it hard to believe where I am.  There is not a day goes by that I am not humbled and thankful.

The cancer encounter happened after 9 years in Asia, and thankful as I am that I am currently in NED’s company and have been mostly able to pick up the pieces, I would be naive and wrong to assume that nothing has changed. If I have a recurrence, it is highly likely that I would have to give extremely careful thought to whether or not I could continue life and work overseas for financial as well as practical reasons.  All the more reason to value what I have. 

I am not going to dwell on that right now.  That cancer diagnosis is a fact, and it is why the biggest areas of my life found themselves relegated for a bit.  Now I trust that it is just one more component of what all goes together to make up My Life.

14 thoughts on “Do butterflies get wet in the rain? My “other life”

    • Thanks J – now you have learned something for the day you can relax 😉

      The best part for me is learning such amazing things about online friends, and getting to know you too.
      Thanks 🙂

  1. I really loved reading this. Your life in Asia is so completely different from my own here in the city of Liverpool in England and I really relish that difference. I love nature too so the fascinating facts about butterflies are exactly the sort of thing I like to know!

    • Thanks Sarah – I love so much about living here, and yes it is different in many ways to life in the UK. But there are things I miss about the UK too – and your post about puffins really transported me right to the coastal parts of the UK. I always spend time on the west coast of Scotland, on a small island when I am back visiting family, and love to see the seals, and feel the freshness of the wind on my face. I wonder how on earth a butterfly would survive in Scottish gales – what does it hold on to? 😉

  2. Wow, Philippa, you’ve had quite the life! I didn’t know you were Scottish. My maiden name is Baird, so I do have Scotch blood. But I’ve not been to Scotland yet. Ireland was as close as I got last month.

    Learning about the other lives of our fellow breast cancer sistahs has been a fascinating exercise. Thanks for sharing about the butterflies. I especially liked the female maneuvers to avoid unwanted male attention. Can they demand that female-only rooms be included in their butterfly gyms? Thanks so much for sharing.


    • Thanks Jan – sometimes I can’t quite believe it, yes it has been an incredible journey and that is why I really don’t have huge regrets. How could I? How interesting that you have Scottish blood too – you are right it just gets more and more interesting as we all get to know each other 🙂

      I love your idea of a butterfly gym – I can just visualise it….. 🙂

  3. I absolutely loved this Philippa. I was curious to know how a scottish lassie ended up in such an exotic locale..and now I know 😉 What an interesting life you’ve led! I am envious! And…you truly are a writer (just had to say that again) – anyone who titles their post the way you did is surely a natural born writer and story-teller. Thanks for sharing a glimpse of the other life of the Feisty Blue Gecko 🙂

    • Oh Marie, thank you so much for your encouragement and lovely words – you are making me blush again! Yes, I really find it amazing to think back at how I got here, it is such a privilege being here and having the chance to live such an interesting life. It’s really humbling. And inspiring!

      I am really looking forward to seeing all of these “other lives” stories – there are some wonderful stories.

      Thanks for putting such a great idea into action 🙂

  4. Philippa,
    As an educator myself, I am in awe of what you have accomplished. Your life and career path sound incredibly amazing to me. This was so interesting to read and you are absolutely right in saying by observing that butterfly you were living your other life. You were being a learner. You were being you. Simply beautiful. Thank you for sharing a bit of yourself. My best to you as you continue your great work.

    • Nancy, it’s lovely to know that we re in a similar field. I just feel incredibly lucky to have been able to follow this path, and often have to pinch myself to make sure it is real. (Except the yucky cancer bit of course 😉 )

      Yes, it is so true, if we keep our minds open we can be constantly learning 🙂 Thanks so much for your support.
      P x

  5. P,
    Wow… I am so glad you directed me to this page in your blog. Butterflies have a very significant place in my life and in my heart so to see the blog title, I was blown away! There are NO coincidences in this life and it seems everyone with whom I have connected, there is also one of these “odd coincidences.” Your life and the journey upon which you embarked is both fascinating and SO admirable. I am thrilled I made a new sister friend! Your blog link is on my blog page!!! I hope I have enough people reading it and that they will click on the link to read yours. You inspire me to continue on my journey toward a different life. I admonished my daughter with her “idealistic” cliches, “Mom, it’s never too late!” … and here I sit. With a complete change in my life path away from the insanity of running the financials of NYC commercial constructions companies (husband’s, and by association MY companies)…. and now, I am on a philanthropic path with volunteer work at Sloan Kettering where they took such good care of me… and with Love/Avon and The Army of Women. And, I began blogging out of a love of writing. Chemobrain has caused enough “brain havoc” with numbers that I had to switch it up. AGAIN, THIS is inspirational for me to read. And… it’s this that reinforces the decisions I am making to finally pursue what stirs me.

    With love,

    • My goodness AnneMarie – I don’t know where to start to reply to your lovely comment. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your story, and yes I also believe that some things are “meant to be”. I am so glad you are following your heart and instincts. It is tough sometimes going against the grain, but the sense of doing what matters is very powerful and just feels “right”. I feel that I am incredibly lucky in my own journey, I look back and wonder how on earth I was so fortunate to be in the place I am now, that is physical space and mental, emotional, professional and everything space. I am so looking forward to reading your blog when I am out of country soon – I will have such a lot to catch up on. IN the meantime, thanks to Twitter and and other spaces we can keep connected 🙂 Hugs from rainy Yangon 🙂 P xx

  6. Dear P, I was rereading my old butterfly post, “Metaphor,” which you commented on, and finally got over here to read this. The amazing syncronicities that we sometimes experience are truly wonderful, aren’t they? And they mean so much more now. I love what you found out about butterflies — and I love that, like my own experience, you noticed that you could still live and feel your ‘other life,’ and appreciate it more now, because of the journey cancer has forced us all to take.

    You’ve certainly led a remarkable life, my friend! But whether we go far afield, as you have, or stay closer to home, it’s good to know we can still travel outside of the cancer sphere & appreciate the blessings of our other journeys. Very reassuring! And BTW, my grandfather’s name was Cunningham, a fine old Scots name, eh??


  7. After seeing the title of this piece on your fb feed I had to google it! It was such a great piece Phillipa! I did not know these facts about butterflies!

    I also really identified with this paragraph:

    “Being Scots, and from a similar background we both giggled like schoolgirls as we marvelled at where we were. Neither of us could have imagined living such a seemingly exotic, and definitely exciting life. Neither of us came from the conventional routes into this, and hard work had been the main route to where we were, as well as having the mettle to grasp exciting opportunities even though they appeared daunting. Most striking though, was the fact that back then, I could never have dreamed that I would be living this life now. I always had a fantasy of living overseas, but with home responsibilities, a lack of what I believed was relevant skills and experience, and no obvious opportunities, it was a distant and unlikely dream.”

    This sounds exactly like my life and my route into development work. Sitting in those rainy classrooms in a Glasgow state school or even in those freezing lecture theatres at Edinburgh University – nobody ever thought to suggest or encourage us students into doing work that we might love, or which might be inspiring, or exotic, adventurous or fun. We were just encouraged into something safe, conformist, which would pay a wage. I always wonder when I go back to Scotland and everyone gawps at me for living in a place they can’t pronounce or criticises me for not being Scottish enough, why did we not get presented these options too? And why is living abroad and learning new ways not Scottish?

    Why do we Scots not want to inspire our children? And what can I do now to inspire the next generation? I know that if I can do it, anyone can. I had no advantages, no connections only a decent state education, a whole lot of determination and a good, strong work ethic. So your paragraph reminded me of what I so often wonder … how can we get other Scots to realise that it really is possible to go after your dreams?

    Thanks again for sharing this piece 🙂

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