The Winds of Change

The winds of change are definitely in the air.  The days are becoming drier, more sunny and very hot.  There is still a good amount of rain, some torrential, but the skies are looking different.  There are swathes of blue, punctuated by white, grey and inky black cloud formations. It is a beautiful time of year, the vegetation lush and rich from the rains but now set amidst bright sunshine and clouds with character and feist.

As I discussed in my last post too, it another season is newly underway.  Personally, it is my anniversary season.  In only two days time I will silently and sombrely recall the words which changed life forever for me and those close to me.  The “this is highly suspicious of cancer” words.  Those days were followed rapidly by surgery, pathology reports, chemo and all the attendant extras that these entail. It is a rough and stormy season and one which I will be glad to be on the other side of, just like a rough storm indeed.

It is also a season which is becoming increasingly divisive within what is a close and highly supportive online (and offline) community of breast cancer veterans.  (Hmm – apart from the war and fighting associations – I think I might prefer veteran to survivor as a term?  A veteran being anyone who has crossed over the “you have cancer” line….  just thinking out loud here).  The season is of course Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) – often called Pink October.  I personally believe, looking at this from a global perspective, that there is no right or wrong in terms of BCAM.  The context varies wildly and we cannot prescribe for another situation.  I very much disagree with hijacking a cause or issue for profit, but will never tire of trying to highlight the very different context here and the challenges for, particularly women, in the developing world.

Many winds and crosswinds are blowing during October.

So while these serious winds of change are sweeping through our lives, what better time to step back and refresh the visual image backing the blog.  This time I have selected an image from my travels again, but the elements which I wish to share are ones which are universal.  A sinking sun against a sky scattered with cloud formations, reflected on the water.  Foliage silhouetted against the darkening sky.  The mood of the sky captures the winds of the changing season and the promise of dry days and retreating rains.

This is the complete image, and very shortly (as connectivity allows) the image will appear as the background for the next few weeks.

Season’s Greetings

It can be very confusing listening to a Scottish person speaking.  We use many words and expressions in their own unique way and often these are not abundantly clear.  For example, we go to the shop or supermarket for our messages.  Does that sound strange?  Well, it is not strange to us at all.  It simply means shopping, particularly our grocery or food shopping.  Another word we use a lot is “piece” and you would often hear talk of a cheese piece, a piece and jam (jeely piece) or be asked “what’s in your pieces today?”  To us, a piece means sandwich,. So we also have piece-boxes which are used for packed lunches.  Not quite like the tiffin pot which holds hot food and meals, the piece box holds sandwiches and maybe an apple!

One deliciously expressive word we use a fair bit is “greet”.  It has nothing to do with the broader English language definition of “to salute or welcome in a friendly and respectful way with speech or writing, as upon meeting or in opening a letter”  Oh no – we use it rather it as a colloquial term for crying or weeping and it also has the sense of complaining or grumbling.  It is not a flattering term.  Greeting is not the word we would use for a dignified, composed weep.   And it is none too sympathetic or generous.  The image conjured up of someone greeting is of a contorted face, scarlet and probably snottery, and a significant noise volume attached to it.  To have a greeting face is not something to aspire to at all, with its associations of crabbitness and grump.  (Crabbit being another wonderful expression in Scottish slang for grumpy or miserable).  For example, this description from the Scots Language Centre quotes the use of “greeting face” which is most definitely not a compliment.

So that is the greeting.  But what is the season?  Well, for me it is the season of memories, milestones, landmark days and anniversaries.  We are also on the threshold of Breast Cancer Awareness Month which in itself creates a considerable stooshie around the globe. (A stooshie being another wonderful Scots word for a commotion, rumpus, or row, or a state of excitement or anxiety; a tizzy).  And there is one serious stooshie on the horizon across the blogosphere and breast cancer world.  Thoughts on that stooshie are for another day, today my thoughts relate to that season as it relates to my own experience.

Today marks the start of this season.  For it was 23 September 2009 when I discovered the lump and life as I knew it took a turn for the very different.  The landmark days come hurtling at me after that, with October 2 marking The Day I Found Out, my Cancerversary.  That was the day I heard those life-changing, burned-onto-my-memory words “this is highly suspicious of cancer”. On October 5 I had my surgery, lost my left breast along with its tumours, a heap of lymph nodes and their nasty cells and gained Twang Arm.  Although I spent most of the day unconscious, it is certainly a day I will never forget!  On 21 October my portacath was implanted in time for the first chemo on 23 October.  Exactly a month after the day I found the lump.

So it is a season for greeting, remembering, reflecting and to a certain extent, re-living those traumatic days of October 2009.  Add to that the annual Big Check with the attendant scans, examinations and appointments and you have a very sensitive season indeed.

So please excuse me if I get a bit prickly this season…

Kaleidoscope view of a week celebrating the ordinary

At the start of Marie’s challenge, I realised that I was in danger of finding far too many images which I would be unable to resist sharing.  And that turned out to be absolutely the case.  Living and working in Myanmar means that I am surrounded by everyday, ordinary extraordinary sights, and the chance to share the celebration of these was a gift of a challenge.

I knew within the first day or so that I would struggle to select images, and had in my mind to have a follow up post with the images which did not make the final cut. And this is that post.  It is a bit of a mish mash but that really says it all.  I have a kaleidoscope impression of the images which struck me, and that will be reflected in this kaleidoscope post.  All the more so, because I have deliberately kept these in the order which they were taken, they are not in groups of “like” or similar photos.

As I got up for my dawn swim in day one of the challenge, slipped on my swimsuit and clothes to head out to the pool, something caught the corner of my eye even before I left the bathroom.  At the top of the window, hiding between the outside slats, was a little gecko.  Just one side was visible, and his front and rear legs on one side peeping out from the slats.  A clear omen for the week!  A gecko, pointing the way for a week of pictures.

You can just see him, peeking out near the top of the window..

The morning after taking the picture with the brush lying beside our front door, I saw this brush seller on our lane.  He also feather dusters made of chicken feathers.

And only a few yards further down is one of my favourite sights.  There are a number of mysterious, overgrown gardens, not currently inhabited.  I love to imagine what is behind the gate, and how exciting it would be to explore these “secret gardens” and find myself transported to the world of Frances Hodgson Burnett and childhood reading memories.

Later on, my eye is caught by the traditional dishes in a local restaurant, the food bursting with flavour and freshness.

As the week progressed, I was out of town one of the days and could not resist the beautiful everyday scenes all around me.  Such as the water buffalo grazing beside the paddy fields…

The picturesque waterways and traditional wooden boats.

And the simple sight of the curtain knotted, to allow the light in.

Locally produced vegetables drying in the sun.

The houses, built from timber, with raised walkways to allow for the rising waters.

Boys playing chinlon as the day closes.

A barefoot monk, standing under his maroon umbrella.

More traditional homes

A local stall.

Standing room only at a busy junction.

The ubiquqitous umbrella pot, with its ever changing assortment of umbrellas – essential in this climate!

These stands with drinking water are also available everywhere.  Another essential in this climate.

After the great interest in the humble tiffin box, I could not resist taking this photograph of these young women heading home with their tiffin pots.

And the following pics show the regular transportation.  There are many tiffin boxes here too, as passengers use one hand to hold on and the other to carry their lunch!

And towards the end of the week, another trader stops at this gate to sell bananas through the railings.

What an extraordinary week, and how wonderful is the ordinary.

On a bicycle built for three

After sharing the picture of the three people on a bicycle (the young woman, baby and man)  as part of the week celebrating the ordinary, I was spurred on to fulfil my own plan to get myself a bicycle.

Now there is another reason for this plan, and that is linked to a change in the place where I will be going for my morning swim as the dry season rolls in.  Instead of having a walk of less than 10 minutes, the new pool is just over 20 minutes walk away.  That would make a walk of 40 minutes just getting to and from the pool.  Added to that would be a 35 – 40 minute half mile swim, followed by the time needed for showering and changing.  I would need to get up around 5 am to be able to do that all before breakfast!  Or be very late to work every day. Neither option appealed particularly.  Hence the plan to acquire a bike!

Saturday was taken up with the usual tasks and bits and pieces, and disappeared rather rapidly.  On Sunday I was determined to get out and scope the bike shops, getting a sense of what might be available, price ranges and sizes.  Size is very important on account of my legs being a good bit shorter than the average adult legs! (In the gym, my feet can’t reach the pedals on one of the 3 exercise bikes, so that rather limits my choice if the wrong 2 are in use!)  I had my heart set on returning home by the end of the day, with a bike sticking out of the boot of the taxi!

Happily hubby J had been doing a good pre-scoping exercise and had a bike in mind, so our trip round the first shop was quick and confirmed the range of what was available.  Or not available in terms of my requirements!  So we headed out of town next, to the bigger bike shop which had basic, non fancy, non mountain, non geared-to-the-hilt bikes.  I neither wanted nor needed more than 2 or 3 gears.  I can’t use more than that and anyway, it gets too complicated!

It was a nice drive out of town towards a local market and temple area bustling with activity.  But to my utter disappointment I found that the bike shop was most decidedly closed.  And the bike hubby J had identified as “my ideal bike” was locked away safely inside.

There was another bike shop nearby and I did have a good scout around that, giving clear guidance to hubby in terms of my requirements.  It had to be small.  But with big wheels.  It had to have sit-up-and-beg handlebars.  A basket on the front was important, though that of course could be fitted later.  Blue would be good.  Of course!  And the minimum of gears.  And a happy sounding bell!

Now my heart was set on the bike, and there was no possibility of me getting back to the shop before Saturday, I conceded that hubby should undertake “operation bike procurement” at the soonest.  As in Monday morning.

So when I arrived home from work on Monday evening, this is what was waiting for me in the porch…………………….

……. my beautiful new, shiny “Feisty Blue Gecko” bike, with 3 gears, sit-up-and-beg handlebars, a seat so low my feet can touch the ground, a basket on the front, a space for passengers on the back.

And a very happy sounding bicycle bell!  🙂 🙂 🙂

Assault on Twang Arm



It is Saturday morning and the week has again been a full and busy one. Plans for the weekend’s activities are a bit on hold due to a depression and intense monsoon downpours.  The rain has been heavy all night, thundering down outside my bedroom window. This morning our garden is sodden and pools of brown water are rising above the taller of the blades of grass.  Even the frogs and toads are silent, hiding patiently and saving their voices for the post downpour chorus.

We have had a heavier monsoon than usual this year.  Only two weeks ago I was caught in a sudden and furious rainstorm, while trying to get home quickly.  Floodwaters rose rapidly and I found myself retreating into a small space.

The reason for my hurry home was a good one.  My cohabitation with Twang Arm might have turned into a state of mutual tolerance, but that does not mean there is any love lost on either side.  I resent and dislike Twang Arm, which in turn continues to intrude into my life and takes delight in constraining my movement.  As those of use cohabiting with Twang Arms, know, this needs a highly specialist kind of physiotherapy to work to improve movement and reduce pain and unfortunately I have not been able to access such specialist physio here.

So I was delighted when I heard from a friend that a well renowned, specialist physiotherapist would be visiting Myanmar on a very short (6 day) holiday.  My friend made a special plea to Monsieur Le Physio to see me and explained about Twang Arm.  M Le Physio said that he would indeed try and fit in a session with Twang Arm and me.  We made tentative arrangements through email and just after he arrived, he called and we fixed an appointment time.  On the second day of his holiday.

He gave Twang Arm a thorough workout, apologising for the discomfort and recognising that this was indeed a fairly nasty dose of Twangery. He also gave me a routine of exercises to do 2 – 3 times daily to maintain an ongoing assault to weaken the Twang.  Even at the end of the session I had great movement although that was accompanied by the necessary bruising and discomfort that a rigorous de-twanging entails.  But I finally, after nearly three years, felt that a major attack had been unleashed on Twang Arm and that its position of strength would be significantly reduced.

M Le Physio said that my Twang Arm was indeed an impressive one, and that he would try and fit in another session before he left the country.  He would be heading out of town early the next morning, and returning on the Wednesday, to fly onwards out of Myanmar later that same day.  He promised to phone as soon as he landed in Yangon, and to fit in a session before his onward flight.  What a star!

Over the next couple of days I treated friends and colleagues to an ongoing compulsory display of Twang Arm’s new moves, to some very bemused and disinterested expressions. I got up earlier to fit in the extra 20 – 25 minutes of physio to my already early start.  All while waiting eagerly for Wednesday to see if Mons Le Physio’s itinerary would indeed be able to fit in another  assault on Twang Arm.  The monsoon weather also plays games with travel, with regular disruptions and even cancellations in extreme conditions so I knew that this was a fragile arrangement.

So when I got the phone call on the Wednesday, late morning that M Le Physio had just landed at Yangon airport, and would come directly to my home I was super-pleased.  Even if I did know it would involve pain!  I already had permission to take time for this health priority, so headed quickly to catch a taxi home.

But there was a problem.  The sky was dark and had already started unleashing incredible amounts of rainwater.  In front of my eyes the street was starting to flood.

The rainwater was rising steadily and rapidly as I headed round the corner to the spot where I could catch a taxi.

The pavement was still not flooded, and there was a taxi there. In a matter of minutes, though the pavement was also underwater and the taxi was clearly going nowhere!

I retreated into the building behind me, which has a parking area on the ground level, and this is slightly elevated compared with the pavement level. And the water kept rising and rising.

And I kept retreating further and further in with the cars in the parking area!

I was now getting really anxious about my appointment with M Le Physio – the airport is on the opposite part of town and I had visions of being stranded in a parking lot while he would be waiting fruitlessly at home.  Sabotage by Twang Arm?  Who knows!

I was very, very fortunate to see a friend starting to manoeuvre his four wheel drive out of the area and seeing me he asked if he could give me a lift.  More accurately, if he could rescue me!!  I leapt at the offer and in a few minutes we were cruising (every pun intended) through the floodwaters and to my part of town.  It is not far, only a 20 minute walk under usual conditions, but I could not even cross the road in those rains!

In fact, I arrived home even before M Le Physio got there from the airport, and so was able to have witness a second serious assault launched on Twang Arm.  This included a revision of the exercise regime and some straight talking with Twang Arm directly, as well as expert manipulation.  All contributing to a clear reduction of Twang Arm’s dignity and previous position of strength! M Le Physio reckons that with regular and disciplined exercise I should probably be able to regain up to 80% of my arm’s movement.  Oh did I just call it “my arm”?  Doesn’t that just show a rapprochement which could even lead towards reintegration of my arm into my own identity! Yes, it is a complex relationship that I currently have with Twang Arm!

After the session, M Le Physio had to rush off.  The rains had abated, fortunately, and he was able to leave without being drenched.  He had to return to the airport, this time the international terminal, for a flight on to Bangkok.  And from Bangkok he was flying to London…………

And he was flying to London on a very special assignment.  He would arrive there in time to meet up with the national team of the nearby country (where he is based) who were to be competing in the Paralympics, as the team physio.

Now, how cool is that!!

An ordinary sight on the way to work

A little more of the everyday ordinary in Yangon.

This is a regular sight – and I took this photo on my way to work last week when we were snapping ordinary moments.


This is an ordinary bicycle and it is entirely usual to have at least three people on it.  The mum balances gracefully on the bike while holding an umbrella to protect her baby from the sun as well as holding on carefully to her baby.  The man is wearing the traditional Myanmar longyi with a less traditional (and until recently a rare sight) mobile phone sticking out of the waist.  The front basket also regularly holds an infant.

I have a secret plan to get myself a runaround bike this weekend, to use as the rains start to abate.  But I will not be taking any passengers, for their own safety!  Nor will I be riding one-handed while I hold my umbrella aloft!

Day 7 Saturday – celebrating the ordinary, every day

It was Saturday.  Saturday marked the final day of Marie’s challenge to celebrate the ordinary.  Saturday is also the day to see to those tasks which cannot be taken care of in the busy work week.

One of those tasks is to stock up on supermarket essentials.  The rains had abated somewhat, although the sky was still heavy, so I decided to walk there.  It is a pleasant walk, through the Golden Valley area.  I made sure I had my camera in my pocket but I had little idea of what to capture for the day’s challenge. I did know, however, that I would not be short of inspiration or material.

I had only been walking for a short time, when my eye caught a magical sight at the roadside.  A dawn downpour had left its mark in the leaves in the hedgerow.  Each leaf was shaped like a little vessel and contained a miniature pool of clear monsoon water.

The perfect image for celebrating the ordinary – what can be more ordinary than leaves and water?

I did feel somewhat self conscious, bent over and photographing what must have looked like nothing in particular to the occasional passers by.  Especially when I moved closer in, attempting to capture the glint of light in the captured drop.

Simple, ordinary, vital and worthy of celebration.

Post Script:

My attempts to post Saturday’s image were sabotaged by consistent internet evaporation, hence the delay in posting this.

On Sunday, I realised that I was still walking around on the lookout for images.  Which is not so different from my usual state, but definitely heightened.  This week I have captured a wide range of images in number as well as in how they represent celebration of the ordinary.  It is my intent to post the images which did not quite “make the cut” in a few day’s time with some reflections of the challenge.  In the meantime, here is Marie’s overview of the week in its wonder, synchronicity and inspiration.