More than a broken camera

My little blue, point and shoot camera has given up the ghost and stopped working.  Recently it sometimes refused to start up, but with a sneaky battery boost it would forget its obstinacy and wake up. But now it has completely frozen, lens protruding and a malfunction message.  No pulse, no heartbeat. No response to resuscitation attempts.

And my mind is similarly paralysed, paranoia lodged firmly in my brain.  I am quietly freaking out.

I have just returned from a field visit to our project sites in a township in a remoter part of the country, and as always took far too many photographs.  Each time I switched on the camera, to capture a passing image or moment I nervously awaited the digital start up beep to tell me the camera was functioning.  Then on our flight back this morning, as I switched it on to snap a sight which caught my eye, I was disappointed that it gave a little warning “ting”.  A message told me there was a lens malfunction and to restart the camera.  Which I did.  Only to receive a repeat message. Again and again I tried.Nothing.  The lens is still stuck.  The camera appears to be dead.

I have visited this same township before. And bizarrely, the camera I had then started to malfunction while in that very same township. That was my old, faithful first digital camera, which had taken thousands of photographs in Nepal, Thailand, China, Mongolia, India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the UK and of course the early months in Myanmar. I had bought it nearly four years previously and had dragged it everywhere with me, loving the novelty of digital images. I especially enjoyed the fact that I could never run out of film.  But the screen stopped functioning during that visit, and all images were plain white. My camera had come to the end of its short but intense life, and has lain at rest in a drawer ever since.

My very first digital camera

My very first digital camera

The visit to that township was in September 2009.  Eleven short days after my return to Yangon from that field visit, with my defunct camera, I discovered a lump in my breast.  A few days after that I was sitting in consulting room No 59 in Bangkok’s Samitivej Hospital, the words “highly suspicious……… cancer….. highly suspicious…….. cancer………. cancer……… cancer” ringing all around me. The rest is history, as in the history of the feisty blue gecko entering new and unwanted territory. Within twenty days from my return to Yangon with my broken camera in September 2009, I had had major surgery and the confirmation that I had two tumours and cancer in six lymph nodes.

The neat little camera which has finally broken today, was a replacement for the camera which did not last after that earlier field visit.  And just to add the icing to the bitter tasting cake?  My cute, lucky blue, newly broken camera was my very first chemo treat.

My cute little blue camera - chemo treat No 1

My cute little blue camera – chemo treat No 1

My next round of checks is in directly front of me, and the associations between the first field visit, the broken camera and the word cancer echoing around the room, are too obvious for my fragile mind not to draw immediate parallels.

Add that to the recent raised markers and increased medical surveillance. Is it surprising that my mind has rushed into a dark space?  Is it any wonder that I am quietly freaking out?

Reason tells me that the broken cameras and that particular town are nothing more than a quirky coincidence.  But a sensitive mind darts into irrational places.  Particularly a mind which has already been pushed into dark corners it never dreamed existed.


Changing views

It is time for a change of scene again.

I have selected a new image as a background picture, one which brings a set of warming associations.  This brings memories of the adventure I embarked on, visiting Mrauk U at Christmas 2011. Memories of another stepping stone moving forward, regaining confidence and travelling alone to a place I had long wanted to visit.

The story and pictures of this adventure are to be found in a few write-ups, and the overview with all links is all to be found here.

setting off for Mrauk U

I have selected this particular picture, taken as our boat was pulling out of Sittwe shrouded in mist, because I feel it captures the emotion, the mystery and the anticipation of the whole adventure.

Happening Yangon!

So it is Sunday evening, my planned post (about my personal Irrawaddy Literary Festival experience) is nowhere near ready ……  I have been guided by my five stickies for this weekend but still I have things to cram into the final hours of the weekend.

Why is this?  I am being focused, and fairly productive.  So why am I way behind on my blogging?

I can tell you why.  Happily, there is not an underlying or upperlying cancery reason for this which is in itself worth noting.  Rather the opposite in fact. It is because life in Yangon these days is really busy – Yangon is happening!!  Combine that with current good health, and the result is that I am spoilt for choice when it comes to activities and ways to spend my leisure time.

happening Yangon

This week was particularly busy.  On Monday our Book Club met, and we talked about Ali Smith’s Book “There but for the“. On Tuesday the new Yangon Photography Club met to share images on the first month’s theme – Transport.  I tend to see things a little differently, and one of my contributions (frog on a bike 🙂 ) for the evening was discussed, despite my camera being the only point and shoot in the group. This little frog was unexpectedly clinging on to my bike as I was leaving for my my regular swim and I was able to get a very quick shot.

Yangon 2013 018c

Very helpful to get suggestions and feedback and a spur to upgrade my camera.  Scary but exciting territory.

On Wednesday evening, our Writing Group met and we spent another inspiring and interesting evening, sharing our work and giving feedback to each other.  We assigned ourselves with a task for the next meeting – a try at flash fiction with a writing prompt.  It is good to try something new.  Also a bit scary though!

Half the week had already disappeared in a flurry of activity and energy.  And it did not stop there.  Thursday evening, saw a wonderful get together to bid a wonderful couple farewell as they prepare to leave Yangon at the end of their assignment.  It was one of those evenings when you really bask in a rosy flow of contentment in the company of special people.

And then it was Friday evening and the working week already over.  In addition to the evening activities, I enjoyed my daily cycle (now up to 6.5 km every morning) and half mile swim.

There are so many options and choices in the city – have a look at the WhatsonYangon site to get a sense of the variety.  If you have a look at the “blogs from here” links on the right hand side bar of this page, you will also see that the number of blogs is growing.

The city is happening indeed!


And that is why I am not quite ready to share my experience of the recent Irrawaddy Literary Festival.  But it is coming very soon, I promise!

What if…………




These are principles which are at my core, which fire my soul more than I care to admit. They underpin all that drives me.

And I am driven by two critical injustices in the world.

There is no cure for cancer.

Access to a good education is out of reach for far too many.

cancer and education

So this very simple statement doing the rounds on Facebook has hit me with breathtaking force and unusually prompted me to stick my head way over the parapet and shout.

What if…………………?

A Cosmic Coincidence

The cosmic events of the past day have reminded me of visiting the Natural History Museum in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia when I travelled through in 1999.  I remember being astounded by one of the exhibits. There in the midst of one of the rooms was a chunky great shiny black stone, around the size of a beer barrel just sitting on the floor.  It was a meteorite.  A real meteorite from outer space.  We could touch it, and prod it and it certainly looked “other worldly” with its smoothish, dimpled surface.  The fact that this piece of extra-terrestrial treasure was not secured behind bars or a glass cabinet has been noted in a number of guide books and blogs, and it is actually not so surprising that it is not locked away.  Have you any idea how heavy a meteorite is?  There was no way this lump of rock could be moved let alone lifted or spirited away.  It is surprising that the floor did not sag underneath it.


I tried to find a picture of this meteorite to share here and came across an even more fascinating discovery.  Most of the photographs of meteorites which came up in my image search, came up on E-bay!  Seriously?! You can browse for meteorites, dump a few in your shopping cart (as if it could bear the weight) and then arrange to have it shipped to you.  Or perhaps just launched across the stratosphere!  The meteorite in this advert was much smaller than the one I had seen in Mongolia, at around 16″ but it weighs nearly 50kg!  No wonder the one I saw just sat undisturbed!

The other cosmic event, which has taken the world’s attention is of course the fact that an asteroid, cited as being the size of an Olympic swimming pool, narrowly missed colliding with Earth.  Apparently it passed closer to the Earth’s surface than the satellites cruising around up there, seeming to dodge around them


With climate change discussions and natural disasters we already feel vulnerable and insignificant as humans.  But somehow we feel that little bit more equipped to deal with many types of disasters.  However, I think that stuff falling out of the sky from outer space is far more scary.  A collision with the asteroid which has just trundled past us waving at the astronomers watching and holding their breath, would probably (according to the news report I heard) obliterate around 750 square miles.  How tiny and insignificant do we feel in that type of event?

The meteorite fall in Russia was a major cosmic event, instantly shooting to the top of the news reports globally.  For there to be another significant astronomic happening within a few hours is astonishing and really makes us stop and think of our insignificance in the global and intergalactic scheme of things.  Albeit somewhat incompatible with our elevated opinion of ourselves as a species.   So how convincing is it to hear that two such momentous occurrences are a “cosmic coincidence?”  A coincidence?  Really?

Earlier in the week, before these cosmic surprises, I was working with a number of specialist colleagues who came here to contribute to our programme planning.  I have met most of the visitors before, including one woman who I had been introduced to briefly in our regional office.  So in the course of our work together this week, I realised that she had a gentle Scottish accent.  A little like mine, in that it seemed to have been rubbed smooth at the edges as a result of living overseas for a number of years.  This tends to happen a lot to Scottish accents  overseas.  We have to soften them somewhat so that we can be understood.  Otherwise life can become lonely as people get a bit tired of asking us to repeat what we have said more than three times and drift away.  This week, as fellow Scots, it did not take long for one of us to ask where in Scotland the other came from. My colleague told me the name of the village she came from,  her face conveying the expectation that I would not have heard of it.   To my surprise, and to hers, it was a village very close to the village I grew up in, less than 20 kilometres away.  And being a rural area, all children from a wide catchment area around would go to the same secondary school.  Which of course was the next question.  With the confirmation that we did go to the same school, the next question was “when?”  Incredibly we were at that same small rural school at the same time (two years between us).  After the day’s work we were able to reminisce and catch up on the far too many intervening years. Who on earth would have thought that forty odd years after travelling on the same school bus and sitting in the same classrooms, we would meet up on the other side of the planet, here in Myanmar?


And in my view, that  truly was an astonishingly cosmic coincidence!

The Five Stickie Plan

How many times do you get to a Sunday evening, as the sun sets on the weekend, and you wonder where the weekend disappeared to?  And moreso, what did you do during the “rest days”.  Has yet another weekend been squandered?

This is something very much at the forefront of my thoughts, in the “carpe diem” mood which characterises the very specific increment of time “between checks in a hopefully post treatment phase”.  I feel almost a sense almost of urgency. Of “carpe that diem”. Because you just don’t know what’s ahead.  And if I were to tumble from this very precarious path that is NED, (which I am not exactly firmly upon if I am to be honest with myself) I want to have no regrets that I have squandered away good health time and not maintained a sensible work life balance.  A great deal of time is dedicated to my amazing but highly demanding day job, so the weekend is particularly precious.

A few weeks ago, with a weekend looming and the compulsion to make the most of it ever present, I pulled out some of my cute fluorescent sticky post-it notes to jot down a few reminders of things I wanted to do over the weekend. To avoid that very “where did the weekend go and what on earth did I actually do?” pang on the Sunday evening.

I scrawled “toe nails” on the first sticky and “finish reading my book” on another.  The fact that Book Club was meeting on the Monday was not in the slightest coincidental!

I know that the number 3 is much more auspicious than 2, so cycle and/or swim quickly appeared on another sticky.  I was on a roll.  I knew I wanted to commit a blog post to the world’s wide web and so the commitment to work on a subject in my mind and publish it, appeared on a fourth sticky.   Another less auspicious number was balanced by the need to be disciplined and work on my electronic clutter of creativity.  Sticky 5 instructed me to work for a couple of hours at least on organising my writing files.

I loved this. A 5-sticky Plan to shape my weekend, with a mix of doable, enjoyable and necessary things to do.  Not too many and not too few either.

Then I realised something else. Perhaps by coincidence, or perhaps guided subconsciously the 5 things to do sat very sweetly and comfortably within the scope of my three words for the year.  The organising task was part of my need to “focus”,  the wellbeing tasks (pedicure and swim/cycle) a reminder of “treasure” and the prompt to read my book and write a blog post is captured by the creative “design”.  A simple planning and implementation system with a built in monitoring framework had been born for my three words!!

Now I know that this must come across as somewhat nerdy, and more than a little cheesy.  But it makes absolute sense to me, and more importantly – it works.  Four weeks later, I approach my weekends with 5 sticky post-it notes.  I have even had some fun putting together some thoughts and ideas just in case inspiration fails me any time as a weekend draws near.

Who knows, this may not last. But for now, I like it. and it gives me an excuse to loiter in stationery shops and stock on emergency stocks of cute sticky post-it notes.

This week's five sticky plan

And this weekend?  Well it is late on Sunday afternoon, and I wrote this (longhand) as I was enjoying a foot massage which of course was one of the 5 sticky tasks.  Yesterday, I had fun sorting a heap of photographs, and I visited 2 galleries with friends.  I have finished my Book Club book and have a list of ideas for future blog posts.

I am ready for the week ahead, feeling refreshed and satisfied with my weekend.  And I am looking forward to the following weekend and trying not to commit to my 5 stickies too early as the ideas flow.


From gutted to gushing!

From the moment I heard that the Irrawaddy Literary Festival was to take place in Yangon, I have been in a state of undisguised anticipation.  I booked a day’s leave for the first day on Friday and managed to protect the time.

So to say I was gutted when I awoke in the early hours of Friday morning, with tell-tale stomach cramps and all the other signs of a nasty stomach bug, would be a highly accurate description of my physical as well as emotional being.  I was violently ill all day and was unable to venture far from bed let alone get dressed and head anywhere near the festival. There are some things which just cannot be rationalised, and are just plain not fair!

By Saturday morning, although still not truly back to full strength, I was at least able to head outside, and slowly made my way mid morning to the Festival.  From that moment onwards, I spent the most amazing time.  My whole bookcase seems to have come to life with such a wealth of well known writers as well as authors new to me being all around me.  I listened to wise and inspiring words, chatted with the real people who own the names I have seen on my bookshelf day in and day out, and I turned into one gushing “I-just-loved-your-wonderful-book-and-fascinating-talk” groupie in a frighteningly short period of time. I am not quite sure how otherwise to articulate that in a non gushing way.

Listening to poetry at Irradaddy LIterary Festival,  as the sun setts on Inya Lake

Listening to poetry at Irrawaddy Literary Festival, as the sun sets on Inya Lake

The sun has set on this first Literary Festival, and I have a great deal to share,  about the ideas and inspirations I have gained and the conversations I have been part of.  This is a very quick preview for now…………..