You know that sense of mounting excitement as the most important Festival of the year approaches – such as Christmas when I still lived in the UK, or Dassain in Nepal? The sense of anticipation intensifies, shops get busier, preparations are increasingly visible and conversations are more and more dominated by plans and tasks for the coming festivities.
In this part of the world, many countries are celebrating Water Festivals and New Year. As the weather becomes more hot and oppressive, the temperatures continue to rise and the air becomes heavy with the moisture of dreamed-for rains and the exhaustion and tetchiness which the season nurtures. The trees start to display their spectacular colours, with the purple jacaranda and bright yellow laburnum flowers already signalling the approaching change in seasons.
In Myanmar we celebrate Thingyan, the Water Festival from today, with four days of watery mayhem followed by the Myanmar New Year.
I love the air of anticipation as Thingyan approaches. Everyone is challenging the unbearable heat and making their plans for the festival time. Friends and colleagues have a spark in their eyes, as they pack up and head to their home communities or prepare for the festivities in Yangon. This year in particular, there has been a proliferation of plastic blossom of the Padauk tree, which is the traditional symbol of Thingyan. Little pots have been on sale at the traffic lights, sprigs adorning walls, windows and doors, all cars have a spray or two on the dashboard and even the shopping centre and airport have impressive displays!
A flowering of the Padauk on Tuesday sparked great excitement and I was gifted some sprigs on the way to work by a woman who runs a little, wooden betel stall at the end of my lane.
The streets are filled with vans and trucks, packed with speakers blaring out raucous music and and youngsters dancing happily. The length of the main roads beside the Lakes are a scene of frantic activity as pandals or stages are being erected against the clock , workmen hammering the wooden planks together and smart young folks hand out flyers for their pandal, advertising best packages of music, entertainment, refreshments and most of all – the number of hoses and powerful water cannons (firehoses with enormous force!)
As we packed up on Friday to leave for the Thingyan break, we were all doused, albeit gently, with sprigs of leaves and sandalwood water just to make sure we received Thingyan auspicious blessings, while other colleagues either sprinkled us with water from water bottles of were waiting outside with waterguns. No one went home dry, nor was anyone drenched. Unlike the days of the festival itself when you cannot avoid being soaked to the skin if you set foot out in the street!
Thingyan is a wonderful time of celebration and release and a very special experience. However, this year I decided to slip out of the country on the eve of Thingyan, to find a space of tranquility and rest, and relative dryness while the festivities are at their peak!