Under an African sky

So there are geckoes in Africa. Many. Geckoes and slithery lizards, tree lizards and all manner of little and large reptiles.

As the year continues its march forwards, I am again reassured and guided by my three word mantra.

“Reorient, nurture and crystalize”

I have been moving towards a significant reorientation, and as indicated earlier, this was likely to be personal as well as professional. In my line of work, a change often involves a move to another country. I have now moved not only country, but after sixteen years in Asia, I have moved to a new continent. I now sleep and breathe under an African sky.

In consequence, this means a reorientation of the Feisty Blue Gecko. An alteration to the tag line, and an increasing change in character as I settle under this new sky. A sky where the stars do look different to me with their new orientation below the equator. The constellations are disconcertingly familiar, yet not quite aligned and set out the way I am used to them.

When I started to tell friends of my imminent move, one immediate question was about the blog. Would this cease to exist? With a completely different landscape and many so many different species of flora and fauna, were there even geckoes in Africa? Could the Feisty Blue Gecko possibly relocate from Asia to Africa?

The answer is fairly simple. There are indeed geckoes in Africa, as this little friend reassured me the other evening.

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Thus, the Feisty Blue Gecko remains, a constant in a world of change.

So we are undergoing our reorientation, the Feisty Blue Gecko and I. And as we start to get used to our new surroundings, the new phase will gradually crystalize in this new continent.

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I am filled with curiosity and have first impressions ready to share about my first days under an African sky.

I wonder…

I wonder…



Do the trees sing in Africa

at the tail end of the day,

as the sun drifts to the west,

dragging the light,

the colour bleeding from the sky in its wake,

causing such rejoicing from the branches?



Does the African kingfisher

wear a smart, shiny cobalt jacket,

slung over his shoulders,

catching the early morning light,

just like his cousin in Yangon?



Does the frangipani blossom

peep shyly up

towards the African sky,

pleading for just a few drops of rain,

in return

promising to release their scent

into the surrounding air?


Does the water lean to the right

when it slips downwards

from an emptying washbowl

just like it does further north

on the other side of the equator ?



Does it rain

at four in the afternoon

in Africa,

flooding lanes,

prompting laughter and annoyance

in equal mix?



I wonder…

What language

do the frogs speak in Africa?

Would they understand

their Burmese friends

as they revel and splash in the mud?



I wonder

so much

about this continent

that I have yet to properly meet.



And soon I will wonder no more.

 

Yangon, June 2016

Poetry Friday

This could be right here, right now …

Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

rain at night “Walking in the Rain at Night”

Last Night the Rain Spoke to Me

Last night
the rain
spoke to me
slowly, saying,

what joy
to come falling
out of the brisk cloud,
to be happy again

in a new way
on the earth!
That’s what it said
as it dropped,

smelling of iron,
and vanished
like a dream of the ocean
into the branches

and the grass below.
Then it was over.
The sky cleared.
I was standing

under a tree.
The tree was a tree
with happy leaves,
and I was myself,

and there were stars in the sky
that were also themselves
at the moment
at which moment

my right hand
was holding my left hand
which was holding the tree
which was filled with stars

and the soft rain –
imagine! imagine!
the long and wondrous journeys
still to be ours.

~ Mary Oliver ~

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Ruana and the rains

It was in the middle of the day on Thursday, in a formal meeting. The morning had been slightly cooler and we were aware of clouds gathering, finally.  There is a tinkling sound on the roof. I stop, mid-sentence. The noise intensifies. It can only mean one thing. Rain. I run to the window, and sure enough dark rain splatter marks are appearing on the ground. Spontaneous applause breaks out, broad grins and laughter. The rains have finally come, and in no time the street has flooded, debris floating alongside the cars and people wading through the murky water, smiling and giggling.

We resume our discussions in the meeting, but with a lighter tone and broad smiles.

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While we celebrate these belated rains, we are also keenly aware that not so far away to the north, people are battening down any hatches and preparing as Ruana intensifies in the Bay of Bengal of India’s eastern shores. Deciding whether to remain a Tropical Storm or Cyclone and which path to travel in.

We understand that Ruana  is making landfall in northern Myanmar or Bangladesh.

Be safe.

In the interim, here are some images of rainy season as it coincides with the Kason full moon and Buddha Jayanthi, images captured from a car window.

Collecting the water while it rains

A Plea for the rains

I jolt awake.
A click
echoes
in my ears.
And a sinking knowledge
that the power has gone,
the fan has stopped.
In that very instant
the air curdles,
descends,
smothering me,
stealing
any breathable air.
Sleep now impossible.

Please let the rains come soon

In afternoons
I hesitate
to step outside.
My umbrella
attempts
to shade the piercing sun,
but still
my skin burns.
Any remnant of dignity
evaporates,
and I glow
as if
I have danced a reel
or climbed a peak
or chased a runaway child
for miles
when all I have done
is to pause
at the side of the road.

Please let the rains come soon

The trees
have aged,
their expressions irritable,
their humour dry.
The earth is gasping,
craving moisture,
the grasses scorched.
The blossoms on the trees
are holding onto their colours,
afraid
to release their petals
into the sun’s furnace.

Oh please let the rains come soon

The skies thicken,
containing
threats
and promises
of proper, thundering rain.
Padauk blossoms,
no longer able
to restrain themselves,
spill from their trees overnight
onto the lanes,
casting a carpet of yellow
for but a few hours.
Jacaranda
can wait no longer,
flame trees
burn
and the landscape shivers,
calling, beseeching.

Please, please let the rains come soon

And then,
one Tuesday
halfway through May,
under the Kason moon,
the sky can no longer contain
the might
of the unfallen rain.
Plip!
A few,
tentative
drops.
Smack!
Dime-sized
bulging
trailblazing
fat raindrops.
Plop!
At first so few
I can count each one
splat
on the earth
as it lands.
Then the first
bold heralds
of monsoon
are followed smartly,
hurriedly,
by a rush
of impatient showers,
a gathering rumble
building,
and now
thundering torrents,
a deafening
outpouring,
downpouring
release.

Thank goodness the rains have come!

Brothers, aunties, cousins
rushing outdoors,
faces upturned,
delighting.
Raindrops dripping
from noses,
chins,
grins.
Children
splashing,
dancing,
frolicking,
squealing,
drenching.
Fatigue,
lethargy
all washed away.
The grasses
sigh
with delight
before they disappear
under murky
soupy
rising waters.
The cloudburst washes out
any sleeping scorpions,
calls thick red earthworms
to their seasonal duty.
Eager leeches,
waiting for so long,
slither out from hiding.

Thank goodness the rains have come!

The fruit trees sigh.
Mangoes
appear overnight
after weeks of waiting.
Jackfruit,
large,
distended,
defy gravity,
magically secure
on spindly stalks,
bundles
of jagged temptation
hovering
over pavements
too slippery
to walk on,
too often submerged.

Indeed the rains have come

Irritable, sullen black clouds
sweep insistently,
relentlessly.
Days
stretch into weeks
upon weeks
with the barest
briefest
of pauses.
Frogs
night after night
croaking
exhausted,
voices hoarse
craving rest and sleep.
Plans cancelled,
meet-ups delayed,
conversations diverted
friendships stretched,
all disrupted by pounding rains.
Smart outfits soaked
by sudden squalls
or the wet seat
of a taxi.
Clothes musty,
starting to rot.
Surprise threads of mould
appearing one day
on a pristine surface.
Mosquitoes
fat,
greedy,
thronging,
feeding on exhausted beings.
Glimpses too rare
of blue sky
or sun
overhead,
through impenetrable layers
of determined
grainy
charcoal inkblot
suffocating, shrouding cloud.

Oh, please let the rains end soon!

©PCR – Feisty Blue Gecko

“Collecting the water while it rains”

IFG Anthology

This is the final poem in a collection of fiction, poetry and memoir from Myanmar, entitled “Collecting the water while it rains”.  This book is newly published by the International Friendship Group (IFG) of Yangon. IFG works to promote cross-cultural exchange, education and opportunities for all – all proceeds from the sale of the collection go to support IFG and their work.

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It’s a couple of years since I wrote “A plea for the rains”, but it is apt more than ever this year as we wait impatiently for the rains to start.

The title of the collection refers to a proverb in Myanmar which says “collect the water while it rains. This tells us that there are moments which are auspicious for particular actions, which we should seize when we can. As the blurb on the back of the book says, “what more auspicious time could there be to gather stories of this country..?”

The blurb continues:

“Blending the voices of natives and newcomers, with contributions spanning decades, and representing both professional writers and those simply moved to record a moment of everyday life in an extraordinary place”.

I am honoured to have this poem, one short piece of fiction and a short memoir in the collection. I am especially delighted that the photograph on the front cover is one of my own, taking during my many monsoon wanderings around Yangon’s lanes following a downpour.

The second word of my 2016 mantra is “nurture” and this applies particularly to creativity. I have held on to the news about this anthology for a little while, since the book was launched late in March.

It seems that now is the right time to share this, along with the plea to El Nino to gently release its grip and for the arrival of kind rains.

El Niño and the season of flame trees

The effects of El Niño continue. I do not truly understand what El Niño  is, but I know that it is extreme and cruel, and wreaking havoc in corners of the planet far from its origin. In Myanmar, our hot dry season continues unabated, with rarely a cloud in sight to bring temperatures down even a fraction, while in Canada there are massive wildfires and in Eastern Africa unseasonably heavy rains have caused landslides and deaths.

I am taunted and teased by technology which is too quick to tell me that the rains are more than a couple of weeks away on a sophisticated weather app. Consistently promising rain in the next 15 days for over a week now. Pushing that day further and further forward into what feels like a distant future. Connectivity which provides a Facebook memory almost daily of delicious rains, spectacular storms, rejoicing frogs and waterlogged lanes on these dates in previous years.

Yet technology is not able to support the needs of a city under siege of relentless heat. Power outages are frequent, and even when the electricity is on, the supply is not adequate to power the fridge or internet, let alone AC. The lights dim and dip as the current fluctuates. Even the fan runs at a slow peep, causing minor ripples in the sticky, heated air.

I first arrived in Yangon in the rainy season of 2009, to a waterlogged city, to the sound of delighted croaking frogs. I had missed hot season, and would not experience it fully until the following year. Hot season usually sets in early in the year, around February and the temperatures climb on a daily basis until we lament the departure of cooler evenings and pleasant days. By April we are pleading for rain, and usually are rewarded with at least a few showers and storms before rainy season proper sets in. This year will be my seventh hot season. I always bemoan the heat, but this year truly feels as if it is more extreme. That technology tells us quite clearly that temperatures sit above 40C in the daytime, dropping little more than 10C overnight. We have had no rain at all, just a few clouds sent to tease us, and a gentle son-et-lumiere thunder and lightning show the other evening. A show couched in irony as it brought not a single drop of rain.

The city is ablaze with deep reds, yellows, purples, pinks of the trees, bougainvillea, hibiscus and a plethora of bushes, blooms and blossoms new to me.

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There has been no rain to dilute their colour, which seems to intensify daily. I don’t think that the flame trees have ever been this red before. The blue of the skies intensifies the contrasting colours.

flame tree 2016

The Padauk tree is struggling to keep its blossoms from spilling forth, unsure of how much longer it can hold on until the rains release those prolific blooms. The mango trees are groaning under the weight of ripening mangoes, which people are reluctant to pick until those first rains come.

flame tree and mangoes

We are exhausted, as well as uncomfortable. The slightest exertion provokes copious perspiration, gross I know, but the reality. Everything takes so much more effort and energy. Even the mosquitoes seem to be too exhausted by the heat to be more than a minor nuisance. Perhaps they are just holding on to their energy until those rains come and they leap into action. Dehydration more than a risk, setting in silently and dangerously. Even in a year when change will be afoot.

As we approach the middle of the year, my mantra reminds me of my commitment to “reorient, nurture and crystalize”. It is not easy to drive this with any zeal when the environment is so challenging, but nonetheless I know that this year will bring change. There will be a reorientation, which is likely to be emotional, physical and professional. I am striving to nurture myself, to heal emotionally and to focus energy on my creativity. That has produced some results which I will share in another post. I promise. And crystalize. Along with moves to reorient, there is an accompanying opportunity to re-establish myself once the inner and outer compasses have settled.

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So far, the mantra is keeping me on track and helping me to find direction. This year, more than ever, that has been critical. But the immediate focus is that of keeping on day by day, hoping for a kind rainy season to visit us as soon as it can and striving to embrace the colours around us before they melt when the rains do come.

Blowing away the cobwebs

While Yangon continues to bake, I am finally able to post this, written during my offline Thingyan break in the Luang Prabang hills,10 April 2016

LP April 1

I don’t think I have ever flown quite so close to the hills as we did on the descent into Luang Prabang yesterday afternoon. Even in the many flights I took while in the five and a half years I lived and worked in Nepal, I believe. As we flew northerly across the Thai border into Lao airspace, we passed through thick air which buffeted the little plane alarmingly. As we approached Luang Prabang, we descended below the tops of the hills, so near I could make out the individual trees quite easily. So close that I found it easier to look away than to admire the stunning landscape we were flying through. In no time the river appeared below us and it was reassuring to see that we were in the valley and not headed towards a hillside.

I was leaving Yangon and Myanmar’s Thingyan Water Festival, and Thailand’s Songkran far behind to escape once more into the Laos hills where their Pi Mai water festival would be carrying on in full swing all around but not in the little haven I was headed for.

I finally packed up from work on Thursday evening, heading home carrying a plastic bag with dripping wet clothes, the ones I had worn to work that morning. The clothes which were unhesitatingly drenched by laughing colleagues in the Water Festival celebrations which had been planned. Not an indoor celebration with music and gentle but increasing sprinkling with water as there had been in previous years. The general exuberance which has been in the air since November, and particularly since the new government took over power on 1 April has only grown. This year’s water festivals are sure to see only increased celebrations. This year the party was held outside, so there was no need to be sparing with the drenchings of fellow colleagues. Within minutes of my appearance, I had had water poured over me from all directions and before I knew it, I was joining in with the laughter and water throwing. I still had work to finish and at that point in time, I knew that the only thing I could possibly do was to cross that bridge when I came to it, with all of its water puns intended. My boss and I had headed out to join the fun briefly and returned laughing and dripping, standing in the scorching sun a few minutes to try and take away the worst of the excess water. I remembered my “emergency lyongyi” which I kept in my desk, especially from the days when the taxis almost always had wet seats in rainy season and a change of clothes was needed on arrival at work after a taxi ride. I also had a t-shirt, and so was at least able to change a dry top layer, even if other layers were wetter than soggy.

I left Yangon early the following morning, Friday 8 April, knowing that the airport would be busy but not expecting the crowds that were there already. I can usually pass through Yangon’s check-in and immigration and be heading for a cup of tea in around 20 minutes. The line at even the priority check in lane was longer than I had ever seen there and it took around 45 minutes to get through. The scene at immigration was no less crowded and another half an hour was spent there. Arrival in Bangkok was no less busy – I march in autopilot towards immigration there clutching a very precious pass for the priority lane (oh thank you, Bangkok Airways for recognising the many flights I take with you) and came nose to nose with an official holding a sign which read “Immigration full” and directing passengers to the other immigration section. I waved my pass hopefully, and in response he waved me off in another direction. Immigration was indeed completely full.

My afternoon in Bangkok was spent catching up with a number of tasks personal and professional to take care of before I headed quite literally to the hills and offline for over a week. Offline completely, no internet and no phone signal. That is a rare and precious thing in today’s world. And not fully understood. So I have prepped my email address to send out a message saying that I really truly will not see this, and a message on social media to the same effect. I have left the phone number of the lodge with my immediate family, along with the email of the owner. Just in case. Just how we used to do long ago before we had connectivity on multiple devices in the most obscure of locations.

As I boarded my flight in Bangkok the next morning, I turned off my phone and said goodbye to the outside world for over a week. Ready to greet the simplicity and complexity of nature where I can recharge my depleted energy stores, and allow my creativity to be inspired. Time to blow away the cobwebs and refresh my physical and emotional being.

Pi Mai has not yet started in Laos officially, but all the way up into the hills there were groups of children at the roadside in the villages, with buckets and basins to throw at passing travellers.

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The air of Luang Prabang was as hot and oppressive as that in Yangon and although it cleared somewhat higher in the hills, it was still incredibly hot and heavy. I had slept badly yet again the previous night in anticipation of a very early start and was particularly tired. After settling in I succumbed to the call of the chance to lie down, read and nap. I cannot have nodded off for long, but I was woken by an awareness that the light had changed and taken on a more deep, mellow hue. And then I heard a wonderful, unexpected and sweet sound. Raindrops. Really? If it was raining, there was one thing I had to do immediately. I dragged myself up, pulled out my swimsuit and within five minutes was in the pool. The raindrops had already receded but the air was different, less tired and with a hint of promise.

The pool water was cooler than I remembered from last time, but within moments my surprised skin had recovered and I could luxuriate in the coolness, even though the sun was higher in the sky that it is usually when I swim. Wispy, moody clouds attempting to mask it from time to time and throwing slanted rays of light across the skies. When I climbed out of the pool an hour later, I was convinced it must be early evening and was surprised that the afternoon was still fairly young.

It was barely 6 in the evening when I decided that my hunger could no longer be quelled and I settled to listen to the evening critters sing, and to watch the light change and fade on the little balcony outside the dining area. As I wandered down the path from my room, I passed a strangely shaped spider above my head, working on his cobweb. I paused to watch him for a few moments watching him, thinking to take his picture at some point so I could remember that I had seen such a strange little spaceship-shaped being. There was plenty of time. I have days ahead so no rush to do this when my stomach was reminding it had been many hours since I had eaten.

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While I was eating my meal, I could hear distant rumbles. Perhaps a storm was forming and teasing a neighbouring hillside? As darkness fell, the occasional distant shaft of light would seem to appear, but not for long enough to confirm a storm. Until gradually, the light show increased, and the thunder drew closer. A dramatic performance developed as the lightning threw its beams from different parts of the sky, communicating some message or argument and lighting up the hidden valleys and layers of hillside unseen in the light of day, silhouetting individual trees in shades of silver and sepia. The gentle breeze gathered speed and energy as it too joined the performance and promised more action. And then we heard that noise again. A few large raindrops, gathering speed until we felt the skies finally release some of that moisture it had been cradling and nurturing for weeks. The lights went out, and I could feel the valley smile as nature reminded us who is in charge and holds the real power. I don’t know how long I sat in my own silence, mesmerised by the storm, captivated at the component parts playing out their roles with passion and energy.

No wonder my flight had been so bumpy when the air had been so charged with energy.

Gradually the storm moved towards the next valley and I picked up my sodden shoes and walked up to my room. It was barely after 8 pm and I wanted to sleep. I read for a few minutes before sleep took over with a dream filled sleep.

I woke after around 12 hours after I had drifted off, with no need for middle of the night meditations to distract an overactive mind as I regularly do. I looked out of my window, to a day of promise and tranquility. I could hear the birds and crickets tempting me to rouse myself properly. I caught sight of the pool, its waters still and the sun low enough to throw a little shade.

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As I stepped towards the pool down the path, I glanced upwards at the place where the strangely shaped spider had been busy the evening before. He was gone. There was just one fine strand of fresh filament strung across the space between the branches. The little spider’s intricate web was no longer there, and nor was he.

While just a few branches away, I almost missed a massive, flamboyant spider whose web had survived the storm. Larger than a human head, he sat silently on his web, suspended from a nearby branch. I scurried onward, towards my swim under the watchful eye of one of the biggest spiders I have seen in my life.

Hillside Spider

Oh, I had indeed come to the right place for the cobwebs to be blown away and the mind and body to be refreshed.