Hippo Bird-day!

I always approach birthdays with trepidation. Not because I am uncomfortable about adding another year to my age, but because our family has a strange relationship with birthdays and deathdays as I have written before, and birthdays make me nervous. So it was with great relief that I awoke on 2 August, the day after my birthday, fit and well.

Since my diagnosis, I have also begun a practice of doing something memorable for my birthday, and preferably in a country I have not previously been in. The foundation was set when I spent my 40th birthday in China and following years in Nepal, Thailand, India, Mongolia and Sri Lanka. In recent years, I have celebrated my aging in Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia, Luxembourg and Portugal. Given my new arrival on African soil, I decided to celebrate this year’s birthday by visiting a nearby national park and hoping for close encounters with African wildlife.

This post will be one of images and memories, with a sprinkling of narrative and description. Fortune smiled warmly on me, and I was able to see many animals and birds. For some reason, the hippos were out in force and I saw too many to count! Some were peeping out of the water, some were wallowing and chatting in groups, and some were wandering. Most were in the company of a white egret. The perfect hippo bird combo to wish me a corny hippo-bird day!

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I stayed in a Game Lodge, on the border with Tanzania and in the park, and was greeted by baboons as we drove in at sunset.

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The Lodge’s printed information provided valuable guidance on “How to behave around baboons”.  Just as well as they were very active around the grounds.

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On the first morning, I was wide awake, clutching my packed lunch and prepared for a game drive as the sun was rising across the savannah, reflecting on the lake. You just never know what the day will hold and whether the birds and animals will be shy or sociable.

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There is a small population of elephants, and these are rarely seen so we were lucky to encounter a lone elephant feeding in the trees. We knew he was not alone as we could hear crashing in the undergrowth, trees snapping and shifting of the vegetation. The rest of the herd was shy though, and it was not long before our friend turned and headed towards his friends and out of visibility. A highly promising start to the day.

We continued along the dusty track, pausing to watch velvet monkeys, a group of baboons, fish eagles, impala, bush bucks and we even spotted a very large crocodile hiding in the brush.

Having lived in Asia for so long, I find the African wildlife fascinating, in particular, zebra and giraffe which are so different. We were only a couple of hours into the drive, when we saw a group of zebra in the distance and soon afterwards we spotted a small group of giraffe.

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As we headed northwards, we encountered more groups of zebra, an increasing number of hippos and

It was nearly lunchtime, when we reached flatter plains and numerous herds of animals – zebra, giraffe, impala and bush bucks. And in the midst of the plains, nestling under a tree in the distance was the king! Watching quietly as zebra grazed nearby, the unmistakable shape of a lion.

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I could not believe our good fortune. It had been a full morning, driving, watching and taking photographs while counting my blessings and I had not realised that it was well into what would be lunchtime and I was feeling decidedly hungry. There is a designated space for picnicking, under the watch of kingfishers, hippos and supersized thorns so we ate quickly and were soon back on the track.

There was no pressure to spot wildlife on the drive back, and we continued to see a variety of birds and beasts. I was especially drawn by a little rainbow bird, and spellbound when he decided to fly off displaying bright blue plumage.

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Hippo bird-day 8

We are in the midst of dry season, and the grasslands are clearly parched. There are large areas which are smouldering. A strange place to see herds of zebra, but apparently they feed on the burnt vegetation which provides essential minerals for their diet.

The following day, I decided to take a boat trip onto the lake for a different perspective on the life in the park. As the sun sank in the sky, I joined two other tourists on a small boat and took the waters. We were again gifted by sightings of various birds – snake bird, fish eagle, cormorant and their friends.

The larger creatures too, watched from their comfortable places, including a baby crocodile.

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And just as the boat drew back towards the jetty, two hippos decided to peep out of the water very close to us, apparently smiling warmly. Our boatman was less convinced of their friendliness, and gently moved back into deeper water. Hippos are the second killers of people in Africa, and he clearly wanted to ensure they were not disturbed or aggravated.

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As dusk was falling, I returned to the Lodge with a warm glow of happiness. I had been gifted with so many sightings and encounters and was extremely happy with my safari birthday. But my lucky streak was still not over. Through the trees, the driver spotted a group of rare blue monkeys in the trees. They are shy and elusive beings, and did not pause for their portraits to be taken, but I was able to capture their sighting briefly.

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As I complete another journey around the sun, I again have to pause and reflect on the good things in life, and especially in my life. It has been a truly hippo bird-day!

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An egret prepares to land on his hippo, creating that hippo bird combination!

And a strong remind to Carpe diem. We just never know what is ahead. For now, a peaceful iconic sunset is the best way to mark that appreciation.

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First impressions. Some answers, and yet more questions

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Red dusty earth and rolling green hills. Hills as far as the eye can see. This is a land of a thousand hills.

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A wind ensemble of hitherto unheard birdsong, late afternoon and early morning pan pipe solos and daytime flute melodies. Twittering, tweeting colourful little birds chattering through the afternoon. Tiny chirruping birds, unrelated to the Yangon kingfisher, but sharing the same dress sense and fondness for a shiny blue jacket. Birds dressed for dinner with coat and tails, and a pair of birds with peaked caps airing their private words from the bushes.Sweeping, swooping birds of prey silently keeping a watch from above.

Up hills, down hills all around the city. Hill starts. Hill stops. Hill start ups again.

New flowers, and familiar flowers. Many mornings, different surprise flowers appearing. Occasional sprigs of jacaranda, nasturtiums, sleeping cream-petalled hibiscus and wide awake, boldly smiling pink hibiscus. Geraniums, bougainvillea in red, rusty orange,white and bright purple colours. Miniature flowers with unexpected dandelion clock transformations. Creeping lilac and yellow flowers which open just for one day.

Motorbikes! Everywhere motorbikes. Up and down hills, zigging and zagging through the streets.

Maize and more maize. Baskets of maize on the heads of women. Some baskets of yams or sweet potatoes. Milk urns on the backs of motorbikes.

Nokia phones for radio, music and chit chat.

Teeny tiny butterflies, so petite I cannot see their colour, nor even know for sure that they are indeed butterflies. Super sized ants working in solitude.

Snuggling, sleepy babies hiding from sun and dust under a floating cotton cape, secure on their mothers’ backs.

A three quarter waning moon alongside three bright stars in a night sky that dawns in minutes.

Surrounded by wide, welcoming smiles.

Forty days and forty one nights under an African sky.

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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.