Revisioning

My hummingbird obsession is not news. However, it has recently taken a little bit of an unexpected turn. One which has led me to revise something which I thought was certain.

Outside our office, there are a number of trees where those beautiful little birds nest. I will always pause on my way in and out of the gate, to peer into the leaves and see what is happening in those nests. A couple of weeks ago, I was told that there were eggs in the nest and that the mother was keeping them warm. They would hatch in a few days, I was informed assuredly. Indeed, after a few days I saw eggshell on the ground and was told that I could very gently peep inside the leaves. Two wide open beaks stared back at me. Indeed, beaks can stare!

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Over the following days, I would very gently peek in through the gaps in the leaves, making sure that my human eyes did not distress the rapidly growing birds. In no time, I learned that the little birds were almost ready to fly. They would fly on the Monday, in fact.

When I arrived at work the following Monday, I could see that the nest was indeed empty. The little birds had flown.

But the tale has taken an unexpected twist. In those few days while watching from a safe distance, I learned something new. I had been visiting friends, and they had bright flowers on their porch. The little hummingbirds, perched and manoeuvred to draw in the nectar of the brightly coloured flowers. I was enthralled by those “hummingbirds”. My friend showed me photographs she had taken of the same little birds, which she called “sunbirds”. I knew they were hummingbirds. She was equally certain they were sunbirds. Of course, I was right. So was she! Stalemate!

At such times, and in such times we are drawn to Professor Google. And my goodness, was I in for a surprise!

I have been completely wrong! In Ecuador, these little hovering birds were indeed hummingbirds and they have become iconic across the country. In Africa, however, despite the fact that they look remarkably similar, they are not hummingbirds. These little beauties are indeed sunbirds.

In appearance, they are incredibly alike.The males have metallic blue plumage which shimmers in the sun.

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In Ecuador and in Africa. They both hover.

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This little soul is hovering with all his might. So hard, that you can hardly see the blur that represents his little wings.

It seems that I am not the only one to become so confused between the hummingbird and the sunbird. From what I understand, the key difference (apart from the biological family differences) is that the hummingbird always hovers while it feeds. It can hover for a seeming eternity while drawing nectar fro the inside of a bloom. However the little sunbird, while it can and does hover, usually has to perch to gather its food.

However, that is what I truly learned from this. I was reminded that no matter how sure I think I am about something, I must be open to correction or rethinking. This is not about the sunbird. This is about how I view the world and my life. While I had been convinced that the birds I saw were hummingbirds, and my friend was equally certain that they were sunbirds, we both needed to be open.In my case, I also need to be corrected, because I was wrong!

The world around me is not as set and uncertain as I necessarily think. The universe is again shaking and shifting the ground underneath my feet. I need to revise and reset my vision of what I thought was my world. And that does not only apply to me. It is for each and every one of us. We just do not know what is certain and true.

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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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

I fall down. I get up again.

Life is a tapestry indeed, with multi coloured, interwoven threads all feeding into one large, rich image.  Except that sometimes, the colours clash, or one part of the image leaves a strange and unwelcome feeling when viewed.  I don’t need to spell out which parts of the picture I don’t like looking at.

At the moment, there is such a variety in this tapestry.  There is the work thread, taking up a huge space at the moment, the swimming and cycling patch which is steady, firm and strong, the social and online thread which varies depending on how much space the other elements are using.

And there is the creative part.  As well as reading, writing and occasionally scrabbling through the cupboards and brushing the dust off my arty materials I am also part of two structured creative activities.  The first is a writing group where I am learning a great deal.  And realising how difficult this writing lark is!  The second is a Book Club.  Both groups are fairly small, and pretty informal and warm.

The great thing about the Book Club is reading material I might well not otherwise read and learning of new authors and works.  I have just finished reading The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna ( (a wonderful choice by friend and fellow Yangon blogess Becky) in preparation for our meeting this month.

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Having lived in Asia for so long, it is fascinating to read of a country I know so little of, and in fact a continent I have barely visited.  This book takes us to Sierra Leone with harrowing and exquisite insights into its people and the conflict years and its impact.  This is not going to be a review of the book, there are plenty online and better to read the book yourself rather than listen to my take on it.  No, this is a reflection prompted by a saying which stopped me mid sentence, it resonated so fiercely.  The physical and emotional damage of the conflict combined with resilience and hope are clearly conveyed in everyday conversation.  When someone asks you how you are, perhaps you can’t honestly answer that you are fine, so the reply “I fall down, I get up again” expresses that as much as challenges knock us down, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and keep moving ahead.  If you ask someone how they are and they reply “I fall down.  I stand up again” then they are saying that all things considered they are doing as well as can be expected.

Of course this can apply to life in general, but the sense of resilience, determination and hope shine particularly where the challenges are traumatic such as the armed conflict in Sierra Leone.  Or conflict in any country.  Or trauma and grief at times of bereavement, ill health, accident for example.

Or a cancer diagnosis.

And that is the saying affected me so powerfully.  The path from the point of diagnosis feels a bit like a series of really hard knocks, followed by picking ourselves up.  Sometimes those knocks bowl us right over.  The diagnosis hit must be one of the hardest. Hearing those life-changing “you have cancer” words, however they are articulated knock us flat. As we lie breathless, winded and stunned though, a strange thing happens.  I remember so clearly, when Dr W told me gently and irrevocably “this is highly suspicious of cancer” I was truly felled.  The words echoed round and round in a surreal and cruel mockery. Yet, we pull ourselves to our feet, brush down our crumples and nurse our emotional bruises and ask “what do we do?”  And gingerly take tentative steps forward.

The blows keep coming, knocking us to our knees, making us stumble or completely flooring us.

My pathology report with its “cancer in six lymph nodes” shocker, threw me back to the ground.  It was not any courage that pulled me back to my feet.  It was the fact that I saw no alternative but to focus single-mindedly on gritting my teeth and getting up to push myself through the process of surgery, chemo and then radiation.  I stumbled onwards, tumbling down again and again.  Chemo particularly enjoyed flooring me and trying to gain an upper hand by knocking me further every time.  But I did get up.  Slowly.  Cautiously. Warily.

As time has worn on and the diagnosis date gains distance, the knocks are different and of course, not all cancer knocks.  But as I fall down, I get up again.  Sometimes it is such a burden to drag myself to my feet.  My July embolism was a real side blinder which smashed me to the ground with no warning.  I have had to look all around me, in all directions as I slowly got back up again.  And then the tumour marker results in October took delight in pulling my feet from under me again.  I am back on my feet after that one, but treading warily towards the next bloodwork in January, bracing for another fall in case the markers throw up trouble, yet wishing and willing for the chance to break through this hurdle.  If all is well then I can pick up speed and strength to keep momentum and keep pulling myself up further.

The key thing is that I am not alone.  I am not the only one tumbling as these knocks come, and I know that my knocks are nowhere near as hard as those hitting others.  I am also not alone in getting myself up again.  I am helped to my feet by hubby, by family and friends, by my online friends and by strangers I have never met.

I have learned a great deal from the people of Sierra Leone and their resilience, attitude and strength.  I have also discovered that there are variations on this in both Chinese and Japanese cultures.

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This expression is one I will hold on to tightly and repeat as a mantra.  I know I will fall down again, many many times I am sure.  But with this thought in mind I know that as I continue to fall, I will continue to get up again, and again, for as long as I can.

I fall down.  I get up again.