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.

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!