How does one dress for a Dragonfruit Reunion?

As I was eating my breakfast quietly this morning, in this peaceful retreat, I was joined at the table by another couple. We started chatting a little, enthusiastic about the day ahead and our various plans for exploring, relaxing and creating. And that’s when I saw the plate of dragonfruit in front of them! I hadn’t seen dragonfruit since leaving Asia, I did not even know it grew here. We all know that dragonfruit hold a special place in my creative heart, but there was a striking coincidence in the sight of the fruit in front of me. And therein lies the whole reason behind my choice to come here for this retreat. A dragonfruit reunion and retreat.

Something unexpected, and very special came from the publication of the Dragonfruit Anthology in 2014. Not only was this the first time I had my writing published in a proper book, but furthermore the process of refining the writing in preparation for publication, and the connection with the Editor and other contributing writers provided a real sense of team and shared achievement.

dragonfruit-front-cover.jpg

dragonfruit arrival 2

We were a team of 27 women, including and guided by our Editor towards the result of producing a collection of our stories from our lives as women in Asia. Stories of our lives in a country where we were essentially guests, for a shorter or longer term. Our nationalities, situations and stories varied enormously, but we were tied together by the fact that we were all, or had been, women living in Asia as expatriates. It was fascinating to get to know each other through our stories and through email connection as we were kept up to date on the decision of the title, the reveal of the cover art and the lead up to the publication.

Just after we received our writer’s copies of the anthology, I received an email from one of the other writers. She had read my account of moving to Myanmar and being diagnosed with cancer. And indeed, I had read her tale of hurtling through the streets of Hanoi in the throes of labor on the back of a motorbike towards the hospital, and the (safe) arrival of her daughter. She had reached out to me because she and her family were moving to Yangon! “Once we’re settled in, if you have time, I would love to meet with you for tea one day” she emailed. And indeed we did. Yet, had it not been for our Dragonfruit connection, it is highly unlikely that our paths would have crossed in Myanmar over the two years of their stay. We would probably not have enjoyed those cuppas and chats, writing together or being part of the same book club. A wonderful connection, thanks to our Dragonfruit Anthology.

Fast forward by two years, to May this year. As it turned out we were both preparing to leave Myanmar as changes approached. I was packing to leave Asia for Africa, and I learned that she was leaving Asia for South America. For Ecuador. Along with her husband, she was embracing the opportunity to take on a new challenge. They would be running an eco lodge in Ecuador, something close to their hearts, values and beliefs. They were filled with enthusiasm and zest for their new adventure as she told me about it.

“You should come to the lodge,” she said to me. “It would be the perfect place for a writing retreat. Do come”.

What a fascinating thought, but hardly a likely venture. Ecuador is not close. It is further west than I have ever travelled. It is more than a day’s travel from Africa. Would it be rash to travel such a distance when the year has already seen such intensity, change and indeed long distance travel? Would it not be wasteful given that there is so much to explore on my new African doorstep?

These are sensible questions, but my mind is not so wise. The thought kept returning, that  this is an opportunity which might not arise again. That it is probably better to travel when health is reasonable as nothing can be taken for granted. And the sneaking reminder, that if I did visit Ecuador, then incredibly, this would be a year which would see me on no less than 5 continents. (I do believe that I have not travelled to more than 2 continents in any year in the past). How many grandmothers are able to do that? What a temptation…

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So here I am, in a beautiful lodge, nestling in the hills of Ecuador, sitting on the balcony of what is now being called “The Writing Room”, tapping away at the keyboard with the steep green hills right in front of me, the sound of a donkey braying in the distance, the trees swaying in the breeze and in the company of blue grey tanagers. The creative silence of the past months is being lifted gently in these inspiring hills.

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I could not resist the temptation of visiting such a new part of the world to me, and of bringing 2016 to a close in a peaceful and inspiring place.

If it had not been for our Dragonfruit connection, I simply would not be here now in this fascinating new land. Serendipity and the friendship of a kindred spirit have enabled this retreat to happen.

Like so many journeys, the one to get here was not an easy one, but  I am powerfully reminded of the importance of making that effort and seizing the day. These opportunities are  to be embraced and treasured. And will surely be long remembered.

Thank you, dragonfruit!

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Dragon Days, Dragon Years

Chinese New Year is approaching. We will move from the Year of the Goat to the Year of the Monkey on February 8.  Neither of these is the Year of the Dragon, to state the obvious. However, the dragon has had special meaning for me these past two years.

In 2014, a major life goal of mine was realised. This was to see my writing in a book with real pages, and became a reality with the publication of How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit. This is an anthology of writing in which I was a contributing writer. For me, 2014 felt to be my year of the Dragonfruit.

Dragonfruit cover and photo of Philippa Ramsden, courtesy Shannon Young. Purple dragonfruit by Mike Behnken (CC BY 2.0).

Then, it so turned out that 2015 became my Year of the Snapdragon……

However, before I tell the story of the Snapdragon, I have to tell you about “Shut up and Write!”

I have mentioned Yangon Writing Group before. We are a small group of people with writing dreams and aspirations. Some of whom have a serious writing CV and publications to their name. Some like me whose dreams are significantly grander then the reality. It is a group where we push our creative boundaries, experiment, critique each others work and provide encouragement and motivation. It is a nurturing space and one where I for one, have learned and grown a great deal.

As the years have passed, our Writing Group has morphed to suit the needs of its members in a constantly moving community. But generally, we meet, we write, we critique each others work all in a very informal setting. Recently, we have refined our process somewhat, taking advantage of new voices and ideas.  We now have a more set structure on a monthly basis, rather than meeting to meeting. On a Saturday morning we will meet, alternating venues between downtown and middle-ish town to accommodate increasing traffic. Most weeks we will “Shut up and Write” and once a month we have a Feedback Session, where we share pieces (in advance) which we would like to have critiqued. This is turning out to be a good balance, where we can write in the company of others and where we can hear feedback on our writing.

So, three Saturday mornings out of four, we gather in a nice creative spot, chat for 10 minutes or so, catching up with news and ideas and then a timer is set for 45 minutes and we literally shut up and write. We have a breather after the 45 minutes order more coffee or stretch our legs, and then quieten down for another intense write. This can be repeated as often as we want, and generally most folk are there for two bursts of writing, and some stay on a good chunk of the day, filling up on coffee and snacks and taking advantage of a physical and temporal writing space.

While 45 minutes does not sound long, it can be quite incredible how much can be produced or achieved in such a short time. There is also no directive about what we focus on in that time. We have, between us, refined previous work, worked on brand new ideas, continued existing, longer writing projects and blogged. We have also used that time on occasions to put together submissions of our work for publication.

I have found that dedicated time has become important. When you make a concerted effort, even if it is only to head to a coffee shop, then you do ensure that you use that time productively.

I have been using this time in a variety of ways. The few blog posts which have appeared, have formed mostly during “Shut up and Write” time. I have gently re-opened the memoir and taken some time to start moving forward on the long path ahead with that work. And I have also prepared a couple of small submissions.

And finally, that is where the Snapdragon connection comes in.

I discovered Snapdragon: A Journal of Art and Healing late last year. A journal which combines creativity and healing clearly would resonate with me. This is very clear in the Journal’s description and vision:

snapdragon

Snapdragon: A Journal of Art and Healing
We could not think of a better name for this journal other than Snapdragon! At its deepest level, the Snapdragon flower essence helps the soul to distinguish its use of creative forces — especially those which radiate from the lower energy centers, and those which are used for spoken word. The Snapdragon flower is often used as a remedy to help persons — particularly those who experience extreme tension in the jaw and mouth — to re-direct their powerful metabolic energy into its rightful channels. By harmonizing the relationship between these energy centers, the soul evolves in its use of creative power. And so, with Snapdragon: A Journal of Art & Healing, our desire is to provide a platform for your self-expression and soul’s healing!Our Mission: To engage and support persons in the process of self-discovery, expression, and healing through creative engagement with the arts.
Our Vision: Individuals and communities having a safe space and a platform to create a portrait of their experiences and hopes so that they may find the peace and healing balm authentic sharing provides that we might grow in our respect, appreciation and love of ourselves and one another.

It was approaching the end of October when submissions would close for the December edition, and I was compelled to rework and submit some of the pieces which had been part of my own creative process.

This has become a longer story than anticipated, so I shall skip a little and take you to a day in November, when I opened an email from Snapdragon. The email brought a broad smile to my face as I learned that one of my poems would be included in the December issue “The Art of Creating”.

This is an online Journal so I do not have a paper copy, and it is subscription based so I cannot share the Journal itself, but details of the subscriptions are here and (remember I am Scottish, so you can trust me on this 😉 ) are very affordable.

Another year, another writing dragon. A very happy gecko! I am especially delighted that my name features among the artists contributing to the Journal. One quite delighted gecko indeed!

But here’s the funny thing. The last Year of the Dragon (in Chinese astrology) was in 2012, ending in February 2013. The next Year of the Dragon is way ahead, starting in 2024. However, in Myanmar, it is  the day of the week in which a person is born that is fundamental to an individual and their actions. I am Saturday born. Each day of the week is associated with a particular animal and ruling planet.

Saturday born people are ruled by Saturn. And privileged to be mythical dragons.

Bonus!

This month has been one filled with surprise extras – a kind of “bonus” month. June started with the second bout of bronchitis, a mean bonus when one bout was already more than enough! I did not realise that “bonus” would be a theme of the month.

bonus

A major bonus of the very welcome kind has of course been the launch of Dragonfruit – that has brought a feast of bonuses in being part of a work which is more than a book. Contributing to the Anthology has resulted in bringing together a number of women from many walks of life and in addition to the stories in the book, there is a tapestry of other connections which I am discovering. I am also really enjoying reading the daily features of each writer on our Facebook page – my own feature was June 20,

Holding the book in my hands has been probably the greatest bonus of the month. Seeing my writing in print, in a proper book, has been a dream since childhood when I churned out some dire stories and dreadful poetry!

A dragonfruit in the hand...

A dragonfruit in the hand…

And while I was gadding off to Bangkok, and picking up my own copy of our Dragonfruit Anthology, there was of course a reason other than that for the visit. Another bonus, and a less welcome one. At my last round of six monthly checks in March, I learned that some of my bloodwork was a bit “off”. Frustratingly, cholesterol levels, which were very healthy since my post treatment monitoring, have recently been rising and are no longer in the “you are a star” limits. Other bloodwork has also been a bit off, including sugar (not unexpected thanks to a strong line of diabetes in my maternal side) and that is one of the push factors in my morning exercise. The cholesterol levels started to rise following my pulmonary embolism when I switched to Femara in July 2012. Dr W confirmed that this is a documented effect of Femara which made me feel vindicated but no less frustrated. So this month I had a bonus review with my endocrinologist (I had no idea that there was such a thing as an endocrinologist before my diagnosis – and I still cannot spell it!) He wanted to review the cholesterol and sugar especially and I was also to revisit the nutritionist who had already told me my diet is better than hers!

The added trip meant another bonus. Two flights which I would rather not take. I am not fond of flying in rainy season as it can be really bumpy and scary and would far rather have stayed cosily at home listening to the rain in the garden rather than feeling the weight of the water in those angry, black clouds which we have to navigate.

My appointments were on Tuesday and I was really not looking forward to them. Recent weeks have seen the double bout of bronchitis and a fair bit of travel. Add in a couple of bonus freak storms at swimming o’clock and we have seen a fair bit of disruption to my morning exercise routine. So the challenge I had been given to lose three kilos, which was already quite an ask with my lost thyroid and Femara sabotage was even more difficult and usual, and any weight los really unlikely. I was really despondent about this and in the waiting room was trying to think of any tricks I could pull out of the hat. Wearing trousers in a lighter fabric, missing out my morning, post-fast cup of tea were tempting tactics. I was even toying with the thought of sneaking my prosthesis from its usual home and stashing it in my handbag. It is pretty heavy and that could perhaps buy a couple of free kilos. In the end, I just gritted my teeth, took of my sandals and dreaded the numbers as they danced around making up their mind about my decided weight. And to my surprise, my weight was down just over a kilo. That is a big deal for me as it is not much but it is in the counter direction to normal, and unexpected because of the dip in exercise.

So I felt a bit better about seeing the nutritionist. Until she went through my results and announced with great excitement that I had lost five kilos! I looked at the slip, and realised that the weight had been noted incorrectly – a 7.3 had been inverted to a 3.7 suggesting that I had ditched four more kilos than I had. I tried to persuade her that I had not lost that much and even offered a re-trial! The same with the endocrinologist – he was delighted and my feeble “no there has been a mistake” was seen as some kind of modesty in my “achievement”. So now they are in for such a disappointment next review, when not only have I not lost another five kilos but will probably have struggled to maintain my real weight!

darn pics - http://the-internet-surfer.blogspot.com/2010/10/gosh-darn-it-photos.html

Otherwise the bloodwork was ok. No further rises in cholesterol though it remains high, and the sugar had reduced a little so my attempts to keep diabetes at bay are still working for now. The monsoon dampness seems to be settling into my Femara joints again, as over the dry months I had been just that little bit better. While it is not so good that the rainy season has an effect, it is encouraging and good to know that the reverse happens in dry season.

So on Wednesday, I headed back to Bangkok’s Suvarnibhumi airport and onwards through angry skies home to Yangon with my book carefully packed in my hand luggage ready to pull out and show any passing stranger who shows any sign of interest!

Back home the travel bag has been emptied of its bonus laundry and rather than unpack, I have re-packed with enough for another couple of nights away. Because the month draws to a close,  mirroring the start of the month and with another bonus. Tomorrow I leave on a short work trip out of town and will be away from home for a couple of nights. A lovely change of scene but I will be so glad to reach next month and have a rest from the many bonuses of June!

grandmother's suitcase

 

Jumping Dragonfruit!

I have been somewhat under the radar the past couple of weeks.  A combo deluxe of lurgey (a bronchial bleurgh), intense work schedule and travel.  This evening I am peeking out of the void gently and gingerly.

Last Friday evening I arrived home, shook my sleeping travel bag and hastily threw in the essentials I would need to be away for 11 days. I am becoming so blasé about travel, I really do fear that I will land in Bangkok one of these days without the essentials.  Particularly bank cards which I do not use in Yangon.  I have even had nightmares about this, and have no idea how on earth I was deal with the situation if it did arise, so I send myself text messages and emails to remind me!

Early Saturday morning, I again sipped my departure cup of tea, zipped and closed the travel bag, checked ticket, passport and those essential bank cards, and waved goodbye to hubby and doglets.  This time I was to transit Bangkok and travel onwards to Vientiane, Laos. The distance is not great, but connections are not great either so it takes the best part of a day to get to Vientiane, so I was very glad to reach safely and without any interference in the form of storm clouds this time.

This is the first time I have been back to Vientiane since my first visit 12 years ago so I have been looking forward to the trip.  Unfortunately, some reprise or new lurgey descended not long after I arrived and all of my energy has gone into the day work and I have not yet had the strength or energy to visit the city and see how much it has changed.  So the photo below is not one of mine! It is a Lao tourism pic, just to give a flavour while I regroup enough to venture out and about.

Vientiane, Lao

While I have been ploughing on and trying to banish feeling rough, I have received something very exciting.  Something which made me squeal with excitement and not quite jump, but at least animate me!  The Dragonfruit Anthology is getting more real!  Our editor, Shannon Young, has received a REAL copy of the book, with REAL PAPER PAGES.  How exciting is that?! Our contributor copies will arrive soon, and then be sent on to us and then I will be able to hold the book in my own hands!

This is what it looks like!

The BOOK! Dragonfruit Angthology

The BOOK!
Dragonfruit Anthology

It is now only 11 days until 10 June, when our Dragonfruit Anthology (as we affectionately call our book) will be published!

I am not sure how many images I will be able to take of Vientiane, but I can guarantee one thing – I will be unbearable when I have my own copy in my hands and there will be MANY images of Dragonfruit!