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.




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.


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.

A splash of seasonal colour

I have written about the seasonal colours in Yangon and across the country before.

2011 in the field

It is that sensational time of year again, with colours contrasting dramatically against the vibrant greens of the foliage.  It is spectacular and I do not tire of gazing at these incredible colours.

Yangon 2013It is also that time of year, as the monsoon rains approach and touch us, that the chorus of song outside the window at night becomes deafening.  The bullfrog has gathered some friends and together they call out with their strange, characteristic growl to those rains.

And once the rains come, the blossoms will fall and the colours change again, with the leafy greens taking back their dominance.

Flamboyant tree Yangon

So that is why I have decided that this would be a highly fitting background image for the blog for the next couple of weeks, so that we can hold on to and cherish that transient strong colour.

The flamboyant free in full flamboyance!

The flamboyant tree in full flamboyance!

Ch – ch – ch – changes…

There has been some rather serious talk on here in the past couple of weeks, what with trust, honesty and then the impromptu prompt which led to a discussion on mental health and cancer.  And then more discussion on mental health and cancer.  So I have decided that I should punctuate this with a bit of a change.  (And I do mean punctuate – these topics are too important to move away from).

Change is the Big Word on everyone’s lips in this neck of the woods at the moment. It is all around us and causing a great deal of interest and curiosity. I have suddenly become highly popular (purely by virtue of being here just now) and I am constantly being asked whether I think there is change underway.  It is incredible to be here and enormously encouraging.  I am fascinated and optimistic.

And while all of that change is going on, there is a different change in the air.  That of the change of season.  The hot, dry season becomes more and more hot and less dry as the humidity increases and monsoonal clouds gather a few days away.  The greatest barometer of that change is, in my view, to be seen in the riot of colour which erupts in Yangon during this pre-monsoonal season.

I completely missed it 2 years ago, living in a radiation bunker and hiding away with my shiny, bald head. So when I woke up to the spectacular colour fest all around me last year, I was totally taken aback and spent the weeks gasping at and admiring the incredibly bright colours everywhere.

The colour seems to start with the jacaranda, and a variety of purple blooms take over the city.

Then the yellows, oranges and reds of Padauk, flame and other trees, with all manner of coloured blooms appear, contrasting vividly against the green foliage.  The flame tree looks as if it has no foliage at all and stands out dramatically.

While travelling with a colleague yesterday, she pointed out the orangey yellow blossoms of the Padauk tree.  These blossoms stay for less than a day, and fall on the ground making a yellow carpet within hours of blossoming. The trees were bulging with blossom and it was hard to imagine that it would all be gone within a few hours.

My colleague the told me that thirty – forty years ago the Padauk flowered only once, at the Thingyan festival time.  Now it seems to flower after a heavy rainstorm, the trees are forced into blossoming perhaps half a dozen times before the season passes.

And the season will pass, the trees will gradually lose their poster paintbox colours as the rainy season reaches us and washes the colours away. Monsoon is imminent.  It should enter the southern border and sweep northwards in our direction.  We will again become used to the sounds of frogs and their loud croaking as they call out across the muddy grasses.  The crickets will create a chorus of chittering anc chirruping. We hear the distant rumble of thunder and the characteristic whispering of the bamboo as the winds bring each fresh rainstorm.  And the unmistakable and incredibly restful sound of the monsoon rains pouring in torrents, rhythmically drumming on the paths and roofs.  There is something both peaceful and invigorating about the rains cascading.

Oh yes.  Change is in the air indeed and we are in a wonderful space, surrounded by colour as the air cools and the life-giving rains sweep in.