Jigsaw puzzling

Slowly, slowly. Piece by piece, I am putting together a puzzle. Gathering, building, shaping fragments of ideas and thoughts into something tangible. Gingerly balancing between the tasks of planning and the delight of anticipation.

This past year or so has been hard, and pushed me to the limits of resilience emotionally and physically. This has been exacerbated by events such as the embolism conspiring to sabotage any opportunity to have a restful, healing break.

So I am cautious as I carefully share some ingredients of the puzzle I am working on, and the picture which is taking shape.

jigsaw plain

I am taking some holiday in the next few weeks. I am hatching a plan, a gentle adventure and escapade. I feel fragile so this will not be any bungee-jumping, jungle-trekking, kayaking or abseiling adventure, but a healing retreat. I yearn for the natural sounds and colours of the jungle, and the music of the breeze and the rains. I long to be surrounded by the elements and for my mind and body to be bathed gently.

It was not intended to be such a process, but this is taking shape in a fascinating way. I have been looking at specific parts of the break in a rather random and incoherent way. Little fragments at a time, with a broad landscape in mind, but only focusing on a piece at a time.

The framework has been fairly simple. I want to have a break over my birthday. I want to visit a country I have not visited before. In Asia. And just to further constrain choices, I want an easy, relatively short journey. Thank goodness Asia has so many options!

Happily there are a few more direct and even low airline options from Yangon to help to lay the background for this puzzle. A direct flight to Kuala Lumpur provided a very helpful foundation piece for the puzzle. I have not been to Malaysia before. Rather sad, given I have been in this region for thirteen years, but there you go! Quite convenient, for my planning. KL is not really somewhere I have been particularly drawn to visit, the images of the iconic Petronas Towers and sophisticated shopping malls not my first thought of a peaceful getaway. Until I saw the photographs and accounts of a visit to KL by my friend, and that presented a somewhat different impression. A fascinating old town, colonial architecture, museums and galleries. And besides, KL is not so far from jungle retreat and peaceful places. Definitely a viable basis.

The next part of the puzzle which provided the necessary foundation, was a recommendation from a friend for a little known place, a couple of hours north of KL on a tiny island. Not a beach location (it’s not really so far away from that seismic fault line which we have already witnessed rumbling) but a retreat in the hills, nestled in the jungle. I know it is monsoon season, and I know there will be a good amount of grey cloud. But the thought of the rains hammering down, drenching me and washing away those tensions and releasing emotions is incredibly welcoming and comforting.

Before long, these two pieces of the puzzle were in place, a single flight to KL and a five night reservation at the retreat. Many gaps were in the puzzle, but the start of a picture was taking definite shape.

And so the process has continued, making the planning as much a part of the break as the time away itself. I have picked pieces up and played with them, examining them to see if they would fit. Would a train journey back to Bangkok be a pleasant return? Or perhaps a transfer to Penang and flight back from there? Or what about returning to KL and the cheap flight back, direct? I played with these options over and over each having its disadvantages and advantages. The low cost flight’s departure at 6 am presented a clear contradiction – 4 am check-in a most unappealing close to a restful break.

As in any puzzle, the pieces are interdependent. Travel choices determine the range of accommodation options and preferences clearly determine those travel and accommodation choices. Another key factor, is the very real limit that there is in my mobility and the need to make sensible and comfortable choices.

Slowly the pieces are being placed. I will return from Penang, via Bangkok. One night in a pleasant guest house in Georgetown will gently prepare me for return. Prior to the island retreat, I will spend a few nights in KL, gently resting and perhaps exploring. And certainly downloading some long needed musical megabytes! Then the train to Ipoh, for a night. Stopover and possibly exploring of this city, before heading to the island early the next morning for the five nights of retreat.

Slowly, slowly I am arranging the various elements. A guest house here. A hotel there. Train tickets. Guide Book. Transfers. The pieces of the puzzle enough now for me to see the picture.

starfish puzzle

And the picture is one of rest, healing, recovery, discovery and revitalisation.

malaysia

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It slipped my mind

Christmas has been an oddly emotional and strange time for me since I was diagnosed. When I first found the lump in September 2009, the first thing which came to my mind was that I would not be alive to see the coming Christmas.  When Christmas 2009 came, not long after in weeks, but after a new lifetime of surgery, treatments, needles, appointments, a whole new vocabulary and learning to live with the cancer mindset, I was incredibly emotional.  I struggled to hold tears in check when carol singers were singing a version of Jingle Bells in Myanmar outside our gate.  I crumbled again last year, when the carollers came into our house and my composure was just to difficult to maintain.

So this year, I felt the first wobbles as we approached Christmas and I saw the carollers outside neighbouring gates.  However, I left Yangon on the 23 December for my Mrauk U adventure and immediately was caught up in the immediate, making plans and exploring.

I arrived in Mrauk U on Christmas Eve and spent the rest of the day exploring on foot and taking a ridiculous amount of photographs.  On Christmas Day I hired a bicyce and expored the nearly villages and temples, getting lost a number of times and having a wonderful time.  I seemed to provide a great source of entertainment, asking for directions and questions, stopping for a cold drink in a roadside stall and returning to my hotel dusty and hungry for Christmas Dinner.

 

On Boxing Day, I hired a pony and cart to explore the further away temples and minimise the getting lost portion of the activity.  Towards the end of the afternoon, after a day where I saw only three or four other temple tourists the whole day, I was exploring the atmospheric ruins of a temple complex when I remembered.  I suddenly remembered that I had been dreading the approaching Christmas and its memories of not surviving to see Christmas 2009.  I remembered that I had been extremely fragile the previous year.  But something had shifted in my mind which put cancer to the side more than I realised and it completely slipped my mind.

Cancer is still very much in the forefront of my mind, and I am sure it will continue to be.  However, the fact that this memory of being so emotional and connecting it so clearly with Christmas has faded so much shows me clearly that my mind is healing more than I had realised.  For once I am incredibly thankful that I forgot something!

Fragile

I came home for an hour at lunchtime yesterday as I had been unwell overnight, and wanted to have a short rest.

Just before I was about to leave home I switched on the TV to see what was happening in the world.  With utter horror and disbelief I was confronted with live footage of the tsunami sweeping over northern Japan.

I was glued to the screen, compelled to watch despite the fact that I knew that people were caught in the devastation unfolding before me.

There is such a mix of emotions at a time like this.  I was willing there to be less suffering than the horrific images indicate.  There was shock and disbelief at the incredible destruction and fragility of life.  As a humanitarian and development professional, I found myself immediately connecting into response and relief updates.  I had not expected however, that I would suddenly feel as if I had been instantly transported back to December 2004.  (I was in the Andaman Islands at the time of the Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami, and it was incredibly traumatic, particularly for our families).  Contact with my family back in Scotland confirmed that we were all taken back to that day.

Last year not long after the earthquake struck Haiti I wrote a long post for the blog, which I never actually posted.  I reflected how introspective I had become due to cancer taking over my life and noted that the recent global disasters had kicked me out of that.  This had been prompted by the fact that I had been contacted to see if would be available for the response.  I felt that as a bald, single breasted, fully signed up member of the chemo club I would not be much assistance, so declined the invitation for deployment.  I have re-read that post today as it seems particularly poignant and will revise and post in the coming few days.

The words of Sting particularly strike me – both in the bigger scheme of things as well as in our own immediate worlds “lest we forget, how fragile we are”.  We are indeed.