Diversity and light

Today is 31 October.    According to my friend Wikipedia, it is the 304th day of the year (305th this year because it is a leap year) in the Gregorian calendar, and there are 61 days remaining until the end of the 2012.  It is also Halloween in many places, with all that entails.

Apparently, it is also National coat of Arms day in Ecuador (oh I just love Wikipedia for teaching me my new things for many days).

And of course, it is the final day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  There is lots of discussion about that around me.

The day has many significances to us, in our different locations and cultures, but also in our own sense of where we are at a particular time.  Over here in Myanmar, we have been marking Thadingyut, which brings the three months of “Buddhist Lent” to a close.  Yesterday evening I was welcomed home in the evening by rows of tiny candles around the gate, down the drive and around the house.

Houses nearby were bathed in light from candles and fairly lights.  Fireworks louder than thunder crashed across the sky.  The full moon sat heavily behind a mist of light cloud.  There was a real air of festivity and spirituality around.  The period of Buddhist Lent begins with the Waso full moon which usually falls in July and continues through the monsoon.  This is a time when people are busy tilling their land and planting the paddyfields, and monks will not travel but stay at their monasteries.  During this time, it is believed generally to be inauspicious to marry, to move house or to enter generally into a new venture.

Hence the feeling of thanksgiving and celebration in the air over Thadingyut.

This reminds me that I have a great deal to be thankful for.  I am living and working in an amazing place at an amazing time, and able to experience such rich diversity.  And even more thankful to be here after the last round of checks and scares.

Happy Thadingyut!

Spooked at Halloween

Halloween is upon us, the time for ghosts and vampires, pumpkins and dressing up.  In Scotland there are a variety of traditional Halloween activities for children.  These include “guising” (a bit like trick or treat, this involves dressing up and going round the doors, singing a song, reciting a poem or telling a joke in return for money, monkey nuts and sweets),  “dooking for apples” (ducking into a basin of water to catch an apple in your teeth) and trying to eat a treacle scone dangling from a piece of string!  Our version of the pumpkin lantern is the turnip lantern, though thanks to globalisation and greater availability of pumpkins, turnips are seen less often than the  pumpkin versions.  And it is a darn site easier to make a pumpkin lantern – have you ever tried gouging out a tough turnip!

No Halloween is complete without ghosts.  Don’t tell anyone, but my hubby is afraid of ghosts.  I mean really afraid of ghosts.  I didn’t realise just how deep a fear it was, until one evening, when our conversation turned to ghosts.  It was a bit reminiscent of childhood when you tell each other ghost stores, and terrify each other but are still compelled to recount the scariest things you have heard.  Well hubby alarmed himself so much (and most of the ghost stories were his) that he was too scared to venture into the darkness of the bedroom on his own!  I had to go in advance and turn on every light possible.  And give the room a thorough checking over for anything spooky or suspicious before he allowed himself to be led there!


I realised, when living in Nepal, that hubby is not alone is this abject fear of ghosts, or “bhoot” as they are called across large parts of the sub continent.   In villages when I was travelling I was told not to go out at night for the paths were dangerous.  I thought they were warning me because the villages were on such steep landscape, but no, it was due to the risk of being accosted by  “drunks and ghosts”!  Across India and Nepal “bhoots” are highly feared.  Wikipedia tells us that Bhoots have backward facing feet, float above the ground as the earth is sacred, they cast no shadows, and speak with a nasal twang.  They often lurk on specific trees and prefer to appear in white clothing.  Often they haunt specific houses, often places where they were killed or which have some other significance to the bhoot.

When my sister in law came to visit us in Yangon she brought her Nepali fear of ghosts with her and expressed fear at sleeping in one of the spare rooms.  She was reassured in a highly matter of fact tone by our friend who said with surprise “Ghost?  But this house doesn’t have one”.  In Myanmar, there are Nat spirits rather than the ghosts we are more familiar with, and shrines are ubiquitous.  When we first arrived, the housekeeper in our interim staff house was glad to learn that we did not eat pork. She explained that the nat which lived in that house, did not like pork and if it was eaten in the house it would cause arguments.

I am probably less afraid than hubby of ghosts, although I do get a bit “spooked” with discussions or TV programmes about ghosts, the paranormal and such “other worldly” or apparently unexplainable phenomena.  But that fear is nothing in comparison with my number one fear.  The new one which came as a gift with my diagnosis.

The fear of recurrence.

This is something I discuss regularly, for example in this “Fear Factor” post.  Halloween might mark the end of the designated Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but it does not mean an end to the fear of recurrence.  Once diagnosed, every month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  For those living with metastatic disease, every minute of every day means Breast Cancer Awareness.   No matter how far we are from our diagnosis, fear is not far away.

It is sometimes hard for others to understand that fear is a part of our lives. This is not about attitude or being positive, it is a reality which we manage in our lives and balance with vigilance about our health.  It is not something which we can forget as we move out of October.

We all have fears.  Whether our fear is of ghosts, spiders, heights or metastatic cancer, that fear is real and valid.  No matter the basis, we have to respect each other’s fears.