Collecting the water while it rains

A Plea for the rains

I jolt awake.
A click
echoes
in my ears.
And a sinking knowledge
that the power has gone,
the fan has stopped.
In that very instant
the air curdles,
descends,
smothering me,
stealing
any breathable air.
Sleep now impossible.

Please let the rains come soon

In afternoons
I hesitate
to step outside.
My umbrella
attempts
to shade the piercing sun,
but still
my skin burns.
Any remnant of dignity
evaporates,
and I glow
as if
I have danced a reel
or climbed a peak
or chased a runaway child
for miles
when all I have done
is to pause
at the side of the road.

Please let the rains come soon

The trees
have aged,
their expressions irritable,
their humour dry.
The earth is gasping,
craving moisture,
the grasses scorched.
The blossoms on the trees
are holding onto their colours,
afraid
to release their petals
into the sun’s furnace.

Oh please let the rains come soon

The skies thicken,
containing
threats
and promises
of proper, thundering rain.
Padauk blossoms,
no longer able
to restrain themselves,
spill from their trees overnight
onto the lanes,
casting a carpet of yellow
for but a few hours.
Jacaranda
can wait no longer,
flame trees
burn
and the landscape shivers,
calling, beseeching.

Please, please let the rains come soon

And then,
one Tuesday
halfway through May,
under the Kason moon,
the sky can no longer contain
the might
of the unfallen rain.
Plip!
A few,
tentative
drops.
Smack!
Dime-sized
bulging
trailblazing
fat raindrops.
Plop!
At first so few
I can count each one
splat
on the earth
as it lands.
Then the first
bold heralds
of monsoon
are followed smartly,
hurriedly,
by a rush
of impatient showers,
a gathering rumble
building,
and now
thundering torrents,
a deafening
outpouring,
downpouring
release.

Thank goodness the rains have come!

Brothers, aunties, cousins
rushing outdoors,
faces upturned,
delighting.
Raindrops dripping
from noses,
chins,
grins.
Children
splashing,
dancing,
frolicking,
squealing,
drenching.
Fatigue,
lethargy
all washed away.
The grasses
sigh
with delight
before they disappear
under murky
soupy
rising waters.
The cloudburst washes out
any sleeping scorpions,
calls thick red earthworms
to their seasonal duty.
Eager leeches,
waiting for so long,
slither out from hiding.

Thank goodness the rains have come!

The fruit trees sigh.
Mangoes
appear overnight
after weeks of waiting.
Jackfruit,
large,
distended,
defy gravity,
magically secure
on spindly stalks,
bundles
of jagged temptation
hovering
over pavements
too slippery
to walk on,
too often submerged.

Indeed the rains have come

Irritable, sullen black clouds
sweep insistently,
relentlessly.
Days
stretch into weeks
upon weeks
with the barest
briefest
of pauses.
Frogs
night after night
croaking
exhausted,
voices hoarse
craving rest and sleep.
Plans cancelled,
meet-ups delayed,
conversations diverted
friendships stretched,
all disrupted by pounding rains.
Smart outfits soaked
by sudden squalls
or the wet seat
of a taxi.
Clothes musty,
starting to rot.
Surprise threads of mould
appearing one day
on a pristine surface.
Mosquitoes
fat,
greedy,
thronging,
feeding on exhausted beings.
Glimpses too rare
of blue sky
or sun
overhead,
through impenetrable layers
of determined
grainy
charcoal inkblot
suffocating, shrouding cloud.

Oh, please let the rains end soon!

©PCR – Feisty Blue Gecko

“Collecting the water while it rains”

IFG Anthology

This is the final poem in a collection of fiction, poetry and memoir from Myanmar, entitled “Collecting the water while it rains”.  This book is newly published by the International Friendship Group (IFG) of Yangon. IFG works to promote cross-cultural exchange, education and opportunities for all – all proceeds from the sale of the collection go to support IFG and their work.

image

It’s a couple of years since I wrote “A plea for the rains”, but it is apt more than ever this year as we wait impatiently for the rains to start.

The title of the collection refers to a proverb in Myanmar which says “collect the water while it rains. This tells us that there are moments which are auspicious for particular actions, which we should seize when we can. As the blurb on the back of the book says, “what more auspicious time could there be to gather stories of this country..?”

The blurb continues:

“Blending the voices of natives and newcomers, with contributions spanning decades, and representing both professional writers and those simply moved to record a moment of everyday life in an extraordinary place”.

I am honoured to have this poem, one short piece of fiction and a short memoir in the collection. I am especially delighted that the photograph on the front cover is one of my own, taking during my many monsoon wanderings around Yangon’s lanes following a downpour.

The second word of my 2016 mantra is “nurture” and this applies particularly to creativity. I have held on to the news about this anthology for a little while, since the book was launched late in March.

It seems that now is the right time to share this, along with the plea to El Nino to gently release its grip and for the arrival of kind rains.

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.

image

 

image

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.

image

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.

Lymphoedema? Seriously? Life following diagnosis is just not that simple……

Recently many changes in my life have been underway. One major change which has impacted significantly on me had been the closure of the place where I have been swimming in the mornings. I knew this would be tough, but it has had even more impact than I had expected.

The facility closed to members on July 1 but I was soon on home leave. Furthermore, rainy season always disrupts swimming plans. Every night my ear is always keenly listening for the sound of rain through the sound of the fan. If the rain is heavy, the swim is postponed. Sometimes a full week of postponed swims passes in rainy season.

yangon monsoon

 

Aung Min Gaung River 1Now that the rains are starting to abate, I should be able to swim more often. I need to make plans.

But the gap this year has been too long. Very few swims in too many weeks.

Over the past weeks, I have also been experience increasing pain in my left arm. Twang Arm. I mentioned this to my Doctor here in Yangon and he told me exactly what I did NOT want to hear. What I had not even told myself.

Just a few weeks before the 6th anniversary of my mastectomy and the grand removal of all lymph nodes in my left arm I  developed lymphoedema. These are not my arms, but a stock image of what it looks like.

lymphoedema

Seriously?  Yes, seriously. Sad Face. Angry Face.  ARE-YOU-KIDDING-ME? face.

I am pretty certain that there is a direct relationship between the lack of swimming and the intrusion of this unwelcome bonus condition.

So I am on a quest. As the rains abate, I am seeking out another option. You have to factor in a house move to my recent changes, so I am also testing out new geography and facilities.  I have already checked out one place and had a test swim. This is not quite so easy to get to, but it is a possibility. There are two great pools, a 30 metre and an 33 metre pool. I do not think there are any kingfishers and it is a great deal busier but that is life.

I have always been convinced that the almost daily swims from very soon after surgery, really played a part in keeping lymphoedema at bay. Now I am going to see if I can reverse this and at the very least prevent it from getting worse. It is mild at the moment, and I must stop it from getting worse. Oh and does anyone have any idea where and how I can get a lymphoedema sleeve in Yangon?

lymphoedema sleeveAs October advances with its array of messages around Breast Cancer, I want to add my own message, which is “it just isn’t that simple“. I am happy to be living with NED and want to stay that way, but life after diagnosis just is not that simple. Lympoedema is just one more bonus in the post diagnosis life, as I have discussed before. Thanks but no thanks cancer, indeed.  These bonuses include:

  • A digestive tract which remains sensitive following the ghastly gastric effects of chemo.
  • I have difficulties with memory too, my personal memory card is none too reliable and has particular dislike for. This is linked to  “chemobrain”- a level of cognitive impairment “thanks” to chemotherapy which is now more recognised and understood to be very real.
  • The pulmonary embolism which tried to get rid of me in 2012, and for which I still have to take blood thinners and undergo regular checks.
  • The failed thyroid, which again needs daily medication.
  • Peripheral neuropathy in toes and fingers. Not severe but enough to affect mobility and make me walk clumsily to make others notice. Enough to make me trip and fall too regularly.
  • Brittle and constantly breaking nails
  • Highly sensitive skin – which cannot tolerate sticking plaster or bandaids (depending on the part of the world you come from 😉 ), and which can sense the presence of a stray hair through several layers of clothing. This includes the extremely sensitive soles of my feet
  • Excruciating night time, and other time cramps.
  • Last and in no way least, is Twang Arm which remains seriously corded and which is now clearly laughing up its lymphoedema sleeve.

Again, I need to respond by stepping up my game and squaring up, no matter how exhausting this is.

I am not afraid to shout out that I HATE cancer, I HATE the way it continues to sneak in surprises and knock you when you are still getting getting back to your feet.

Life after a diagnosis of breast (or any cancer) just is not that simple.

The winds of change

September is a mixed month usually in Myanmar.  The rainy season starts to ease.  I returned to a couple of days where the sky was blue, the daytime temperatures soaring and Facebook statuses celebration a break in the clouds.  Quite literally. The months of June, July and August see thick cloud, heavy rains and only a very rare glimpse of the sun.  It is sticky and uncomfortable, yet it is refreshing and life-giving.

This afternoon, I sit in one of my favourite spots, a balcony on a Yangon Tea Salon, bounded with orchids, a peaceful and creative space, attempting to catch up on bloggery and life. The earlier, hot sun has been chased away by gathering back clouds and in moments my peaceful space is turned into a rainforest.

last rainsI love the rains, though I do find the constant greyness depressing and the humidity exhausting.  The rains are warm, unlike our Scottish rain and they bring a wealth of sounds, plant life and noisy animal and reptile life into the everyday.  They disrupt.  Sudden floods and violent downpours bring life briefly to a standstill. But they bring an indescribable childish zest.  I never tire of listening to the thundering downpours.

But now, inevitably we are moving into new times.  The rains will subside, wider swatches of blue sky will appear and by late October/November the rains will be but a memory.

The Yangon sky as the seasons change

The Yangon sky as the seasons change

This season represents a different kind of change for me.  We move through September, and my stomach tenses, my breath shortens and my mind becomes increasingly distracted. I discovered the lump which was to be a door into a new and strange world, the breast cancer world in September 2009 and I face a number of significant anniversary and landmark days.  To reinforce this, the global Breast Cancer Awareness month shakes up a multitude of reminders and debates. And just to add to the intensity, the Great Annual Checks and Scans loom.  As the rains disappear and clouds move into the distance, All Things Cancer sweep forcefully into my line of vision from all directions.

More than ever, I will strive to keep some balance as I navigate the coming weeks.  And I am sure I can be forgiven for wishing to close my eyes and find myself in November, checks behind me and some reassurance to take forward and clear blue skies for some months ahead.

Shadow, reflection and showers

I feel as if the dry season has stretched a little this year.  Weeks and months creep past, with hardly a drop of rain.  Showers which we can mark in the calendar.  Yes, that was the week it rained, we remember. A January rainstorm and an April downpour.  Aberrations, punctuating the increasingly stifling heat building around us. We start to dream of rain, to imagine we hear drops falling.  The wind rises, whispering promises of rain soon, soon.  My heart soared two weeks ago, on a stuffy Saturday afternoon when I heard that unmistakable sound of large, bulging raindrops falling outside. Raindrops I could count, and see their mark on the ground briefly before they were swallowed by the parched ground.  There is only one thing to be done on hearing this sound, and catching the scent of fresh rain in the air.  Before I know what has happened, I am in the garden, face upturned and arms outstretched, welcoming those first delicious rains onto my face, smiling and laughing like a child.  The shower might be brief but so refreshes the mind and body and sharpens the anticipation of the rains.

The rain came again on Tuesday, hidden while I was inside the airport building and unseen until boarding.  Such a sense of disappointment and being cheated, at not being able to watch or feel the rain as it swept in.  The rain on a runway is not the rain I had been dreaming of, nor the rain streaked horizontally across the cabin windows in the aircraft. Nor the dramatic rain storms underneath while we were kept on hold above our destination. It might have been “not quite the right kind of rain” but it was a renewed promise of monsoon.

It has rained every afternoon since then.  Bulky clouds with attitude gathering in the sky, thunder rumbling and cracking, spirited breezes materialising from nowhere and rains teeming down. Alongside a renewed energy and exuberance within each of us. The frogs are wakening and critters being washed from their hiding places. The landscape will quickly change.

And so too does my image for now.  Over this dry season, I have become increasingly fascinated with the play of light, of shadows and of reflection as I struggle to get to know my camera, and try to capture glimpses of magic I see around me.

I am also a little naughty with the concept of “selfie” photography and have my own version which protects my privacy yet places me in my environment.  The “Shadow Selfie” is what I call it.  Now that the rains are moving in I am sure there will be less shadow and I have therefore chosen an image which comes from this very special time when the season starts to turn, and the trees come to life with their array of colour.  I particularly love the jacaranda and could not resist a “shadow selfie” under a blossoming jacaranda tree as I paused on my cycle home from my early morning swim.

Shadow selfie and fallen Jacaranda blossom
Shadow selfie and fallen Jacaranda blossom

The jacaranda is already shedding its colours as the season changes.

All the more reason to preserve it just a little longer.

Before…….

I woke before the alarm this morning.  Pre-dawn hints of daylight promised a clearer start to the day, a pause in the continuous monsoon downpours. As I dressed, streaks of pink formed and disappeared. An ordinary late September day.

As the morning wore on, gathering clouds brought the pause to an end as more rains hammered down, the grey sky giving its clear message that rainy season is not ready to retire quite yet. A typical late September day.

storm clouds over Yangon

By this time in the rainy season, there is a musty heaviness in the air.  A constant dampness. The relief of a refreshing shower before sleeping cleanses the clamminess we gather during these days.  A unremarkable late September day.

yangon monsoon

It was such an ordinary late September day four years ago today. So ordinary I can’t remember how the day started, or what time it might have rained. I have no recollection what I ate for supper that evening.  What I do remember is the chill of fear in my gut during when showering before sleeping.  I can remember exactly how it felt when I felt the lump that should not have been there.  I clearly remember exactly where it was.  And that it was still there when I prodded after a few moments, praying I might have imagined it, or it might have disappeared.

At that very moment, that particular late September day became suddenly extraordinary.  Memorable.  For all the wrong reasons.

Four years ago, in the evening of 23 September 2009 I discovered the lump which was to challenge everything I thought was sure. How sweet the air must have felt that unremarkable morning in late September four years ago as I went about my ordinary daily journey.  Oblivious to what was ahead of me only a few hours away.

We have no idea what is ahead of us, what unpleasantness might be on our horizon. We must not forget to pause and drink in the little details around us and the precious moment we sometimes miss.  Tomorrow may look very different.

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Seeking balance

As we move into September, we look for signs that the rainy season is starting to subside.  Longer pauses between downpours, larger fragments of blue sky and a slight fatigue of the mould spores and cloying humidity which cling to the monsoon days.  I think I will never tire of the stirring I feel when the rains pound down outside, clean and dry inside.  Still, the thought of days uninterrupted by rains which can paralyse city life is appealing after these months of rain.

There seems to be a fine balance between days which are too wet, and those which are unbearably hot.

alms collecting in the rain

Finding a balance between wellbeing and the pressures of everything-that-needs-to-be-done is equally not easy.  A much milder bug has visited me this week, causing worry in my heart that I would again be floored.  Happily, it has turned out so far to be a manageable, if tiring, visitation.

More interestingly, however, there have been a couple of unexpected developments this week.  A major piece of work needs to be completed and I started the week with my mind buzzing, trying to catch and organise the priorities flying around. Lists were forming and reforming in my head, like a Harry Potter spell, changing places and merging before I could grasp any order.  From somewhere came a compulsion.  I closed my eyes and attempted to still my mind, focusing on my breathing, the sounds of the morning outside melting as I slipped into a short meditation.  Something I have not practised for quite a while.

Rising from the meditation, I moved into my usual morning routine. But when I sat down with my tea after breakfast, I had a pen and notebook in my hand.  A growing compulsion was pushing me to pick up another practice which I had not done for some time.  I started writing furiously, three “Morning Pages”.

So even before heading to work, I had drawn in two different approaches to set the tone for the day.  And you know what – the was indeed highly productive!

This has continued throughout the week, a 15 minute meditation followed by the Morning Pages routine.  and similarly focused and productive days.  Now arriving at Saturday evening, the day has been less so, but I reckon that is important.  It is part of that balance.

Plans are being hatched at the moment and these will appear here in the coming weeks.  There will be updates and discussions on plans we have for raising awareness about breast cancer here.  Yes, awareness – it is part of the picture only, for sure.  But it is critical. There are plans for visiting guest posts and their news here.  And I hope to share some very exciting news about a visitor coming to Myanmar next week……….. we are trying to juggle in a chance to meet up and I cannot begin to express how greatly I hope that this will happen.

In some says it feels a bit like a tightrope walk at the moment, keeping my eyes firmly ahead, and attempting not  to lose that sense of balance and land too heavily on one side or the other.