There is an unusual breeze in Yangon today.  The leaves are whispering, throwing decayed leaves, which had been sleeping undisturbed for months, down to the ground. There they gather in little bundles, stirring as each new gusts sweeps over them.  Little blossoms on the tree  promise mangoes in the coming weeks. New frangipani buds reach up towards the sun, gently watched over by sibling petals new to the world. The air feels heavier, as moisture gathers and the afternoon heat builds.

IMG_2028And we are reminded that time marches on. Seasons shift. Life goes on. And these little signs of promise are there to help us move forward too. Sometimes we need to search more than other times, but they are there.

Introspection – “extrospection” through the breast cancer lens

This is the post I wrote a year ago, and which is eerily current.

March 2010

“There’s one thing about cancer – my goodness it makes you self centred!  Conversation and communication revolves around current treatment, side effects, what’s next, how well I’m coping (aye right!) and generously taking the p*** out of cancer as it takes the p*** out of me!

It’s not that I don’t care or think about anything external but rather that the whole cancer thing just takes right over.

So this is an attempt to see things a little bit “out of the box” and remember that there was a Feisty Blue Gecko before there was a need to fight back!  Indeed it is not as if I was short of things to say about life before the lump.

I have had a pretty amazing life in lots of ways, one of extremes and challenges and privileges and rare experience.  I could really honestly say that I loved life, and in particular I loved my life. 

And then I found the lump.

I do still love life, but it just all feels on hold.  And I don’t love the chemo-treatment-bald-twang arm life in the same way!!

So I have been prompted to look back over recent years.  I moved to Nepal (from Scotland) in mid 2000 and ended up living and working there until late 2005. I grew and learned enormously both personally and professionally in those years, and experienced some incredible times both frighteningly challenging as well as heart-stoppingly magical.   In November 2005 hubby J and I moved to Mongolia where we spent a hugely different year in a massively different context, culture and climate, never mind diet!………..More incredible learning and challenges.  A year later we packed again and set off back to the sub continent – this time to the tsunami affected areas of India (Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands) and a professional shift from broad development work into post emergency/rehabilitation and humanitarian work.  It was also a very special opportunity to re-visit the Andaman Islands where we had been on December 26 2004 (and that earthquake and tsunami experience is a whole other tale, for another day…….)  It was wonderful both professionally and personally, and an invaluable experience which enabled great healing.

And that is when Feisty Blue Gecko was born.  I started blogging following my first visit back to the Andamans, when I was treated to a small earthquake just to remind me of 2004. After our year in India I moved next door to work in Sri Lanka for another year, when the conflict was at its peak in full scale humanitarian work.  It was an incredible change to begin my work in Myanmar last year and I was really settling into life and work here.  I was completely and utterly unprepared for the cancer call when it came.

Recently, I was kicked out of my cancer induced introversion by global events.  The Haiti earthquake immediately shocked in its severity and I was surprised to be contacted with 24 hours to ascertain whether I might be available to be deployed for the emergency response.  Clearly I was in no position to be any use there. However, it really made me stop and think.  I could see how small and personal my own “calamity” was, yet it hammered home just how much life has changed for me.  The thought that I might not be able to play a part in a humanitarian response again was particularly hard to contemplate.

At the same time, a lesser known disaster was emerging in Mongolia, a Dzuud – a kind of severe winter famine.   This received little attention because its toll on human life is perceived as far less.  The main impact is death of significant numbers of livestock.  The traditional nomadic herding communities however, experience the harsh after effects for many years to come.  These include immediate and often total loss of livelihoods, migration to urban areas and many are deeply trapped in poverty.  And that does not begin to describe how life is affected for the herding families and the real difficulties of such a change.  While I was working in Mongolia I heard of and saw over and over again the impact of the Dzuud disasters on families which had taken place 4 – 5 years previously.  Time and time again I heard of the effects on those families and how so many were still struggling so many years later.

So while my little, personal world has been knocked about as the big world is being shaken, I think it is good to be kicked out of my introspection.  However, I can see that looking outwards is now characterised by the fact that I see everything through the breast cancer lens.   So it seems that the global and personal worlds are in sync, and this outward look cannot fail but to reinforce it the inward one.  Ironically, this emphasises just how much my own life has indeed changed.”

March 2011

Apart from the fact that I was in the midst of active treatment when I wrote this, and Haiti was on the world stage rather than Japan, my thoughts seem to be very similar.  Although I am in a much stronger position now and have indeed recently been involved in a response in country, things have shifted and changed.  I am living life again, picking up the pieces and but it is most definitely through the breast cancer lens.  And as much as my own world has been turned upside down since diagnosis, the magnitude of what has happened in Japan and my reactions show that despite the fact that I am in a different and better place this year, I still need to be shaken from introspection.

Dancing to the bonus track – La Giardia Lambada

I have been Missing in Action for the couple of weeks now and an update is overdue to fill in the blanks.  So this short post is just to start to catch up with what has been happening recently.

I had a marvellous trip to the field – it was inspiring, exhausting, humbling and motivating.  I had expected it to be a Big Deal and it did not disappoint. It was a Great Step Forward indeed.  I returned to Yangon in high spirits.

Unfortunately, within 48 hours of my return to the big city, I was felled by a stomach bug and spent far more time than I would like in the smallest room of the house, feeling sorry for myself as well as for those near to me!  This lasted beyond the usual couple of days and I was prescribed an antibiotic which made absolutely no difference.  A few days later, with symptoms continuing I was treated for Giardia Lambla, a long standing acquaintance of mine.

Happily this medication took effect pretty quickly and I was able take a break from dancing the Giardia Lambada!

I have been living in Asia for over ten years now and over these years have spent a fair amount of time with uninvited guests and bugs resulting in a variety of gloriously crude symptoms.  That’s part and parcel of living in developing contexts and demonstrates clearly the balance between the novelty and privilege of living in an exotic environment with some of the challenges.  I guess you could call it a Bonus Track!

In some ways, the timing of this visitation was fortunate because a close friend was due to arrive to stay with us, and I had planned a few days leave.  It was frustrating not feeling well, especially since I have been full of energy recently.  However, we had over 5 years to catch up on and with the temperature outside increasing every day, we spent most of the time at home.

On Monday I returned to work and a backlog of all things, including internet correspondence.  By the end of the week I was again caught by some bug, and was violently ill all night.  This was a different beast though and I was soon back on my feet, rehydrating and being kind to my digestive system.  This time, I think it was probably linked to the fact that the transformer in the lane outside our house had blown up a couple of days earlier and we had lost electricity for around 18 hours.  In this weather, having the fridge out of order for so long is dangerous and this highlights the importance of throwing out any food – a waste but better than risking serious illness.  Of course, I did spend the night convinced that a stomach tumour was causing my sickness, but that seems to be better now.  (The mind as well as the stomach!)

So now it is the weekend again, and I have a chance to catch up.  I will be putting things together over the weekend and posting over the coming days.

In the meantime, I want to share this picture of a visitor in our garden this morning!  I would love to say it was a Feisty Blue Gecko, but it is apparently a Chameleon who must have been sheltering on a Flag of Scotland!