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.

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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.

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.

Brought by the rains

Apparently the cyclone (Mahasen) which is bearing down on the Bangladesh/Myanmar coast has weakened to Tropical Storm status.  Which has to be better news than cyclone status.  Marginally.  It does not mean however, that the highly vulnerable communities which are in its path, under the wide system spread across the region, and which be affected by the storm surge, winds and flooding, will not be impacted.  They almost certainly will be. The frantic preparations will for sure make a difference, but the vulnerability in these areas is enormous.

storm clouds over YangonThe fact that the storm kept changing its mind about exactly where it was headed, has kept us on tenterhooks refreshing the storm tracking maps and checking predictions constantly.  It seems to have changed tack again and is passing a good bit further north of us than originally predicted.  There are some pretty angry skies here though, whether the outer tendrils of Mahasen, or just coincidental monsoonal tantrums gathering.  Whatever it is, it is bringing dramatic bursts of rain, thunder, lightning and winds.

I was woken in the night by one such dramatic rainstorm.  The rains were pounding, the winds rushing and in the midst of it was the bullfrog.  He was seemingly confused, as he was giving out his loud “bring the rains” call, which is very different from his “wallowing in the rains” call.  Dawn saw a sky strewn with wispy clouds, and great clumps of chunky grey cloud against an incongruous bright blue sky.

The rains however, had brought an abundant flowering of the Padauk tree, even more  profuse than that of last week.  As soon as I left home, I saw women with Padauk in their hair, bikes and cars with a bloom and an influx of sellers among the traffic.  There must have been a huge overnight Padauk harvest.

Woman with Padauk flowers in her hair

Woman with Padauk flowers in her hair

Padauk seller

Padauk seller at the traffic lights

As I reached the bottom of my lane, however, the most special moment of the day happened.  The woman in one of the tiny wooden shops called out to me, asking me to wait a moment.  She reached over, holding out a small branch of the Padauk for me.  It was still covered in raindrops and giving out its characteristic sweet scent.  I gave some of the blossoms to colleagues, who put it in their hair.  Many other of the women already had blossoms pinned onto their hair.  The remaining blossoms sat on my desk, their scent and colours reminding me of how little is needed to bring a smile.  Despite the nervousness of the approaching cyclone towards the northern shores, there was an unexpected and welcome lightness somehow brought to the day.

April May 2013 598

By the end of the working day, the flowers were already wilting and news of Mahasen making landfall filtering through.  It seems from early reports that the system is continuing to weaken but we know that it will be devastating for too many.

As the rains sweep in they bring transformation – some welcome and some most definitely not.