Morning Walks

This is a beautiful time of year – the start of the dry season, relatively cooler and drier air and disappearance of the thick clouds. Mostly. This year the rains have been teasing us with frequent reappearances, and some very heavy rainstorms. Every time we think we have seen the last of the rains, we are surprised by another downpour. Now we have had a few days with blue skies and slightly cooling mornings and evenings for a little longer. We quietly whisper to ourselves that the rains have now finally departed. The mornings are cool and dry. Perfect for early morning walking.

I have frequently said that I am not a natural “morning person” in that I always want to turn over and have a while longer in the comfort of my bed. But I know that once, I am up and especially once I am out of the door, then I have a sense of something akin to pride and appreciation that I have made the effort.

This is also a special time of year in that it is in between the full moon festivals of Thadingyut and Tazaungmon in Myanmar, which I wrote about last year here:

Throughout the wettest days of the monsoon, between the July and the October full moons of Waso and Thadingyut , there is a period which is often called  “Buddhist Lent” in Myanmar. During this period, it is usual not to begin new ventures – not to start a new job or move house and not to get married. At the Thadingyut Full Moon (usually in October) there is a great sense of festivity and the city is bathed in lights and candles. The temples are packed and shops full of gift packs of monk robes and appropriate gifts.  The night sky is punctuated with lanterns floating upwards.

During the daytime, the streets are nowadays a-buzz with post election smiles and purple-inked fingers, with the trucks with money frames and thumping music, daily bustle and most folks holding umbrellas to shield them from the sun.

Yangon days

However, the early mornings are completely different in nature. The streets and lanes are misty, there are few cars but more than a few people with early morning purposes. Before the sun rises too high in the sky, the air is cool and the light is mellow. It is a very special time. I have been able to re-establish an early morning routine which replaces swimming for now, with a morning walk.

imageDuring my walk the other morning, I passed a group of young nuns, collecting alms as usual on certain days of the lunar month. In their pink robes, lit gently by the soft sunlight and with shy smiles we each walked on towards the coming day.

imageI hardly noticed the man on the bike, until I was alongside him. I did smile to myself when I spotted his wallet sticking out of the back of his lyongyi, reminding me of how many things have not changed here. It is not so easy to hold on to your wallet if it is on display in most other places.

So what did surprise me, was  seeing the reason that he had paused on his bike. He had a smartphone pressed to his ear and was in deep conversation. And that is something which is very different. When I arrived in Myanmar in 2009, mobile phones were few and far between, incredibly expensive ($1500 when I arrived) and not easy to obtain. I had no mobile phone for my first 3 years in country. We used to write phone numbers in little notebooks and use landlines. Now almost everyone (in urban areas at least) has a smartphone.

imageSo this image captures much of what I love here. My morning walk would have been very similar 6 years ago. However, while we are indeed surrounded by change, there is much which beautifully preserved.

Sometimes the richest of experiences are simple,  free and quite literally on our doorstep.

Inundated

Rainy season, rainy season  good old rainy season!  Slowly, gradually the skies clear,the mercury rises and we enjoy slivers of sunshine.  This is the time of year when we might even see rainbows.

This is also the time of year when we are more likely to be caught out by surprise rainstorms as we think the sky is clear.  Tuesday morning saw an unusually hard downpour before I was due to leave home in the morning.  I left a little early to allow extra time. As soon as I walked through the gate I was confronted with a highly confusing picture.  Right in front of me, where the road should have been, I could see children splashing as if they were in a swimming pool or river.  Where our street gently slopes downwards, our little lane had indeed become a river!  Further down I could see men waist deep in water.  Apart from an inch or two of water, I have never seen our street flood, unlike many other parts of the city. Now it was completely inundated.

Aung Min Gaung River 1Incredibly, most folks were going about their daily business and wading through the murky water. Children being carried or clinging on to the back of a bicycle as they get a lift, quite literally, to school, and the monks continuing to gather alms.  All seemingly oblivious, at the most, slightly inconvenienced.  While I stood like a complete wimp at the water’s edge phoning my office and taking photos before I returned home to wait.

Aung Min Gaung River 2

Aung Min Gaung River 3

Aung Min Gaung River 4

Aung Min Gaung River 5

Collecting alms

Collecting alms

Aung Min Gaung River 8

I was surprised that the waters receded fairly quickly, leaving major traffic jams and water-logged little cars stranded haphazardly around town. Soon there was little sign that the community had been inundated.

And amidst this, I feel emotionally inundated though perhaps it is not visible.  Work intensities take up enormous reserves of energy and time; I continue to strive to take time to smell the orchids, and have weekends and evenings filled with reading, writing and photography pursuits; working with a small group of women to organise awareness activities appropriately; swimming and cycling between downpours…….. In addition to that though, my mind is trying to assort and address some extras.  It is nearly 6 months since my father’s death and that is in my mind constantly, unexpected prompts catching me by surprise, yet feeling that it is too long ago for many to realise that the pain is so raw.  Healthwise, I am hurtling along “anniversary season”, having just marked the four year point from finding the lump, and being only 48 hours away from my four year cancerversary – the day that everything shifted and changed.  The day I heard those words “this is highly suspicious of cancer”. And just to add to the overflowing maelstrom in my head, I will travel to Bangkok for my Big Checks in just over a week.

There is not a great deal I can do, other than keep on swimming as the waters swirl around me, aware that Capt Paranoia is swimming towards me. I crave calmer waters and sunny skies.

For the moment though I must hold on to the thought that this inundation will also pass, in its own way.

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.

Blurred vision

We are slap bang in the midst of rainy season here in Yangon.

rains 1

The season is characterised by blurred images, through rain-streaked windows.

rains 2

Windows are steamed on the outside and the rain is warm.  The air is thick and sticky.  And everyone adapts to a different daily routine throughout the rainy months.

I am wondering if the onset of rainy season, coupled with the change of Femara “diet” is playing a part in those side effects getting worse.  I am not sure of that, but I do know that the topic of Tamaxofen and Aromatase Inhibitors (AIs) and their glorious side effects is not one which is going to slip back easily into the box.  I experience that duality and contradiction of feeling comforted not to be alone, but sad that so many are dealing with these side effects when I read Nancy’s discussion on the very same topic.

Nancy and I seem to be telling a very similar story. AIs can bring very difficult side effects. Not to everyone, and none of us know how they will affect us, but to many. When the side effects become very debilitating and painful, it brings the challenge of making a very tough decision about continuing them or not.  As the discussion sparked on the comments on Nancy’s blog post itself, and on her Facebook page shows, everyone has their own take on this.

We just do not have that guarantee that they will keep cancer at bay or under restraint.  What we have is statistical probability according to our own pathology and cancer profile. Taking the AIs could be what puts us over the line in terms of favourable probability. This might just be the ticket which keeps cancer at a distance.

And so the decision about whether to weather often very painful and highly debilitating side effects or not is not straight forward or clear.  Everyone has the right to make the decision which is right for them and for that to be respected.  It is a judgement call, and an individual one.

crystal ball

However, none of us can see a picture in that crystal ball, and what is within that blurry vision.  We can only do what we trust is right for us.

The Winds of Change

The winds of change are definitely in the air.  The days are becoming drier, more sunny and very hot.  There is still a good amount of rain, some torrential, but the skies are looking different.  There are swathes of blue, punctuated by white, grey and inky black cloud formations. It is a beautiful time of year, the vegetation lush and rich from the rains but now set amidst bright sunshine and clouds with character and feist.

As I discussed in my last post too, it another season is newly underway.  Personally, it is my anniversary season.  In only two days time I will silently and sombrely recall the words which changed life forever for me and those close to me.  The “this is highly suspicious of cancer” words.  Those days were followed rapidly by surgery, pathology reports, chemo and all the attendant extras that these entail. It is a rough and stormy season and one which I will be glad to be on the other side of, just like a rough storm indeed.

It is also a season which is becoming increasingly divisive within what is a close and highly supportive online (and offline) community of breast cancer veterans.  (Hmm – apart from the war and fighting associations – I think I might prefer veteran to survivor as a term?  A veteran being anyone who has crossed over the “you have cancer” line….  just thinking out loud here).  The season is of course Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) – often called Pink October.  I personally believe, looking at this from a global perspective, that there is no right or wrong in terms of BCAM.  The context varies wildly and we cannot prescribe for another situation.  I very much disagree with hijacking a cause or issue for profit, but will never tire of trying to highlight the very different context here and the challenges for, particularly women, in the developing world.

Many winds and crosswinds are blowing during October.

So while these serious winds of change are sweeping through our lives, what better time to step back and refresh the visual image backing the blog.  This time I have selected an image from my travels again, but the elements which I wish to share are ones which are universal.  A sinking sun against a sky scattered with cloud formations, reflected on the water.  Foliage silhouetted against the darkening sky.  The mood of the sky captures the winds of the changing season and the promise of dry days and retreating rains.

This is the complete image, and very shortly (as connectivity allows) the image will appear as the background for the next few weeks.