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.

Equity – Moving the conversation forward

We must keep the conversation alive.   Kirsty’s post on equity and Timor-Leste attracted several hundred views from 30 countries around the world.  I trust that the thoughts she has shared will take a hold in our minds and badger us.  That inequity.  Our own positions of relative comfort.  There but for the ……

I can feel something shifting, slowly.  Kirsty spoke about plans for a collaboration between the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Timor-Leste.  A critical start.  I can promise updates on how that takes shape.

I can also share some ripples from Myanmar.  I recently learned that a group of women and men affected by breast cancer had come together in Yangon.  Such news really warms my heart, even if it is based on the contradiction of diagnosis.  The group is establishing a Foundation for those who have been touched by a breast cancer diagnosis.  The aims will be wide and ambitious.  They have to be.  And connected with that, the tiny number of (international) women I know here who have been through breast cancer are also coming together to see how we can contribute to the aims of the Foundation as well as connecting as we continue our paths following diagnosis.

northern star

There is a shift.  A start. Conversations are picking up, building on will. There is a long way to go, but a journey is underway.  And I feel far from alone as I pick my steps along this path.

A break?

These past few months have been tough ones,  physically, emotionally and whatever-elsely.  Any leave I have taken has been related to either medical or family matters and so I have been approaching this break with some anticipation, if not desperation!  The plan was a cunning one.  Given that Friday and Monday were both Public Holidays here, I decided to finish up on the Thursday evening and then take a few days as a buffer before the hankered after healing trip to Malaysia…..  In those six days between finishing work I would relax in Yangon, take time to prepare for my break and take care of a few tasks which I have not quite managed to work through.  You know the ones, the not-urgent-so-they-get-put-to-the-side tasks.  This included tasks which although not quite urgent are still important – setting up a scholarship in memory of my father for the Tall Ships Youth Trust, overdue and unanswered correspondence, medical reimbursement claims, a heap of boring-yet-important paperwork tasks.  It also included planning and dreaming time (the “focus” part of my three words for the year) and regrouping in terms of creative and personal priorities for the year.  It included catching up with friends and having lazy lunches and coffees in Yangon’s nicest spots. Great plans for a few days pre-holiday break.

So I was not expecting the assault which was waiting in the wings for me  As I tidied and wrapped up priorities and essentials around me on Thursday I was aware that I had the occasional sneezle.  Now my sneezles, I like to think are rather dainty, little soprano “aaa-teeeesh” sneezles.  The type that can break windows and crystal glasses.  The ones which were appearing on Thursday however, were deep Pavarotti-like “HHHAAAAAA-TRUUMPH” thunder claps, so unlike my own that I could have been convinced that I had been taken over by a dozen tenors with hay fever.  It did not happen too frequently though for me to give it much attention, and I handed over my work tasks, worries, tidied my papers into a single “welcome back in two weeks” bundle and spent a pleasant Thursday evening with a friend.  I still had the occasional sneezle, but nothing really of note and although feeling very tired, reached home later with no inkling of the impending ambush.

I had probably only been asleep around an hour when I realised that something was brewing.  My nose was becoming really stuffy and there was a familiar discomfort on breathing which heralded some kind of upper respiratory cough/cold ahead. By the time morning arrived I was in some sort of meltdown.  Some very nasty virus had clearly taken quite a hold. My body was already fighting the abscess, which had required a change in antibiotics, and I knew I was run down and tired.  The perfect welcome committee for what would normally be a tedious, run of the mill infection.  It was frightening just how quickly and how low this knocked me down. I completely lost four days, four whole days to feverish dreams, painful coughing, streaming eyes and nose and debilitating weakness.  Half of my face (or so it feels) has been taken over by an angry cold sore the size of a Pacific island.  I can’t even remember the last time I had one of these wretched cold sores.  I don’t believe I have been laid quite so low since the chemo days.  Indeed, the last time I lost so many days was during a bout of pneumonia when my white cell count lowered enough to let that across the threshold.  But even in those days, I was able to get myself dressed and out to the Doctor for twice daily intravenous antibiotic infusions.

I am not sure where these past four days disappeared to, but they did evaporate and finally today, I have felt well enough to raise my head, dress and even tiptoe gently out of the house.

One of the delights of living in Myanmar is that there are so many ways of pampering yourself which are affordable and easily accessible.  At the end of our lane there is a small spa or beauty parlour, I’m not sure how I would term it.  However, it classifies itself, it is a haven for tired and flagging souls.  I decided that my first venture back into the outside world would be for one of those luxurious hair washes which are so much part of life here.

It is not far to walk, but probably just the right kind of distance.  Near enough to cope with wobbly legs, but far enough to at least feel as if I am stretching those muscles just a little.  With the abscess and then this lurgey, it has been nearly two weeks since I have been able to swim or cycle so gentle exercise is sorely needed.

I turned up on the doorstep of the spa, and requested a tea tree oil hair wash as the scent is reminiscent of eucalyptus and so soothes those airways beautifully.  Quite why it also smells like a giant “after eight” mint I am not sure, but it does and I tend to imagine I am wallowing in one of these mega treats! teatreeoilforgood.comThe visit was rounded off with a tentative acknowledgement of my forthcoming trip – holiday toenails.  This week I seriously doubted whether I would actually be well enough to travel and whether it would be wise.  Feeling confident enough to have my toenails done is the most significant, yet seemingly trivial, signal that I finally feel well and confident enough.

holiday toes

And if I feel well enough, confident and have holiday toes?  Then I had better start packing sometime soon……..

Who would have thought?

Who would have thought? 

As I write this, it is exactly four years since we were making that journey from Safdarjung in Delhi to the domestic airport.  We were clutching our nomadic essentials from an unexpectedly long stay in Delhi, along with a bundle of paperwork which included those precious visas.  The reason for our longer stay.

We were bound initially for Calcutta on a domestic flight and would arrive late in the evening.  We would then fly onwards to Bangkok on a three hour flight  departing in the early hours of the morning of the 18th June.  We would have a ninety minute transfer in Bangkok airport before boarding the first flight of the day to Yangon, bleary eyed and with virtually no sleep.  We would arrive, those bleary eyes bug-like, in Yangon ready for the next chapter.

Who would have thought we would still be here four years later, in a very different and exciting Myanmar?

We knew that we would need to get used to certain changes, for example, that internet was difficult to access.  I had been blogging in India and Sri Lanka,  and recorded our farewell thoughts as we prepared to leave.

Who would have thought that I would not return to Delhi in at least four years?

Who would have known that life was about to take such an unexpected turn?

Who would have known that hidden away amongst our belongings and paperwork, I was concealing two tumours and conveying them safely to our new home?

Who would have known that I would find that writing my way through this would be such a critical lifeline?

Who would have known how many friends I would meet through this?

Of course we cannot know.  To paraphrase  Soren Kierkegaard- We might understand life more easily by looking back, but we have to live it looking forward, not knowing what is ahead.

So, four years later it is fascinating to look back and realise just how much the ground has shifted in so many ways.  When I read the original Feisty Blue Gecko, so many memories come back.  It is strange to read those words and feel a strange innocence, which we realise has been wrenched from us when we crossed that line in the sand.

How much has happened in these past four years.

Who would ever have thought?  And who would have known, indeed?

Moving on

Yangon’s landscape is rapidly changing.  The colours on the city’s trees are disappearing , washed away by the monsoon rains.  The rains have arrived, with a vengeance, pounding down frequently, waking me in the night.  Moody black clouds skit across the sky, dumping their weight of water on the country, turning roads into raging rivers within minutes.

The city is lush, vibrant and teeming with life.  We have two mynahs basking in the sun, on the grass between downpours.  Preening, puffing up their feathers, strutting off to find a new spot every few minutes, perfecting their song repertoire with chirruping vocal exercises. The nighttime racket of frogs, geckos and all manner of beasties is at times as loud as the rains themselves.

Our mynahs are just like this one

Our mynahs are just like this one

Monsoon has truly arrived.  And as the seasons move forward, so it is time for a new image as my background.

 

Resting raindrop

Resting raindrop

An image I never tire of is one like this, which stopped me in my tracks yesterday on the way home between showers. A monsoon gift, one perfect teardrop, resting peacefully on its leaf, unaware that it was already  shrinking and evaporating feeding the increasing humidity.

And that is the image I choose as we move on, forward with the seasons, surrounded by new life.

 

 

Within. Without.

As I was walking down our lane the other evening, I spotted several fireflies darting about.  One of those little moments, when the ordinary is exquisite, I immediately stored the sight mentally, adding it to a little list I keep. This is the list of snippets and experiences I keep, to share with my father when I phone or see him. It must have been no more than a nanosecond before I of course remembered that I would no longer have the opportunity to share these little moments. I was almost physically winded by the thud of realisation.

I had thought when I returned to Yangon that perhaps grief might be a little kinder given that I am not surrounded by daily reminders of my father.  I am not living in the same physical space and  do not have those shared routines constantly prompting and reminding. Such naivety.  Of course I am surrounded by reminders.  Loss is not something external, it is within us.  Contained within our emotions and memories. Losing someone does not mean that the emotional ties are gone.  They are there forever.

Those reminders are everywhere.  Because they are within me not without.  When I received a Father’s Day marketing email from Pinterest yesterday, telling me that it is not too late and I “still have time to plan something for dad”, I found it hard to contain a mix of grief and anger.  I do not still have time.  It is too late. This is one of those gruelling hurdles, the first Father’s Day “without”.  Without my father.  I never will again have the opportunity to have that Father’s Day phone conversation, the line crackling across the distance, as I share those little snippets which I have saved up.  But I can’t fairly accuse Pinterest of being insensitive.  It is my association and emotions which prompt the reaction it does, rubbing invisible little sprinklings of salt into my too raw wounds.  It is within me, not without.

Nancy’s Point talks insightfully about loss, and shares important lessons, such as:

Grief’s intensity lessens, but the loss is for a lifetime.

Indeed.

monsoon droplets, captured like teardrops

Loss is something we experience from within.  Not without. 

Gradually adjusting to living without the person we have lost.

A splash of seasonal colour

I have written about the seasonal colours in Yangon and across the country before.

2011 in the field

It is that sensational time of year again, with colours contrasting dramatically against the vibrant greens of the foliage.  It is spectacular and I do not tire of gazing at these incredible colours.

Yangon 2013It is also that time of year, as the monsoon rains approach and touch us, that the chorus of song outside the window at night becomes deafening.  The bullfrog has gathered some friends and together they call out with their strange, characteristic growl to those rains.

And once the rains come, the blossoms will fall and the colours change again, with the leafy greens taking back their dominance.

Flamboyant tree Yangon

So that is why I have decided that this would be a highly fitting background image for the blog for the next couple of weeks, so that we can hold on to and cherish that transient strong colour.

The flamboyant free in full flamboyance!

The flamboyant tree in full flamboyance!

Re-entry. Accomplished? Kind of……….

Re-entry back into the spheres of life and work has been accomplished.  I guess. At least physically.

re-entry

Re-entry into Asia, Myanmar and Yangon took place on Sunday.  I travelled on the overnight flight from Amsterdam to Bangkok and for once the flight was smooth with minimal turbulence. Towards the end of the flight, and as we were flying over Myanmar (ironically) the pilot advised us that we would be starting our descent into Bangkok shortly.  Almost as an aside he mentioned that there were thunderstorms in the vicinity of Suvarnibhumi Airport so there could be some turbulence. Now thunderstorms and flying as a combination freak me out a little, so I decided to instantly file the information in the large “denial” folder in my mind.

lightning and plane
That worked initially as we started the descent, and I even managed to stay detached when we had a few pretty bumpy encounters with soupy clouds.  Then – BANG! There was a huge ”THWOOOOMP” kind of noise at the window and the cabin lit up as we air-kissed a bolt of lightning.  Inside the cabin there a lot of squeals and exclamations (although I didn’t understand the words as they were mostly in Dutch, I clearly understood what they meant), and great gripping of the arm rests.  The stewardess did not seem as alarmed as we were, and told us that we were safer in the sky than on the ground.  To say that this seemed counter-intuitive is an understatement, as we all know that lightning seeks out the highest point.  Plane.  Sky.  High…………  (I have since consulted Prof Google about this and it seems correct, would you believe?) The following fifteen minutes as we approached the runway lasted at least three hours, but finally we landed safely to an audible and collective exhale of breath. Re-entry into Asia?  Accomplished.

lightning and planes theory

I had over three hours in the airport before my onward flight to Yangon, so collapsed into the secret comfy armchairs near the departure gates for a bit and concentrated on staying awake and not thinking about the stormy sky outside. Finally we departed, the skies had cleared and our short flight was uneventful and pleasant. In no time, I was through arrivals and heading homewards to a waiting cup of tea!  Sunday afternoon was heading into Sunday evening. Re-entry into Myanmar and Yangon?  Accomplished.

The time difference between Yangon and the UK is 5.5 hours at the moment, thanks to British Summer Time. Returning to Asia, I usually find more difficult to adjust to than the travel to Europe as you lose several hours and morning in my corner of the world is late night in the place I have just left.  Thanks to the overnight flight and the intensity of the overall visit, I was physically and emotionally exhausted, so managed to sleep fairly early on the Sunday evening.  Which was fortunate as most folks in the UK would just have gone to bed when it was time for me to get up for work on the Monday morning!  Which I did manage to do.  Although it did require a very deep breath to face my desk which had been abandoned so hurriedly when I left for Scotland a lifetime earlier. Re-entry into work?  Accomplished.  Pretty much.

Overnight on Sunday and Monday, my sleep was broken however, by a sound which I did not recognise.  It was certainly some kind of animal, emitting a noise a bit like a throaty bray of a donkey crossed with a deep quack of a duck.  It was so strange and I was so disoriented that I disturbed hubby to ask what it was!  He was naturally not so amused to be quizzed on wildlife in the small hours but was able to tell me that it was a kind of bullfrog.  This is not the usual “happy party” frog noises I hear during monsoon, and I learned the following day that this is the noise which the Big Frogs make to call for the rains because they have had enough of the oppressive heat and want their monsoon parties to begin.

bullfrog

This seemed to work.  I was not long home on Tuesday evening and had realised that the frogs were silent.  However, in the distance I could hear thunder rattling around and before long it was clear it was heading towards us.  I could feel the air cool and thicken and a wind picked up, agitating the trees as the thunder became louder and the flashes of lightning more persistent.  The rain started abruptly, pounding through the trees and beating against the windows as the storm passed overhead, thunder and lightning simultaneously crashing around.  And then, with no surprise at all, the lights all went out.  The power was gone and I was in the midst of a quadrophonic water symphony, orchestrated by a group of actors including the rain, wind, thunder and of course the lightning conductor.  (ouch!)

Now sometimes power comes back quickly, and other times it doesn’t.  It is just a case of get hold of the torches, blackout bits and pieces and wait and see.  After about an hour the lights flickered back on.  You could hear the collective sigh of relief and blowing out of candles across the neighbourhood, followed by another collective “oh no” as they flickered off again less than a minute later.  Usually that is a good sign.  It means that the power is almost fixed and should come on again soon. All the while, the mugginess and humidity seemed to intensify and the lights stayed off.  And, all the while, the power stayed stubbornly off.  In fact it stayed off all night.  Which meant very little sleep.  Hardly great when combined with jetlag.  Especially unhelpful for productivity or energy throughout a demanding working day.  The power was still off when I headed out to work and was still off late in the afternoon when I phoned home.

Wednesday evening saw writing group, so I was later home than usual that evening. And to be honest, the thought of another night in that discomfort was not pulling me home.  When I did arrive home the lights were on and I could hear music playing!  What a great welcome!  Short-lived unfortunately. Hubby gently broke the news to me that the lock mechanism in the bedroom door had broken and the bedroom (and small attached bathroom were inaccessible)!  My first thought was that my swimming stuff was in there and the morning swim now sabotaged.  Next thought was for my toothbrush!  Then for everything I needed for the next morning to be able to turn up at work.  Isn’t it just typical that the day you can’t access your everything, is the day you have an Important Meeting and need to be looking the part! There was no way that door could be opened though, at that time in the evening and the only choice was to sleep in the spare room, wearing random pieces of laundry and breaking into the spare toothbrush supply from our last visit to Bangkok.  Another sticky and uncomfortable night, though slightly more sleep than the eve. The lack of morning swim though, really did make an impact – it is always amazing just how much more energy it gives getting up an hour and a half earlier for the swim and cycle.

Happily the locksmith arrived early and had removed the whole mechanism and opened the door within minutes.  With a whoop of happiness, I was able to access my appropriate attire for the day and make a start not too much later than usual.  Re-entry into sleep patterns and acclimatisation?  In progress.

So now, thank goodness it is the weekend and the chance to regroup a little.  Saturday morning saw me draw up a very quick five sticky plan to guide the weekend, the first one in a while as this has not been relevant the past few weeks.

IMG_0645

So re-entry has at least physically been accomplished, though it is remarkable how different the landscape looks following our bereavement.  I guess it just takes time for our senses and emotions to readjust.

All over the place

I am not sure where to start with this.  I am all over the place, and I have been all over the place.  And tomorrow I am going more all over the place.

My physical and mental beings are in limbo and transit all at once.  My mind feels as if it is the spin cycle of a washing machine.  Everything churning and spinning with no time to stop and reflect. No moment or opening to move forward.

I have just returned from a very short, intense and emotional visit to Scotland, with highs and lows.  Precious time with family, especially my father who continues to display incredible strength despite his frailty and years.  The sudden, cruel loss of my brother in law, stolen by a hiding cancer, believed to have been eradicated by the best of treatment completed only a few weeks ago. A long haul flight nursing a dramatically coloured and swollen leg, damaged thanks to pavement aerobics caused by an unfortunate combination of numb and clumsy Taxotere toes and a sneaky paving stone peeking up over its allocated territory. The rare gathering of close family over steaming mugs of tea and coffee and delicious comfort food. Hushed conversations. Rushed purchases. Heavy skies. Welcome laughter. Heart-wrenching smiles patchworked over wounds.

And as an unseasonal challenge Scotland organised blankets of snow over brave crocuses and daffodils as a  picturesque backdrop.

My return travel deposited me back in hot and sultry Yangon some 28 hours or so after I had left family in Scotland before sunrise in sub zero temperatures and into a sky full of snow waiting to fall.

Now, only a few days later, I am still not quite able to rest.  My half unpacked bag is now being re-packed ready for the short flight to Bangkok.  And the main reason for this unrest is the prospect of yet more checks. More blood draws from an arm so bruised I cannot see my own vein, scans to seek out anything which might be hiding and the usual investigation into anything which might hint at something sinister. I am exhausted with it all, yet I know it is what I need.  I know that without these checks, my mind darts into those dark, frightening places.  My Doctors and I are on the same page.  By the end of the week, I hope that I will be n the other side of this heaviness and limbo and able to move on in whatever direction that might be.  I know that my physical and emotional fatigue is colouring my spirit and mood.  I understand it. It just is what it is.

In all this turmoil and shift, this feels like the right time to change my background image.  While everything is so thrown up in the air, taking its own time for the different elements to drift back down and settle.

The sun sets on another workingn day at Yangon Central Railway station

This image speaks to me right now.  The sun is setting on a heavy day’s work in Yangon outside the Central Railway Station.  This woman is carrying her burden on her head, keeping her hands free and her posture proud. Her silhouette speaks of determination and strength, as it absorbs the soft rays of the sinking sun.

And of inspiration and clear direction.               In direct contrast to being all over the place.

Happening Yangon!

So it is Sunday evening, my planned post (about my personal Irrawaddy Literary Festival experience) is nowhere near ready ……  I have been guided by my five stickies for this weekend but still I have things to cram into the final hours of the weekend.

Why is this?  I am being focused, and fairly productive.  So why am I way behind on my blogging?

I can tell you why.  Happily, there is not an underlying or upperlying cancery reason for this which is in itself worth noting.  Rather the opposite in fact. It is because life in Yangon these days is really busy – Yangon is happening!!  Combine that with current good health, and the result is that I am spoilt for choice when it comes to activities and ways to spend my leisure time.

happening Yangon

This week was particularly busy.  On Monday our Book Club met, and we talked about Ali Smith’s Book “There but for the“. On Tuesday the new Yangon Photography Club met to share images on the first month’s theme – Transport.  I tend to see things a little differently, and one of my contributions (frog on a bike 🙂 ) for the evening was discussed, despite my camera being the only point and shoot in the group. This little frog was unexpectedly clinging on to my bike as I was leaving for my my regular swim and I was able to get a very quick shot.

Yangon 2013 018c

Very helpful to get suggestions and feedback and a spur to upgrade my camera.  Scary but exciting territory.

On Wednesday evening, our Writing Group met and we spent another inspiring and interesting evening, sharing our work and giving feedback to each other.  We assigned ourselves with a task for the next meeting – a try at flash fiction with a writing prompt.  It is good to try something new.  Also a bit scary though!

Half the week had already disappeared in a flurry of activity and energy.  And it did not stop there.  Thursday evening, saw a wonderful get together to bid a wonderful couple farewell as they prepare to leave Yangon at the end of their assignment.  It was one of those evenings when you really bask in a rosy flow of contentment in the company of special people.

And then it was Friday evening and the working week already over.  In addition to the evening activities, I enjoyed my daily cycle (now up to 6.5 km every morning) and half mile swim.

There are so many options and choices in the city – have a look at the WhatsonYangon site to get a sense of the variety.  If you have a look at the “blogs from here” links on the right hand side bar of this page, you will also see that the number of blogs is growing.

The city is happening indeed!

irrawaddylitfest

And that is why I am not quite ready to share my experience of the recent Irrawaddy Literary Festival.  But it is coming very soon, I promise!