Intermittent update

It’s been a while…

Sorting through letters and documents, I just came across a couple of personal items, some made me smile, one made me pause. I’m not sure when I wrote it, but it must have been my attempt to record what happened on the night of 2nd May 2008 – the night Burma was hit by Cyclone Nargis and 140,000 people lost their lives.

This is what I wrote:

Nobody could have predicted what would happen during the dark hours between May 2nd and 3rd 2008.

(Sleep was impossible.)

I had been off work for 3 days with an unexplainable headache and had put it down to changes in pressure or something.  Most of us knew there was a cyclone on its way but like many things, had thought it would be an anticlimax.

The evening of Friday 2nd May, Rayna came up to Matt’s room to watch Music & Lyrics, a light-hearted and predictable romantic comedy, one of our favourites.  Because we were engrossed in the film, I don’t remember what time it started raining, but I remember flashes of lightning, dulled by the net curtains.

After the film, in an upbeat mood, we pottered onto the balcony to see if there was any sign of the ‘cyclone’ we’d been warned about. It was raining, but not heavily. More of an English drizzle than a Burmese storm.

I stood at the edge of the balcony, carefully side-stepping the thorny, anonymous plant in the plant box, and stretched my arms out to feel the cool misty rain on my skin. It was early in the season and had only rained a couple of times, so the novelty of water was still very much alive.

I remember somebody (Rayna? Me?) commenting that the ‘cyclone’ was probably a big fuss over nothing, although my doctor had predicted the storm wouldn’t lose much speed when it hit the Burmese coastline, because of the low-lying delta region.

In all honesty, we didn’t really know how this infamous storm would pan out. Nobody did. So we said goodnight to Rayna and went to bed.

We awoke just two hours later in a very different situation.

So… here we are again…

Just me, Mark and the ether… For now.

Haven’t blogged since I was in Burma… Perhaps it’s serendipitous that Mark has just bought this domain name at a critical moment in my life when I’m trying to decide whether or not I should/could go back there…

Maybe I’m just missing the rumble of thousands of frogs celebrating rainfall during monsoon season… or the hum of generators… or the sour odour of natural gas seeping from the boots of beaten up, rusty taxis with no upholstery or windows. My yearning for the Golden Land is certainly nothing to do with the stench which lingered around the river in downtown Yangon on Wednesday evenings when the fishing boats came in… God, what I would have given for windows in the taxis then…

When I remember Yangon, there are a few images which spring to mind which might beg the question ‘Why on Earth would you want to live there?’  It’s fair enough… The back road which runs down the side of the British Embassy and leads, eventually, past the cool, cramped little travel agent where I used to go to change money, was bordered by enormous piles of discarded rubbish… Left to blend in like an extension of the buildings they nuzzled up to, while opportunistic rats and mournful stray dogs searched for a bit of mouldy rice.  Then of course there were the pavements… Concrete slabs laid loosely down over open drainage ditches, with gaps big enough to lose a large person in (a tried-and-tested theory by at least one person I know – although apparently he managed not to spill his beer).  When I first arrived in Yangon, and took my first tentative steps outside my hotel into this Martian environment, the panic set in as I began to notice the blood stains which seemed to be spattered on the ground almost everywhere I looked. (I knew Burma was troubled but I wasn’t expecting this.) After a few hours and several alarming but good-natured ‘bloodstained’ grins from street vendors and taxi drivers, I remembered having read something in the Lonely Planet guide about betel juice, and breathed a sigh of relief.

There is something profoundly beautiful about the poverty in Burma. The transparent prioritisation of basic necessity – work is more important than clean streets, feeding yourself and your family takes precedence over following fashion. (It’s enough to be seen in a T-shirt emblazoned with a slogan in English, although nine times out of ten, the slogan makes no sense, just a selection of random nouns and verbs, often involving fruit or happiness, and usually in stark breach of copyright of a major American brand.) For a Burmese teenager, it is more important to throw an arm around a friend and share a joke with him than it is to complain about… well, anything.  Burma is, primarily, all about loving kindness.  (My daily taxi ride to work took me past a small shop – I can’t remember what it sold – called ‘Honey Rain’. I used to think the name summed up my own experience of Burma perfectly in two words, sweetness and precipitation