I am always taken by surprise when the first blossom of the year appears. It never seems to appear gradually.
A few weeks ago I noticed that Edinburgh castle was hiding, behind a screen of trees laden by swathes of thick, pink cherry blossom with occasional glimpses of the ramparts visible through the gaps.
My first spring, or pre-monsoon season, in Nepal was characterised by a similar experience. I was heading from the north of the city, towards the main street beside the Royal Palace when I realised that the wide street was lined by bright purple trees. Not the occasional violet coloured blooms, but trees that were completely and joyously purple.
I don’t think I had seen jacaranda before. For a few short weeks, the city was a riot of purple, gradually fading as the carpet of purple underneath thickened before slowly disappearing altogether. The following year, I was similarly taken by surprise by the stealthy takeover of the city by the purple blossom. Each year I forgot they were coming, and saw no sign until the trees laughed purple at me again.
A couple of weeks ago, while I was obsessing about the pink cherry blossom in Scotland and spending far too long capturing pictures of the pink trees and the pink blossom underfoot, I was transported to another life and another set of blossom. My friends and former colleagues in Myanmar were all posting pictures on social media of deep yellow blossom, the sense of celebration abundant in each message.
It is around this time of year that the traditional Padauk tree blossoms, and this is eagerly awaited. Traditionally, it flowers once the first drops of monsoon rains fall on the branches around the Thingyan Water Festival time. The first rains, the sight of deep yellow blossoming trees across the city and the heavy scent of the Padauk prompt smiles and celebrations on every face.
Blossoms are gathered and immediately seen in every woman and girls’ hair, and adorning the bicycle trishaws and dashboards of every single vehicle. Padauk is gathered and gifted prolifically and joyfully. But these blooms are transient, they stay on the branches for less than a day, and fall on the ground making a yellow carpet within hours of blossoming. It is always hard to imagine that those trees bulging with blossom would again be green within a few hours and the pavements underfoot would briefly be a carpet of yellow.
As I was reveling in the images of the freshly blossoming Padauk and the celebrations from afar, I realised that no matter how far I have travelled, and irrespective of how different the culture, climate and vegetation might be, there was a common thread.
No matter where I am, I am consistently and naïvely enthralled at the sight of trees blossoming. Cherry blossom in Edinburgh, jacaranda in Kathmandu and Kigali and Padauk in Yangon. My heart sings anew each time, no matter where I see the precious, prolific little flowers.
And that was when one morning, I recently peeled of the saying of the day from my little calendar of Eastern daily wisdom to read:
“Wherever I go, I meet myself”
And then it all made sense.
Wherever I go, I experience the place through my own eyes and heart. The colour of the blossom may be different but the reactions I experience are remarkably similar. I am meeting myself in places near and distant. I realise that my story and my stories are elements which come together to create the fabric of my self. Sharing my story and stories are a way of understanding and making sense of these fragments which come together to form me.
Creating my blog Feisty Blue Gecko: A Tail of The Unexpected was originally set out to tell one particular story. It was in Myanmar or Burma when I was three months into a new job and home, in a new country discovering and shaping that phase of life in a new and enigmatic setting that life took a turn for the unexpected. It was after work one evening in the shower that I felt a lump. And there at that moment, a line was drawn in the sand. My tale of tropical cancer had begun.
Diagnosis, surgery, treatment, sickness and baldness ensued rapidly. I knew that I needed a way of capturing what was happening, processing the maelstrom of thoughts and fears and preserving what I knew would be a period of rapid change.
It was also a way of communicating what was happening with folks back in Scotland and elsewhere who were anxious and concerned. I had already been keeping a blog of observations about life and work overseas, and the compulsion to document what was happening in this cancer experience became overpowering. And so my breast cancer blog was born.
This was my Xanax, my coping mechanism and my space to tell my story. While my diagnosis, treatment and follow up all took place on the other side of the world, this was my story, my experience and my emotions and the story took place where I was located, at any specific time.
As the years have passed, the blog has evolved and now I have returned to Scotland for my final years, I realise that I am many stories, all enmeshed together. I am overflowing with stories to tell before they fade.
I want to tell the tale of getting all dressed up in a flowing bluey green “mishinana” at 7 am on a Saturday morning in preparation to go to my first Rwandan wedding in Kigali; I want to tell the story of working in the tribal villages of India which had been ravaged by the tsunami, sitting with the children as they drew pictures which told their stories; I want to tell the tales of travelling to the most remote herding communities in Mongolia, in temperatures of -45C where we all had frozen eyelashes and the ability to articulate words on an inhaled breath. These tales sound exotic but in fact they are everyday stories, of weddings, resilience and survival, making a living and the rituals and traditions which surround them for people across the globe.
Now, I recognise that I have been gifted a perspective and way of understanding and sharing the stories which I have been gathering. As I settle back in Scotland for my final years, I have many words to gather to shape these stories.
About the Author
Philippa Ramsden blogs as Feisty Blue Gecko, the blog which came into being on her breast cancer diagnosis in 2009. She had recently moved to Myanmar and the blog took life as an essential way of telling her story from afar.
Philippa is an international development professional with an unusual career path. She graduated as a mature student from the University of Glasgow in French and Russian with a background in community development. She then worked in international development in Scotland prior to embarking on an overseas career in development and humanitarian work in the education sector.
Over the past 17 years she has lived and worked in Nepal, Mongolia, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Rwanda as an education specialist before returning to Scotland just over a year ago, where she is still looking for small everyday wonders. She tweets from time to time on @feistybluegecko.