Mother Nature’s Son
January 28, 2014
Born a poor young country boy
Mother Nature’s son
All day long I’m sitting, singing songs for everyone
Sit beside a mountain stream
See her waters rise
Listen to the pretty sound of music as she flies
Find me in my field of grass
Mother Nature’s son
Swaying daisies, sing a lazy song beneath the sun
Mother Nature’s son
Lyrics by Lennon/McCartney
The first line of this classic Beatles tune off of the White Album certainly describes me. The remainder isn’t too far off either considering my lifestyle in the mountains of Vermont where I keep a house. It’s surrounded by babbling brooks, hidden ponds and statuesque maple, oak and birch trees. Turkeys graze in my field, coyotes howl and owls call in the night and the roadways leading to and from my home are unpaved.
But I don’t live there now. That’s where my home is. Now I either navigate the concrete jungle of Yangon and its tangled streets with frequent traffic jams and car horns blaring, or I twist through congested, deteriorating narrow streets of motorcycle scooters, bicycles, rickshaws and other motorized contraptions that escape any name. People, dogs, the occasional cow and sometimes a small herd of goats intermingle with bicycle and car in an orchestration of complete chaos that defies any traffic law ever invented. To my utter amazement, I never see a collision, scrape, or accident of any kind. It reminds me of what an orchestra sounds like as it’s tuning up before a concert: out of tune, but everything and everyone in their place.
It frequently confounds me, occasionally frustrates me, but always entertains me.
I’ve been living, traveling and working in Asia, the Pacific, Africa, the Middle East and South America for thirty years now. By this time I would have thought that getting adjusted to living in another culture is second nature to me. I came here taking for granted that I would quickly understand Myanmar and settle into my work. Cross-cultural and lifestyle adjustment? Ah, a breeze! Not so, I’ve come to realize. That only hit me just today. This evening, in fact.
I’m in my last evening in Yangon before returning to Sittwe, Rakhine State, tomorrow. I’ve been recuperating from a stomach infection. After returning to my hotel from the office I decided to walk down the street to see if I could find some better food than what my guest house offers. A block away I not only found a suitable place, I found a restaurant that offered thin crust pizza with local water buffalo mozzarella and a bakery attached to it that sold freshly baked sourdough bread, olive oil, homemade jams from tropical fruits and homemade pasta from Italy! From Italy!! I bought a bagful of stuff to take back with me to Sittwe.
And while I feasted I realized how much I missed home. And after a couple of sips of chardonnay I also realized how much Myanmar was growing on me. I thought to myself, “The classic cross-cultural adjustment curve.” Without realizing it in my first month here I saw in that moment that underneath the surface of some frustration I was experiencing with learning the ropes, trying to understand all the details of the programs I was sent here to manage, and dealing with either busy, loud and concrete Yangon or dusty, chaotic and polluted Sittwe, lingered the issue of culture shock. It took a thin crust pizza and a glass of chardonnay for me to realize at the same time I missed my home, Myanmar was growing on me. I thought again, “Yes, moving through that cross-cultural adjustment curve.”
Now I see Yangon and Sittwe with fresh eyes. Sure, there’s too much concrete, traffic and noise here in Yangon. Sittwe has too much garbage, too much poverty and most of its open water smells. But beyond all of my frustrations and Myanmar’s many challenges lies a beautiful culture, kind and welcoming people, a scenic landscape and what I want to believe will be a promising future. I’ve been thinking about how those dry, golden rice paddies on the outskirts of Sittwe will be glowing fluorescent green in a few months when the monsoons arrive. I love watching the farmers knee deep in the paddy fields planting each stalk of rice by hand, or the powerful water buffalo methodically grinding their way through the same fields pulling the farmer holding the plow. The constant rain of the monsoons and the grey skies depress me as the weeks wear on. But I love the deep smell the rain evokes. It seems to pull the earth right up into my nostrils and make me realize this is the blood of life – water!
I do love Asia and I think I’m starting to enjoy Myanmar. I think of the work I’m here to do and realize the road ahead will not be easy. So many people in such dire situations… But at the same time I intend to develop my relationship with Myanmar on another level for my own sanity. This is a beautiful country and I want to get to know it better. Indeed, I intend to.
Now, back to that “born a poor young country boy” thing. As I walked back from that restaurant tonight along cracked and broken sidewalks and a noisy street I longed for my trees, dirt road and babbling brook. Then I turned the corner and looked up and there I saw the top of Shwedagon Pagoda shining above shadowed rooftops. It was beautiful. I’ve posted a picture below. It doesn’t do justice to its beauty in the Yangon night. I still missed my Vermont mountain, but I thought, “how beautiful, how Asia, the Shwedagon Pagoda shining like it is.” This is a beautiful city, but I’m still a poor old (sic) country boy at heart – Mother Nature’s Son