Words and Thoughts

April 9, 2014

I’ve been completely incapable of forming coherent sentences and paragraphs this past week through the chaos of the humanitarian crisis here in Myanmar, the incredibly uncoordinated efforts of the many agencies, the conflicting messages from the Myanmar government regarding our security and resumption of humanitarian operations, the endless meetings and late nights.

Just one short week back from a vacation cut short by the riots in Sittwe on March 26th and 27th, I’m feeling like I’m spinning my wheels and accomplishing nothing. I think everyone in the humanitarian community feels the same as me. I may go to Ngapali Beach in Rakhine during Thinbgyan, as there is a lull in resumption activities here in Sittwe. Thingyan, the Myanmar Buddhist New Year, kicks off on Saturday. Check out the Thingyan hyperlink in the previous sentence for more information. It’s the official site of the Thingyan festival. It paints a lovely cultural perspective of the holiday. What it leaves out is this: the water throwing is relentless and at times quite violent (during one water festival in Southeast Asia I was hit so violently with a full bucket of water while riding my bicycle it threw me from my bike in the middle of traffic and I sustained severe injuries. The water throwing crowds around me found it quite hilarious as I limped off to the hospital); there are always reports of fights and stabbings; and the music played on the backs of trucks and from the grand stands along the main thoroughfares where many of the parties happen is so loud it has the potential to vibrate every vital organ out of one’s rectum.

I’m skipping town for my own safety. I’m not going to sacrifice my safety in the name of ‘fun’ water throwing and heavy drinking for a week in a crowded, polluted city. I’ve had enough of the violence against the international community. I’ve had enough of the arguments and disarray in the international humanitarian community. I’ve had enough of the government’s anemic response to the full resumption of humanitarian work. I’ve had enough of too few smiling faces on the streets. I’ve had enough of the noise and pollution of Yangon… for now.

I’m skipping off to a place where hopefully it’s quieter. I’m going to try to enjoy it without too much guilt that our IDPs sit in camps without any assistance because the Myanmar government is not allowing any of the NGOs to return to work. The UN Department of Security has recommended all international organizations avoid Sittwe. So I’m flying to Tandwe at Ngapali beach where I can still maintain close contact with my staff and UN operations while I try to enjoy a little peace and rest in between what will still be a slew of phone calls, emails and responding to unanticipated issues and possibly even emergencies.


Ngapali beach, south of Sittwe in Rakhine State, Myanmar

I’ve been thinking about two dear friends who are talented poets. One, Kevin Kemper, was a dear friend of mine during my Peace Corps days in Kiribati back in the 1980’s. He’s remained a spiritual inspiration to me to this day. He passed away last year before I had the opportunity to visit him on my motorcycle trip around the United States. I was devastated. He’s been such a blessing in my life. I know he still visits me when I call.  One of my favorite poems of Kevin’s is Eagle.  I share it here.




If I were an eagle

Flying high

Looking down

And happened to see you below,

I’d think

Too heavy to get off the ground,

Way too much of a load.

It’s true,

That’s all I’d think of you –

If I were an eagle

Flying high

Looking down

This photograph was taken at Deception Bay in Puget Sound during my cross-country motorcycle trip in 2013. It’s where Kevin used to go to collect stones he used for his sculptures. I visited there before I knew Kevin frequented this location. Not a coincidence, I think?

Kevin and Steve at Deception Bay


My friend Michael Schuval has been writing and publishing for years. He hails from Long Island and is a writer of poetry, short stories and screenplays.  I share his poem, Wednesday, with you here.

 Wednesday, Thursday, Friday

were days this week I cannot remember

were 72 odd hours that have a blank design

I lived them and saw others living them

I can’t remember living them

I drove, I went to work, I made phone calls, I worked

Didn’t I?

I appeared and others spoke to me

I flirted, I deflected, I considered, yet

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday are almost wholly obscure

and now Sunday, denouement of this period of time

called a week, is here

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, something has happened recently

and we call it by these three names

and sleep has something to do with this forgotten recollection

Sleep was there and it too has been blackened out

to these ears, eyes, tongue, hands

that touch and bite upon empty air in other times

called Saturday, Sunday… here now where here now

becomes a thing, a suddenness veiled beyond

unexplanatory curtains

There must have been something there

Breaths taken in and pushed out

Resolutions decided upon, ideas coalesced or dissolved

Memories risen up, cherished or repulsed

Doors opened, closed, locked, certainly locked

And there were faces there on a Wednesday at

1:25 p.m. looking through windows, lingering on a

plate of food a moment or two

Faces there at 7:55 p.m. on Friday, seeking friends,

seeking an ending or beginning, seeking light or dark

Faces there at 9:40 a.m. on Thursday, almost

inside a computer screen, re-wanting warmth of beds and bodies

Faces there on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday

when birds still had not disappeared and books

still wanted reading and aspirations still looked

like ramps that entered into decent towns

and cities

Sunday is a coin dropped on my head

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday is that dread that dust has claimed

and snow has melted

The coin hurt my head

The melting I was away for



3 thoughts on “Words and Thoughts

  1. Brother, your prayers are heard from afar, welcomed and fully absorbed. They mean so much. Sending love back to you and Linda. I’ll be with you on my Saturday morning (your Friday night). Aho!

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