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
And happened to see you below,
Too heavy to get off the ground,
Way too much of a load.
That’s all I’d think of you –
If I were an eagle
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?
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
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
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
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