By thy long grey beard and glittering eye, Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?
If you’ve never read it, it is worth a glance, well more than a glance as it a huge poem, but it is absolutely awesome, it is one of my favourites, and a tale I return to regularly. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge tells the tale of an old man who holds an impatient wedding guest captive with his story.
He holds him with his glittering eye—
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years’ child:
The Mariner hath his will.
So I am still at the ‘wedding’ I alluded to in my previous post , however I find myself completely amazed at my inability to write anything about it. My parentheses are closing around my mind like comedy animal shaped earmuffs. I feel trapped, able to hear myself, yet unable to articulately disclose those thoughts. My brain is fogged, my writers voice silenced, my notebook is strangely empty as my pen becomes utilized only for shopping lists and doodles.
But I have realised why, and I realised this at about four in the morning yesterday as I lay in bed listening to the cicadas scratching their hypnotic melody.
I awoke to this familiar sound, the background noise to my life of the last 5 years, that familiar noise of Africa, yet one that I have not actually heard, or listened to for a very long time. The symphony of cicadas is so continuous and ever-present and such a constant backdrop to my life that I never hear it anymore, it is a noise that I never notice unless I actively seek it out, it is like my heartbeat, it is always there but silent to my ears that function because of it. It has become a part of the accepted silence. I listened to my familiar friends, yet confused as to why I was actually hearing them, never-the-less they were there and I was waiting silently in my bed for the call to prayer to begin.
I have listened to the muezzin perform the call to prayer every day, just before sunrise for as long as I can remember. Every morning I awake briefly to listen to the hypnotic singing of the adhan from the mosque down the road. On its arrival I gladly return to sleep for a few more hours, satisfied that all was well, that the earth continued to turn, and the day has begun. Like a favourite blanket I wrap myself up in the comfort of the sound and I restfully sleep.
But yesterday the call to prayer was different; the fact that I could hear the cicadas was an indication that not all was normal. This call to prayer was wrong, it wasn’t one voice calling out, it was sound of a hundred voices, all chanting in unison, and they were accompanied by the sound of gongs and drums. Confused and disorientated I awoke fully. This wasn’t the muezzin, this was the Buddhist call, the preparation for the monks, the announcement to all that the monks were about to begin their daily rounds of the streets to collect alms. Although this was co-joined with the cicadas, this definitely wasn’t Africa.
I realised, and yes I have realised this already, but I really realised lying there that I am not in Africa anymore, my comfort blanket has been removed. I listened again this morning to my absence of comfort blanket, the cicadas highlighting my unsettled mind. I listened to the gongs, drums, chanting, and remembered again that I am not in Africa. I am not in Africa.
I’ve set up this blog to write, to empty my mind and escape my parenthesis, and I find myself day after day sat in front of an empty page, my notebook almost unused and my blog collecting dust like a Brevil sandwich maker in the kitchen cupboard. But by hearing the cicadas, actually listening to them yesterday, and this morning I have realised what the reason behind my struggle to consciously record my thoughts onto ‘paper’ is.
I am not in Africa.
Myanmar it seems is my Ancient Mariner, he has captivated me with his story and I am unable to escape, to comprehend or to put into words the amazing and unbelievable things I am seeing, experiencing and learning. This harrowing and death-defying story has me captivated. The wedding party continues yet I am transfixed, I am held by Myanmar’s glittering eye, unable to escape for long enough to effectively record it.
Every day as I walk down the small lane we live on I look up at the Shwedagon Pagoda, it towers over our neighbourhood like an alien spaceship, like a mountain made of gold. It is truly one of the most ostentatiously beautiful man-made constructions I have ever seen, and I see it every day from every angle, my eye is drawn to it, and sometimes I find myself subconsciously slowing to a halt at a bus stop, or outside a teashop to admire it, to gape up at it like a tourist. Impossible to photograph I cannot do it justice. Google it, the pictures you will see are a poor representation of the beauty and power that it exudes. It was built a little before Samuel Taylor Coleridge penned his epic story, and I am held every day by its glittering eye. But it’s not just the Shwedagon that has me tongue tied, it is everything, I am overwhelmed by my senses, every sound, sight, smell, cultural taboo, the history, the future, and the politics of Myanmar, every footstep in this place is a massive learning curve and I am held, afraid and excited to discover more and petrified to explain it, for fear of doing it an injustice.
So maybe the wedding party is almost over, I assume the bride and groom have disappeared upstairs by now. The vultures have stripped the tables of flowers and forgotten favours, and the remaining guests are finishing their dregs and moving off the silenced dance floor.
The Mariner, whose eye is bright,
Whose beard with age is hoar,
Is gone: and now the Wedding-Guest
Turned from the bridegroom’s door.
He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.
Anyway, the cicadas are singing, the gongs and drums are playing, the monks are about to take their alms, and I’m tired. It’s the morning of the last day of 2012, maybe it’s about time I wrote about Myanmar…