I love storms. The crashing thunder booming around the sky and the blinding white of the lightening descending from heaven is better to me than going to the cinema or listening to the radio. In Myanmar storms are to be feared.
I have some conception of storms being fearful objects; my Grandma had a set of storm superstitions we adhered to. These included turning the mirrors to the walls and hiding behind the couch in silence and in darkness. Fortunately, my Mum never shared this irrationality and apart from sensible caution, I either enjoyed most storms or slept right through them.
The day before the market there was a small storm. A blip of fork lightening with an hour of coughing thunder. It sounded like a cat was jumping from the rafters, not that a cosmic warfare was happening, and I was warned not to go out of the house.
Often vendors travel to the village the day before the market as the boat journey takes a few hours and the market starts at 6 am the next morning. A man was undertaking such a journey when he was struck by the one flash of lightning which unfurled from the sky and died. He was at the helm of the boat, steering his goods to market at the time of the very tragic incident.
The next day, as we were performing our routine washing, the boat containing his dredged up body motored past. Everyone fell silent and watched the passing. In western culture, we are so shielded from death. We have fancy medicine and technology which almost obliterates the knowledge of dying. We call it a blessing when a loved pet is put out of pain. However, the line between life and death here is thinner than the cutting wire in a fromagerie. One moment there is breath, blood and life, the next it is snatched away. The man had been coming to make his living to support his family, and within a brutal minute, his family has nothing.
I have not yet learnt to fear storms, but I am wary of watching the theatrics.
One evening, we had 30 minutes of electric before the first clap of thunder annihilated the sky. This was not a measly storm; this was a tropical pyro-electric production on a full scale. The lights went out and the superstitions came on. We weren’t allowed anything electrical including a flashlight. We buttoned the hatches as best you can when there’s no glass and your roof is made from palm fronds. In the pitch black of the storm, the bamboo braided walls lit up the room with a starry pattern each time the lightening surged from the sky. I proffered the concept that perhaps God was having a disco, while my student suggested that maybe it was a heavenly game of football that was being played with the strobe lights of a stadium. At 9 pm we settled down to sleep. I was lulled by the rolling thunder raging through the village into a cool night’s sleep.
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer
Photo Credit: "Lightning" by kansasphoto (CC BY 2.0)
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