Friday, April 26, 2013

This Too, Shall Pass - On Leaving Myanmar

Sometimes we make plans and hang our hopes on an unforeseen future - one we're committed to. One we're sure will, well ... go to plan.

Life doesn't usually dole out the expected, though. Or maybe it does, but not when we expect it to or in the exact way we thought it would. Plans that were written down get scratched out, revised, or completely torn-up. Destroyed.

You start again.

We have choices to make when we get a life-sized side swipe. Choices about how we're going to handle and respond to our dreams not quite unraveling the way we wanted them to. We can choose to stand in the middle of what's been lost and shrink down or stand-up. Neither is easy and I actually think there's a time for both.

There have been significant unexpected changes in my family. The changes mean that my daughter and I will no longer live in Myanmar after May when her school finishes.  She and I will move back to the United States without her dad.

Family will get defined in a new way. There will be new labels: single mom; single; divorced/separated. Old labels will dwindle slowly and with difficulty: wife; family; expat. Plans of staying in Myanmar for at least a few more years: scratched out. New plans have to be made. It sometimes feels scary.

Yesterday, the moving company showed up to give a quote on how much it would cost to ship belongings back home. When the moving guy hands you a packet of information about their company and tells you they're free to put your things in boxes next week, it starts to get real. And it became clear that it's time to get real with you, too, and tell you what's happening. 

There is a grieving that floods you when a hope, a plan, a dream is interrupted. Those feelings are real and they're OK. 

Sometimes we edge our way to the side, find a little bit of raised ground - hope - to stand on, giving us the protection of a wider view, showing us what's going on.

If we can find that raised ground - perhaps even a fence - and look on both sides, we're able to straddle the realities of what is before us and what is to come. We can lovingly, gently, hold our grief in one hand while in the other, bless the future: the gifts of lessons learned, of growth, of moving forward. In silence, in solitude, we can listen to our hearts and hear the message it's trying to tell us:

It's going to be OK.
It's going to be OK.
It's going to be OK.

Because it will be OK. Maybe not in ten minutes. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe it will take longer than thought. It doesn't matter. There's no time limit, no scale to measure loss of any kind. It's a personal journey. We'll have moments of shrinking, then standing up.

I find the safest place on that raised bit of ground where I can look at both sides, with honesty. There's a reverence that can be offered to what is being grieved. You say thank you (even if it hurts). You see all of it, clearly (as clear as you can now), and bless it. You bless - equally - the hurts and the beauty of your memories ... and what you had hoped would become memories. That's where I find strength.

It's a time for letting go.

So, what about Becky in Burma? What about the eBook? Becky in Burma will still be here, even though I won't be.  The eBook will carry on and hopefully serve as a useful resource for many of you moving here. I'll continue to offer support and try to help people as much as possible, too.

I will probably spend quite a bit of time talking about this middle-space of transition I'm currently in. Many of you are in similar situations - either also leaving Myanmar or about to move here. For those of us transitioning, we're in a bit of a no-man's land. We're not settled. Our feet are one place and our heads are often in another (just like I talked about in the first chapter of the eBook. Ironic, isn't it?).

Transitions are hard. I'll write honestly about my experiences with it: I'm sure a lot of us will relate to one another.

Transitions are messy and it's hard to keep things clear. When I'm experiencing or thinking about my future and the transition back to Washington State, I'll share that on my professional writing page, Becky Cavender. When I write about things specific to leaving Myanmar, I will write them here. This will help me try to find some clarity and sort through that ... mess. I'll give links in posts to other posts (if that makes sense).

This new journey will lead my daughter and I back to home, to family, to friends. There's joy in that. Equally, there's joy in the beautiful friendships we've made in Yangon. Lots of to be grateful for. Sadness, too.  I will write more about that in the coming weeks, I'm sure.

Thanks for reading.  
Thanks for being part of this hello/good-bye with me.

P.S. I have posted a similar version of this over here on Becky Cavender because I think that while Becky in Burma offers a good-bye/letting-go, Becky Cavender will be about starting over/new beginnings.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Body Image: Big Girl in Teensy-Girl Land

My daughter + I. Thailand. 2012.

I'm writing about body image today. This is new for me. It's also a deeply sensitive and personal subject: one I have struggled with since I was a child. This post? It's me being brave.

Many women are not taught how to have a positive body image. There's a lot of body-hating language that goes on. Harmful, self-loathing language often passed down from mother-daughter as though it's some sort of tradition that all girls should pick apart their bodies in nasty, disrespectful ways. Girlfriends perpetuate this self-hate language. It's so common that it's part of our background noise: we just accept it. The media doesn't often help.

I'm not immune to this language, especially since I'm no skinnie-minnie. Far from it.

You may remember this post about my words of the year: ignite and glow. My goal is to ignite a sense of deep self-love, self-care, and body acceptance. Living in a region of the world where most people are described as very thin (in comparison to Europeans/Americans/Pacific peoples), big girl body-hating syndrome can rear its head on a regular basis if you're not careful.

In Myanmar, you'll stand out a bit if you don't look SE Asian and anything else that makes you different will certainly compound that; for example, if you're big, have light skin, have dark skin, are tall, etc. you'll generate more than the average amount of attention. Tourism is growing and many expats are moving here, but it's not so diverse that you can be anonymous and blend in.

Many Westerners are large compared to people from this region of the world. We're usually taller, wider, thicker, and bigger breasted (if you happen to have breasts). One of my very petite friends told me after a trip to Japan, "I felt like a giant there!" I'm still frightened to go to Japan as a result!

It's not uncommon to hear "thin" Western women say it's a challenge to buy clothes off the rack in many stores here. Clothes are simply tailored for smaller frames and in the rare case you can buy plus-sized clothes, you're actually looking at average US/UK/AUS sizes: Basically, if you're larger than a size 6 or 8, you're considered plus-sized.

So, what's it like if you're a real plus-sized person living in this region? What if you're one of the millions who has struggled with negative body image?

When your body has bulges and sticky-out bits like mine, you will get noticed more than the Average Jane. It's part of traveling or living in SE Asia. That more-than-average noticing can feel tricky if you're not completely loving your full-sized self. If you're an introvert, it just gets trickier.

Being a big/large/fat girl was a concern of mine when moving to Myanmar. I was worried about being made fun of, stared at, pointed at, laughed at, sneered at ... you name it. I even lost 80lbs before moving here (for a variety of different reasons and I still have a lot more to lose).

See, when I lived in Ethiopia those experiences happened. Construction workers near my house sent out cat calls: but not the good kinds. On a daily basis, men yelled after me, laughing, calling me fat in Amharic. It was hurtful, embarrassing, and took quite a toll on me at the time. Knowing the Amharic word for fat wasn't helpful.

It was tough experiencing the teasing. Though I was heavier then than I am now, I hadn't ever been teased (to my face) when I lived in the USA or UK. I've never been thin, but I seemed to miraculously avoid the taunts that many obese people experience. Learning how to handle the stares, mocks, and teases was hard and negatively impacted my already negative body image.

I didn't want a rematch in Myanmar.

One of my strategies being a big girl moving to Yangon included not ever learning the word for fat in Myanmar language. There have been times I've been quite sure teasing has taken place, but by not knowing the word for fat, I've been able to pretend I can't hear or understand the universal sing-songy tones of voices people use when mocking others. 

I've seemed to avoid self-esteem body-shaming moments here for the most part. There have been times I've been pleasantly surprised, actually. If you're big, you learn to be sensitive towards certain types of smiles on people's faces that may indicate forthcoming judgment or teasing. Occasionally, I've been sure a cashier or hair dresser was about to make fun of me following a wry smile, but instead, have been told, "You're very beautiful." These incidents have shocked me, made me straighten up my back a bit, and feel slightly ashamed I assumed they were judging me.

Still, there have been some unpleasant incidents in Yangon; recently, I shared a taxi with a friend and  when we got in, the driver's immediate response was (after negotiating the cost) "WOW! You are REALLY fat!"  I felt humiliated. It took every ounce of energy for me to not get out of the taxi simply based on principle. And maybe I should've.

Being called fat in SE Asia isn't necessarily a negative thing. It's quite acceptable here to talk about people's size. Commonly, locals will greet each other and make comments on the other person's weight.  Many average-sized expats get regular feedback about their size from locals like, "Your face is looking fat."

In some countries, being told you're big can be a compliment. I sense it's not necessarily a compliment here, but rather an observation (perhaps without much judgment). I've been trying to learn, with great trepidation, to accept this cultural aspect of living here. It's not been easy though; my ever-too-common I-don't-like-my-body self-speak blurts out. 

Westerners - for the most part - know that in our cultures, just bringing up the weight/size of another person is considered offensive and rude. So, when you're told - as if you didn't know it - that you're fat ... to your face ... by a stranger: it's weird. Disarming. Frustrating.

Yet, there has been a surprising - not fully negative - element to being called out on the fat carpet living here. It's oddly helping me stand in my skin with my head held a bit higher.

Confused? Well, first of all: I am fat. So, it's not like anyone's lying when they tell me I am. And as I focus on growing self-love, I'm realizing acknowledging your body for what it is right now is an important step towards acceptance.

I'm not talking about the kind of acceptance where you accept all the negative, warped messages wrapped around words like fat. I mean: acceptance for who you are. Acceptance and gratitude for your body and what it gives to you. Even if it isn't your ideal body.

This is the thing: We might not look like other people's ideal. Hell, we might not even come close to our own ideal. Regardless, we must be kind to ourselves, tell our bodies we're grateful for it, despite our lumps, bumps, and sticky-out bits. If we can't feel a sense of gratitude for our bodies exactly the way they are and for how amazing they truly are (even if they don't bend or function perfectly), we're not sending positive messages to ourselves. We're not recognizing that we're special and precious: imperfect bodies and all.

Strangely, living in Myanmar is helping me learn to respect my body regardless of how I look because I'm more aware of my size, even when that feels uncomfortable; but it's that very awareness which is allowing me to be honest with myself and instead of bashing up my body verbally with negative self-talk, I'm learning to appreciate it.

Our bodies get us from point A to point B. They carry us. Allow us to breathe. Walk. I can wrap my arms around my kid and give her a hug. Our bodies have this amazing thing - nerves - which enable us to feel and experience touch. So why should I - or you - get all mean on ourselves?

When you think about it, we're pretty amazing.

Go love your bumps and have a beautiful day.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Updates + News

Kuala Lumpur Park

Hope all of you are doing great. Lots of changes are happening over here; so though I've been a bit quieter on the posting front, busy-ness has been in full force - just in the background.

 A few quick updates...

Myanmar - and several other SE Asian countries - just celebrated Thingyan - or Buddhist New Year. Last year, we celebrated it in Thailand where it's called Songkran. You can read some posts about that over here.

This year, we went to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We spent about six days there and had a wonderful time. I will write more about KL later ... but I do have to tell you that it's probably now my favorite city that I've visited in SE Asia. We just got back.

Moving to Myanmar eBook
As you know, I've just published Moving to Myanmar and you can find it over on Amazon here. I hope you find some interesting information in there and if you do, please consider leaving a review!

New Blog/Website Launched
Today, I've launched a new professional blog/website, Becky Cavender. Becky in Burma will not go away; it is time, however, to have a place to focus on my writing career. I'd love it if you could go take a look and follow my new page. I also have a new Facebook page for Becky Cavender. Come on over, say hello, and like the page. I'm loving the look of the two and I hope you do also!

Thanks for all your support as I continue on my journey - which is filled with lots of changes. Big ones, too. I'll spill all the beans soon.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What American Idol Teaches Us

I don't have cable or satellite TV in Yangon; it's available, but we don't use it. So when I travel and stay in hotels, it's a bit of a treat to check-out cable.

Imagine my surprise when I was clicking through channels and found American Idol in Kuala Lumpur! And it was even season 12! I wasn't sure if it was a couple weeks behind or not, but it didn't matter. I was excited to plunge into the show since I missed last season.

It's not to say that I've been a die-hard American Idol fan. I haven't - and actually preferred The Voice last years to AI. Yet, being across the globe, watching American Idol provides a funny little connection to home. On Facebook, sometimes my friends talk about AI and mention who their favorite singer is. Now I can put a voice to the name.

While watching American Idol, I was reminded of the lessons that we can all learn from the contestants:

  • Smile and stand proud when hearing critiques. 
  • Be humble through criticisms and take what you can from the advice being given.
  • Own your accomplishments. Soak them up, be part of them. Acknowledge when magical moments happen. (I was touched by the woman who got a standing ovation when singing The Cure's song. She stood in front of everyone, let her tears run. She was present.)
  • Try your best. Put your best out there. 
  • Be yourself at all times. Share who you are and hope you make a connection with others. (I really loved the country singer, Cree, and her different renditions of songs that sounded relevant and unique to her style.)
  • Know who you are.
I think that all of the artists will be successful because even when they receive critiques that aren't entirely positive, they carry on. They continue to sing. They continue to try ... and they do so with a smile on their face.

Bravo to them. It's something we can all learn.

Friday, April 12, 2013


You can now find my new eBook, Moving to Myanmar, in the Amazon Kindle Store! YES!

Go here to find it. You can also check out my author page on Amazon here.

A huge, huge thanks go out to all of the contributors of the book, and especially to Douglas Long, editor extraordinaire and to Kristal Norton who formatted the book for Amazon.

Thank you!

Go have fun downloading and let me know what you think of the book. Better yet, leave a review on Amazon. The more reviews, the better.

Huge thanks to all of you readers, too, who are always a source of encouragement and inspiration to me.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The eBook is Nearly Ready!

Hello everyone!

Don't you just love that illustration above? The talented ECHOPHYU, a local Myanmar artist, designed it. It's the cover of the new eBook!

I'm super excited to tell you that within days, the eBook "Moving to Myanmar" will be launched and available for purchase on Amazon. It's been an amazing ride and I'm ever so grateful for all of the people who have helped make the book come to fruition. 

The fabulous Kristal Norton has been working steadily on formatting it. And believe me, she had her work cut out for her. I gave her a complete formatting mess to wrestle. Not only did she wrestle with it, she pinned it down and conquered. She's amazing.

I'll keep you posted - but expect a message from me any day now!


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Working from Home

More and more people are working from home. For some, it increases productivity. It also allows for a flexible schedule and it never hurts that you only have to walk down the hall to enter the office.

I work from home, enjoy it and am pretty sure that I am productive (well, usually). Scheduling my time helps. After my daughter goes to school (by 7:30am), I plop down at the computer and finish around 2pm so I can pick her up. Between 4-5, I generally check a few emails. Once she has gone to bed, I put in a few more hours. OK, it looks like I'm on Facebook, but I have to work on Facebook, too. There are two different Facebook pages that I manage online. (That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!)

The challenging thing for me about working from home is that sometimes people might not really understand that you are, in fact, working. I think it's easy for them to assume you're not working too much (especially if your work is creative). Because I'm a freelancer, it might be unclear to others that I work-full time, even though I don't drive to an office or have a "main" job.

In the fall, I took an ecourse by Kelly Rae Roberts. I remember she mentioned that when it's her studio time, she turns off her phone and makes it clear to others that she's unavailable. It seems like that's a smart way to explain to friends and family that just because you don't sit in a building filled with lots of other people doesn't mean you work any less than those folks. My theory is that most people probably don't call their teacher friends or lawyer friends or secretary friends up too much during the day. They're at the office! Maybe a quick text here and there, but I think it's pretty safe to say that they'll understand if they don't get a text back right away.

When doing creative work, it seems that sometimes it's can be difficult for others to legitimatize the work, separate it from a hobby. Even if you're not getting paid a regular salary from the creative work you're doing, if you're working your bum off for it, it's work! You paint every day but maybe you're not selling your work regularly? It doesn't matter. You're a painter. You write everyday, even though you don't have a regular gig? It doesn't matter. You're a writer. It's taken me awhile to wrap my head around that. To own up to me being a "real" writer. I am

Perhaps because it's taken me awhile to accept that I am a writer, I've somehow (inadvertently) devalued my own work and time.

I think, too, there is this traditional view of what constitutes work. My daughter remembers when I went to an office. She remembers hanging out in my very own office within the office. Now, my "office" is a puny desk in the living room near the television. If she's home and I'm writing, it doesn't register that I'm working. She thinks I'm just hanging out on the computer. One day, I'll have a door I can shut. Maybe even a sign that says "In" or "Out."

On that note, if you're working from home, too, I found this great little article providing tips for making it work. They're fun and I hope they're useful to you, too.

Do you wok from home? How do you manage others' expectations? What tips can you share?