I grew up in New Jersey, a place where there isn’t much darkness. Growing up in an environment where it’s hard to escape the constant glow of street lights, car lights, and backlights, I’ve always tried to make it a point to get away to places where it actually gets dark when the sun sets.
The first and only time I’ve ever experienced real darkness though, was on a hiking trip in northern Myanmar. When I say real darkness, I mean the type of darkness that your eyes never adjust to, no matter how long you wait or how much you blink. The type of darkness that, I imagine, simulates blindness. The type of darkness that only lives in remote corners of the world. This is the type of darkness you get in the monsoon season in Myanmar.
It’s astonishing how difficult simple tasks become when you can’t see a damn thing. Let me share an anecdote from the hiking trip I mentioned above:
After a long day of hiking, I settle myself into the cozy sleeping quarters my hosts graciously provided. Just as I blow out the candle so I can pass out till sunrise, I realize that I’ve got to relieve the symptoms of a few too many cups of tea. Unfortunately for me, the monsoon season is in full effect. Coupled with a new moon, not only is it pissing rain, but the intensity of the darkness keeps me from seeing even my hand inches in front of my face. Luckily, the matches aren’t too far away.
I’m able to get the candle lit again, but when I find my flashlight the only thing it’s good for is killing mosquitoes. It looks like the candle is coming with me to the outhouse. Armed with a shoddy umbrella, I navigate my way through the walkways of clay which have been turned into orange sludge by the torrential rain. With each step the sludge seeps between my feet and the soles of my hard leather sandals upping the difficulty level in the game of Donkey Kong the candle is playing with the rain drops. Managing to sludge-skate my way up the clay ramp that used to be stairs and past the pig pen, I have finally reached my destination. The outhouse somehow smells worse than the pigs, but it is overshadowed by the thrill of my tiny victory.
A similar trip back to my sleeping quarters leaves me relatively unscathed. Back where I started, I feel like I’ve been through a war, but luckily my only scar is the mud covering my feet.
The point: Simple tasks become much more difficult in complete darkness.
You’ve heard my story, but now imagine there’s no hut. Your village has just been destroyed overnight, you may have lost a loved one, and it’s still monsoon season. You’ve got to some how pull yourself together and figure out how you are going to get yourself and your family some shelter before the sun sets, or else you’re sleeping in a pile of orange sludge.
This is exactly the situation many survivors of the Cyclone Nargis have been in. They’re left picking up the scraps of their former dwellings, somehow trying to feed themselves and their families.
As of today’s posting we’ve made it up to $1100 for Doctors Without Borders. If you haven’t had a chance to donate, please do. It’s now estimated that 84,500 people died in the cyclone with over 53,000 still missing. There is still a desperate need for funds. Even $20 will go a long way to providing medical care and food supplies for the victims of Cyclone Nargis.