Saturday, March 31, 2007

Monsoon, Mice and Machine Gun Fire?

I was rejoicing in cloudy, grey days when we first got back. August is supposed to be the driest month. Last year it was the wettest. But it makes it SOooooo cool. Only 28' Bliss! We now have a thermometer so can gasp at the temperatures our wondrously acclimatised bodies are coping with!

It really is VERY wet. The tuktuks look like little coloured beetles which have sprouted wings as they all have black plastic flapping 'curtains' which hang over the open doors of the tuktuk, to, in theory, protect you from the rain. This does have the added effect of removing peripheral vision for the drivers, but hey, what self-respecting tuk-tuk driver ever used peripheral vision anyway, you just change lane and everyone else gets out of the way. As the saying goes 'peripheral vision is for wimps' .True you wd have to be pretty fool-hardy to drive as 'bravely' as the tuktuks do.....Bearing in mind they are just sardine cans on wheels.

As a result of the rain we also have 3 leaks, 3 major damp patches and overflowing drains. But this is all quite normal. We also have mice. For the animal lover, please skip this paragraph... M killed two families of baby mice (whilst we were in England, enjoying a mouse free existence). He drowned them, but trails of mouse droppings, chewed garments, a mysterious hole in A's plastic bib, (which hadn't been there the night before), led us to believe one was still lurking.

The clincher was when my 6 yr old and I had made some farm animals out of a craft kit in which the craft items were dyed 'puffed maize' (a food stuff, silly me) which, in our case, you formed into a cow, a pig, a sheep, a donkey and a hen. We left them on the coffee table. The next morning they had ALL mysteriously disappeared. We found them stashed in an upstairs wardrobe. Well this mouse evaded the mouse trap for 4 nights, though the cheese also mysteriously disappeared. We wondered if it was the ants?

Anyway M decided to make a few technical adjustments to the mouse trap mechanism, and the next night, hey presto. We got him! I had a quick look and reported to M that we had caught the mouse, but didn't want to look closely. So I felt rather like a bit part in some bad soap opera when I said to him "Do you think he died quickly" To which M replied nonchalantly "oh yes, it didn't even have time to close its eyes. "

We realise we are used to this place, and its familiarity already has changed our perception. At church last Sunday we met an American who had just started at our son's school as a grade 5 teacher. He was having trouble settling and had never been to a developing country before..... M was espousing the virtues of the 'suburb' where we live and how it's really nice with everything you could need shops wise etc. A barely disguised look of disbelief crossed this poor guy's face. I guess we no longer 'see' the piles of litter by the rd, the tiny dilapidated buildings, the broken pavements, filthy puddles, cows wandering the streets, dogs hopping along (on the usually standard 3 legs) Instead we see the local bread shop with airy fresh baked loaves (flies notwithstanding), the little booth where you can get a key cut (manually), a picture framing place with its own 'art gallery' round the back, a place which sews cushion covers for a few rupees, the bike menders, the hairdressers where a haircut costs a dollar etc etc.

We also now have a maid/helper/housekeeper, a Tamil Christian, which we are very pleased about. I have to say I find the relationship very hard to manage, being the 'madam', having my house cleaned for me, all the ironing done (1st time in his life M has had ironed boxers and swimming trunks) She even cooks for us, though I only have that twice a week at the mo, as I don't want curry more often than that, and it's hard work teaching her how to cook other stuff, especially as she has been a housekeeper quite a few yrs so has her 'ways' of doing things. It is very weird too having someone in the house all the time. But it is a huge blessing, and having the house cleaned every day from top to bottom really helps keep the ants at bay, as well as the volumes of dust and dirt which accumulate even in a day.

It is weird being in Colombo where life pretty much carries on as normal, whilst in the north and east it really is a war zone, bombs, indiscriminate shootings, gun fights, 100s of 1000s of refugees, and displaced people. I was talking to a friend whose husband works for a Dutch refugee agency and he and several NGOs met with the president and his advisors etc yesterday. This NGO guy said the Ministers really clearly had very little idea of some of the stuff that was going on. Or what people are suffering there. As well a the story in our prayer letter about the guy who was forced by govt soldiers to drive his lorry to the East loaded up with guns, the LTTE also, I heard, stopped a guy in his Refugee Agency vehicle, commandeered it, chucking him out in the process. The leader of the refugee organisation was so incensed he wrote to the head of the LTTE demanding the car be returned on a certain date, at a certain place, and it was.

I went into Colombo centre for the 1st time (apart from church) since being back. we drove through Borella passing a cordoned off area blocked by a police car. It turns out they had just found a bomb on a bike (3rd World terrorists use bikes maybe....) and had diffused it. So there is still this sense of 'being the wrong place at the wrong time' the one slightly reassuring thing is you do know who/what the targets are and can to some extent avoid them. They are not out to cause mass murder of civilians in an indiscriminate way. Safer than London in that sense.........Targets are the military, the police and the government.

On Friday last night the south Asia Games started. At 10pm it began to thunder and I just carried on reading for 10 mins until M said 'is that thunder'? We realised there had been no break whatsoever. It carried on for 25 mins uninterrupted, extremely loud, with sounds like mortars and something just like machine gun fire. It was my husband, the ex military man who thought this.... Anyway it was slightly unnerving. We texted some friends up the road, who also wondered what it was, and then someone else told us the games opening ceremony was that night.

So fireworks.........! Certainly never heard firework like that though. We felt a bit silly but it served to make us realise how horrendous it must be for people in the north and east who hear that every night, not knowing what is happening, where it will hit etc. And of course many other parts of the world too. It did, in a very small way, bring home to us the stress of being in a war zone for weeks and months on end.

Job Hunting, School Runs & Sri Lanka Blues

M applied for a microfinance advisor job in Bosnia. He is travelling to the south coast on Monday (Matara) returning Weds evening. Then Thu is (another Poya day & Fri he's taking as holiday, so we're going for a 4 daytrip to an elephant orphanage, then to Kandy (in the hills) and then to Habarana from where we can visit a famous rock fortress called Sigiriya. We intend to climb that (2 hours) so hope our son has a good breakfast that day.
And our 2 year old in the backpack. Then he's going East next wk (where the war is), and south again the wk after. So we will be 'home alone' again.

Our 6 yr old is loving school, still drifts between friends, gets on well with everyone but has no special friend at all really, whereas most of the others do. He loves reading and his reading has coem on in leaps and bounds, so much so that he has to go to the grade 2 (yr3 in UK) classroom to get his reading books, which he hates doing, because no one else does. Peer pressure starts early.

He and I did a presentation together on the UK to his class. Part of their 'alike and different' module. We went to 3 parties last wk end for birthdays in his class. He, at least, has an active social life, in terms of parties though in 6 mths he has only been on 1 play date. I find my expectations are so lowered now, I'm just grateful if we have something on or somewhere to go, even if it's only a kid's bday party or giving a presentation to A's class. At least it fills up the days a bit, which are so empty. Depressing and unfulfilling way of looking at life though......As you can see, in a depressed, 'wish I wasn't here' phase again.

My eczema and psoriasis have come back, and I am back to feeling very under par with no energy whatsoever. I hope our 2 yr old will settle quickly in nursery (no sign so far she's going to. VERY clingy.) so I have a little mental space and can maybe do some exercies or something. And our son is back to having regular ear infections too, probably because of all the time he spends under water.

Insecticide ~ The War of Wits against Weevils.

Soon after arriving back I had a very bad week. Major insect wars broke out. Our house helper discovered a new packet of chick peas teeming with little black insects, which I think were weevils, then we discovered a whole cupboard had an infestation, a bag of unopened pasta had weevils in it too, a tupperware container with icing sugar in a bag inside it was crawling with ants and another plastic "airtight" container of cashews had ants in it too.

My house helper explained to me that they can burrow or bite thru plastic wrapping, or even the hard celllophane type packaging pasta comes in. I had thought putting unopened packets
in the cupboard was fine. Oh no.......

We put the sugar on a tray in the sun. A tried and tested method here of getting rid
of ants, they don't like the sunlight.

I now am the proud owner of enough tupperware to throw a party though lack the suburban environment to do it in.

I have surprised a huge cockroach and a gecko 3 times now, crawling around in my cutlery drawer. What th eeye doesn't see, we happily eat off this cutlery which has had geckos and cockroaches crawling all over it. Still, doesn't seem to have done us any harm, it's just the thought of it, as Leontes said (Admittedly in a fairly crazed moment) "I have drunk and seen the spider" in "The Winter's Tale.

And worst of all I cleared the drawer out again the other day and discovered one of my rubber spatulas in that drawer was all chewed round the edge.
Could only have been done by a mouse.....yeuch.

4 women and/or their families in my mums and toddlers group have gone down with dengue
recently, so I have become paranoid again and am being much more diligent in applying
bug spray to everyone. There's a lot about at the mo. It's not just a nasty virus but it
hangs round for 6mths-yr, can cause depression, hair loss and if it is bad enough
(because it causes platelet levels to drop) you have to have a blood transfusion. Something you
really don't want to have here as, (according to our NGO), the screening is not all it could be. That surprsies me, the hospital seems very good, but you just don't know I guess.

Job For the Boy

When we got back, M told me that his job was looking increasingly uncertain because of budget cuts, (and other reasons. Long story). He had been told his job would be there till Dec, but it was looking likely it could be as early as Sept. Aaaaaaaaaaargh!! So he started looking for other jobs. And I started mentally roving the world once more wondering where I could cope with living.........

It's very unsettling for us all, we really do not want the upheaval of moving our whole family to another continent, again. I can't really think about it even. We really feel for our 6 yr old too, who is thrilled to be back at school and seeing his friends again. Ironically I was looking forward to coming back, and feeling I was happy to have another crack at it. Feeling quite positive, (that feeling lasted about 3 weeks.....)

Four calls to the water company to try and secure the complex task of getting water delivered this month (yes that is what the company do), put paid to those positive vibes..

But for those of you interested in our wild life here. On arrival home, 2 dead rats, big pong, but only two geckos, no spiders and very few ants so far....Lots of rain too, so no monkeys visiting.

Oh and one palm tree missing from our garden. It fell down. Termites....Fortunately whilst we were away, and fortunately onto our next door neighbour's (very strong) wall, so no damage to our (rented) house. However M will have to find somewhere else to hang his hammock now..

Paradise 'Regained'

Well, we got back ok, though not without our usual range of mini hitches. At least our luggage all materialised, though it took over an hour to appear, and as usual, was once most people had collected theirs and left. And in fact one man was in the process of wheeling off our biggest suitcase (genuine mistake), thinking it was his. Quite important this time, as our camera, mobiles, laptop, video camera, Ipod were all in hold luggage cos of security regs. Having worked for an airline for 11 yrs, M knew only too well what can happen to luggage once out of sight in the bowels of the airport.

Our 1st hitch was the night before we flew. I went out to the car to put the insurance papers in it for the morning, only to discover our battery was completely flat. Our daughter, who is 2 going on 17 ('give me the keys dad') had been playing in it and pressed every switch possible. She loves 'driving', and every time we go anywhere says 'keys mummy' and 'me drive'. She always manages to find some button I didn't know the whereabouts of, such as 'snow', 'overdrive' 'pwr' (or what they were for, for that matter. It was an automatic...) etc which always caused a slight delay in departure. Anyway this time it was the lights, wipers, and indicators. Everything, and I stupidly didn't check after finishing cleaning the car. Ho hum.

My dad didn't know where his jump leads were, having not used them for years, but eventually we found them in the Aladdin's cave that passes for a garage,and 1st crisis was averted. Gatwick was far less busy than we expected. Queues not bad at all. It seemed strangely quiet though and quite subdued. Or perhaps I was imagining it. Weird (for want of a better word) to be travelling the day after a thwarted terrorist attack........

We had our little plastic bags with keys, wallet, tickets in. Nappies, sunglasses,contact lens case. That was it. No drinks, food etc. We removed ourshoes, emptied our pockets, grimaced at the cameras filming us at passport control, and though happy for any security that make it safer, still felt the terrorists have managed to control our behaviour to some extent and thought the price of freedom is being monitored and observed, and controlled fairly minutely. Didn't feel very free.

First flight uneventful, bar our two year old being sick 4 times on her seat, on herself, but miraculously NOT on me, for which I am very grateful! Though of course, even though she had been sick that morning and we knew she wasn't well, we couldn't take a change of clothes for her on the flight, NO not even for a baby/toddler!

4 ½ hrs in Abu Dhabi stretched our resources. But the children were SO good, colouring, going up and down on the escalators, wandering around the DVD shop etc. We couldn't even eat together because we didn't want A to eat and be sick again (even though she wanted to- eat, not be sick...) The second flight was ok. We were put in a holding pattern before landing because we had to let several fighter jets land 1st. In Sri Lanka, as with several other places, the military use the commercial airports. Slightly disconcerting.

Jaffna airport was bombed by the LTTE, the Pakistani High Commissioner survived a bomb attack in Colombo, and the gov't hit an orphanage in the north, accidentally killing 63 children, so they have closed all schools fearing a back lash for that. Things are really deteriorating here, it's awful in the north and east, where in one church 20,000 refugees were hiding out, looking for shelter, and that is repeated in many places.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Year Ago in Paradise

It is exactly a year to the day that we found out that our daughter needed heart surgery to correct a left pulmonary sling. She had her ultrasound scan on 31st March at the Apollo in Colombo. And was admitted the same evening for an angiogram to confirm the diagnosis.

April 1st. April Fools Day. But this was no joke. Once again I wa s on my own. M was in the country, and the vicintiy this time, but a pre-arranged moving date, and our allotted stay in the hotel having expired, it was now or never.

The big unknown and cause for anxiety was whether she would need her trachea operated on . 50% of Left Pulmonary Sling patients have complete rings of cartilage formed round their windpipe, which means these cartilage rings have to be cut out, and then the trachea 'joined together' again. Quite a complex procedure, lots of complications. The degree of relief the cardiologist showed when we discovered, joy oh joy that she was in the OTHER 50% made us realise that would have been much more serious (and would have involved a month in hopsital at least) And further operations. This was discovered via bronchoscopy at Great Ormond Street in June last year

It is amazing to think back on this last year and to see all that happened. I'm glad it's over.

We were so grateful to everyone for all the prayers and support we received in regards to her operation. We really did feel buoyed up by the love and concern shown to us. Our overwhelming feeling is one of gratitude that our daughter is now fit and healthy. She greatly surprised even the cardiologist and surgeon by how quickly she bounced back. And people in church were even more surprised to see her there 6 days after her surgery.

We continue to be so grateful to the amazing paediatric cardiologist who diagnosed her here in Colombo, the blessing of having medical insurance which meant we could have the op done where we chose and immediately. The team at Great Ormond Street were quite outstanding, tracheal surgery was not necessary, the operation went “as smoothly as I could possibly have hoped for” (the surgeon) and I have to say that despite being the most serious, it was the least stressful time I have spent in hospital with our daughter by a long way. She was not frightened (though she did protest loudly at times) and when we ask her about remembering being in hospital she always says “yes, balloons!” Not a bad way to remember heart surgery….

She now seems to have far more energy than before (quite a common outcome for heart patients evidently) which I am also grateful for, albeit exhausted by too. She has to return to GOSH for another bronchoscopy and CT scan this summer, but there are no concerns, it was a completely successful one-off op. They will just monitor her annually to see how the artery is growing, particularly where the scar tissue is.

I was having coffee with a friend here yesterday who, out of the blue, asked how I was after 'all the events of last year'. She said she had been quite worried, (SHE was worried, I was worried about me too. I didn't know where "I" had gone....) She said I was so quiet and withdrawn, and I seem a completely different person now.......

Well I am really, as well as being more me again, and being able to laugh about things, I am also different. These things do change you.

Full Moons and Bristly Elephants

We had a lovely three day break at the beach during Wesak last year (to commemorate when Buddha was enlightened or something. Sorry I should know. Festival of lights, their most important 'poya' day.) There is a Poya day every month, well every full moon. which amounts to the same thing. Sri Lanka certainly knows how to do holidays. There are over 20 bank holidays a year.

Anyway we stayed in a gorgeous hotel which was a very generous gift from a friend, beautiful beach, good surf, "nice swimming pool" as A always says (about any hole in the ground with water enough for swimming) and an elephant for rides, which our 6 year old was desperate to do. Until he saw the elephant..... (a smallish Asian tufty haired, friendly looking fellow.) The reason given? "Too bristly and no seat".

We were told the monsoon begins after Wesak. How the monsoon knows that once Buddha has been enlightened it can rain I dont know, but it really did start straight after that w/e. It rained at some point every day, and also a lot at night which always woke us up as we have a tin roof.

I hope the rains start soon this year. It's already so hot and humid. I feel my ragged temper fraying more by the day.

Driving Licences and Derring Do

After 3 months of haggling with tuk tuks and wading through red tape, we got our Sri Lankan driving licences, hurrah!! This seriously tempted me to commit a deliberate offence, like speaking on the phone whilst driving, just so I could get pulled over (tho experience tells me no one gets 'done' for this particular offence) and have my SRI LANKAN driving licence inspected. The police and military are always so surprised when an ex pat has one. Probably because they know the ordeal required to obtain one. Though I don't know how people drive without one. Officially it's the only way you are allowed to...

I had a prang within weeks of getting our hire car, (whilst I was stationary.) A guy had unfortunately spilt his sack of breads on the road and, as if by magic, a traffic policeman appeared and started directing traffic (they usually do this in 3s in totally unnecssary places...) Anyway I felt the car wobble slightly and a guy in a jeep had pulled out of a parking place and gone into the side of my car! I was being beeped at and waved frantically on by the policeman so I drove off. I am told that to be able to claim from insurance you AND the perpetrator have to go to the police station on the same day (if he agrees to of course!) and get a police report. It takes ages. Also it only costs $2 or $3 to get a paint job or even to fix huge smashes is very cheap, so no one bothers with the hassle of claiming. No wonder insurance is so cheap....

Driving, as in many developing countries, is utterly crazy. People join main rds from side rds as if they have right of way, with no perceptible slowing down at all. No one indicates, (except in an entirely random fashion) people stop suddenly, change lane for no reason AND vehicles ON the roundabout give way to those joining it, which makes for quite hair-raising experiences at these junctions, and of course it means the whole principle of them doesn't work! I wonder what Sri Lankans wd do in Swindon with those multiple roundabouts....?

And as for the buses. I can see I will be returning to this subject another time......

People also step out in front of you to cross the road. I have swerved, braked and screeched to halts many times before now to avoid maiming those who play the National past-time of chicken. I have actually hit a man too, I'm ashamed to admit. He was fine, fortunately. I was filtering left, driving through a GREEN light. The two lanes next to me were going straight ahead and were on a red light. A man just walked out from in front of these two lanes where he was obscured from my vision, and walked across my path, without looking ONCE. The verbal abuse I got for daring to drive my car, on a road, through a green light was unnerving........

But in general boy, has the car made a difference. Life suddenly seems SO much easier. It does give you a much more removed perspective. It felt quite strange having been out in the heat , dust and traffic hassle for 3 mths. I am supremely grateful for the privilege of having it I must say.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Beasties & Things That Go Bump In The Night

Well just when I thought I had exhausted the tales of Sri Lankan fauna endeavouring to strike up a symbiotic relationship with us...........

One day we drew the curtains back we saw two monkeys running along our garden wall. One was about 3 ft high so quite big fellas. They sat in two of our palm trees, jumped on another roof and hung around for a while. A trifle disconcerting. They are now regular visitors. They dance on our roof, play kiss chase, and scream at each other. I wish there were ASBOs for monkeys.

Now our water monitor is a very civilised visitor by comparison. He just suns himself on our wall, takes a sedate stroll round the garden looking for insects. Our two yr old thinks he is the greatest. On Saturday she asked me to put him on the trampoline so he could bounce with her.

We also get lots of birds nesting in our garden , and because they are purple sun birds or woodpeckers or kingfishers, it seems more interesting.

What isn't so good is our rodent vistors.......

We were sitting eating supper with a colleague who was staying with us again, and at 9.30 a mouse appeared walking down our stairs and disappeared under the stairs where we keep lots of junk (yes we brought it with us just so we wd still have 'under the stairs' junk to make us feel at home.) The following evening at 9.25 the mouse just appeared again. (It's obviously a Swiss mouse- impeccable time keeping) Will try and find some Emmental to put in the trap..........

Another night M got up to go to the loo, and as he was heading back to bed a cane squirrel shot across his path IN OUR BEDROOM, and disappeared under the eaves. What is bothering me is how it got in the room in the first place.......... Fortunately the RAT he encountered on another nocturnal trip to the loo across the bedroom, was when he was there alone.

A friend has told me she keeps her bathroom door shut and bolted. She hears the loo seat bang as a rat comes up the loo at night......Doesn't really bear thinking about, particularly not when one is on the loo.

Our 6 yr old came home from school today saying he had seen a cobra at school. AAAAAAGH! It was in a hole in the wall of their play area. One teacher confirmed he thought it was a cobra evidently. I asked A what colour it was and he said "cobra coloured" so I guess that proves it. Sri Lanka only has 5 poisonous snakes, but unfortunately these, 2 types of viper, 2 kraits and cobra are quite common...........

I am never going to get used to the wild life here, especailly as so much of it seems to be in our house! Apart from the spiders (ok and the rats) most of it isn't stuff I REALLY mind about but you are never fully relaxed when drawing curtains, opening cupboards, moving things etc. And it certainly doesn't have a cosy feel. It's beginning to feel crowded.......

I met a chap from the Swedish Embassy at a children's party and he said he had played golf at the local leisure club in Battaramulla where we live, which is built on a swamp, and while he was playing he saw a 3m crocodile. I joked that at least it was in the swamp not on the green. He said "No it was ON THE GREEN!!" He threw a stone at it and it got angry! He lost 8 balls that day, didn't dare go and look for them in the bushes etc as the course is surrounded by croc infested swamp...!! Ho hum well it makes for interesting small talk at parties.

And for the really wild finale to this vignette of wild life in Colombo, M and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary and went out for a meal, ON OUR OWN, in Colombo. Wild things eh?? Our 1st night out since arriving in Sri Lanka.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Animal farm?

I have to say this job leaves precious little family time, or even time for me with M in the evenings. When M travels the children sleep in with me, which they love and find wildly exciting, I slightly less so, especially at 5.15 in the morning when A decides to wake us up by saying "Hello Evviebody" and then "wee wee poo" which rather jolted me into consciousness until I remembered this was her name for Winnie the Pooh.........

Obvious, but interesting, how a two year old's acquisiton of language is so guided by their immediate environs, and by what their mother says. Such that one of A's favourite sayings when we first arrived was "got it" as she clapped her hands together triumphantly once more, in the firm belief that she had swatted yet another nibbling mosquito. (yes, a neurosis bordering on the obsessive as I try and squish every potential dengue carrying beastie) Or "bash it mummy, bash it" whenever she saw a spider, particularly the little jumping ones, which in fact we ignore (too many) I keep explaining we only 'bash' the "really big ones" (tally 5 so far)

She also can confidently say, and point out, elephant, monkey, squeal (squirrel), gecko (and cow, to be fair, they are on the roads everywhere) but show her a picture of a horse, pig, sheep and she has no idea. She knows now, we've done some intensive training so as not to alarm the grandparents when home on leave, and taken on country walks and asked what those white fluffy things in the field are, and she looks blankly back at them............

Hill Country Blues

Our break in the hill country was great, frustrations with lack of info, signs, tourist 'advice' notwithstanding. We stayed in a colonial style bungalow, built in 1908, complete with fireplaces in every room. It felt quite like a typical church conference venue, a rather shabby, faded country house with rooms full of dark old furniture, very high ceilings, blankets on the beds, and showers that don’t work properly. I loved it, it felt so familiar! Oh and outside there were herbaceous borders. It was like an English country garden (well, the sort in Merchant Ivory films anyway)

But bliss oh bliss, it was so cool, and NOT humid. It was so refreshing. Cool mornings and evenings and days like a (good) English summer. I realised suddenly how normal I felt, you are not aware of your body for once, and how sweaty and sticky you are feeling. I felt human. Our 6 yr old was so excited about his bed too, because it had sheets and a blanket. He lay in bed the 1st night giggling and saying ‘oh I love my bed it’s so cosy and snuggly’

We met a consultant with M's NGO on our 1st night and he suggested we come and look at one of the Area Development Projects they run. They work with the tea pickers, almost all Tamil, very poor, earning about $3.50 a day. The consultant said visitors “see the beauty of the tea plantations but don’t hear the cry of the people” After work they can be seen gathering firewood to take home to cook on in the evenings. Lots of children helping too of course. It was great for me to see, some ‘work on the ground’ and interesting for our son too.

Our daughter had a very low key 2nd birthday. We had balloons, and eventually found a place which served tea and cake. Not an easy find.

I am quite excited that next week I have been invited to someone's house with my daughter, for the 1st time in 3 mths, and a woman from the mums and toddlers group is coming to see me on Tues. M says I need to be more proactive, but people aren't that friendly and it is hard as the new person to always be doing all the running. I feel like I have lost so much confidence since being here, not understanding how things work, feeling very down much of the time, not able to do any of the things I normally do, not having things to do with my daughter, and having to spend so much time trying to sort out yet another aspect of our life here.

I also went to a children's party with A and A this week. I was relieved to discover that parties seem to have an international format, with bouncy castle, bunting, fairly recogniseable party games, and the usual fare of 'sugar shock' party tea. And the usual tyranny of party bags too.....

This week we have also had our 1st overnight guest, a colleague from Galle, who confirmed that the spare room bed mattress was indeed awful, so we will replace it, as they only cost 30 dollars here for a foam one. It was so nice (if a little sweaty) cooking a meal for someone (other than the hubby of course) felt quite civilised and almost 'normal'. We really pushed the boat out and cracked open the gin. Would have been great but for the local tonic. Strangely I didn't seem to mind.........

Life's Wild in Colombo

Getting used to the 'wildlife' here has been another matter. I knew about ants, and having to keep everything in the fridge or in tupperware containers, and mop up immediately before the ants march in and take over. Cockroaches I loathe, but it's the unpredictability I dislike most.

I was getting breakfast ready at 6.45 one morning not , as you can imagine, feeling very with it at that time. However Mr Kitchen Gecko (they seem quite territorial) had other plans to wake me up. I opened the cupboard above my head to get the breakfast bowls out, and this particular gecko must have been snoozing along the top edge of the door, (and not an early riser like me) because when I opened the door he fell off his perch onto my forehead and plopped onto the back of my hand (they feel very spongy and rubbery) before scurrying away. Not the best early morning wake up call.......

M too showed he’s not all butch cockroach stomping machismo, because whilst in the hill country one wk/end, we were eating supper in the garden of our guesthouse and suddenly something huge flew across the garden and landed on M. It was 3 inches long and green. Mike leapt up (being familiar with the flying practices of cockroaches) and, not completely calmly, brushed it off frantically, having the same adrenalin rush I got with the gecko. It turned out to be a grasshopper/cricket type thing. Quite harmless, if rather large by English norms of grasshopper size.

But fool that I am to think these were bad. I nearly caught a flight home last night………

I am not usually that squeamish about insecty things, but I don’t much like big spiders.. Anyway I was lying in bed reading, just took my glasses off, and as I was lying down I saw something big , and blurry of course, shoot across my line of vision onto the skirting board a foot from the bed. I put my glasses back on and saw the 2nd biggest spider I have ever seen. (The biggest for those who are interested, was in Peru whilst climbing Machu Piccu. We sat down to picnic, and I sat down next to a tarantula. At least it was that size, shape, colour etc. I didn’t stop to ask if it was poisonous.) Anyway this one by my bed had a body about 2 “ long and 3/4 inch wide and legs that were easily 5inches long.

Unfortunately it was in the corner and when my hero M came to put it in a pot, it got away. I couldn’t believe how fast it went. So then we had this nightmare scenario, whereby it had gone behind our bed somewhere, and we didn’t know where. M decided he had to kill it, and he said we had to find it because ‘that was too big a spider to leave lurking in our bedroom!’ We also had no idea if they were harmless or not...

It took about 15 long minutes. M was heroically lying on the floor looking under the bed, in boxers and barefeet, pulling the bed out, shaking the curtains etc. Finally we found it on the window and M managed to squish it, even though he said it was very beautiful with stripey black legs... Can’t say I have ever been able to appreciate the beauty of spiders. I actually went outside the door because I thought I wd have nightmares if I had a close look at it, (remmeber that Doctor Who with the giant spiders?) and wd you believe it, I spotted another one on the ceiling in the landing. EVEN bigger.

So M began leaping up to try and wack it with his shoe, with it scurrying along upside down above his head. He got it on the 4th attempt. Now this is where the story gets even more horrible. When he examined it, he noticed it had a white sack on its body and what he thought were ants already devouring the dead spider. Nope. It turned out it was a mummy spider and 100s of tiny baby spiders had emerged from this sack and were running all over the place as M was wacking them with his shoe!

I am so glad we sleep under mosquito nets, now VERY firmly tucked in all round the edge. It feels a lot safer. I must admit I’ve been on edge all day putting my hand in cupboards, drawing curtains etc, for fear of what I might find. I wish I had remained in blissful ignorance of these monsters, which my neighbour casually assures me are harmless. I have to say though M was a complete hero, don’t know how he did it, and he admitted they were pretty disconcerting creatures. I realise what an important criterion it is to have a spouse who will heroically do battle with spiders of whatever magnitude.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Customs, Cookbooks and Telephone calls.

Our shipment took 10 weeks to arrive. Actually to be fair it took only a few weeks to sail here but many weeks to sit in port with customs. Every box was opened and inspected. No more inflammatory banners masquerading as windsurfing sails were found. Not for the fainthearted seeing the state of our boxes upon arrival at our home.

Camping in our newly rented house was wearing a bit thin. No pots and pans, no toys, no linen etc. It was quite absurd how excited I was at the sight of my salad spinner, frying pan (and cafetiere, hooray) and the relief at seeing all the things I had somehow had the foresight to ship, and wouldn't have to cope without...

I must admit I did sob over my beloved cook books as I retrieved them from a box. (10 wks being the longest I had ever been parted from them.) The tears were more for the realisation that had dawned on me since arriving in Sri Lanka that Nigella, Jamie and Nigel were going to be a bit redundant here. So many ingredients aren't available, and the heat and humidity so unbearable that I really did have to 'get out of the kitchen'. I love cooking. I miss recipes that I have always done. But I am learning new recipes. And bless Nigella, she often offers tropical alternatives, so I look for lime, papaya and coconut recipes now and I have learned to adapt, and substitute. There is a lack of variety, but on the plus side I guess I don't have to think so hard about what I'm going to cook, the choices are so few.

I get stressed by how long everything takes. I am not acclimatising well. By the end of a week I look at what I have achieved and feel very demoralised. Sorted the water, no. Got internet access, no. Paid bills, no. The list of 'lack of achievements' goes on and on, and continues week in, week out.

I seem to be misunderstood, or there is so much red tape, or incomprehensible rules about things. And people put the phone down on you all the time. People in companies, customer service representatvies, telephone 'help' lines. It is very odd. Sometimes it's a language thing, sometimes they can't solve the problem, sometimes they don't know what to do. But the answer is always the same. Just quietly replace the receiver and hope I won't notice, or hope that I will assume that I inadvertently keep leaning on the disconnect button.

I realise every single day I feel stupid or dim witted. (Perhaps it's the phone calls) I go to the supermarket and I don't even recognise half the veggies, let alone know what to do with them, (despite having read several Indian cookbooks) I don't understand the systems, so I get told off for walking in with bags to somewhere when they should be left with security; or laughed at by a tuktuk driver for suggesting so ridiculous a fare(a tactic on their part but wearing nevertheless) I feel like I get things wrong all the time, or don't know how to do something. Quite a weirdfeeling for a 30 something mother who has been knocking around in the world for a while, and thinks she knows a thing or two.....It diminishes your confidence. I need to work on that. All the magazines tell you you have a new confidence in your 30s, lacking in your twenties. Hmm.....


Having no transport for 3 months meant I did daily battle with tuktuk drivers over price and speed. The other day, and I kid you not, I saw what I hoped was against the laws of physics for a tuktuk. A 3 wheeler had gone round a roundabout, hit the middle of the roundabout and went round the remainder of the roundabout on TWO wheels. The guy was leaning desperately, and hazardously, out of the vehicle (Dukes of Hazard style, yes I'm really that old) to bring it back down to earth..

It's funny, several people, when I voiced my fears, mainly for A and A, about moving here, said that something could happen to you or your children anywhere, "they are just as likely to get run over by a bus in the UK as in Sri Lanka". Knowing what I know now about Sri Lankan bus drivers, I think that highly unlikely.

It wound me up then and even more so now, when I think of the noxious fumes we breathe in every day riding tuktuks, the hazards of RIDING the tuktuks, lack of seatbelts, the very dangerous traffic that takes no notice of road rules or safety. There are even signs at traffic lights (not at all superfluous) pleading with you to "Obey the traffic lights". I have been driven the WRONG way up a main road into oncoming traffic because the driver couldn't get back across the road....The dirt and mosquitoes carrying disease that bite during the day and are very difficult to avoid, the unclean water.........I could go on.

Life is much more hazardous here in every way, as in most developing countries, and even more so for the majority of Sri Lankans who don't have the buffers of wealth and health to protect them. And now of course there is the war and terrorism. I often think of the UK and marvel at how incredibly SAFE a place to live it still is. Even with terrorism. I remember friends moving back home after 10 yrs overseas and their comment was how they loved their 'safe' house in 'safe England'. I understand that a lot more now.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Spots, Locksmiths and Leaks

A has been better recently but she developed some very angry raised spots, which started spreading. I was sure she had impetigo, having consulted my "Your Child's Health Abroad" . The Dr at the hospital told us it was a reaction to the antibiotic she had been given for her chest infection. He was very brisk, barely looked at her and I was convinced he'd got it wrong. Well at the doctors today for vaccination number about 27, she confirmed it was impetigo, poor thing.

So far none of us have caught it fortunately. She also diagnosed my flaky lumps on my scalp as psoriasis. She asked if I had been under much stress lately or if stress could possibly have triggered it. I said there was an outside chance it could have done... our son has also developed severe eczema since being here too. Humidity, sun cream and swimming all exacerbate it, so not very good for a 6 yr old with a penchant for all things aquatic and the great outdoors. At least it comes and goes though.

Oh yes, the washing machine leak, and burst pipe. The washing machine leaked and flooded down 2 floors, we now know it was a rat pushing the outflow pipe out of the drainpipe. The pipe under our bathroom sink also burst, ruining everything in the cupboard under it, but the piece de resistance (caused by yours truly) was that M pulled our bedroom door shut having sprayed for mozzies and it locked (they all have yale locks) with both the key and the spare left INSIDE the room (by me. )

I should also add at this point it was 9.30 pm, M was in shorts and a t-shirt with all his shoes in the bedroom, and I was in my nightclothes. All our money was in there too. So M had to beg a lift from a colleague who came to pick him up, (because he had no shoes), and drove him into Colombo to our landlord's house to collect the spare keys. They had a spare key for every room, except that one......

So next morning, I scoured our locality for a lock smith, whilst M fumed in the house, in not many clothes. I found one, after about an hour, grabbed a tuk tuk and brought him back with me. It took him an hour to break in. At which point M started haggling over the man's price and what a day's wages in this country were. Whilst I wanted to kiss him, would have paid him a week's wages and given him my horse, had I owned one.

Life's a Beach?

We decided it would be good to have a few days away and pretend life was 'normal' and all was well with the world, so we went off to Unawatuna, a beach just south of Galle.

The journey down was by train, all classes, no a/c. Of course the train was full so we perched on a suitcase in the aisle, having to move every time a hawker came past selling oranges, complete with home made paper sachets made of old pages of school exercise bks to collect the peel in, prawn sellers, comics, musicians, you name it. There were a lot of them...

Anyway half way through the 3 ½hr journey a gentlemanly English guy gave A and me his seat opposite his girlfriend,which helped no end. A was in her element begging food from anyone the minute they started peeling an orange, opening some biscuits, or popcorn etc. It was quite a festive atmosphere and she was extremely well fed as food seemed to be how sri lankans kept themselves entertained on long journeys.

The tsunami devastation was apparent all the way along the coast, many broken down buildings, a completely decimated train left as a memorial, and lots of building work/half built houses, villages even.. There were many people we met on holiday too, waiters, guesthouse owners, tuktuk drivers etc, who all wanted to share their stories of their loss and what had happened to them. One waiter was in tears. The guard in the decimated train actually survived somehow by swimming up out of the train. He is still a guard on that route. It is really quite weird sitting staring out to sea having a survivor point to an island of rocks about a km out, as the landmark where the sea disappeared to for about 20 mins before the tsunami came in.

It was a lovely break, made even better by bumping into some British colleagues who worked in Galle, who we have become friends with. Unfortunately A got ill on day 3 of our holiday with another fever and a chesty cough, and was very wheezy again, so we came home a day early, to a washing machine flood, and a burst pipe in our bathroom.

Left Pulmonary Sling

Took A back for her heart scan after last abortive attempt. This time she went to sleep, and stayed asleep during the Echo. The paediatric cardilogist took ages scanning her. Having initially been quite relaxed (for once) as I had been reassured 95% of murmurs were 'innocent' I became more and more on edge, convinced something was wrong as he kept goign back over the same area and changing her postion and looking again. It took over 30 mins. Finally he finished and said he strongly suspected our daughter had a "Left Pulmonary Sling" meaning instead of growing in the right direction in front, it had looped round the back, of her trachea, constricting her windpipe (hence her history of wheeziness) He said he wanted to do an angiogram to confirm the diagnosis.

She was admitted the same evening. This entailed more blood, sweat and tears, literally as the nurses tried to take blood. I find these times in hopsital here so stressful. Not only am I always dealing with it alone because M has always been away when she has been in hospital, but also the nurses don't seem to be paediatrically trained or know how to look after children. Their methods employed the 'strength in numbers' theory. This involved five nurses holding down various bits of her in order to extract the required blood from her. As usual she fought; screaming, crying, sweating, and wheezing. To be fair I was doing a fair bit of crying and screaming at the nurses too.

The angiogram only took 20 minutes. But it seemed a long time.... . When I went to fetch her she was elastoplasted to a board by the legs so she couldn't move and was NOT impressed. I was told at all costs to keep her still because of the procedure having put dye in through the artery in her groin. Easier said that done with an irate 23 month old, struggling to get free of a taped board.

The cardilogist showed me on the computer how her left pulmonary artery was wrapped round her trachea. He said it was extremely rare (there again is the statistical anomaly. We were given a 5% chance of conceiving even through a complete IVF cycle. She was a frozen embryo, so even less likely to be successful) He explained it would require open heart surgery.

Reeling from the shock of this, yet also relieved that we had an answer, that it was operable, we were also very encouraged by the love and support of many friends from back home who phoned us in the hospital, and at home. We then had to begin the whole process, of deciding where to have the surgery done, when etc. Being overseas with medial insurance in fact made it a huge blessing as that would pay for it to be done privately, and therefore quickly. Following timely conversations with medical friends, a cardologist, godparents whose child had heart surgery etc, even someone who knew the professor of the cardiothoracic unit there, we decided to go to Great Ormond Street, and were duly accepted. GOSH said again and again how impressed they were by our Paediatric Cardiolgist's clinical excellence, and diagnosis through ultarsound, of our daughter, an extremly difficult diagnosis said.

We then discovered it could be a lot more compliated as they thought there was significant compression of the trachea which would require quite radical tracheal surgery entailing a much longer stay in hospital and more operations, and with potential complications.

I worried about her more than ever, and found I began to sleep very badly too. I would wake every night, much as I did with her as a newborn, with that new mother's sense of unease and went in to check her breathing. I found I had cot-death type anxiety all over again. I knew it was irrational, but I would go in and listen to her breathing/wheezing and wonder if this structural defect would mean when she had a cold or was wheezy, whether she would stop breathing. Of course she never had despite bronchiolitis, pneumonia and numerous respiratory illnesses.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Poya Day

In Sri Lanka you get a bank holiday for every full moon. It's called a Poya day. So you can do the maths……We spent our 1st in the country with one NGO's sole representative in Sri Lanka and her family. A very nice family, but real hard core development workers. I felt a complete wimp. They had worked in Mozambique, Nepal, and Swaziland.

I realized just how hard core when they said they had lived in Nepal, 8 hours drive from Kathmandu, and then a 40 min walk to their village up a mountain pass! AND she had her 1st child there…..Where exactly I’m not sure, as they were so far from Kathmandu. How do you plan for that? She said her 60 year old mother went on a plane for the first time ever to visit them. And she had her practising squatting, to tone up her muscles for the visit, as they had only a long drop/squat for a loo. In fact they said their house in Colombo was the first time they had had an inside loo with a seat (apart that is from their 4 yr stint in surrey.....I'm sure Surrey has no outside privys left)

I smiled weakly, and not for the first time, felt slightly out of my depth. Decided not to share my own ‘soft core’ stories of sharing a ‘long drop’ (hole in the ground loo, on this occasion in a hut) in Malawi with hundreds of HUGE hairy caterpillars In The Dark, (well I thought I was very brave......), inadvertently sharing a picnic spot with a tarantula on Machu Picchu,, sleeping on the floor of a Karen tribe’s hut next to the pig family, or in a police cell in Argentina, or sharing a ride in a Toyota truck with 27 others (I counted)plus two turkeys in Malawi. Decidedly tame….

Sunday, March 4, 2007

House Hunting with Brian and His Morris Minor

I went on several trips with a dear old boy called Brian who did, however, try my frustration levels to the max. He was a pentacostalist, whose car key ring says “Pray without ceasing” Having been out in the car with him several times in his Morris Minor, I now understood why and took the advice very seriously.

The chap was an anglophile. His mobile phone tune was Auld Lang Syne and he was always asking me about the Queen. To answer his mobile he simply slowed down to a stop (admittedly quite a speedy process in a Morris Minor going at 10 miles an hour) in the left lane and answered the phone with traffic beeping and careering around us, with him seemingly blissfully oblivious to the carnage of swerving buses and irate tuk-tuks,

After our 1st trip out, in a “normal” car, he told me all about his Morris Minor, he is in the Morris club and proudly announced that they make the spare parts in Sr Lanka and export them to Britain. ( I didn’t disabuse him of the notion that we all drive around in Morris Minors or that there is a national shortage of Morris Minor parts) I guess I showed more than polite interest because the next time he turned up in his Moggy. It had doors that only he was allowed to open and shut (very carefully) so the relief at finally arriving at one’s destination was quenched by the frustration of sitting perspiring in the car whilst he walked round and painstakingly levered the door open. Not a good experience for Type As.)

He had installed air con and asked every time “is the air con enough?” I of course said yes even though I could see it was on maximum and felt like the proverbial Turkish bath. Oh and the car didn’t go over 22 miles per hour. This was not that much of a problem in most of Colombo’s traffic, except that there are no rules of the road so two lanes are invariably 4 abreast and tuktuks will nip in the smallest gap. The Moggy was so slow to accelerate that the tiny gap that opened up as Brian struggled to double declutch and pull away, was immediately filled by about 5 tuk tuks. So progress was, let’s say, slow. It took an hour to do 5 miles on one occasion. I have to say it was an even more frustrating, and a considerably more sweaty experience than playing pictionary with M’s granny (and that nearly resulted in a peptic ulcer)

It's a Hotel Life for Me

The door men, waiters and hotel staff all struck up friendships with my two children, and loved chatting to them, giving them free pastries, doing the inevitable cheek pinching. One day, whilst waiting for a house broker, A had the door man by the hand walking him up round and down the front hotel steps ad nauseam. Both perspiring but still smiling after 10 mins of this.

Housekeeping. Every day sometime in the afternoon, a guy would knock on the hotel door and says “housekeeping, is all ok?” Yes, fine I would usually reply, but one day I made the mistake of saying two light bulbs needed changing. He came in, inspected the said lightbulbs and said “ I will send for the engineer” Now I'm no DIY expert, but I was quite surprised that such a task was only fit for an engineer, who duly arrived in overalls, with his mate, also in overalls, and replaced the light bulbs, and made a hasty retreat. One didn’t work, the other blew the other 5 lights in the kitchen within 2 mins. No wonder they made a sharp exit……

Similarly the washing machine in the kitchen (we were in a hotel ‘apartment’) was beyond me. I tried every combination, couldn’t get it to start, neither (I feel I need to mention), could my husband. So of course the overalled ‘engineers’ arrived to help (in pairs again) and stood looking at the washing machine and then began to twizzle, and push buttons in an even more random way than I had. Again I realized that though not blonde they had even less idea than I had of what to do. Eventually as with Big Bang Theorists of the universe, enough random combinations had been tried to suddenly (poof!) produce life and the machine started. I made the fatal, if reasonable, request to have them explain what exactly they had done to make it work (so that I could try it and do some washing). They smiled, shrugged and pointed at the machine as if to suggest I should be impressed and grateful for their impressive practical prowess, and (Like Mr Benn) ‘as if by magic’ quickly disappeared.

Heart Murmurs

At my daughter's check up a week after her pneumonia, the paediatrician detected a heart murmur which the paediatrician at her final check up in the UK had
noticed.This had been the 1st time it had been picked up so didn't take me completely by surprise thankfully. She had said the heart in a young child is very near the chest wall so quite common to hear a murmur, and the sri lankan paediatrician said 95% of heart murmurs are 'innocent' but she still sent us down to
cardiology to be seen and then to have a scan.

2 hrs later we go in for the scan. A fought and screamed so much the doctor gave up, and gave her some medicine to put her to sleep. This worked within a few minutes but by the time they called us in again to have the scan it was 20 mins later and she woke up!

He gave up, not the 1st doctor to have given up fighting her. Poor girl has=
had wrestling matches with so many medical practitioners in her time! So we wait 3-4 wks in the hope she will have forgotten her week in hospital by then!

When I explained about A to our 6 yr old he said "maybe they have never heard
an English heart before and it sounds different to a Sri Lankan one"

Culture shock.

I feel completely adrift. Absolutely exhausted, falling asleep during
the day, totally lethargic (heat/stress/culture shock etc) and can't quite believe
this is my new reality. Where the euphoria is, which is supposed to be the 1st
'phase of acculturisation' I don't know. It's not like I didn't know I had it
good back home. It's funny the things you take for granted though, like walking (too hot to walk anywhere here), using a buggy unimpeded, having pavements, having seatbelts, having adults to talk to, and as for eating curry for breakfast.....

At first we travelled everywhere by tukt tuk. Fitting three of us in a tuktuk, meant
my son sitting cross legged with our huge buggy jammed in front of him in the
well, my daughter on my lap, crying because it was so windy and all of us clinging on for dear life.

When my daughter and I were still in hospital, our son came to visit one day announcing he'd made a new friend at school called "Malaria" My husband said 'she can't be called Malaria, that's a disease' Our son looked most put out and said that was her name, and HE liked her. It turns out she is disease-free and called Valeria in fact.

After a routine security briefing my husband announced that we have to have a 'quick bag' packed in case of an emergency evacuation of the British in the country. I wonder what we are supposed to pack, but then I suppose it's a bit like packing your pregnancy bag but without the disposable knickers. All routine stuff just doesn't help my equilibrium in this new strange place. And of course, we still haven't packed it......

When we 1st arrived here we were in a hotel for 6 weeks whilst trying to find a house. In the restaurant one night whilst having supper, I asked my 6 yr old son if he was missing his old school and school friends. He leaned forward and said confidentially 'No mummy, I'm having the time of my life,' then held up his drink and said 'cheers, welcome to Sri Lanka!' Oh for a child's perspective.

Flight or Fright

By the time we arrived in Colombo we discovered 12 of our 18 bags had stayed in London. So after 1.5 hrs at lost luggage trying to explain what windsurf mast and sails were and what they looked like, and no they weren't fishing rods or mapholders; the woman at the desk was desperate to fit them into one of her categories on her laminated picture card of lugggage items. She also had no category for a baby backpack, or for M's metal document case.....we discovered our hotel taxi had given up and left. Our luggage finally arrived 4 days after us, but customs had impounded it because they thought the windsurf sails were banners which were prohibited! I think M was secretly quite pleased at being regarded as a political radical though with incendiary slogans on his 'banners'

Our flight wasn't great either. Our 22 month old developed a really high fever on the flight and screamed for two hours, whilst I sobbed. She got better then worse over the 1st week, with every sri lankan I met telling me to take her to doctors, what doctors? I didn't know where to go. We were used to her respiratory viruses anyway.

I took our daughter A to the hospital a week after arriving. She was diagnosed with pneumonia. They wanted to admit her immediately. My husband was travelling, 5 hours away, my son needed picking up from school and I didn't know a soul. I didn't have a mobile or small change for a phone. I said I simply couldn't have her admitted, so persuaded the pediatrician to give me the antibiotics, caught a tuktuk back to the hotel where I spent an hour trying to get through to my husband to get him to come home. She was admitted the next day.

She and I were in hospital for 5 days, and what a week. A was of course having medicines 3 times a day and nebuliser every 4 hrs, which weren't synchronised so we were being woken very frequently at night. Then afterwards she would be so distressed she didnt go to sleep for ages. We both slept very little indeed, A got more and more freaked by the nurses and especially the IV steroids which were very painful. She got more and more frightened each day and consequently fought her treaments more and more, and was exhausted with fighting and struggling to breathe. With the nebuliser the nurses just set it up and left me to grapple with my daughter, and hold her down. It was horrible. She was also on a drip for 24 hrs too, which she hated. We did have a darkly comic hour when she had perked up a bit and decided to wander round exploring this, rather large room, with me in hot pursuit wheeling the drip stand after her like her little dog on a lead.

The paediatrician was quite concerned, as they all were back in the UK, at the degree of wheezing and work she was doing to breathe, whenever she got an infection. The steroids increased too so that meant even more painful doses. I felt utterly drained by the whole experience, emotionally exhausted and reeling from it all really. The paediatrician gave us our 'get out of jail free, or rather , for a lot of money' 5 days after admission. I wept with relief. This was not my anticipated 'welcome to Sri Lanka'

Friday, March 2, 2007

Take Off

Although this job had been in the pipeline for months, M had been unemployed for 7 months, wondering if his 1st overseas post, since moving into development 3 years earlier, would ever come off. In truth I had been burying my head in the sand hoping it would never happen. Ironically it had been me who 1st persuaded him to consider working overseas when we met, 16 years ago. I had just returned from voluntary work in South Africa.

Increasingly over 11 years spent in a blue chip company, M felt more and more that he wanted to do something that was more 'worthwhile', something he felt would 'make a difference' and developed a desire to 'help people help themselves, who through no fault of their own were having a miserable life'. That's how he always expressed it. He had done an MBA, with a view to using his business/management experience overseas in the NGO world.

I have always shared this 'heart for the poor'. I think most people, when they are young, want to 'make a difference' in some way, but a lot of stuff gets in the way as we get older. The fact is I had got very settled. The nesting instinct had kicked in. A mortgage, 2 children, a teaching career all contributed to this. One of the reasons we had left it so long to "go", was because I was infertile and we had spent 8 years trying to have our 2 children through IVF. The time to do this I think is when you are young, or 1st married etc. I must admit I found it excruciatingly painful, ripping up all our roots to go and live abroad. Maybe soon I will be able to see more of the benefits of doing this, but it still feels pretty raw.

In my farewell speech at my school, I quoted Mark Twain who said "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

I think I said it more to persuade myself than anyone else. Right now the 'safe harbour' looked very appealing............

It has felt like a bereavement in fact, leaving the family, the friends, the city, the church, the job which I loved SO much. We had lived in this city for 15 years from my teacher training through to getting married, having babies. Our lives were embedded in this place.

As the day dawned, it felt strangely unreal. From hearing M had finally got the job, to starting work, we had one month. It was a manic month not surprisingly. I felt panic rising in me thinking, "I can't do this, I really can't do this"

So long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, goodbyeee

In the spirit of 'when the going gets tough'.......I went shopping. On Valentines day in preparation for our uprooting to Sri Lanka (5 days later). I needed shoes, next size up shoes. Good leather children's shoes are hard to come by, or so I am reliably informed. So off to the shops.

I carried my 'not particularly small' all terrain buggy UP stairs in Clarkes, then DOWN stairs in Startrite to try and find sandals for the two children. (discovered All Terrain buggies don't do stairs) I don't know why I bring the buggy anymore (except for me to sit in when I've had enough) My daughter insisted, loudly of course, on walking everywhere. She has a serious shoe fetish and was in Heaven, I was somewhere slightly different. She tried on all the shoes she could lay hands on, feeling particularly drawn to some very large, very hairy moon boots in Startrite, and removed all the shoes from the neatly organised displays. Couldn't find any sandals in the right size. Abort Project Sandal.

We then went to buy a daypack from Blacks. My 2 'little darlings' tried on 7 different rucksacks each, which I had to help them with putting on, whilst trying to engage a shop assistant in intelligent conversation about the merits of back flow ventilation systems and waist belts etc.

Then on to a department store to get 2 suitcases. More earnest discussions about durability, zips versus locks, wheelabiity etc interspersed with the shop assistant teling my son not to try out the handles, not to climb on the suitcases and me shooting off midsentence to rescue my daughter from heading off to "china and glassware" at the speed of a very excited unleashed rabbit. How I got home on the bus with buggy, two children and wheeling two suitcases, each of which could fit the 2 children in ( I know because my husband (M) proved it......) I have no idea. Oh well, in Sri Lanka I'd have been in a Tuk tuk so I should be thankful for small mercies! Little did I know.

All in all probably the most stressful shopping experience I can remember having, (with the exception of a Boden town hall sale of course..) So in the supermarket without children, was quite a relaxing antidote. Though it had its moments, (armed with inside info about what was hard to come by in Colombo) I was stocking up on packs and packs of ground coffee and industrial quantities of tampax, with the inevitable man behind me in the checkout queue who must have been thinking, 'boy this woman needs to see a doctor, .....and a dietician..'.

Went home to stare mesmerised at more boxes and wonder what to do first. Actually I'm lying, I opted out out and went to get my haircut. I feel moving house, country, continent is a bit like the childbirth conspiracy. If anyone told you what it was really like, you'd never go through with it..........