Resolutions

It’s a new year already. I can’t believe how quickly 2014 passed – so quickly that it seems like it didn’t even happen!

I often have this feeling of time whirling past, like I’m just part of the audience as life rushes by – as though I’m in stasis, waiting for something to happen. Waiting for some next phase, some kind of change, for the right time to engage. It’s a feeling I’ve been wrestling with for a long time, and it seems worse when living abroad: that somehow real life is on hold, and the time we spend away doesn’t really count. It means we are often making choices that don’t move our lives forward: we sit, and wait, and eat, and wait, and wonder when life will really begin. What is this feeling? Depression? Ennui? Homesickness?

You would think that picking up and moving across the world shows us to be brave, confident go-getters, grabbing the world with our fists and shaking loose everything we ever wanted. But most of the time I think we’re running from this feeling of being trapped by time and routine, only to be trapped by that very thing, in a grand chicken-or-egg game around the world.

Coming up on three years abroad and after a long trip home for the holidays, our thoughts are turning again to the future. Do we stay? Do we move home? Do we try something new? The thought of moving home scares me, as though somehow I will feel like we failed and be unhappy there, falling into old routines as if nothing ever happened, as though the last three years were meaningless and did nothing to break us free from the rut of suburban life. But staying scares me as well, as our current routines become, well, routine – and now there is nothing special about being here anymore: we’re just living the same regular lives we could have anywhere. Trying something new is just as scary, knowing that we will have to get over this hump of ‘life in stasis’ again, as we figure out the necessary sense of normalcy that lets us function in school, work, and society, but feeling like our progress in the world has been rewound all the way back to the beginning. So where is the happy medium? How can I have it all? Extraordinary experiences within a healthy, forward-moving life?

I guess I need to start small, making time for myself and my family, building up the core of personal health and strength that we need to be successful anywhere, whether that means a villa in Indonesia, a suburban townhome in Canada, an apartment in Europe, or a hut in the desert somewhere. I think I feel like life is passing me by because it is passing me by – it always will be, no matter how I choose to spend it or where. It’s not homesickness or depression, it’s just being faced with mortality. And I won’t find the strength to face that down from where I live or how, but from finding significance and happiness in every moment, no matter how small. So this year I will try to make time for those moments, and more time for the things that make me happy:

  1. More music practice each week, and try writing a couple of songs
  2. Regular weekly blogging, and start writing short stories
  3. Make time every day for exercise and yoga practice, and aim to be able to do 100 push-ups by the end of the year
  4. Try a new recipe every week, stop drinking soda, strict limit on dairy/wheat/sugar
  5. Host a music/games/theatre/poetry fun night for friends at least once a month
  6. Take a photography class
  7. Refresh my Spanish and French skills, and learn some German
  8. Spend at least 1 quality hour with the kids after work, no matter what
  9. Travel wish list: Siem Reap, Hanoi, Luang Prabang, Sulawesi, Northern Bali, Perth, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, London, Scotland, Iceland

So here’s to 2015! All the best to you and yours. I can’t even guess where I will be writing my 2016 plans from at this time next year, and I think for now that’s exactly how I want it.

Happy New Year from the Cayas!
Happy New Year from the Cayas!

Orangutan adventures

After two years of living here, we finally had our first non-family visitor. (Sorry Phil, one day doesn’t count!) Our friend J stayed for a week during her whirlwind tour of Southeast Asia. Because of a few national holidays anyway, I decided to take the whole week off and we booked two trips outside of good old Bogor: first, a three-day boat tour of orangutan sanctuaries in Kalimantan, then a few nights away at my work cottage in the nearby mountains.

As soon as J arrived, we filled her full of local Indonesian fare and showed her the mall, since that’s about all there is to do around here. So then to shake things up, we headed off to brave the jungles of Borneo and watch orangutans in their natural habitat. The tour we booked travelled from Palangkan Bun, where we boarded a klotok (a two-story wooden boat) and headed into the Tanjung Puting national park. The boat is about 3m x 13m, designed for a cruise – cooking, eating, sleeping all on board. There was even a “western” toilet, which really was just a normal toilet placed over a hole in the boat floor, leading directly to the water below. There was a shower too, but read the previous sentence again to find out why none of us used it during our stay.

After a hearty lunch on board, we disembarked at the first viewing station just outside a local ranger village. It was a hot, humid walk through a muddy, buggy forest to get to a clearing where a platform had been built to hold a giant pile of bananas and an even bigger pile of orangutans. Of course, as usual, J tripped and fell on a bunch of roots just as we were arriving at our destination. There were a few moments where her wild crying could have scared away all our ape visitors, but luckily after a few minutes she decided that the tiny scrape on her knee was slightly beneath apocalypse level and maybe she would be ok after all.

We saw a good handful of orangutans at this feeding session: a few mothers and babies, one or two adolescents and a male of about 30 years old. They weren’t shy to wander past us on their mission to the bananas, and we got several great close-up views. Soon the bananas disappeared, and it was time for all of us to go.

That night, we anchored the boat in a patch of water reeds in the middle of the jungle and fell asleep to the sounds of proboscis monkeys and night birds, lit by the glow of lightning bugs and stars. In the morning, we set off to the next conservation area for another feeding. Unfortunately, friend J was feeling quite sick that day, suffering from a bout of heat stroke. She decided to stay on the boat and save her energy for the main orangutan camp visit in the afternoon. This feeding station was similar to the first, with a handful of orangutans, with one major difference: this time, we were lucky enough to get a full performance of orangutan lovin’. That’s right, folks, about 20 tourists stood around, giggling awkwardly and wondering aloud if they should turn off their cameras, while Mr. and Mrs. Orangutan paused their banana snacking to share an intimate moment. Well, I can’t be sure that Mrs. was totally into it, but she was begrudgingly putting up with it, at least.

Next, we continued up a smaller and much cleaner river towards Camp Leakey, the original orangutan sanctuary in the area. We knew we had arrived when we saw a huge grandma orangutan taking a bath next to the dock. After a quick lunch, we set off into the forest again. We walked along a boardwalk towards the visitor center and saw at least 5 orangutans just hanging out. These ones were clearly more familiar with people and we could have easily touched them – it’s dangerous to touch them, though. Not only are they still wild and unpredictable, but humans can give and receive viruses to and from orangutans that can make both sick. So we looked but passed by rather quickly…

We stopped at a dimly lit but interesting visitor’s center, where the kids mostly just wanted to look at the skeletons on display (as usual). Friend J was at the end of her strength, so she and B hung around the center while the kids and I continued into the forest for another viewing. It was a long walk, and the kids were so incredibly sweaty, like little milk containers sitting out on a hot day and condensating all over everything. Oh and they were whiny too. Like… little whiny milk containers on a hot day. Anyway, we made it to the viewing area and it was packed. Way too many tourists for the space, and they were all quite loud and aggressive. We arrived partly into the feeding session, so I don’t know how all the ruckus started, but we suddenly noticed that there was a girl of about 12 who had been grabbed by a mama orangutan. I guess the girl got a bit too close to the baby, or perhaps had something that seemed like food in her pocket, and the mama grabbed her arm with both hands and wouldn’t let go. They were surrounded by 4 or 5 guides who were trying to lure the orangutan away with bananas, which they did eventually. The girl seemed unhurt, but it was a very tense few moments. Good lesson for everyone there about how to treat wild animals with respect, and don’t get too close!

The kids’ favorite part was a cheeky gibbon who was stealing all the bananas. J chanted “Go, Gibby, Go!” for much longer than appropriate, but it was all in good fun. We wandered back to the visitor’s center soon after and all hopped back on the boat for the trip home.

 

Injury in Indonesia

Since we moved here, we’ve been really lucky. None of us have had any serious illness or injury, other than the usual bumps and bruises, colds and flus of a normal life anywhere.

I’ve been particularly thankful of this because the closest “western” medical center is at least an hour away from us, in Jakarta. Sure there are hospitals in our area, but there is no guaranteed standard of care, not to mention that our Indonesian skills are probably not good enough to navigate a true medical emergency. Some of the hospitals around here would be ok if we had no other choice, but we have been told to avoid certain ones because they quite literally have no supplies.

There is also no dependable ambulance service or other emergency transportation. Yes, there do seem to be “ambulances” on the road at times, but they look more like vans with the word “emergency” painted on the side. I’m not convinced there are any sort of life-sustaining medicines or tools inside. Also, they are just as trapped in the traffic as everyone else, and would probably not end up making it to a hospital in time anyway.

So, with all these sobering thoughts, I’m grateful every day that we are relatively healthy and have yet to need a doctor visit for even a minor issue. That is, until this week.

On Thursday night, I was going about my usual bedtime routine. We had just finished packing for a weekend away at my work’s mountain cottage, and I was looking forward to a relaxing few days off the grid. Then, randomly, as I stood up, my lower back gave an ominous twinge and trapped me in a half-standing position like an old lady in a bad sitcom. Holy crap.

I’ve pulled back muscles before and gotten back pain from sleeping in a weird position all night. These are painful, but easily handled with a bit of stretching and extra care for a few days. This time was different. It was a close second to childbirth. I managed to fall onto the bed and immediately tried all the “recovery” positions I know, the crunched-up-like-a-ball one, the one-leg-at-a-time-pull, the butt-in-the-air-bend… I finally settled on the crying-fetal-position, hoping that a night of sleep and a relaxing swim in the morning would make some difference.

Friday morning, in excrutiating pain, I managed to hobble to a friend’s pool for some floating relief. It was neither relieving nor helpful. That afternoon, another friend kindly sent over a massage therapist whose life’s mission seemed to be to rid my body of tension, no matter how long it took or how many bruises formed. It was relaxing, but my back still hurt to the point of vomiting, and now I was covered in painful bruising. The therapist’s wild sign language depicting bones out of place was also not encouraging.

So, I decided to brave the hour-long car ride to the clinic on Saturday morning, in the hopes of getting a full back transplant or at least some horse tranquilizers to knock me out for a few days. This was a big step for me – I don’t usually go to the doctor or admit to any pain at all, so obviously I had reached the acceptance stage of my grief, admitting something more was wrong than just a muscle pull.

Somehow I made it through the car ride and the wait in the clinic. I did tear up a few times in the waiting room, sitting on their horrible non-ergonomic chairs. Luckily I brought B with me, and luckily he is strong enough to lift me bodily out of cars and chairs and things. At one point the tiny Indonesian nurse offered to help me out of my seat and I actually laughed at the absurdity, told her I would probably crush her, and I should probably use my husband instead. She looked relieved.

As it turned out, the doctor was very knowledgeable and actually did the leg and back mobility tests I would have expected from a doctor at home. He also recommended x-rays. After 2 radiation blasts to all of my important organs, we determined that I have an over-arched lumbar spine, which has managed to push the base of my spine off its normal resting place on my hips.

Of course, I googled that as I soon as I got in the car. Apparently this is called “lordosis” and often happens to horses. Jesus. I really did need horse tranquilizers.

Speaking of which, the doctor kindly gave me enough muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatories and painkillers to have a week-long trip. And told me I had to stay in bed for several days, and only once the pain subsides, to start a regimen of gentle strengthening and stretching. So, it sounds like this was an inevitable injury, and is probably going to be a lifetime of recovery.

At least I’ve been able to milk it, lying in bed all weekend and having the kids and B bring me food and entertainment. I’ve also been using our rolling office chair like a poor man’s wheelchair. No regrets.

All in all, I guess it could have been worse, but I would have preferred a weekend at the cottage.

Operation: Get Visa In Singapore II

Because our visas ran out while we were in Canada, we had to turn around and make another trip to Singapore as soon as we got home. Now, I cannot believe that I have reached a point in my life where taking a trip to Singapore seems humdrum and exhausting rather than exotic and thrilling… but I have. It was not a touristy trip, and in fact, we scheduled a bunch of work/personal appointments for the few days we were there, meaning we spent the bulk of our time at the bank, embassy or doctor, or waiting to go to the bank, embassy or doctor, or on our way back from the bank, embassy or doctor.

Still, we enjoyed it as best we could: room service, TV channels, swimming pool, great restaurants and shopping nearby. We stayed at the same hotel as last time, and made a point of paying for access to the executive lounge – this is the traveling secret we’ve learned. For only a few extra dollars, the executive level at hotels means you get free food and drinks, free internet, and little perks like movie rentals and extra yummy snacks. It’s totally worth it.

One night we ate dinner at our now-favourite Mexican food restaurant. It is quite literally the only restaurant in the world where the kids eat everything on their plates. It’s a miracle! They also have yummy sangria with apples in it. For lunch another time, we ate at a marché-style place and had the best fig/goat cheese salad on a piece of bread ever. That description really does not do it justice, I swear. Otherwise, we spent our little bit of free time shopping, picking up some life essentials like a milk steamer, a new coffee grinder, Star Trek novellas, a Hello Kitty cross stitching kit, and ukulele song books. Can you guess who got what?

The only touristy things we managed to do were to visit the Raffles Hotel and take a ride on the Singapore Flyer. The hotel was beautiful, and I had been hoping to buy some souvenirs at the shopping galleries within, but J had a knock-em-down-drag-em-out cry fest in the middle of the place so we had to ditch. It was expensive anyway, so no huge loss. The flyer was pretty cool. The kids loved it, although I’m not so sure the folks sharing the capsule with us enjoyed their enthusiasm as much.

So anyway, now we’re back to real life… again!

Endings, beginnings

This week has been the kids’ first week of summer holidays. Yay for them! Boo for us. Well, we love them and everything, and I do like not having to make lunches every morning, but they are going a little stir crazy around the house. There are no summer camps here. And also, it’s always summer here, so the “summer” part of summer holidays is not very exciting.

School ended last Friday with a final assembly and a bunch of class parties. The assembly was sweet, with little songs and plays, but somehow neither of our kids’ classes did anything, so I have nothing to show you. Other than this hilarious shot:

Let's play "find the only two blonde kids" in the school!
Let’s play “find the only two blonde kids” in the school!

Seriously, though, it’s lovely to be in such international company. And the kids are oblivious to it, which is exactly the way it should be. After assembly, B’s class spent the day playing games and sports in the yard.

B's class playing some kind of partner skipping race. He was with a girl - I will be teasing him about this for at least 6 weeks.
B’s class playing some kind of partner skipping race. He was with a girl – I will be teasing him about this for at least 6 weeks.

J’s class had a party and invited the parents. It was cute, but I got the impression these teachers had not just spent a year teaching 2-4-year-olds. First, they tried to play musical chairs. We all know how well that went – a bit of crying, a lot of confusion, and mostly it was just a bunch of kids wandering around. Then they had a game where the kids had to pass around presents, and then when the music stopped, the one holding the package got to keep it. Again, a bit of crying and a lot of confusion. Plus there were a few sneaky kids who kind of “forgot” to pass along the gift and got to keep it. Luckily there was something for everyone.

J with her "Angry Birds Happy Birthday" party hat. I guess it doesn't matter what they say when none of the kids can read.
J and her friend with their “Angry Birds Happy Birthday” party hats. I guess it doesn’t matter what they say when none of the kids can read.
This is the kids singing the "Mandarin" song. I don't know what it is about because it is actually in Mandarin.
This is the kids singing the “Mandarin” song. I don’t know what it is about because it is, appropriately enough, in Mandarin.

After the games, there was a “pot-luck snack” for everyone to enjoy. These things are always terrible. Every single parent sends a pack of donuts or some kind of crazy Indonesian sweets. Because it’s such a great idea to pump your already-so-hyper-they-are-on-the-verge-of-an-epic-tantrum kids full of sugar at 9:30 am. We sent sandwiches. All J ate was a strange jelly cup and the red from a rainbow cake slice. Awesome. So I left her with B and went to work. Heh.

Speaking of work. Some of you may recall that before I moved here, I went on an awesome health kick and lost a lot of baby weight, ate healthy and just generally took better care of myself. Yeah, so that pretty much ended when I got here. It’s no one’s fault but mine, although I would like to blame it on the stress of moving, and settling into a strange place, and having a new job, and not knowing where to shop for healthy food, and eating a lot of fried food and comfort food, and plenty of other things. But all in all, it’s still depressing to have put back on a lot of that weight and stopped eating so carefully.

Anyway, it only took me almost a year, but I’m finally feeling ready to concentrate on myself again! So I’ve been going to the gym at work. I don’t know why I wasn’t going all this time, because it’s great. They have a bunch of cardio machines (which I don’t use, because seriously, my body parts were chosen from the “unfit for cardio” pile), a rack of free weights, several weight machines, and of course stretching space (all of which I do use!). Also, it’s always empty, and it’s lovely to work out in the tropics:

Sunny gym in the morning!
Sunny gym in the morning!
And I have it all to myself
And I have it all to myself!

B also started a health kick recently, and purchased some DVDs from the internet. I call them his “man yoga” DVDs, because they are yoga moves taught by a former wrestler. I’m not going to lie, they’re awesome. I’ve never really liked yoga, but I realize now it’s because it was always missing the testosterone that comes from a burly wrestler teacher.

So hopefully with all these powers combined, I can get back into a good routine and keep it forever this time!

In other news, we’re heading to the south coast of Java this weekend to check out the surfing. I mean, we’re not actually going to surf… we’re just checking it out. Maybe we’ll watch some other dudes surf, or more likely, we’ll just dig holes in the sand and maybe try to catch some tiny crabs. I’ll be back with pictures soon!

Robbed!

I don’t mean to be dramatic, and some of you may have already heard this tale of woe, but I’ll share it again in all its g(l)ory.

Wednesday last week, we woke up to our usual hectic routine of getting dressed, getting breakfast, getting packed, getting out the door… in the rush, I could not find my laptop bag. It wasn’t a big deal, because I had emptied it of important things the night before after my water bottle spilled in it. It wasn’t where I had left it to dry, which seemed a bit strange, but misplacing things is not uncommon around here. I quickly grabbed a different bag and filled it up to bring to work. At the same time, I was trying to find B’s phone to see if our driver had texted him, since he seemed to be running late. We couldn’t find it immediately either, but if anything goes missing on a regular basis, it’s B’s phone. Again, I didn’t think much of it, and assumed he would find it later that morning.

Kids in tow, I headed out for school and on to work. Wednesday was a busy day for me, stuck in a seminar for the morning and thus out of reach. Mid-morning, I logged into my computer and saw of series of increasingly panicked emails/messages from B:

“Hey, I’m having a crisis here. Have you seen my phone & wallet? I literally can not find them anywhere.”

“OK, seriously cannot find my wallet or phone.”

“Crisis time. Seriously. Cannot find wallet anywhere in the house. Did you take it with you today or something?”

At that moment, I looked up and saw B walking into the office. He said those three magic words that no one ever wants to hear: We’ve been robbed.

Hehad just spent the morning tearing the house apart for his phone and wallet until it dawned on him that several other items were missing and put it all together… unfortunately, because his phone was among the lost possessions, he couldn’t call me and had to come all the way to work to get me (because I wasn’t answering email either). After an hour or so of wrangling with bank helplines and changing all our account passwords, he headed back home to assess the damage more thoroughly.

Turns out, some sneaky f***s climbed over our 10-foot gate, scaled the front wall and pried open a second-floor balcony window. (We know this because of the bare, muddy footprints going up the side of the house…) Once inside, they grabbed whatever was sitting out that was of even moderate value: our personal laptop (not a huge shame, because recently the 8, i, k and comma keys had stopped working – enjoy that, suckers!), LittleB’s month-old netbook (he cried all day), B’s phone and wallet, my laptop bag, my iPod, my blackberry playbook, B’s wedding ring, and a bottle of vodka. All in all, we lost about $3000 worth of stuff. And of course, we don’t exactly have what you would call ‘insurance’ here. Luckily, both of our work computers and my phone/wallet were in our bedroom with us, along with most of our other important documents and items.

In retrospect, it could have been much worse. Because we were home, they didn’t simply clear the place out (which I’ve heard of happening). No TVs or other sizable items were taken. However, I also think they didn’t realize we were home: the TV was actually unplugged as though they were going to take but got spooked – I bet they made their way downstairs and saw us in our bedroom and bolted. That’s also lucky, because my biggest worry is that they could have turned violent and someone could have been hurt. Frankly, probably them, and we would have been on the first plane out of the country to dodge manslaughter charges.

So, now what? Well, we’ve taken a closer look at the security of our house; what felt before like it was safe is obviously not. We lock absolutely everything now, sacrificing fresh air for safety just in case another monkey of a robber scales the walls. That wouldn’t stop a determined thief when no one is home, however, since they could easily break a window or jimmy a few locks to get in. We always figured as long as someone was here 24 hours, there was no issue, because who breaks in when people are home? Those guys, apparently. A lot of people here have night guards, which we’re seriously considering. Although the night guards at the house directly across from us “didn’t see anything” that night, because they were asleep by 2 am. Thanks for the vigilance, guys.

Anyway, it’s not all that bad. We lost a few things that in the grand scheme we didn’t really need. I like to hope that the person who stole them needed the money to literally survive, which is fairly likely… maybe they had a sick child or grandmother or something, and our few possessions helped them through a rough patch. It could have been worse.

On another, happier, note, here are pictures of the kids dressed up for “Hero Day” at school last week. Green Lantern and Batwoman. By the way, J has asked to officially change her name to “J the Batwoman,” so keep that in mind for next time you see her.

Green Lantern
Green Lantern
Batwoman
Batwoman

This week is International Night at the school – look out for that recap! We were going to make pemmican as the “Canadian” food to share, but it’s really hard to find rendered caribou fat here, go figure.

Illness in Indonesia

Sleeping something off on the couch - at least she's cute when she's sick!
Sleeping something off on the couch – at least she’s cute when she’s sick!

This seems like a good time to tell you in more detail about being sick here. It’s good timing because we’ve all been sick this week – J missed the whole week of school, LittleB was sick through the national holiday we had yesterday and I took today off work to recoup.

It’s really not that different than at home. We’ve always gotten colds, sniffles, coughs, fevers, stomach bugs. But there’s something about being in a place where we don’t have comfortable knowledge of the medical system or even over-the-counter medications that makes it more difficult. We do have a small pharmacopia that we brought from Canada, and luckily it has served us through the past several months. I honestly don’t know what we will do when we run out!

Now for some, ahem, gory details. This could be a TMI post, so if you don’t like gross sick stories, move on and come back for the next entry!

Rashes

Living here, in the humid climate, has actually cured both me and LittleB of all our dry skin ailments. It’s fantastic! He used to suffer so brutally from eczema that his skin would bleed from all the wintertime scratching. I wasn’t much better, but I had more control over my scratching frenzies. Since moving here, we now both have baby-soft skin and it’s fantastic. B’s more oily complexion isn’t doing as well, but it’s manageable now that he uses oil-control face wash as shampoo. The problem, however, is that sometimes we get irritated skin from … I’m not sure what. Perhaps it’s the questionable bathing water, perhaps it’s the harsh laundry soap (there’s no PC Organics brand here, surprisingly), perhaps it’s all the beach time and swimming we’ve had, perhaps it’s the filthy cats that live in our yard that we play with, or perhaps it’s some kind of awful bacteria or sweaty athlete’s foot issues. I don’t know, but it freaks me out a bit. Eh, I’m sure it’ll go away. Right?

Cuts

So, cuts. Because we live in perpetual summer, the kids are perpetually falling and scraping and bruising and cutting up their legs and arms and faces. And cuts don’t heal quickly here. Maybe it’s due to some of the same reasons above (see: rashes). But I also think it’s because we just have a really hard time finding bandages and ointment here. I don’t know why. Here’s a fun story: I went for my scuba test two weekends ago and had borrowed someone else’s fins. They didn’t fit, and they rubbed quite a lot on the backs of my ankles whenever I finned (which is, you know, kind of an important thing you need to do under water). After the first day, my ankles were rubbed raw. But I was swimming in salt water, which is a natural antiseptic, right? And me being me, I scoffed at such a small amount of pain. So after the second full day of swimming, the raw skin was now gone – literally. There were a few spots that were dangerously lacking in skin. Again, me – no big deal, I’ll just shove some tiny bandaids on those bad boys and they’ll get better in a few days. Well, no. A few days later, they were festering pustules of yuck. I soaked them in some water and table salt and sent B out to find some larger bandages, hydrogen peroxide and antibacterial ointment. He managed to come home with the same size bandaids, a strange alcohol spray and some weird oily iodine concoction. Anyway, I plastered myself up and only covered most of our sheets with iodine juice. Two weeks have passed and the wounds are finally closing up. So where was I? Oh yeah, don’t borrow someone else’s scuba fins.

Cough

Having a cough is a recent thing for us. In fact, until the past month or so, I was pleasantly surprised at how great my breathing and LittleB’s has been (we both have touches of asthma, so I figured with the pollution and humidity, we would both have a hard time here). I was pleasantly surprised too soon. About three weeks ago, a nasty cough went around work and thus the family. I got it first, just a chesty cough, not a throat problem, and I figured it would be gone in a few days. Not so. For the past three weeks I’ve been hacking and choking, coughing up congestion and just generally sounding disgusting. Now both kids have it too. We all sound like a bunch of octogenarians sitting around a card table smacking our gums. We just need some rheumatism to go with it. I think I’m finally on the mend, although I can still feel some tickle down inside the ol’ wind-bags. It would seem that, like every illness here, what is normally a small thing back home is compounded by pollution/heat/ dehydration/bacteria/non-immunity and takes weeks to get over.

Fever

This is the scary one – only in so much as we’re always on the lookout for the big bads – Dengue, Typhoid, Chikungunya, etc. Thankfully, both kids have only had a few reasonably low-grade fevers since we arrived. But it’s still hard to watch the poor kiddos suffer for 2 or 3 days. J had one since Monday and lost about 5 pounds over the week. I cannot thank our foresight enough for having brought over two big bottles of children’s Advil. That stuff really does work on fevers. It doesn’t make it go away, but they do get to sleep it off more comfortably. The rule of thumb here is: 3rd day of fever, get thee to hospital. Luckily we’ve never passed 3 days before, so we haven’t had to experience the fun of a hospital trip.

Vomiting

Hand-in-hand with fever is vomiting. Unfortunately, the kids end up sleeping in our bed every time they’re sick. I’m honestly not sure what’s worse – the kid being sick or the sick kid being sick (literally) in your bed. We had to recently institute a new rule that anyone who shows up in our bed has to bring their own pillow. I’m sick of ours getting barf on them. Here’s an awesome vomit story from just yesterday! LittleB wasn’t feeling well, so he laid down in our bed. We gave him a “barf bowl” and left him to rest (J even sang a “You Get the Barf Bowl” song for him, she’s special). Of course, about 10 minutes later we heard those sounds you never want to hear when your kid is sleeping in your bed. We came in to check and, yes, he had been sick, and, no, he didn’t make it to the barf bowl. The worst was that the night before, J had been sick in our bed, so we had taken off the mattress cover to clean it and hadn’t put it on again yet. ARGH. But as I was cleaning him up in the en-suite, I heard B yell “AMAZING!”, so I came out to see – we had forgotten that J’s previous christening had soaked through a bit, so we put down a towel under the sheet. LittleB managed to barf ONLY within the radius of the towel, saving our mattress from the experience! There is always a silver lining.

Diarrhea

Yes, I’m going to go there. Anyone who has travelled – anywhere – knows that even a little change in water, food, bacteria, will give you some extra “viscosity” down there. And when you travel far away, there is a multiplication factor of, oh, A BILLION. So yes, we’ve all suffered from this ailment fairly often since we arrived. Sometimes it’s just a one-time thing after a particularly spicy or greasy or slightly-off meal. Other times it’s a week of rear-end explosions that leave you wishing for some kind of special cork to plug ‘er up. My two best friends when this happens are acidophilus pills and the bidet attachment on the toilet. Nothing leaves you feeling better after a violent evacuation than a nice rinse-off. The best part about diarrhea, though – as if there is one – is that it’s not a taboo subject here. It’s a common topic of conversation among the expat group, especially when someone has been experiencing a particularly difficult bout or we all seem to be sharing the same bug. In that sense, it’s important to talk about it so we know what’s going around! At our house, it’s totally open for discussion, and we even have some cryptic but descriptive names for the different, erm, varieties. And when you tell someone you gotta go here, it’s a real thing. You gotta go!

I do want to point out that this is obviously my first-world take on illness here, and of course I meant it in good fun. The true illness is in the local population, on the streets, where we see the poorest of poor folk begging and sleeping in filth. Many of them have obvious physical ailments and deformities, and their quality of life and life expectancy are accordingly low. Our housekeeper once mentioned casually that her daughter has a “tumour” and needed to see the doctor. B and I have spent many hours wondering whether what she calls a tumour is the same as what we would – and if it were, does either she or her daughter understand what it is or how potentially serious it could be? When you grow up with poor health and poor access to care, I guess it’s just part of life for you, your friends and your family to have serious illness and often die young. Indeed, in just the past few months, at least four of my Indonesian colleagues have lost a parent or close relative quite unexpectedly.

In closing, we are four strong and healthy folks with access to high-quality health care if we need it, so please don’t worry about us (Mom).

On the road again

Well, folks, it’s been a while since the last update. Sorry!

But I’ve found a few free moments at the Jakarta airport, so I will try to give you a rundown of the happenings lately.

The past two weeks have been a busy, regular routine. Both kids (and frankly, everyone in town) caught some kind of stomach bug/flu/cold that took them out for a while. But luckily it was not dengue or typhoid fever as I generally suspect. I’ve heard of a few cases of dengue, but we’ve made it through safely so far. It’s also been raining. A lot. Jakarta keeps flooding, though Bogor has been fine. It has increased commuting times, so most of my energy disappears in those long drives.

We went into the city last weekend for yet another fancy brunch. This one was a “jazzy” lunch at the Ritz Carlton. It doesn’t get jazzier or ritzier than that – fancy little foods, foie gras on everything, and a bunch of seafood. I didn’t try the oysters, but it was just as well because everyone who did was a bit ill the next day. I guess even class doesn’t stave off salmonella.

Brunch out

After brunch, we visited the “totally legal” DVD mall, and stocked up on something like 60 discs. Granted, most of them were blockbusters like “Mulan II” and “Meet the Robinsons”, but at least the kids were happy. Also, they cost like Rp. 6000 each, so it is pretty hard to overspend. We managed to get a few adult movies (not that kind), and some new releases, so we feel a bit more in touch with cinematic reality.

Earlier in the weekend, we started up what will hopefully become a regular poker night in the neighbourhood. I won. (It paid for brunch.)

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Otherwise, I’ve been busy this week planning some trips, including the one I’m about to take. A work-related conference is bringing me to NYC for the week, and my family and best friend are coming down from Canada to meet me! So I couldn’t ask for a better vacation/trip. Exciting work, friendly faces, exploring the big apple. Expect some more travel posts soon!

Also, we’ve decided to take a spring trip to Sri Lanka with the family. So we’ll be visiting for about 10 days over easter. This has taken a lot of organizing (and money), but it’s going to be fantastic. We’re doing it all: beaches, safaris, tea country, culture. Expect even more travel posts soon!

All in all, things are going well. This country is starting to feel like home now, and sitting here in the airport before my trip is already making me homesick for Indonesia. Or maybe I just miss these cuties already.

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I might check in later from Doha. Otherwise, see you on the other side of the world!

Mission: drive myself to work

Completed!

Today is Saturday, which means we don’t usually have our driver and are thus trapped in the neighbourhood. But, we very much wanted to go swimming at my work. What to do? I drove!

This is a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. Everyone is nervous about the traffic when they move here. It is a weaving, confusing dance of motorcycles and angkots, plus the roads run opposite to what we’re used to. Many of our expat friends here have never driven, but many have, and do so on a regular basis. I would much rather be the latter. I’ve been chafing a bit at our dependence on a driver, and certainly it would be nice to make a quick trip to the store on our own should we need to, for example.

So today was the day! Luckily we had some friends going too, so I was able to follow behind them. I was more concerned about the directions than the driving. And actually, I didn’t find the traffic too bad. It’s busy and complex, but relatively slow and low tension. No one is in a rush here, and despite the congestion, everyone is patient. This is not to say I’m ready to drive for hours into Jakarta – we’ll be bringing our driver with us for that tomorrow!

Weekly roundup:

We haven’t posted since Halloween, mostly because nothing very exciting has happened. We did have a second round of Halloween celebrations with the school, where the kids got to “trick or treat” a bit at neighbourhood houses, followed by a dinner and dance at the school. Then last weekend, one of J’s classmates (the daughter of one of my colleagues) had a birthday party. All that partying really took it out of us!

Since then, B’s been under the weather this week with some sort of tropical stomach bug. Someone had amoebic dysentery last week, so hopefully that’s not what he has! Don’t worry, moms, it’s not. But we have heard about a few cases of dengue already starting, which is making me a little nervous. Hopefully we can make it through this season without getting it. In other news, we’re heading into Jakarta tomorrow, mostly just to buy some $10 cheerios at the import grocery store. But we might find something exciting to do while we’re there. Stay tuned!

Here are some b-roll pics from the past few posts for your viewing pleasure:

 

The good, the sick and the ugly

It’s true what they say about getting the good with the bad. Indeed, last night, seconds after signing the lease for our new house, I puked my guts out in the driveway of said new house.

Let me back up a bit…

The good

As you know, we’ve been looking for a house for some time. In fact, our 30 days of “free” hotel stay was up last week, so our desperation had escalated substantially. We especially wanted to live in the area near our kids’ school, but the houses there are somewhat of a hot commodity, leaving us with either very expensive or very cheap (i.e., uninhabitable) choices. So, over the past few weeks, we narrowed the options to just one house:

Pros: big,beautiful, modern, with a swimming pool and a new fridge

Cons: rather pricey, a mild termite problem, only one appliance (a new fridge), and the landlord was reportedly very very difficult to deal with (my friend in HR almost had a heart attack when I mentioned we were considering taking this place)

Despite all this, we decided it was worth the risk to be in the area we want. So, last week, we were on our way to meet with the landlord and sign our lives away. We stopped to pick up the kids from school first, and since we had about an hour before our meeting, we stuck around to chat with the other school parents. One of them asked if we had heard about the new place that just came on the market. No. She told us about it – nearby, owned by a friendly family, here’s their phone number. Within minutes, we had called, arranged to see it right away, visited it, and fallen in love! We abandoned the other house. Heh.

The house we picked is perfect for us – just the right size, in great condition, already family-friendly, and well within our price range. Last night, we signed the contract to move in by early next week.

The sick

In the meantime, we all picked up some sort of stomach bug. LittleB had it first last weekend. Unfortunately for him (and B), he missed out on a fantastic Sunday brunch with me and J. We drove into Jakarta with a group of our new expat friends to enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch at a very swanky hotel. It was only $50, and it included all the wine you wanted. I think I drank about a bottle and a half of champagne to myself. They also had a whole play area set up with helpers and nannies, which gave us adults a lot of freedom. Bugs bunny and winnie the pooh showed up too – but unfortunately, J spilled the beans on that one to the other kids: “You know, that’s just a guy in a costume.” Then she wondered how much they got paid.

Anyway, after LittleB started feeling better, the rest of us got sick in sequence. Me, B and J. J spent all last night throwing up. Folks, if you ever had any doubt before now, let me tell you: every surface in your hotel room has had kid puke on it. I promise.

That brings us back to the opening scene. There we were, a joyous occasion, signing for our house, but I was starting to feel very nauseous. I thought some air would help, so I went outside instead of to the bathroom. I chose poorly. (For those of you who follow me on facebook, my similar-sounding post took place after this, on the drive home.)

We all seem to be on the mend, however. So to the Moms – don’t go worrying about Dengue fever and all that. We’re fine.

The ugly

Oh yeah, then there is the one small matter of the night or two this weekend when we can’t stay in this guest house anymore (it’s full) and we can’t yet move into the new house (it’s not ready)… I guess you’ll hear that story next week.

P.S. I don’t have any pictures that specifically go with this post, so here are a few random ones, mostly taken by J. Enjoy!