Category Archives: Travel

10 things to remember if your child breaks a bone and you are nowhere near a hospital

How’s that for a light-hearted title? I bet you’re well cued that this is going to be one of those laugh-out-loud posts.

Or maybe not.

Most of you probably won’t be in the position of having your child break a bone and being thirty hours and an international flight away from good medical care, but if you’re a parent thinking this topic through can’t hurt. Presumably, for example, some of you go camping. So today I’m going to share some of the lessons we learned or put into practice last week when Dominic broke his femur. Some of these things we learned the hard way as events unfolded, some we already knew and came in very, very handy.

 1. This doesn’t strictly count because it’s prevention, but we all know that prevention is infinitely better than any cure, so … Sit down with guests when they arrive and specifically warn them about any hazards in your house. Staircases and swimming pools are always significant hazards (visit this website to review other common hazards). Briefing guests will not prevent all accidents, but it can’t hurt.

2. After an accident happens, do not assume that the people involved are able to relay a complete and accurate account of events. Accidents happen fast – those involved may not be aware of everything that unfolded in that instant. They will also be shaken themselves and may be in shock. Assume that your child is seriously injured (and handle them accordingly) until you are reasonably certain that nothing is broken and that they did not hit their head.

3. If in doubt, get it X-rayed. We were fortunate that the X-ray machine here in Luang Prabang was working last week and the technician was in work. When local doctors examined Dominic’s leg it was the only time all morning that he didn’t scream when it was moved. The doctor seemed very confident that it wasn’t broken but we had it X-rayed just to be sure.

4. Use your friends. This is not time to be shy about calling in favors from your medically trained friends. Get on your phone or get on skype and call a doctor. Even if you think you have things under control, you are also very stressed and outside observers may be able to provide helpful input on something you’ve missed. (In our case our friend, Asha, a pediatrician, got on skype with me at 10pm her time, walked me through appropriate pain relief and provided advice on how to make Dominic as comfortable as possible during the night).

The pharmacy near our house

5. Have a variety of infant pain medication on hand. We already had children’s paracetamol in the house but nothing else, and it is not advisable to administer more than four doses of paracetamol in 24 hours. Apparently, when treating breaks and fractures, one good strategy is to alternate doses of infant paracetamol with doses of infant nurofen. Luckily, when Mike got on his bike at 6:30pm and made an emergency dash to some of the local pharmacies, one of those stores had infant nurofen in stock.

6. Have a medication dummy/pacifier in your first aid kit: We don’t have one of these (yet) but I’ve since learned of their existence. It works by loading the medication into a reservoir that then flows through the dummy teat. Apparently they can sometimes work better than syringes when it comes to getting babies to swallow medicine they don’t like the taste of (orange-flavored infant nurofen, for example).

7. Breastfeed upon demand. Breastfeeding apparently reduces distress and lessens pain, and so does proximity to mum (or dad, if dad is the child’s primary caregiver) so stay close by.

8. Splint the limb to hold it stable and reduce your child’s pain. Our insurance company’s doctor told us over the phone how to splint the leg. We used packing box cardboard and a gauze bandage. Cardboard turned out to be a good choice because it didn’t have to be removed for the X-rays in Thailand. I taped the cardboard edges with gauze tape so they wouldn’t scratch him, but another thing I wish I had thought to do was slip a soft pair of my cotton socks over the cardboard to make it marginally more comfortable against Dominic’s skin.

9. Move your child as little as possible. This one is common sense – anyone who has broken a bone knows how much it hurts when that limb moves – but make sure you think creatively about how you can minimize movement. We were assuming we’d put Dominic in his travel cot as usual during the night until Asha pointed out that we could just leave him on the change table mat to sleep for the night rather than trying to maneuver him into that small space. And to that end…

10. Sleep your child somewhere where you can get to them to comfort and/or breastfeed without having to move them. The change-table mat on the floor by my side of the bed worked for us – I was able to feed Dominic by kneeling over him.

Finally, a bonus number 11: If you take up yoga while you’re pregnant, don’t quit after you give birth. You never know when you’re going to find yourself on an airplane having to breastfeed a baby who is strapped into a carseat.

Any tips to add? Leave them below to help out others who will read this post.

Feeling much better in hospital in Thailand

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Family moments across the miles

7:40 this morning, just after I get out the shower, skype rings on my laptop. It’s my grandparents, playing with their brand new iPad.

When I answer, my grandparent’s living room pops up and I can see my mother and grandfather peering, puzzled, straight into the camera.

Me: “Hello?”

Pa: “Now how do you…”

Me: “Hello?”

Mum: “Don’t press that one!”

Me: “Hello? Can you hear me?”

Pa: “Well, where’s the other little thing?”

Me: “Hello? Did you call me?”

Mum: “It’s somewhere down the bottom there.”

Me: “You called me accidentally, didn’t you. And you can’t hear me.”

Pa: “I can’t find it.”

Me: “OK then, I’m just going to hang out around here until you figure things out.”

Mum: “No, not that one!”

Pa: “Bugger.”

Mum: “Oh, look. There’s Lisa. She’s, uh, got her bra on.”

Pa (laughing): “She’s getting dressed.”

Me: “Oops, I didn’t think the camera showed that far.”

Pa: “Why can’t we hear her?”

Mum: “I’m sure the volume switch is around here somewhere.”

Four minutes later, they finally find the volume switch and I find the rest of my clothes. Pa tells me all about the chook shed he is building for my cousin, and Nanna tells me about all the delicious baking she did for family Christmas. Then Mum takes control of the iPad.

Mum: “I’m going to show you something that will make you homesick.”

Me: “Great, thanks, that’s just what I need.”

Mum turns the iPad around so that I can see one of my favourite views in the world – the river out my grandparent’s window. It’s a gorgeous, sunny day. The tide is in and the water and sky are both a clear, shiny blue.

Mum: “Can you see the guy waterskiing?”

Me: “Yes, I can see him.”

Mum: “And the dog?”

Me: “There’s a dog waterskiing?”

Mum: “No, not waterskiing, on the footpath.”

Me: “Oh, OK. Yup, I can see that dog.”

Mum: “So do you feel homesick?”

Me: “Yes, yes I do actually. Thanks for that.”

It seems that you no longer need to be on the same continent as your family to experience classic family moments during the holidays.

And that?

Priceless.

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Travel Savvy

Still in waiting mode with less than a week to go now until the official “due date”. Also reminding myself that most first babies are more than a week late and so this waiting mode could continue for quite a while yet. I did try to hurry things along with my OBGYN yesterday at my 9am appointment by informing him that his receptionist had assured me his schedule could be cleared for the morning and I figured maybe we could just deal with this whole “having the baby thing” right then and there, before lunch.

Unfortunately he didn’t seem to think that was the wisest course of action.

So, waiting. And doing tasks. Like washing car seat covers, and packing the hospital bag, and researching what it takes to get a birth certificate and a passport. (Why are these paperwork things always more complicated than it seems that they should be?)

Passports have been a bit of a theme this week. My friend, Rachel Held Evans, did a travel survey over on her very popular blog asking people where the most interesting place was they’d ever been, the most beautiful, where they wanted to go next, and one tip they’d learned while traveling.

My tip was this: “Make sure your passport is valid because, believe it or not, you can’t travel on an expired one.”

So for today’s reading pleasure I offer you the essay Travel Savvy – the sad tale of how, five years ago, I learned this most basic piece of travel wisdom the hard way.

Travel Savvy…?

This, I thought as I stared at my passport, is possibly the stupidest travel-mistake I’ve ever made.

And that’s saying a lot.

During the last five years I’ve been stranded in Germany for a week on account of neglecting to get a visa for the Czech Republic. I’ve traveled to Colorado and left my wallet, all my money, and every credit card I own safely in my gym bag at home. I’ve turned up to the airport in LA to discover that I’d booked a flight to New York on Wednesday all right, but the Wednesday of the previous week. I’ve walked off an American Airlines flight in Chicago and sat down at the first gate I saw that said “London” and had the right departure time, without double checking the flight details on my boarding pass (which might have helped me notice that my connecting flight to London was, in fact, with British Airways instead of American). At various times I’ve forgotten to pack my malaria medication, my phone charger, my power-point presentation, and, yes, on one especially memorable occasion, any underwear.

Given this, you might find it ironic that I make my living at least partly by training humanitarian workers to cope more effectively with their “high transition lifestyles”. In other words, how to hop on a plane, go dashing off to a disaster scene to aid the recovery effort, return home, reorient, and then turn around and do it all again two weeks later. Oh, and stay sane in the process.

One point so obvious that I rarely mention it during workshops is that it’s helpful to have a valid passport when you’re trying to board an international flight…which brings me to noon on December 15, a confirmed seat on a flight from LA to Sydney leaving at 10pm that night, and an expired Australian passport.

Here’s how it happened.

Once upon a time I was born in Canada…

OK, OK. But it is relevant. Because of where that most joyous event occurred I have an Australian and a Canadian passport. And it’s a lot easier for Canadians to get visas to work in the US than, well, anyone else. So at the moment I’m living in the States on a Canadian work visa. That means that I have to use my Canadian passport to enter and leave the US as I go dashing off to all those disaster scenes. Got that?

In July I noticed that my Australian passport was going to expire in October. But the thought of trying to navigate the maze of red tape that would inevitably surround any attempt to renew my Aussi passport in the States while living there on a Canadian visa made me feel exhausted.

So I hatched a brilliant plan. I would just go home to Australia at Christmas and take care of it there. If, for some obscure reason, the Australian immigration officials were upset that my passport had expired I could just pull out my other one, enter the country as a Canadian, and then get busy renewing my Australian passport on home soil.

The plan, clearly, was flawless. But, because I am responsible and organized, I rang the Australian consulate to run it past them and a cheerful fellow named Malcolm and I had a brief conversation that went something like this…

Me: “My passport’s about to expire and I could get it renewed while I’m here in the States, but I think it would just be easier to wait and renew it at home at Christmas, don’t you?”

Malcolm: “Yeah, mate, just do it when you get home. She’ll be apples.”

In retrospect, missing from my side of the conversation was the perhaps vital fact that the passport would expire before I was due to travel home. But, to be fair here, missing from Malcolm’s side was a detailed query somewhere along the lines of: “Wait just a minute, you don’t happen to be a dual national living in the States on your other passport and thinking of using said other passport to enter Australia after your Australian passport expires, are you?” But at the time I hung up satisfied that I’d covered all my bases.

The next six months I was very busy. Busy traveling to Kenya, Colorado, Indiana, Canada, New York, and South Africa. Busy teaching people how to live life that way and be happy, healthy, and well-adjusted. Like me.

That busyness might explain why it wasn’t until the morning of December 15 that I had the time to locate the website where an American friend who was going to fly over for New Years Eve could apply for their Australian tourist visa online. As I cut and pasted the link for him, I noticed a statement saying that everyone except citizens of New Zealand had to apply for a tourist visa before boarding arriving at the airport to board their flight to Australia.

Huh, I thought, I wonder if everyone includes Canadians, and whether that might cause a small hiccup if I suddenly pull out my Canadian passport, visaless, in Sydney airport.

So, trying to do the right thing here, I call the Australian consulate again. My pal Malcolm was gone. Perhaps he’d been fired for not asking enough questions. In his place, I got Andrew.

“Andrew,” I greeted him warmly. “I just want to check that it won’t be a problem for me to enter Australia if my passport’s expired.”

“What are you talking about?” Andrew said. “You can’t travel on an expired passport.”

“Huh,” I said, moving on to Plan B. “Okay then. Will I need a tourist visa in my Canadian passport to get into the country, since I’m also an Australian citizen?”

“If you’re a citizen of Australia you can’t enter Australia on the passport of another country. It’s illegal,” Andrew said, in a tone that asked where I was in kindergarten when everyone else was learning international law.

There was a long pause while I digested this.

“Right, then,” I said. “Um, could you help me brainstorm my options because my flight to Australia takes off at ten tonight.”

What?” Andrew said. I don’t know how he managed to pack incredulity, exasperation, and pity for my obviously deficient intellect into one word, but he did.

I wanted to defend myself. I wanted to tell him – hey buddy, I’m a smart, capable, person. I have two masters degrees. I direct a training program for a non-profit. I’ve written a novel, and… and… I can cook. These things happen. They just clearly haven’t happened to you lately.

But I didn’t defend myself. I chose the only option that I thought might get me somewhere. I begged.

“Please! I have to make that plane. I haven’t been home in a year and a half!”

“Well,” he said grudgingly. “You’re probably going to need to apply in person in the consulate at LA for an emergency travel document. That’ll take five working days. Your only other option is to call the airlines, explain the situation, and see if they are willing to call Canberra and get authorization to uplift you without a valid passport. But, the airlines don’t generally go for that sort of thing, and Canberra might not grant it anyway…”

As he spoke I had a vision of spending the first week of my holidays hanging out in the lobby of the Australian consulate in LA, and a second week trying to finagle another seat on a flight to Sydney before Christmas. There had to be another way.

“So,” I hazarded, looking around furtively as if the foreign affairs swat team was about to swoop into the office and take me into custody right there and then. “Hypothetically speaking, if a citizen of Australia were to show up at the airport and present another country’s passport, what do you think the chances are that the airline would figure it out and stop them from boarding?”

“I cannot advise you regarding that course of action,” Andrew said primly.

What is my country coming to? Doesn’t he know it’s his job to represent Australia around the world? Doesn’t he know that he is duty-bound to proclaim our national motto “no worries mate, she’ll be right” with nonchalant assurance in any and every situation? And where was some of that convict spirit we’re so famous for?

As I walked into LAX that night and presented my Canadian passport, safely impregnated with an electronic tourist visa that I’d applied for online, I was sweating. I like to think of myself as someone who could, if they chose, break laws with panache and style. But I could feel all my style clinging to me damply.

My grand plan was make it onto the plane and get to Sydney whereupon I would confess all my sins and throw myself on the mercy of the immigration officials. I figured they’d probably be cross but I couldn’t see they’d have much choice about letting me into the country at that stage. I mean, they couldn’t very well deport me back to the US, could they? Can you even be deported from your own country?

But as I disembarked in Sydney I had second thoughts about the wisdom of confessing. Who knew whether, in my absence, Australian immigration officials had become as mean-spirited and irrational as American ones? Maybe they would deport me. I hesitated, and then joined the lengthy queue for non-citizens.

While I mourned the fact that I was wasting my one opportunity a year to sail through an immigration checkpoint in the citizens line (not to mention the money I’d paid for the tourist visa for my own country), I had plenty of time to wonder whether my name would flag the existence of my other passport and bring wrath and, I suddenly realized, possibly a hefty fine, down upon my head.

In teaching others how to cope well with high transition lifestyles one of the things that I always talk about is the importance of having a sense of humor. And when things like this go wrong I can usually shrug and see the bright side in that fact that I provide so much raw material helpful for keeping mine in good working order. But in that moment I couldn’t see the funny side of the situation. Possibly, as my father would point out later, because there wasn’t one.

Way too soon I was next in line. I glanced at the immigration agent and debated my options. Would it be too obvious to proclaim excitedly, “I’ve been looking forward to this trip for years, and I can’t believe it’s finally here!” Maybe my accent would give me away, even with a well-placed Canadian, “eh?” So I handed over my passport, reminded myself to breathe, and tried for my normal mien at this stage of the immigration process – bored and exhausted.

With just a glance and one casual anticlimactic flick of his wrist, it was over. Never have I been so glad to see a stamp come down and hear the words, “welcome to Australia.”

I was home.

Well, home as a tourist, anyway.

Over to you… So what travel lessons have you learned the hard way?

Reunions

In the three and a half years we’ve known each other, Mike and I have spent at least 3 weeks apart nine times now. When Mike was still living in PNG there was the three months apart right after we started dating and three and a half more after we got engaged. There were four month-long overseas consultancies Mike did during our first year of marriage. We spent about half of the first six months of last year apart before our move to Laos. And then there’s been this last ten weeks.

Mike will arrive into the Gold Coast tomorrow morning at about 7:30am, so when I haven’t been wondering whether the baby will beat him here I’ve been thinking a lot about reunions lately.

The last couple of days before a reunion I used to get oddly nervous. I wanted to be back together again but I often caught myself fretting about his return, too. What if he’d changed? What if I had? What if we struggled to find things to talk about? What if it was weird and we ended up staring at each other over the dinner table (or in bed) wondering, “who are you, and what are you doing here again?”

I’m not feeling nervous about Mike getting here this time – possibly because when I haven’t been busy forgetting all about appointments and planned skype calls any fretting I’ve done in the last ten days has run more along the lines of: “who am I, and how did I end up pregnant and living with my parents again?” So given that Mike is landing here in ten hours I’d say I’m home free this time, because even when I did get nervous in advance of a reunion I was usually beyond the anxious stage by the time I reached the airport.

I always aimed to get to the airport not too long after Mike’s plane was scheduled to land so that I’d be there before he exited customs. I wrote the following in my journal the day after one of these pickups during our first year of marriage:

I don’t mind these airport waits as long as they don’t go on too long. You can’t maintain that focused state of excited expectation for too long before it rises, crests, and transforms into something else for a while – boredom, thinking about things I need to do, anxiety. But as long as they don’t drag on beyond an hour there’s a wonderful concentration to these snippets of waiting to come together again. A profound gratitude, and amazement, that we have journeyed halfway around the world and yet again found our way safely back to each other. A wonder at the mystery of relationships, at how my life has been transformed during the last two years in ways I had never imagined.

I like standing there in the airport anticipating the moment that Mike will come through that door. I like watching other people doing their own waiting and wondering what has bought them to that point. I like feeling a part of the mystery of a thousand separate lives all meeting at that single moment like a huge tangled ball of living yarn.

Waiting in the airport is that turning point from the busyness of getting ready to have him home and the solitude of the last month. The familiar happiness of reunion begins before he even appears, although the instant of greeting is always a slightly different experience. Yesterday, the kiss I’d been anticipating – that radiant singular moment of greeting – was fleeting and not as electric I’d expected. The hug was better. All warm, and stubbly, and smelling him familiar, his hands firm against my back, tilting my face up towards him as you lift it to sunshine on a spring day.

Our last LAX reunion before moving to Laos - June 2010

What have been your experiences with reunions – what do they make you think and feel? Do you have any reunion traditions?

When fantasy diverges from reality: Adventures with dolphins and babies

Almost two and a half years ago now, Mike and I were driving towards Akaroa in New Zealand. It was the second last day of our honeymoon. We were on our way to swim with dolphins, and I was grumpy.

I’m not sure when the grumpy started. Possibly when I woke up and it was rainy and cold. Possibly when Mike asked me in the car what I was particularly looking forward to about swimming with the dolphins – something I’d wanted to do for at least a decade. 

“I don’t know,” I said. “I just want to see them up close, and swim with an animal that’s as big as me, and pet them.”

“OK,” Mike said. “Wait just one minute. For starters, I don’t think we’ll be able to touch them. You might want to recalibrate your expectations a little.”

I stared out the window of the car at the fine misty rain that was drifting across the road and sulked. I had already recalibrated my expectations once that morning with regards to this adventure. In my decade-old vision of swimming with dolphins it was always warm and sunny. The water was always a clear azure and calm. The dolphins always swam right up to me with friendly clickings and basically begged me to hug them, or even ride them. This adventure – the adventure that my brand-new spouse had gone to a lot of trouble to research and book as a special treat for me – was not looking like it was going to live up to that vision.

Things did not improve when we reached the dock. Assuming any of them actually showed up, our tour operator informed us, we’d be swimming with the world’s smallest dolphins. They were about the size of a hefty Labrador retriever. Their skin was so delicate we could damage it just by brushing up against them, and under no circumstances were we to try to touch them. The temperature was about 12 degrees Celsius (53F). We were going to have to wiggle our way into 5cm thick wetsuits. The water in the bay was clouded chalky white that cut visibility to almost nil. The swell was 3m high and I suddenly realized that I was in dire danger of becoming violently seasick unless I downed some anti-nausea medication, and fast. I really want to like boats, but the truth of the matter is they don’t usually like me.

Luckily there was a pharmacy located at the far end of the dock, and with half an hour to spare before sailing, Mike and I headed down there to look for some anti-seasickness medication.

On our way back towards the boat that was going to take us out to look for these small-ass, fragile dolphins in the middle of a freezing rainstorm, Mike tentatively offered the following observation.

“I don’t have many data points yet on what you’re like on a day when you get to do something you’ve wanted to do most of your life,” he said. “But so far experience suggests that you’re a little… difficult.”

“Well, you keep telling people that I’ve wanted to do this for years,” I said.

“Well, haven’t you?” Mike asked.

Yes, I wanted to say. But, but, but… But not like this. It’s numbingly cold. And what if we can’t find these teensy little dolphins? What if we find them, but it’s too dangerous to get off the boat and swim with them? What if I get seasick and spend the entire time throwing up?

Faced with the sudden reality of a “swimming with dolphins” experience that promised to diverge sharply from a romantic daydream I hadn’t even fully realized I held, I did not deal with my fears and frustrations with rational grace. I doubt I explained this tangle of disappointed anxiety very well in the moment. Probably the only thing I did do well in that moment was scowl.

I found myself thinking about swimming with these dolphins very early this morning. I had just stumbled back to bed after being up for the fourth time and I was trying, unsuccessfully, to find a comfortable position to lie in.

My visions of having children have never been as clearly defined as my tropical dreams of swimming with friendly dolphins, but as I get closer and closer to delivering this baby I’ve been finding myself increasingly surprised by fears that surface at odd moments and longings related to a rooted, domestic vision that I have never lived.

Sometimes when I’m alone and awake in the silent void of 3AM I let myself imagine briefly that Mike is here instead of Laos. That we live in Melbourne. That we have no plans to move anywhere else in the near future. That after the baby is born we’ll bring him back from the hospital to our house, and that Mike and I are not facing another month apart and then a long trip across the equator just weeks after the baby is born.

Then come the fears, because even in the dreamy pre-dawn I never let myself fully forget that this is not the reality that we have chosen to fashion for ourselves.

What if the baby arrives before Mike does? What is labour and delivery going to be like? What if something is wrong with the baby? And, further down the track, what will it be like to watch over a sick child out of reach of good medical care? How will this little one complicate our peripatetic lifestyle?

Swimming with dolphins that day in Akoroa turned out to be nothing like I’d imagined. On the other hand, most of my last-minute fears never materialized, either. I didn’t get seasick. We did find dolphins. And the captain gave us permission to leap overboard into the churning sea if we were game enough to brave the threatening waves.

Five of the twelve of us were.

I was first off the boat – mostly because I knew that if I let myself hesitate too long before jumping, I may never jump. The cold was breath-stealing and the grey swell picked me up and then dropped me six feet at a time. It took most of my energy to stay upright and tap the small stones that I was holding together. The dolphins, the crew had told us, would hear the clicking noise and come investigate.

They did, too. One minute there was nothing but pale freezing waves, the next there was a small fin just to my left and a silvery shadow skimming past. They circled around for more than half an hour, darting so close in between us, dipping up and down like excitable aquatic puppies. They were always in motion, impossible to see clearly, but undeniably, exhilaratingly, there.

When we finally managed to clamber back on board the boat we had blue lips and couldn’t feel our fingers or toes. It was far from the tropical azure and gentle friendliness I’d wanted but it had turned into an adventure valuable in its own right – something altogether wilder and less controllable, but thrilling.

It’s raining and cold here today, too. Mike and I have been apart more than five weeks with a month still to go and the separation is wearing thin. Part of me, I admit, wants to sit here and stare out into the wet mist and dwell on all the ways that this adventure of having our first child is not turning out exactly as I find myself wishing that it were.

But then I think of the dolphins again. I wonder whether our adventures would still feel adventurous if most of them turned out just as we envision. And I remind myself that experiences we do not expect, perhaps don’t even want, can end up being magical, too. 

Lessons learned while traveling alone

I’ve been here three days but I’m only now feeling as if my brain is starting to catch up to my body. My first day here I broke one of the nice wine glasses. I also set out to make a ginger lemon slice and didn’t notice until I was packing things away that I’d used cinnamon instead of ground ginger.

Yeah, well, you win some and you lose some. Especially after 24 hour trips that are not entirely free of drama.

On Monday there were some teary moments before leaving the house for the airport at 6:30am. At one point Zulu trotted over to me looking very concerned. I thought he was coming to extend that famous “doggy sympathy when owners are upset” that you hear so much about. Instead, he grabbed the tissue out of my hand and scampered away to eat it. Lose.

At Luang Prabang airport they checked my second bag for free. Win. They could not, however, check my baggage all the way to Australia, so I had to clear customs and pick it up in Bangkok. Lose.

I arrived in Bangkok airport three hours before the Air Asia counter opened for my flight. This meant I spent the first three hours of that six-hour layover loitering in the crowded, noisy, main terminal. Lose.

At the check in counter the woman immediately asked me if I was pregnant. When I said I was she asked how many weeks. When I answered honestly (28) she asked me for my letter of medical clearance. As I didn’t have one, this was potentially a very big lose. But the lady checking me in just wrote down 27 weeks on the waiver I had to sign and cautioned me not to admit that I was over 27 weeks or they wouldn’t let me on the plane without a doctor’s letter. Win.

This form I had to sign six copies of not only released Air Asia from any liability regarding any health issues I suffered during the trip, but also stated that I promised to “reimburse Air Asia upon demand” for any in-transit expenses incurred as the result of my pregnancy. As I reached Australia without having to have the plane diverted to Singapore or anywhere else (and thereby incurring a debt that staggers the mind to contemplate) I guess you could say this one was a win.

It turns out, however, that we had been misinformed as to the price of excess baggage on Air Asia. Sadly misinformed. Instead of costing us the anticipated $50.00, I had to pay $300.00 for the extra 10kg I was carrying with me (and this was reduced from $390 after I begged and pleaded and pointed out that I had bought a premium ticket). Epic lose.

During my second layover of the trip, in Kuala Lumpur, I booted up my ancient laptop to take advantage of the free wireless and it lasted about 3 min 30 seconds before dying. None of the plugs I was carrying fit in Malaysia. Lose.

Not nearly as many people were eager to help me lift and carry as I’d expected. I did ask for help a couple of times, but somewhere in among six on-tarmac loadings and unloadings I pulled a muscle in my back and the pain only got worse as the trip progressed. Lose.

Things got better from there on out. On the long overnight flight from KL to the Gold Coast I travelled in Air Asia’s premium section, and the seat went sort of flat. So my feet were up off the floor most of the night and I had much more space than the poor souls packed in the back. Win.

Mum and Dad were there to pick me up in the Gold Coast. Win.

We had ricotta pancakes in Bangalow on the way home. Win.

And here. Well, the view here thrills my soul. Epic win. I can’t think of a nicer place to come back to as my second home away from home. Now, if only Mike and that tissue-stealing little mongrel were here too…

Over to you. Two critical lessons I learned during this trip were: (1) Check and double check (with the airline themselves) extra baggage charges; and (2) Don’t assume that just because you are visibly pregnant people will help you lift your hand luggage (so to pack only what you can comfortably lift yourself).

What lessons have you learned while travelling solo? 

ANZAC Day and a mystery of rememberance at Gallipoli

It’s ANZAC Day today – the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps Day of Remembrance – and it’s making me think of Turkey, and Gallipoli, and a scene I witnessed more than three years ago now.

In 2007 I spent four glorious weeks traveling around Turkey in the company of some of my dearest friends. Among other adventures we sailed the Adriatic, slept in caves, marveled (and laughed) at the phallic rock formations of Cappadocia, ate Turkish delight in Istanbul, and toured Gallipoli.

I knew very little about Gallipoli before visiting Turkey. I knew it held an important place in Australian history and national identity. I knew lots of people died there. And I knew it was in Turkey. Apart from that I knew nothing except that it was a giant military stuff-up and Australia lost. I’d always thought it a bit odd that our most important day of military remembrance was celebrated on a date associated with our greatest defeat. I mean, what country does that?

In addition to my shocking ignorance, I didn’t even want to go and visit Gallipoli. I’d already seen more than a few battlefields in places as far apart as Vietnam and Bosnia and I was pretty sure that I didn’t want to spend part of my holiday wandering around World War I trenches feeling all sober and depressed. My dear friend, Tash, however, did want to go and visit, and because she was in Turkey with me just because I’d asked, I figured spending one day at Gallipoli was the least I could do.

I don’t know what I expected to find at Gallipoli except for sadness – and that was there, all right. As we wandered over the ridges and hills of the peninsula we could see just what a debacle the whole campaign had been right from the start. An estimated 10% of the troops disembarking from the carriers drowned before they even got to shore, weighed down by their gear. Those who made it to the beach were hopelessly exposed to fire from the steep hills flanking the cove – hills they would not have had to scale foot by torturous foot during the coming year and a half if they’d landed almost anywhere else along that rocky coastline. Half a million people died at Gallipoli during that time. You couldn’t help but shake your head at the useless, senseless, waste of it all.

But that wasn’t all I found at Gallipoli.

After we’d toured many of the significant battlefields and clambered in and out of trenches, our guide took us down to Anzac cove, the site of that first fateful landing. There he urged us to pick up a stone to take with us.

The stone I selected was red. Round on one side, rough on the other, it has been split in half. White veins of quartz marble the red in a bizarre reversal of the pattern of our own human bodies. I carry this stone in my camera case now and whenever I see or touch it I don’t think first of blood and loss and needless sacrifice, or even bravery and mateship. I think of graciousness.

Turkey has carefully preserved this entire area of Gallipoli and consulted closely with Australia in the process. Reportedly, when the Turkish government recently wanted to pave access roads into the battlefields, the Australian government lodged a formal protest something along the lines of, “Hey, you can’t do that, that’s our sacred ground!”

In response, Turkey didn’t reply, “Wait just one minute! You invaded our country, you killed hundreds of thousands of our citizens, you lost, we kicked you out, and now you are trying to tell us what to do with our land? We won, and it’s our sacred ground, too.”

No, the Turkish government basically said, “Oh, good point. OK then, we won’t pave the road after all.”

The whole area has been turned it into a virtual shrine and, in the process, Turkey has not only carefully and deliberately honoured their own dead but the dead of the ANZAC troops as well. They have erected giant granite monuments – equal in size for the ANZACs and the Turks – to commemorate the bravery and the fortitude of all who fought here and the respect that troops on both sides reportedly held for one another. There are cemeteries for the Australian and New Zealand soldiers scattered over the entire area, often lying directly adjacent to the cemeteries for the Turkish troops. And down on their knees in these cemeteries were Turkish gardeners carefully tending Australian graves.

Engraved in granite and standing watch over the battlefields are these words by Mustafa Kemal (known as Ataturk), a soldier who fought at Gallipoli and later went on to become Turkey’s first president:

Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

I’d never seen anything like this extraordinary generosity of spirit before on a battlefield, and I haven’t since. Perhaps it would be a little like North Vietnam (or Northen Laos, for that matter) setting up war memorials to the US of an entirely different flavour to those you find in Ho Chi Minh City. I think about that and I wonder why they would, just as I wondered how and why Turkey has embraced those who once invaded them. I don’t come close to fully understanding it, even now, but three years down the track I continue to marvel at it.


Bank cards and inner children

I found my credit card today. It’s been, well, not exactly missing, more like “vacationing in an unknown location”, since we got back from Australia. That was three weeks ago.

I remembered to ask my parents whether they’d seen it while we were on skype the other day.

“Have you seen my credit card lying around?” I asked, oh so casually, in the middle of our conversation.

My father, as I’d guessed he would, sighed.

“Lisa,” he said, and then paused. “Does your husband know about this?”

“Not exactly,” I said, grinning just a little. “I’m a firm subscriber to the theory that one of the best ways to keep your marriage healthy is not to let every single thought that goes through your head come out your mouth.”

There was silence while my parents, I’m sure, tried to figure out what this had to do with my credit card.

“Almost every day I think that maybe I should really try to find it,” I added helpfully.

Dad sighed again.

“We’ll keep an eye out,” he said.

So “find my credit card” has been on my to list for weeks now, and since today is a day full of life admin – filing, sorting books, and trying to catch up on email – I gritted my teeth five minutes ago and went in the bedroom determined to do a thorough search. I’d already looked in my wallet twice but started by flicking through it again just to make sure… and there is was. Nestled somewhere I still can’t understand why I would have put it. Halleluiah. I found it and I got to tick something off the to-do list and I do not have to go through the hassle of trying to get it replaced over here in Laos, not to mention having to confess the whole debacle to Mike. Happy days.

The whole thing has made me think of one of the first essays I wrote after I started emailing Mike. Called, “Inner Child” I thought it was merely an “all’s well that ends well” tale that kept me amused writing it up on an overnight flight to London. I found out later that Mike found it less amusing than terrifying. So, today, here’s a walk down memory lane and a look at an essay I sent out just over three years now. (PS, Despite this post’s evidence to the contrary let me assure you that I’m heaps more responsible and organized now. Heaps.)

Inner Child (October 2007)

What does my inner child look like, I wondered, rifling through the pockets of all the jackets hanging in my closet, and where on earth was my bankcard?

Both were pressing questions. Ed was picking me up for the inner child party in two hours, and I was getting on a plane to head to Kenya in less than 24. I had six dollars in my wallet, and it was Saturday at 3:30pm. The banks were closed (which I had discovered when I rocked up at my local branch at 3pm with passport in hand all set to make a withdrawal sans bankcard). They were going to stay closed until Monday morning by which time, all going well, I would be in London. This was somewhat of a problem. Plus, I still didn’t have a costume for the party. The afternoon was not going as planned.

Faced with a whole row of stubbornly empty pockets I stood back, took a deep breath, and tried to think.

When confronted with multiple crises it’s always wise to take a moment to evaluate which is the most pressing. Clearly that was what I was going to wear to the party. Perhaps if I figured that out, the secondary issue of how I was going to manage to spend two weeks in Africa on six dollars would seem more manageable.

Robin said we were supposed to come dressed as something that reflects our inner child, and this had me stumped. Did she want us to come dressed as the inner child that actually was a child? Because then all I’d have to do is straighten my hair, put on some appallingly thick glasses, and braces, and then go and sit in a playground and read a book – because that child didn’t actually have many friends and hence, didn’t go to parties often.

Or did she mean the inner child we have now – the un-self-conscious, comfortable-in-our-own-skin inner child that tempts us towards silliness and fun and levity? Come to think of it though, I’m not sure why those qualities get associated with inner children. I got better at embracing them as I got older. Most of my childhood I spent feeling like an adult trapped in a little body.

Perhaps she meant the inner child we always wanted to be when we were children? If that was the case I could go for the entirely unremarkable outfit of jeans and a tee shirt on the grounds that I spent a significant portion of my childhood wanting to just be more normal. Or perhaps I should wear a sari because when I wasn’t thinking it would be nice to be normal, I was thinking it would be nice to be Indian. Or maybe a formal dress and a tiara? I can’t actually remember fantasizing about being a princess (except being a sari-clad Indian princess) but I’m sure I did. Doesn’t every little girl want to be a princess?

I sighed and looked longingly at my bed, which was covered with clothes, work documents, and an open suitcase.

What I really wanted more than anything else in that instant was to climb back into that bed, read a good book, and forget about Africa and parties. And I’d give my kingdom to have someone bring me some ice cream. And a nice glass of wine. Or two.

That was it! My inner child just wanted to be in bed. I would go in pajamas.

“Good idea!” Robin said, when she heard what I was planning. “I will too, and Sharla, probably. Then we can have a slumber party!”

Awesome. Not only had I come up with a decent idea, this inner child went to slumber parties. This inner child had some friends. Things had definitely improved in the last two decades.

Now, the bankcard.

I’d been convinced it was in the car.

This was not an entirely stupid assumption. I’m a relatively neat and ordered person. My office, my bedroom, the house… all fairly neat – if not germ-free clean. Captain Waldo, my car, is a totally different story. My theory is that he is actually a different planet, with his own field of gravity, which has an almost irresistible affinity for things like receipts, empty coffee cups, cans of diet coke, Tupperware containers, CD’s, and books. On Saturday morning he looked like a mobile library. There were at least forty books scattered on the back seat. It seemed likely that my bankcard was buried in there somewhere. It’s been known to happen before.

It was a great theory. The only problem being that during the half an hour it took me to dig through all the detritus it became clear that the bank card was not buried in there somewhere.

I tackled the problem logically. I marveled at the cleanness of the car for a minute or two, then I went back inside and decided it still wasn’t time to panic. It was likely somewhere in the house, I reasoned, but just in case it wasn’t, I’d better go to the bank before it closed and make a withdrawal using my passport as ID.

So off I toddled to the bank.

Which is when I learned that the bank shuts at 2pm on Saturday.

So now my costume was all sorted and another half hour of searching in the house hadn’t yielded any bank-card-joy there was no avoiding the fact that I was going to have to figure out a plan B or embrace solidarity with the poor.

Plan B would normally be Bank-O-Dad. But, unfortunately, Bank-O-Dad only has one branch, which is in Australia rather than Los Angeles. But, I suddenly realized, I had friends. Friends who would be coming to a slumber party with me that night. Friends who would surely empty their checking accounts for me. After all, what are friends for?

So I rang Robin back.

When she didn’t answer I left a message telling her I had an “unusual request.” I tried for an upbeat, “I have a really neat plan for a big adventure” tone, but had a nasty suspicion as I hung up that I had sounded more guilty than cheerful.

This was confirmed when she rang back and the first words out of her mouth were a wary, “what do you want?”

“A thousand dollars,” I said in a small voice.

“Lisa!” Robin said in a tone I’ve heard more than once in the last four years of our friendship.

“Where did you have it last?” She asked after I explained the problem.

“Chicago,” I said, even more softly.

“Lisa! You went to Chicago a month ago! I heard you say your bankcard was missing weeks ago. You didn’t find it in between? When did you really start looking for it?”

“This morning,” I whispered.

“Lisa! Wow!” Robin said. There was a long silence that gave us both ample time to reflect on my idiocy. “Well I can’t get out a thousand dollars at the ATM. I can only get four or five hundred.”

“That’s okay,” I said, relieved. “I can write you a check right now for that, and I’ll ask some of the others too.”

In the end my Bible Study group came through with the goods, and Robin, Paul, Sarah, Sharla, and Joe, all contributed to my financial solvency for this trip.

“Don’t lose it,” Robin warned me as she handed me an envelope full of cash. “And don’t tell Jenn about this. She’ll be mad.”

Yeah. Our mutual friend Jenn, and my parents, and everyone else who manages not to do things like this on a regular basis. But the way I see it I’m home free now. I only make one or two big and potentially serious mistakes per international trip. And this was my second, because this year I completely forgot that I needed visas to go to Kenya and Ghana until three weeks and two days before I was scheduled to leave and anyone who knows anything about the pace at which African embassies generally operate know that’s not exactly a safe margin. So given that I’ve already had a potential visa-debacle and weathered a missing bankcard… it should be a great trip from here on out.

Thank the Lord for growing out of lonely childhoods, for grown-up pajama parties, and for good friends is all I can say.

And, for those good friends who live in Chicago – if you happen to see my bankcard, can you mail it to LA?

Thanks.

Surprise!

It’s been a week full of surprises. This morning, for example, I woke up before Mike. Then I suggested we go for a walk, so we covered 4km before 8am with Mike uncharacteristically dragging himself along beside me instead of bouncing like Tiger at being outside on such a gorgeous morning. We came across a wallaby along the way. It was standing in the middle of the road listening to our approaching steps, and then it bounded off into the brush as soon as we rounded the corner. That’s about five surprises before 8am.

Last week in Tasmania we saw plenty of wallabies – on beaches, in parks, all over the place. We also surprised a wombat and it also headed straight for the brush, but as it was built like a big furry cask on tiny legs it didn’t bound, it waddled. There were a bunch of other surprises in Tasmania too. When we got to Coles Bay in Freycinet we found that half the town had burned down the night before (in a town that size the gas station, a convenience store, and a restaurant, is half the town). And after we toured the Cadbury Factory and ate every free sample we were offered, then ordered something that was advertised as “the world’s best hot chocolate” (which turned out to be more than half a glass full of chocolate shavings melted in hot mik), we felt sick. In retrospect, perhaps that shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

When we got to Ballina on Saturday, however, we received by far the biggest surprise of the week. My brother, Matt, and his wife, Lou, picked us up from the airport in the Gold Coast and when we got down here and walked into the house who should come down the stairs but my sister, Michelle, and my niece, Tahlia, who were supposed to be spending this Christmas in Washington DC! Michelle had managed to organize last minute tickets and flown home, surprising all of us (including my parents, whose 39th wedding anniversary it was that day). It was a total surprise-coup.

We talked about surprises that night around the dinner table. Did we like to give them? Did we like to be on the receiving end?

Matt, it turns out, likes to get surprises when he doesn’t know they’re coming, but if he knows a surprise is in the air but isn’t sure what might be heading his way he’s not much of a fan. Mum said she liked giving surprises, but not getting them. Mike liked to both give and receive surprises.

“I tend to plant the seeds now that a surprise is in the offing with you,” Mike said to me. “Because when I’ve completely surprised you in the past it hasn’t always gone over so well.”

“Like when you asked me to marry you after we’d spent a grand total of 20 days in the same country,” I said. “That surprise? Yeah. It turned out OK in the end though, didn’t it?”

The opinion was floated that people who like to give others surprises all the time have a high need to control others, and that people who don’t like getting surprises at all have a fairly high need for staying in control of themselves. What do you think? And do you like giving surprises, or getting them?

Special places

I can think of worse places to suffer a bout of food poisoning than Bangkok airport. Then again, I can think of better, too.

I won’t bore you with a blow by blow of the whole icky story. Suffice to say it started with me feeling a bit weird shortly after I got off the plane from Laos and ended six hours later with me breaking my six and a half year “no-vomiting” streak and throwing up in the departure lounge bathroom while everyone else was busy boarding the plane. It must have been something I ate on the Bangkok Airways flight. Funny, in all these years of traveling I think this is the first time I’ve actually gotten sick because of plane food.

I was traveling alone (Mike won’t join me here for another ten days) so that sucked, but on the other hand I wasn’t toting a toddler around either. A six hour layover and a nine hour overnight flight is an awfully long to feel utterly wretched, but by some stroke of grace I also scored three seats to myself and was able to spend most of the flight flat on my back – which doubtless saved me (and everyone around me) from several lovely interludes with the airsickness bags. The whole trip took almost 24 hours, but I was very glad to see my father waiting for me at Brisbane airport so that I didn’t have to take the train for part of that last stint. As usual the whole thing was a mixed bag of things to sigh about and things to be thankful for.

And now I’m back in Ballina at my parent’s place – one of my favorite places in the world. It’s cloudy and cool here. The jacaranda trees are tossing purple in the breeze, the birds are flitting around, and there’s a lot of peace and quiet around. I woke up last night at midnight and came downstairs to get a glass of water and the moon was shining off the water in the river and way out to sea. This place soothes with a deep sort of calm. The sort that makes you remember that you’re breathing. The sort that only seems to come from being surrounded by extraordinary natural beauty.

The photo below is the view from the back porch of my parent’s place. Mike took it at dawn a year or two ago now. I have it set as the background on my computer, so I see it whenever I flip open the screen. There is so much for me to love about the image, not least is the fact that we got married right in front of that gazebo.

Mike and I sometimes joke about booting my parents off to do a year or more somewhere else (like Malawi, or Turkey – preferably somewhere we would also want to visit) while we housesit for them. Since we got married here I have also tried to explain to Mum and Dad that this place is now my sacred ground, that I therefore hold land rights, and that they should really sign it over to me and put the issue to rest. So far they haven’t bought it. Also, Dad has a bad habit of pointing out – while laughing – that I would not want to do even a fraction of the work it takes to keep this place running. In reply, I ask him why he thinks I married Mike.

As it doesn’t look like Mum and Dad will be handing over the deed to their house anytime soon, I guess I’ll just have to count myself lucky at being able to come home for the holidays now and then. And I do, believe me.

What about you? Where’s that special place? Can you still visit?