Thursday, 20 October 2011


Day 7
So the days are now well and truly blending into each other. Serious maths was called for to work out what day it is I write this. I've stopped bothering to put on regular clothes between swims. I may cease certain personal hygiene routines.

Early mornings waking up and watching the boats come in, a swim in the ocean, the set breakfast (tea, fruit salad, boiled egg and toast), a short read, a pool swim, a long read, a quick dip, lunch (noodles or club sandwiches), sleep, read, swim, walk up the road, beer o'clock, swim, dinner (sate, gado gado, fried rice, grilled fish...), frog spotting, bed. Really there isn't much else to do here.

I finished the Thirteenth Tale and have started on Blood - back to Aussie contemporary fiction.

I'm aware after my last post, aware as I was writing it but chrystalised by comments after posting, that it's really hard to accurately, truthfully, write a balanced account.

I do want to be truthful in saying that travel with kids is much much harder than travel without, and that at times it feels a lot like it's too hard. With D and I in particular, who have spent a lot of time in Asia over a 25 year period, there are many many things we take for granted in being in a place so different from home. We are accustomed to the crazy roads, the complex social relations of status and class, the unfamiliar bits of familiar foods, the adapting to what comes our way.

Even kids who are good at this stuff (and some are definitely better than others by dint of personality or varied experiences at home) can't keep up with grown ups for whom these challenges are if not easy then at least predictable and most certainly a product of their own choices.

I love travel, and from my first solo backpacker foray to India as a stupidly naive baby not yet 21 I've happily taken on the challenges that travel presents for the incredible insights I have felt I have gained through those experiences. All cliches aside, I don't think I've ever felt the kind of contentment, understanding or peace I have felt when pushed to the limits beyond my comfort zone in a strange land.

But when you factor kids into the equation, everything is different. I need more resources to manage my own thoughts, decisions and anxieties than I would at home (no auto pilot here) and this inevitably leaves less for the usual demands of parenting, let alone the surge in demand brought about by their confusions, anxieties and confronting thoughts. And the millions of unfamiliar potential physical and emotional threats they are oblivious to that require your constant vigilance.

And then on top of all that (as though it weren't enough!) the exponentially larger number of key decisions to be made (from where to sleep, eat or play to how to manage a small's meltdown in the customs queue or 3am onset of illness) puts a huge burden on the negotiation and compromise capacities of both parents - at exactly the time they are feeling an especially great need to minimize the number of variables and pressures on their plate. Working as a team is never harder.

So goodness doesn't that all sound like a fantastic incentive to spend enormous sums of money and use up your annual leave to bring the smalls abroad?

Well this is the balance thing. It's so easy to write about the pain. It's hilarious reading and a great dinner party story to share the time you fell down a drain, left your passport in a taxi or picked up amebic dysentery. And the kid lifting your top and shouting boobies! in the middle of a silent temple ritual or hurling all over the check in desk of a nice hotel outclasses anything a grown up can do in terms of narrative richness.

And equally how hard is to write about, to experience, the more compelling, profound and awkward moments in life? All the good stuff's already been written, by better writers than me, and if you haven't experienced it words can't tell you and if you have they pale into insignificance next to what you know to be true.

Why is it that I have willingly, delightedly subjected myself to the hardships and disappointments of travel again and again? Because they have taught me, nurtured me, made me more resilient and confident, more able and more knowing, and filled me with joy. I want to keep being that person who discovers through challenge that I can and I am, I want my kids to see me be that person and I want my kids to become those people too.

And it's not just about the experience of being challenged and enduring and solving problems, though this is enormous, and about puzzling over the awkwardness that meetings across cultures bring, the mismatched expectations and misunderstandings.

There is something more specific to travel in the developing world, to being confronted not just with one's own monumental privilege in the world and to the immense gulf between ourselves and those who sit apart from us through poverty, difference, suffering or lack of choice. Increasingly this also entails the sting of recognition that our very privilege is the cause of much of this. The aspiration to have our wealth (and by wealth I'm not just talking about money but also the things brought about through sustained social wealth and surplus - healthcare, education, infrastructure, mobility and so on) and the willingness to achieve it through exploited labour, unregulated manufacture, pollution, waste, the rampant tourism, corruption and so much more. Travel here makes it very hard to suppress the knowledge that our patterns of consumption directly bring about a level of destruction that is unsustainable.

And I want my kids to know that. I want every person who buys the newest shit at Zara to come here and walk through these communities and see why it costs 10 times as much to make a garment in Austrialia as it does to ship it in from Argentina, Indonesia or India. It costs so much less because we don't care that they chuck their production waste into the local river, or that kids don't go to school or that life is shorter and harder for almost everyone who lives here. Most of us don't give a shit because it's so easy to not confront what that means for other real life people.

So when we walk up the road after our afternoon naps we point to the houses in the village and ask Amy if she would like to live here. Can she imagine waiting here for the bus to go to school, about that being a sign of her great good fortune? How would it be to be that guy over there who has gone out fishing all morning and comes home with only 4 small mackerel in his catch and that what he earns from that is all the family has to eat and pay bills and buy everything else they need?

Of course she can't know. Just like she can't predict the crazy traffic here or when money needs changing or what dishes off the menu might make her sick or will taste like crap. She can't know that yet. But in time she can if she has these experiences. In time she might understand, and she might help others to understand. She might see that everything she does, the choices she makes, the things she buys, the way she lives her life affects others. Everything has consequence. And in knowing this she might become wise, I might become wiser.

Somewhere in there is my hope for humanity.

A little more balanced now?


Jules said...

You're a great woman and a great mum... I wish for more of this kind of insight and honesty in myself and others, especially when seeing what really goes on for others. Such a delicate balance but you've captured it- at least for a moment ; ) - perfectly!

Julie said...

I'm not sure that there are all that many better writers than you, actually. You have a way of vividly and concisely elucidating complex issues that I admire.

travellersyarn said...

I think that apart from the more noble reasons to travel overseas with children, the experience seems to bond the family.

I definitely think that staying in apartments or houses is much more successful for children, as is less frequent changes of accomodation.