Archive | August, 2012


31 Aug

So here we are almost at the end of our week here in Bali. We got an amazing deal on our accommodation in Tanjung Benoa from one of those online special deal websites. We planned our week here to revolve around very little other than relaxation – hanging out by the pool, sitting on the balcony, maybe the odd massage. For me, early morning runs along the beach. For my husband sneaking out in the evening in search of yummy Padang food.

It’s kinda been what we planned. The resort we are staying at is beautiful. Right on the beach with a gorgeous pool complete with overhanging frangipani trees and plenty of deck chairs. Our apartment is lovely and love the balcony (where I am am sitting right now watching the sunrise). The tropical juices are delicious as is the food, and I have managed a few early morning runs – though found the heat pretty exhausting even at 6am!

But travelling with our three boys could never really be called “relaxing”. The simple combination of CP + ASD + TT ( typical toddler) means it’s just as demanding (if not more) to look after the kids here as it is back home. I learnt that pretty quickly on our first evening here when I braved the pool with the 3 boys while their dad slept off a headache. Armed with swim rings I felt confident and safe. But didn’t take into account M’s overexcitement and insistence on ignoring everything I said and A’s insistence on copying all of his brother’s behaviour. Deciding I had had enough, I turned for 2 seconds to ask a staff where the towels were and turned back to see A had removed his swim ring and slipped quietly into the pool – reaching up to me in a silent scream from under the water. Hate to sound cliched but it really was just like in the movies. Bloody terrifying. Hauled him out by the arm, coughing and spluttering (thank god) and after a long cuddle we all returned to the room, me doing my very best to not ponder any “what if” scenarios.

Fortunately the event seemed to give A a more healthy fear of water but definitely is not an image easily dislodged from my mind! And so I have felt even more on guard than usual.

The rest of the week has passed much more uneventfully with lots of pool, play, relax time and A and I snuck off to Kuta for a bit of shopping yesterday too. Poor M has had some bad luck with his skin flaring up with a bout of impetigo – which hasn’t done wonders for his mood (sigh!) and has kept him out of the pool. It is looking better much today thankfully.

Today is our last full day in Bali and we are on our way to the Safari Park for A to finally, finally see the elephants he has been wanting to see since the day we left Australia nearly 3 weeks ago.





A simple life

28 Aug

Before we headed into the kampung last week I spent a fruitless few hours searching through the few well stocked supermarkets in town looking in vain for rice milk. Momentary panic at not finding it was replaced with the revelation (embarrassed to admit it was a revelation!) that if there was one thing not in short supply in Indonesia it was RICE. So of course I could make my own!

And yes google revealed a whole selection of different recipes. Super easy and requiring only a blender – which we had in the kampung. Turns out it was easy and delicious!

We also made all our own fruit juice using the same blender – many of the fruits (banana, papaya, mango, rambutan) coming from trees not 5 minutes from our home. Divine. And so simple. The kids loved making their own blends too.

And I didn’t dare tell the kids that the chicken we were eating At dinner was the same one they were chasing around that morning.

(And no! Definitely not me doing the plucking!).

Our small home in the kampung is also very simple. Basic Indonesian bathroom with a squat toilet (more on overall access issues later!), a “bak mandi” for washing (a simple tub of water with a scoop that you use to splash over your head. You stand beside the tub, not in it. Indonesian barrooms are very wet!). Water comes from a well under the bathroom. We used to only have the bucket for retrieving the water, but now thankfully have a pump (though the power is often out so glad to still have the bucket!). And no hot water at all.

Play is also very simple. Our 3 iPads (yes, one each) seem so ridiculously excessive against the very basic toys of the kids there – a home made kite, swap cards, a bag of marbles, and of course those guns. A highlight for S was teaching his cousin how to play Snap.

There are of course downsides to things being so simple. Garbage disposal is what first and foremost comes to mind. There’s absolutely not the same level of packaging that we have in Australia because so much is made from scratch but there’s a huge market in what we call “crappy snacks” for the kids – and they really are super crappy little packets of MSG and artificial colours and lots of water bottles, noodle packets etc. And no real way of properly disposing of them. No rubbish trucks out this way! It’s not a pretty sight.

We have vowed to try to embrace simplicity more when we get home – reduce our waste and make more rather than buying prepackaged products.

If there was one gift I would love to give the ladies in my husbands family in our next visit it would definitely be a washing machine. The kampung is either dusty or muddy and the mere thought of all toes hand washed clothes has me wanting to kiss my own washing machine when we get home!





24 Aug

We decided to take a couple of days away from the kampung to head out to the jungle. Bukit Lawang, approximately 2 hours drive from Medan is one the edge of Gunung Leseur National Park and is one of the few places in the world where it is possible to see orangutans living in the wild. It began as an orangutan rehabilitation centre in the 70s and evolved into a tourist destination. It is also a very special place for us because it is where I met my husband and where we got married.

The tourist village is spread mostly along the sides of a single path that runs alongside a beautiful, fast flowing river. I’ve walked that path many times as when I met him, my husband worked at the top end of the path. Sadly the guesthouse he worked in when we met (and which he had helped build) burnt down not long after we started going out. Even more sadly in 2003, when we were living in the UK, a horrific flash flood wiped out much of the village, including our little bookshop/cafe that my husband had built himself and much much more tragically, more than 200 people perished.

So I am sure you can see, this is a place of very mixed emotions for us. We have been back to visit several times since then and we have watched the village re-emerge – mostly at a safer distance from the river and great attempts being made to improve the eco-tourism status of the area.

And on this trip, 2 years since the last, we have seen the most significant changes yet. Everything really does look greener and cleaner and there’s a lovely relaxed air about the place – despite us arriving on one of the busiest days of the year being Lebaran. We passed lots of trucks, their backs loaded with locals from Medan heading to the jungle to sit by and play in the river, on our way along the very bumpy road from Medan (though it is muchly improved from 10 years ago when there were more potholes than road!). Much damage is done to the road by the large trucks carrying oil palm fruit from the (far too many and ever expanding) palm oil plantations along the road.

After we arrived in Bukit Lawang we had that same long walk along the path to the top of the river – though I can definitely vouch for it being significantly harder carrying a young child (and for my husband who carried 7 y/old S, even harder again).

We stayed at the beautiful Sams Bungalows, run by the lovely local Sam and his wife. Our gorgeous room with a large balcony and hammock and huge 4 poster bed, overlooked the river and huge wall of jungle trees on the other side. Though it was not a haven for access. We had 15 stairs up to our room and inside, our bathroom was downstairs – another 15 stairs again. There are rooms with better access in the village, but as I’ve said we arrived on one of the busiest days so needed to take what was available and we know Sam and that room access issues aside we would have a lovely stay. And we did.

Highlights included playing in the river and trekking up to see the orangutans feeding (the boys loved the boat ride across the river!). Access wise – there are no short cuts here. It’s a real jungle path that winds mostly uphill over uneven steps and tree roots. My husband carried S the whole way up and down and was absolutely exhausted afterwards. Undoubtedly there would be some strong jungle lads who you could pay to help Carry someone up to the feeding platform. It’s probable that’s what we will need to do next time.

And yes, despite that difficulty of course we’d do it again. Watching those beautiful graceful creatures lope in from the jungle to get bananas and milk is a sight I would never get sick of. They are truly amazing and gorgeous and seeing them there, IN the jungle makes your heart break with the knowledge that their habitat is being so terribly misused and destroyed by man and that their numbers are ever dwindling. S is determined to start campaigning for orangutan awareness and jungle protection when we get home.

Other highlights included the beautiful array of fresh fruit juices and spectacular fruit salads, a brilliantly serious rain storm that literally looked like buckets were being thrown down from the heavens and of course for us the chance to catch up with many old friends from our ‘jungle days’.

Another unexpected highlight was the boys all waking before dawn. Doesn’t sound much like a highlight I know (and definitely isn’t when it happens at home!) but here, we all climbed into the hammock together on the balcony and chatted and laughed and then just sat in awed silence as we watched the amazing colours as the jungle emerged into the dawn. It was a very very special experience and I was glad to share it with my lovely boys.

I am sure the biggest highlight aside from the orangutans for the boys was the monkey mayhem we watched from our balcony the next morning. Cheeky monkeys bounded along the roofs next to our room, chased away a cat resting there and walked along the power line right in front of our balcony. It was all good fun and great photo opportunities until one super cheeky monkey jumped right on to our balcony – and the super brave (not!) mum that I am screamed and grabbed all 3 kids and retreated inside from where we watched the monkey (unsuccessfully) look for food. We were under monkey siege for about 20 minutes. And we laughed about it all the way home.

We hope we will have time to stay longer in the jungle when next we are here. It was a lovely reconnection with a place special to us and with the beautiful nature that is the Sumatra jungle.













20 Aug

Also known as Idul Fitri in Indonesia, these few days of celebration mark the end of the fasting month.

The celebrations start the evening before, after breaking the fast for the final time. There are fireworks and bamboo cannons – which can be incredibly loud (google “meriam bambu” for pics) and a general air of celebration.

The next morning after a visit to a special prayer time, Everyone puts on their new clothes, specially bought for the occasion and go visiting family and friends both near and far. Once there they chat, share snacks, freshly cut fruit and sweet tea before moving on to the next home.

During each visit they also shake hands with each other and ask for forgiveness for any wrongdoings over the past year.

Kids are given small notes of money to be spent on snacks or small toys from Vendors who arrive for the occasion. Hair clips and other trinkets for the girls – and for the boys toy guns. With fierce competition for the biggest And best.

The boys play war games with the guns or practise target shooting if they’ve been lucky enough to get enough $ for a gun that can be filled with tiny plastic balls. Baby A was quite taken by the guns (hope he enjoyed it! Only time he will get to play with them is here) :)

The highlight for S was setting up shop with lots of little snacks that dad had bought for the occasion. Small notes were given out to local kids and visitors and S “sold” his snacks. He thought it was brilliant!

M loved everything that made noise, especially the fireworks and the fact that there were so many kids around – many of whom were more than happy to follow him around and play whatever game he chose (local celebs that my kids are here!)











19 Aug

We arrived in the kampung for the last few days of Ramadan – the Muslim fasting month. It’s followed by Hari Raya Idul Fitri – sort of the equivalent of the western Christmas in terms of importance to both family and religion.

It’s the first time I’ve stayed in the kampung during Ramadan. I’ve put it off as I’ve always imagined it to be a difficult time to be here.

But I have loved these last 2 days! There’s been a calmness, a serenity here that doesn’t usually exist. A kampung is home to many people and the idea of personal space just doesn’t exist. And the right to “quiet enjoyment” in your own home doesn’t much exist here. Walls are thin And people talk loudly, play music and TVs loudly, rev up their motorbikes loudly – in short, despite the kampung seemingly a place of peace normally, it’s not.

However during Ramadan, a time for quiet reflection for many Muslims, the kampung is a quiet place. There’s no late night music, no loud TVs or kampung kids running widely around making lots of noise. Instead it’s just really nice and calm.

There is of course the early EARLY calls from the mosque – the first telling people to get up And eat, then that it’s time to stop eating (in some places this is sounded by an actual fire alarm siren – which can be quite disconcerting if you happen to be staying close to a mosque and suddenly get woken thinking your bed might be on fire. Fortunately, no siren in our kampung). Then prayer time. After that, it’s generally rather quiet all day. And even in the evening after the fast is broken, I have been surprised to find its a very subdued atmosphere all round – happy but calm and very quiet.

For those who wonder – Muslims fast roughly from dawn to dusk, for a month. Children might fast – the younger ones for an hour or two – but there’s no requirement for them to do so. My boys haven’t tried at all – although the other day, after polishing off a huge meal and half a cendol (Indonesian iced dessert) M announced he couldn’t eat any more because he was fasting now ;).

The fasting finished last night and the celebrations have begun. More about that later.




First morning In the kampung

18 Aug

I should explain first that the work kampung is Indonesian for village. But if you’ve never visited a developing country then you might need further explanation. A kampung is in so so many ways just a completely different way of life.

A quick description of what we see when we look around – an eclectic mix of houses ranging from sturdy concrete Structures with tiled floors To basic basic bamboo shacks with woven roofs. Our place is somewhere in between – a wooden One bedroom house with Basic kitchen, living room and bathroom. Water is from the well under the house. We have A pump these days that means we don’t need to haul up water using a bucket like we used to in earlier visits (unless of course the power goes out, as it often does!).
Chickens and cats roam freely, laden banana trees overhang our roof and motorbikes are the only occasional traffic on the dirt roads that make up the pathways to houses. These pathways don’t have names and postal services certainly don’t deliver mail here although many folk selling their wares often do (from fresh fish to ice-cream to rugs to kids toys).

We are on the far side of a once pristine, now heavily polluted river that is used by many for bathing and washing – it’s etiquette to turn a blind eye to folk as they wander to and from the river in their sarongs with soap in hand. Kids play in the river too, but mine are not allowed anywhere nearby! The main road is on the other side of the river and until recently access to our little corner of the kampung was via a rickety old bridge that used to scare the pants off me every time we crossed. So grateful we have better option now!

All this is less than an hour from the city centre we left yesterday, on the outskirts of the outskirts of Medan in an area known for fruit trees, rice fields and the odd factory (muchly to blame for dirty river).

It’s beautifully green and of course very hot. Much has changed here since my first visit here 12 years ago and since my wedding day nearby almost 10 years ago. But it’s essentially still the same old kampung, about a million miles away from the life I lead back home.

Amir and I ventured out for early morning walk this morning and took a few photos. Can’t remember which shots were his or mine but he has a remarkable eye for a 2 year old!







Ah Medan

17 Aug

Our flight over was not much fun. Mummy’s boy A refused to sleep and I got terribly airsick. Overexcited clingy 2 year old and nauseous mum in enclosed aircraft – Not a good combination. Longest 8 hours ever! Thank goodness the other boys were on best behaviour. And kudos to AirAsia for great service and ensuring we had prams available on Tarmac at both KL and Medan.

We spent first 3 nights in Medan in 5 star luxury at the Marriott hotel – apparently the cheapest in the world. 3 nights including breakfast for us all, buffet dinner one night and a few goes at Room service dining cost us less than $250. Kids loved the pool, the expansive lobby and the amazing view from our 20th floor room.

We only ventured out of hotel for one excursion to the shopping mall which was packed with people buying supplies for the end of the fasting month (tomorrow!) – sort of our equivalent of Christmas in terms of importance as event.

Last night we left the hotel and the city to head to the kampung – its only 1 hour away but worlds apart. 5 stars to 0 stars. Now the real adventure begins :)






Proud… and cold

10 Aug

This winter seem to have dragged on and on, bringing with it lots of rainy days and far too many bugs.

S has missed quite a few days of school recently because of these bugs and just general tiredness after working so hard this year. But his overall endurance has improved so much and he is blowing me away with his school success. He is such a bright little spark who tries so hard.

And his confidence. Wow. This morning I was privileged to watch him give his first solo presentation to the whole school – in aid of supporting their fundraising efforts for an adapted trike for a child with a disability. He used his iPad (love love love Pictello) to tell the class about his own trike and how great it was to have the opportunity to ride like everyone else. I was impressed with the technology that allowed him to do this (the ‘reflection’ app reflecting his iPad onto his teacher’s laptop and from there to the big screen) and also with the concentration of the school students watching. You could have heard a pin drop. They were so absorbed. We are lucky to have such a great school community. And I am so lucky to have this boy in my world.

A has become a cheerful, busy, demanding 2.5 year old who has reached that wonderful yet exausting milestone of …. “why?”. So my days are busy explaining everything in the world to him. But he’s a gem. A real little gem. My little boy who will always be my baby and who I am forever grateful to for his patience and willingness to accomodate the needs of his 2 older more demanding brothers. But he has really felt the coldness of the winter, been rather unwell a few times and generally has hated being housebound by the rain and cold.

The Olympics have been a bright spot in the gloomy days – it has really captured the imagination of my boys. And resulted in M painting this amazing picture at Kinder (sorry for poor pic quality, just taken with my iPhone).

His teacher explained that he started with the Olympic rings and then started drawing the black lines (that you can see form the stadium). The teacher at first thought it was (yet another) train track. When he started filling it with people and then drew the water, she told me she had a tear in her eye. A real step forward for my little boy with his one track mind (excuse the pun!). And how lucky are we to have such a caring and kind kinder teacher who celebrates such little milestones with real emotion.

This week M also had his first 2 school orientation sessions. I was so proud of him to see that he didn’t ‘stand out’ from the other kids and he really enjoyed every minute of both session. He insisted on wearing school uniform to the sessions and got a sticker from the prep teacher for knowing all the months of the year in order.  I think it really helps that he has spent so much time around the school and knows some of the teachers and several of the kids. He had a lot of fun playing with S in the school yard at lunch time. The whole experience is giving me so much confidence that he will have a great year at school next year.

The time we are putting into his additional therapy has ramped up quite a bit now too  – around 5 hours of various social skills/school readiness/OT/speech activities a week. It’s making for busy days, but fingers crosed it will all be worth it for helping him to adjust to school well.

I feel somewhat burnt out by the whole experience of early intervention. As thrilled as I am with how M is doing, it just seems to be taking up so much of my time and I am struggling to muster the energy I need to get together a bit of fundraising for a few items that we need for S at the moment. It would just be so, so  nice to have some ‘normal’ family time.

Which is why it’s exciting that we are heading off on holiday next week. Lovely to escape this cold winter and head to the warmer (much, much warmer!) shores of Indonesia.

I’ve set the iPad up (finally) for blogging and hoping to become more frequent with my updates from there.


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