Things I’m looking forward to

In no particular order.

Family

To be enveloped in the love and support and familiarity and safety.

Especially for our daughter, to connect with her cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles. She adores them. We have photos around our house here, which she loves to look at, and we skype and message all the time… but it’s not the same as skin contact, eye contact and the deeper physical and emotional connection we have with a person when we’re in the same room.

Gold. Gimme, gimme.

Friends

Roaring laughter, reconnection, shared history, sharing stories.

Our window between returning from Cambodia and needing to be settled in our new home is small, so we need to schedule carefully and intentionally, but we know we won’t be able to see everyone. Visitors welcome down on the south coast!

A double sink

Non negotiable. In my top 27 worst chores, having to empty the sink of dirty dishes before being able to wash them! A dishwasher would be extreme luxury. But I still want one.

A bench that is the right height for me

I’m a little taller than the average Khmer, and our kitchen has incredibly low bench tops. I measured them. 76.5cm (standard in Aussie around 90cm). Hubby and I wash dishes hunched like Quasimodo or with out feet 1m apart.

Drinkable water straight from the tap

Sadly the town water here is unsafe to drink without filtering. We are fortunate to have a good quality clay water filter… but I’m looking forward to the ease of sticking my glass straight under the tap!

Supermarkets with All Of The Food

I will gain immense joy from the simple pleasure of being able to buy everything for my weekly food shop, in one place. The familiar produce, brands, prices, convenience. Hello convenience. May I never groan about having to go shopping, and never, EVER take this luxury for granted again.

Cold

Dry, cold weather awaits us in Melbourne. I can’t remember what it feels like to be cold.  Snuggling under the doona. A hot water bottle that mum has snuck into the foot of the bed. The roaring fire. The red wine that doesn’t need to be chilled before drinking. The slow food. Yasssss.

My bikes

Yes, bikes. I have more than one. And I love them both (but not equally, the mountain bike is OBVIOUSLY more fun). Cannot wait to burn some trails with my crew, and have some solo adventures too.

Our dog

Darling Keira, who has been a guest of the luxury lodgings of her grandparents for the past 6 months. They take her walking and swimming, and kangaroo tracking every. single. day. We will be elbowing each other out of the way to get the first cuddle with Keira. I’m feeling confident she will remember our happy faces!

My mothers’ group

The brilliant, hilarious, supportive tribe of mummies that I met when my daughter was 3 weeks old. They have been loyally keeping me connected online with their adventures, catch ups and shenanigans, but I can’t wait to have a wine and debrief on the last six months with them.

(Back home, its fairly standard for the local council to connect groups of new mums together, they give you a couple of months of structured, facilitated sessions (learning about how to keep your baby and yourself alive in those early months)… then you’re left to your own devices. Thankfully, my allocated mum tribe was a really cool one, and we have managed to meet regularly with and without the kids for the past 2.5 years. Here’s hoping we’re still doing that when the kids are 25! I’ve never felt like I was on my own since having these gals in my corner. They’ve all gone and made siblings for their kids… so we have heaps of babies to meet and welcome in the coming months! Exciting. Newborns smell the best.

Salad

Goats cheese, clean and fresh greens, tomatoes, lemon juice.

Lemons

They don’t exist here. But limes are plentiful and extremely cheap. Sometimes a lime just doesn’t cut it. Lemon and sugar on a pancake. Get in my mouth.

Avocado toast

Avocado. Good bread. Lemon. Salt. Pepper. That is all I will ever need.

Except one more thing:

Reality TV.

 

Watch this space for first world problems…

 

The one about leaving Cambodia…

I didn’t expect to write this post for another 6 months, but circumstances have changed.

We are returning to Australia next week, and feeling all the feelings. My husband has a new job near the South Coast of Victoria, and we are very much looking forward to the next adventure.

I’ve been reflecting on our six months as residents of Battambang, Cambodia, and the quirky, funny, confusing, excellent and plain weird things we have witnessed here. There are cultural things that I will never understand, things that have brought me so much joy, and things that make me grit my teeth.

Here are a few random thoughts about life in the ‘Bong.

The Markets

The majority of our food shopping has to be done in the markets (we use Psar Nat and Psar Boeung Chhouk because they’re walking distance from home).

At Psar Nat, eggs are presented for sale by size and type (duck, chicken, salted, containing a dead baby chicken, and more). Beside the eggs lie pieces of chicken leg, breast, exposed to the air and flies and dust. Eggs are 500 riel each. I don’t know the price of the chicken, because I can’t bring myself to buy it. It’s 30 degrees and 85% humidity by 8am. Everything we know about food safety is out the window. I imagine the birds were killed this morning, and broken down on site at the market, and maybe they’re even cleaner and fresher than anything I can buy in Australia?

Nearby the chicken squats a woman, the vendor of prahok – salted fermented fish, which is a key ingredient in many Khmer dishes. It stings my nostrils and makes me hold my breath. Near this you can find fresh rice noodles (made, sold and eaten within 24 hours is best), dryfoods stores selling tiny dried, stinky shrimps, flour, seeds, nuts, rice. There’s a dark corridor with vendors hunched low beside their offerings of fruit, veg and ricey coconutty desserts.

Coconut milk is extracted fresh while you wait, and the by-product of freshly dessicated coconut can be procured cheaply or sometimes free. River fish writhe in baskets, awaiting the knock on the head commissioned by their buyer. Curry pastes, dragon fruit, bananas, pineapples, sticks of bread and literally hundreds of mystery foods and ingredients.

I’ll miss the interesting options, the freshness of the produce, the smell of the fresh herbs, and the hubbub of the busy morning trade. The ginger roots, supple, fresh and mild enough to chew raw or pop in hot water as a drink to sooth an unsettled tummy.

I won’t miss hauling a cranky and sweaty 2 year old to the market, swatting away unwelcomed cheek pinches, leg slaps and hair pulls, and trying to diffuse the shouts and jostling for her attention. Ginger haired, fair skinned, blue eyed children stick out like dogs balls here, and the attention she gets is one of the cultural things that we have found very challenging to manage here.

The bared bellies

Generally it seems Khmer people dress quite conservatively – women often covering arms and legs completely (to protect from the burning sun and for modesty). One opposing custom we have found quite amusing is that some men like to cool themselves down, but tucking their shirt up and exposing their low back and bellies. It works best if you have a large tummy to hold the shirt in place.

Tuk tuks

Most common mode of transport is the moto (motorbike), followed by bicycles and cars…and a little way behind that is the modest tuktuk. A tuktuk consists of a motorbike with a carriage hitched on. Our favourite kind are made of wood, but there are also larger, metal tuktuk carriages. We find the wooden ones are more flexible and therefore have a more comfortable ride. (We took a metal tuktuk to the Batcave tonight, and I was kicking myself for not wearing a running bra – had to ride with my arms crossed, to prevent my boobs from punching me in the face on each bump in the road!)

We have used tuktuks most days here, as they’re the safest and most convenient mode of transport we have with our daughter. We have enjoyed getting to know our regular drivers, and helping support their small businesses.

Last week we had our first ride in a tuktuk during heavy rain. Some roads had 1ft of water, and others had wave action going from vehicles moving through. It was exciting and a little scary, we got very wet, and we needed a good shower when we returned home. I thought our driver was quite brave!

There is nothing quite like this in Australia – open aired, public transport you can just jump in and out of, and go straight to where you want, without any technology. I enjoyed doing my grocery shop (kid free) by tuktuk, piling up my produce on the seat and floor as we spun around town. I will miss the simplicity and convenience of tuktuks – always one within 200m of our house.

The coffee

You can smell it before you see it.

Before moving to Cambodia, I had avoided almost all caffeine for about 3 years, starting from when I fell pregnant. When I gave up caffeine, I noticed my headaches and sleep improving – which is why I kept away from it after my daughter was born. I felt like my health was better and I liked getting up in the morning without a withdrawal headache!

Well ‘decaf’ isn’t really a thing here.

Khmer coffee is so strong. And delicious. And I couldn’t stay away from it (unlike my husband who has only had about 3 coffees since we have been in country). I like it served with sweetened condensed milk over ice (cafe tek dah koh tek kaw), but it’s so sweet it hurts my teeth… and does keep me up half the night if I have it after 10am!

As far as I know, there is nothing like it in Aus.

That said, there is nothing like Melbourne coffee here in Battambang! I am looking forward to a nice latte and brownie from my favourite local café.

The early starts

Anyone with a kid under 3 would agree, parents don’t get enough sleep. Our babe is usually in bed between 7-8pm, and prior to being a resident of BTB (and living in a very quiet rural area of Australia), had been known to sleep in til 7-8am (or even later). Approximately 6 mornings out of 7, she wakes before 6am. On mothers’ day, it was 4.30am… THANKS FOR NOTHING, NOISE POLLUTION! If it’s not a wedding kicking off before dawn, it’s the blessed chanting monks, or some moto-driver who thinks everyone is a morning person and wants to listen to his piercing horn. For the record, 4.30am is still NIGHTTIME.

Horns

While I’m on the subject of horns… they sound different here. Really shrill and sharp, and loud. The horn of a car back home is much more of a lazy honk. I have a theory that Khmer people use their car horns so much that they have to replace them, and the after market replacement horns are built to be startling and not go unnoticed.

The crew

I’m going to get sappy for a minute. Sorry.

I am so grateful for the generous, warm and welcoming community that owns Battambang. We have been blown away by the incredible people we have met here. We have connected with people with totally different world views and interests, had our eyes opened, and learned so much about the world, Cambodia and ourselves.

They’ll kill me when they read this, but I have two special mentions I cannot miss.

Bonny, who tried to warn me about EVERYTHING and I naively ignored. Who gave so much help and advice about moving here before we even left Australia. Which I stupidly ignored. Who talked about everything and nothing for hours. Who let me be my weird self, and cry on her more times that I can remember. Who made me laugh out loud even more.  Who held our hands while we settled in and figured out how to stay alive. Who made one of the coolest kids on the planet and let her be friends with my kid. Who shared her friends, and her gin. Thank you Bonny. You’re rad.

And Abs. The most inclusive human and best bargain hunter in the entire universe. I literally don’t know how this gal fits everything in, and fits everyone in, but she is the catalyst and the glue of a little mummies and kids tribe we ended up with here in Battambang. She is intentional in everything she does, incredibly organised, and a really good cook! Abs, you saved us from eating out 8 nights a week, shared all of your local intel, and made sure we weren’t alone. We adore you and your family, and will forever be grateful for everything you were for us here.

To all the people that loved us, welcomed us, befriended us, drove us, shared with us… you know who you are, and what you did. Thank you.

 

We didn’t expect to be shooting through so soon. While we have certainly had some challenges, hard days, health problems, and constantly questioned whether we are giving our daughter and ourselves the best opportunity to thrive in a challenging environment, we have had an amazing experience here, and are so thankful that we took the leap and did the thing. Our family is smarter, stronger and more resilient, and we have made some exceptional friends that we will not forget. We are excited and nervous about our next chapter, and I look forward to keeping you guys up to date on our travels.

Thanks for having us Battambang. Until we meet again…

xo

Amoebas 2, Erica 0.

Well, much has happened since I last wrote (about my first experience with parasites). Yes. There was a second. I know I overshared on the first, so here’s a sanitised and abridged version of the second.

  • possible relapse, or just a new batch of amoeba… we won’t know
  • no vomiting, a lot of nausea
  • a lot of poop
  • a prolonged period of feeling very lethargic and having painful abdominal cramps
  • smiling, and generally functioning is difficult in that state (please accept this wholesale apology for any arsehole behaviour you witnessed during the past couple of months!)
  • no overnight stays in hospital, just a day visit
  • 20 days of a cocktail of antibiotics (no alcohol for 20 days)
  • a lot of misery

It’s day 16. I have started to feel better in the last few days. Huzzah! Avoiding all uncooked foods like the plague.

Really, REALLY hoping the meds kick the amoebas out for good.

Acute Amoebic Dysentery… not recommended.

If you don’t like cussing, or poo-jokes, or pretty much anything gross or offensive, I suggest you look away now.

Okay.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

After having minor annoyances with tummy bugs, Chris and I had been running a joke about shart-free days. A shart is a fart with follow through of shit.

That was until shit got really real.

The following is deeply personal, and I am full of anxiety about posting it. My decision to share this is for public health and public service reasons.

I made an epically bad decision a few weeks ago. Friends were in town, we had a babysitter, we decided to take the motos out for a cruise around the Battambang Province. It was an awesome day, one of my favourites here so far. Cruising tiny country roads, checking out tiny villages and farming areas.

We had been cruising for a few hours, and were heading back in towards town. We came across a market, and realised we had built up a bit of an appetite. As we ventured in to the market, it became apparent it was more of a morning market (it was probably around 11.30am by the time we arrived). The kind where they open early and do a bustling trade selling all kinds of weird and wonderful breakfasts. Well, breakfast time had well and truly finished. Not to be left hungry, I hunted around and found the only store still serving food. In fact, they had mostly packed up, and weren’t really still trading… but their eyes lit up when I asked if they had any food left. I was served a plate of cold rice noodles, raw cabbage and herbs, and some kind of meat paste wrapped and cooked in banana leaf. Also cold. Because it was cooked a LONG time ago.

One of my friends tried a little, but my usually very adventurous, street-food-lovin’ husband even turned it down. That should have been a warning bell for me, but my hunger was bigger than my rationality.  Also, it was fucking delicious.

All was well, and we continued on our merry way.

Until… a few days later in Siem Reap, it bit me in the arse. Eva and I had gone to SR to pick up my parents from the airport, and have a few days chilling in the city. I was sharing a hotel room with Eva.

#sorrynotsorry that I don’t have a video blog of this, but I have the next best thing. I wrote down my experience as it was unfolding, thinking it might be a good blog post one day.

Shart free days.

Sigh… Zero.

At approx 11:45pm I awoke with a start. I noticed a strange sensation in my gut, cramping, kind of, but not. Eva is sharing the bed with me as we are away in a hotel in SR. She stirred and started climbing out of the bed in her sleep. I pounced up to settle her, then hurriedly made my way to the toilet.

I sat for a while, had a poo (sorry, turn away now if your stomach is weak), and waited… I could feel it coming… oh yes. The familiar feeling (and stench) of diarrhoea. Out it comes.

I reach the point where I think my gut is empty (for now), then get that sensation (I haven’t had it for a long, long time), but my mouth starts watering madly, and I know it’s coming. The vomit.

I’m madly wiping my arse (stupidly, STUPIDLY) tossing the paper in to the loo… get myself clean(ish) in just enough time to turn around (not flush!) and vomit all over the top. Violently, four times.

Oh god.

Flush.

Haha. No. This can’t be happening. The water level rises to within an inch of the rim and stops. You can imagine for yourself what the contents looked like.

So it’s midnight. My light-sleeping 2 year old is sleeping, lightly. We are in a hotel doesn’t really have a reception, certainly no “dial 404 for housekeeping” or “405 for the guy with the plunger”.

So I found some plastic bags. Which were not thick enough, or long enough, and unblocked that bad boy myself. I almost cheered aloud when the water sucked away and that horrific mess went with it.

Bum gun clean of the toilet, and seat.

Then off to wash my hands for ten minutes. Then brush my teeth for another ten… but whoops, as I’m trying to brush away the taste and smell of vomit from my mouth, I triggered my gag reflex and off I went again… too far from the toilet this time. Straight into the sink. With the world’s tiniest plug hole. Hooray.

Blocked.

Faaaaark it.

Miraculously unblocked with my littlest finger and a lot of good vibes.

Washed. Teethed. Again.

Blew my nose to get the vomit out of those nasal nooks and crannies… and shat myself.

Fuck you, Cambodia. Fuck you.

 

Well this pattern continued (albeit with better management of the plumbing situation) until morning, when I handed Eva over to my parents, and crashed back in to bed, a dehydrated, nauseous and cramping mess of a woman. In all, the diarrhoea lasted a bit over 24 hours, and the vomiting around 12 hours, (at least 20 times).  I felt like a dried up raisin.

After a quick chat with our remote medical team, it was agreed a doctor’s visit was necessary. They sent me to the Royal Angkor International Hospital, where the A&E doctor recommended I be admitted ASAP for treatment for acute amoebic dysentery.

A couple of hours later I was comfortable and hooked up to a cocktail of drugs and rehydration via IV. This included medication for treating the amoebas that were attacking my digestive system (and prevent them from burrowing through the wall of my gut, and into my bloodstream to wreak havoc on my organs… shut up and take my money). It also (thankfully) included something for pain (head and body), and the cramps and nausea.

Approved hospital food consisted of clear broths, banana, bread and water. The first two meals went in one end and straight out the other, but by the second day, things were starting to settle down. I regained almost 3kg in weight in the first day of having IV fluids, and another couple the next day. Must have been pretty dried out!

We returned home to Battambang after two nights in the hospital. The nausea continued and I could only stomach really basic food (home made bread and black tea mostly). I estimate that I lost around 5kg in body weight that week (not a problem for me, plenty more remains!).

It is two weeks today since this all happened. A niggly cold has developed into an upper respiratory tract infection, which is mighty annoying but not unsurprising given how run down I was. My energy levels are still recovering, and I have been pretty tentative with food. I had my first street food lunch today, which included a little chilli… so far so good. Mostly just cooking simple food at home (with our fabulous oven!) and trying to make sensible decisions about raw/cooked food, and generally steering towards the vegetarian options. I’m hoping to be back at the gym and early morning running within the next week… but am trying to give myself time to fully recover.

So, amoebic dysentery… I can recommend avoiding that one.

 

To your health, and mine x