Three Months and Drowning (Literally)

Let me preface this post by saying that not a day goes by when I don’t count my blessings. That said, this week it’s felt as though we’ve angered the gods in some way. We returned from holiday on Sunday expecting to find a clean – and dry – apartment. What we found instead was a home stinking of stale floodwater, with pink residue all over the kitchen floor, damp towels festering in the sink and, to really top things off, a freezer full of partially defrosted food (including a month’s worth of carefully pumped and labelled breast milk). The cleaning lady hadn’t been despite saying she would, so aside from all the other issues the place was a dump.

I’ve mentioned before the building works that have been going on downstairs since March. Well, the latest debacle has been a water leak. About four weeks ago we went out one day and returned to find the kitchen swimming in water. We dried it up and went out again, only to find the same thing had happened a couple of hours later. After that, nothing happened for a week, but then the same thing again. We told our landlady who arranged for her plumber to come, but he couldn’t find the source of the problem. It was evident that the water was coming from above (I mean, it was pissing through our ceiling..), but as our neighbours had no such problem with their place, the mystery continued. Eventually water started leaking into other places – the apartment next door as well as the medical centre and building works below (karma is a bitch, hey?) And so our landlady reported the issue to the building syndic/manager, and various workmen were duly sent to investigate, only to leave scratching their heads as the first plumber had done. Fast forward a week and we arrived home from holiday to find the situation described above, after yet more workmen had traipsed through the apartment in our absence. We cleaned the floor as best we could, arranged for a new cleaner to come on Wednesday to try and get the pink dye out of the tile grouting and went about our business.

When the cleaning lady arrived on Wednesday morning I showed her around the apartment (against the backdrop of a screaming baby – more on that later), and as she started to work on the floor water began seeping out from under the appliances just as it had before, so she ended up having to dry the entire floor before she could even start to clean it. The final straw came at 5am this morning when, after a second terrible night of being up with baby every 2.5 hours, I brought him into the kitchen so as not to disturb my husband, only to find myself standing in a puddle of water, the floor having totally flooded yet again during the night.

Now I consider myself to be a fairly resilient person, but after six months of disruption with the building works (incidentally also the entire duration of my maternity leave) this new problem has, if you’ll excuse the pun, floored me. On top of having a (currently inexplicably grizzly) three month old baby with sleep issues I’ll admit I’m finding my sense of humour to be wearing thin. This wasn’t what I signed up for, does anyone know to whom I should address my letter of complaint?

And then there is my gorgeous baby boy. Gorgeous he may be, but he is also somewhat of a sleep terrorist. And for the past week or so he has been really out of sorts, crying for no discernible reason, demanding attention every time I move out of his eye line and downright refusing to go down for his day time naps. The result being a cranky and overtired baby and a zombie-like mother who is running out of ideas – and steam. Our holiday was lovely, but not quite the relaxing experience I had envisaged. I did manage to grab a little extra sleep thanks to my husband, but taking a cranky three month old to a wedding and on a three-site French adventure proved more testing than either of us had expected.

Don’t get me wrong, I am LOVING being a mother, and I know that in the main we have got more than lucky with our amazing son, whose general disposition is sunny and relaxed. But by God I would love him to sleep a bit more (and more easily). I’m becoming murderously jealous of my friends whose babies are already sleeping through the night at virtually the same age, so much so I’m struggling to even meet up with them. The sleep struggle is REAL.

A friend said to me the other day that mothers don’t tell new mothers how hard it is because they don’t want to scare them. But on the flip side of that, if this secret club of knowing mums don’t divulge the reality, surely it makes it even harder for the new mums when reality bites? I’ll wrap things up with that question, not least because there’s water seeping across the kitchen floor as I type and my son has just vomited on my shoulder.

Ah, these halcyon days of maternity leave…

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Past Post: Laos

I wrote this last year when I returned from my travels and submitted it to a newspaper writing competition. Sadly I wasn’t shortlisted, but I do think it’s good enough to share here, so here it is.

When the minivan driver hit his second chicken and narrowly missed a child toddling by the roadside, I felt moved to intervene. “You’re driving too fast, it’s not safe!” He responded with a maniacal laugh and slammed his foot down harder on the accelerator. I sighed. This was going to be a long journey.

I have heard many travellers claim that the people of Laos are amongst the least friendly in South East Asia and, based on this experience, I might have said the same. But to understand Laos and its people one must first understand its history. When you consider the ‘Secret War’ waged against it by the US from 1964-1973 – during which over 260 million cluster bombs were dropped on a country with less than three million inhabitants to dent the spread of communism from Vietnam – it’s easy to see why distrust and contempt against foreigners may exist.

It is estimated that up to thirty per cent of cluster bomb units did not explode on impact, and to this day there are still thousands of unexploded bombs located throughout Laos, many of them nestled unobtrusively in paddy fields where ordinary farmers are trying to eke out a living for their families, and where they and their children risk life and limb every day as a result.

We passed through many such fields on our kamikaze minivan adventure from Phonsavanh to Vientiane. In my more lucid moments, I relaxed my grip on the seat and pondered what it would be like to meet some farmers and ask them in person what it was like to live under the constant threat of such unimaginable horror. Perhaps then I would get under the skin of the country I had previously – and shamefully – only heard of in the context of its popular tubing tourist attraction in Vang Vieng.

Tubing is fun, and arriving in the country on a slow boat down the Mekong River is an experience not to be missed, but both are essentially just part of the tourist trail. Even the Plain of Jars and nearby ‘bomb village’ lack genuine character, the touts having sucked it out with their sterile production-line tours. It doesn’t help that a lack of infrastructure makes getting around a strain for even the most hardy of travellers, particularly in the wet season when roads can be impassable due to flooding.

My lasting memory of the country won’t be floating down the river in an inflatable tube, nor wandering around a field of ancient, unexplained relics. It won’t even be the suicidal minivan driver or the touts and their soulless tours. It will be the ordinary but heart-warming sights I witnessed as we drove for hours along death-defying roads; bright eyed children playing and whole families working the bomb-littered fields. Whilst such glimpses by their brief nature fail to yield any real insight into the Laos Peoples’ character, I will always feel respect for them, going about their business despite all that has been inflicted upon them.

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I took this on a day trip from Luang Prabang to a stunning waterfall, and was struck by the contrast of crisp, brown landscape and bright blue sky.