We’re seventeen days into our big adventure and it’s taken me this long to write a ‘We’re here!’ blog post for one reason. I thought we’d made a mistake. And that’s hugely hard to admit but for ten days, I was pretty miserable – Dylan wouldn’t eat or drink anything – Dotty and Dylan struggled to sleep in the heat, the first night Dylan fell out the bed and I thought it was an almighty sign from the Cambodian gods that we were not wanted here. Dotty got a bug bite on her head and I convinced myself I was the most irresponsible parent that there has ever been. I’d been bitten so bad that my legs were now just one swollen bug bite. Dotty also fell off the bed – by this point, I was convinced we were being ousted from the country (both of them are absolutely fine!). Simple things that were going wrong were tipping me over the edge and I’d end up messaging or speaking to my Mum in tears saying that I couldn’t do it and we’d have to come back. I was dodging text messages and needs for updates because I just didn’t know what to say. The country is beautiful, the people are the friendliest I’ve ever come across, the house we’re staying in and the hosts we’re staying with are gorgeous yet those first ten days were just really, really hard.
We woke up at 4am in our hotel room to the news that Sam had spent most of the night weighing and reweighing our suitcases with our little digital scale and had become panic-stricken. ‘THEY ARE TOO HEAVY!’ he said in that weird headspace of sleep deprivation and completely wired. I had no idea why, we had only packed everything we owned that we didn’t sell/give away/put in my mum’s loft – which equated to three large suitcases, a unicorn trunkie, a unicorn backpack, my hand luggage and Sam’s backpack. They couldn’t possibly be too heavy, I’d only packed clothes for Dotty that would take her through to two and seven of Dylan’s books that she (I) just couldn’t part with. Okay, I may have possibly overpacked.
We both scoured our luggage for those rogue kilograms creating a pile of items ranging from aftershave to little jumpers with a note saying free to a good home and arrived at check in with little faith in our attempts, ready to hand over the extra baggage fee. As the first bag weighed in at 28kg, we did a quiet cheer and as the third sailed through we were clearly ecstatic – nobody had ever looked this excited to get on a long haul flight with two under threes before, ever. Dylan had been looking forward to the airplane for months, I on the other hand not so much. I had memorized my apologies for any tantrums that would take place, I had also loaded myself with clever and sometimes witty comebacks to all of the people I’d convinced myself would take offense to us being on the plane in the first place. ‘Aren’t you brave!’ people would say, ‘I wouldn’t do it!’.. along with lists of distractions, incentives, survival techniques, the exact amount of Calpol to keep them quiet.
Qatar were awesome, I literally can’t say a bad word about them other than they offered me a sandwich on two occasions and it was a pastry – a lovely pastry but the excitement you get for a sandwich and a pastry often differ especially when skipping time zones BUT that is all, they were just wonderful. They made us feel so comfortable – we were sat at the front on both flights where we could have Dotty in a bassinet, that they supplied (she spent the majority of the journey asleep on both of our laps) Both girls were given entertainment packs and Dylan got her own TV that she watched without the sound (.. by choice). We were always asked if we needed anything and felt so looked after and Dylan had an absolute blast. Both girls just took the 21 hour travel day in their stride and whichever travel superbeing was looking down on us, we were eternally grateful.
By the time we’d reached Cambodia, I was convinced our luggage was no longer an issue we had to worry about as it would have been lost along the way. We couldn’t have been as lucky as we had been and still had our luggage at the end of it and to be honest, I would have considered it a fair loss. I’m also an awful flyer, at the moment I sit down on any plane I have come to terms with my demise. Sam thinks I’m quite apparent about this as with most of my anxiety, when I’m anxious about something instead of internalising it – I talk, too much and I simply can’t stop (this has led to many a weird social situation where I spend the rest of the next day/week asking Sam to relay exactly what I’ve said to someone as I’m in such a panic during the moment I simply can’t remember).
For example, skipping back (sorry!) – when we were getting our hand luggage checked at security in Birmingham – I find this one of the most anxiety-inducing things in the world, however, it had never been this bad. We had baby food, a load of it and as the man was taking it out telling me he had to check it instead of accepting and nodding – I laughed, somewhat hysterically and said ‘I promise it’s not poisoned, look it’s sealed!’ .. it literally went downhill from there and as Sam had already passed through I was left on the other side juggling Dotty, a pushchair and the anxiety of being arrested for a possible poison plot. Thankfully, this wasn’t the first time security had seen a manic first time flying with babies mum and we were off on our merry way, however, the panic lay in my chest until Doha (by then I had learned my lesson and kept my mouth shut).
We collected our luggage and headed for visa’s which took minutes and we had already had our first taste of what having children in Cambodia would be like. The uniformed customs staff played with Dylan and cooed over Dotty the entire time we were there, it was lovely! We were picked up by Mr. Ross and driven to our new home in Siem Reap via the Cambodian countryside, fruit stalls, and dusty roads. The house itself is like a tiny bit of paradise, the garden a beautiful jungle with hammocks hanging from trees and stepping stones, fish in water-filled flower beds – Dylan was enamored. Our hosts, Valentina and Steve were exactly as we had needed them to be – welcoming and warm. Steve is a British saxophonist and Valentina is an Italian architect and they have four cats, Rock, Roll, Cha cha and Poopee (a Spanish expat). The house is beautiful, our room is gorgeous and so colorful, pinks, purples, blues and greens and our balcony has a big sofa bed and a place to eat looking out on the garden. We slept (I know, huge no-no but it was a necessity as the girls were shattered and are just too young to keep awake!), we woke up at 3 and went to explore a little bit – we went to a shop and brought baby milk and some supplies which came to $30+ (We found out quite soon that the local independent convenience shops can wiggle their prices dependent on customer) and then we retreated back to our jungle.
Dylan wouldn’t eat or drink for days. She didn’t like the water, she didn’t want noodles, she didn’t like rice (she loves rice), things she would usually eat – she just didn’t want them and I started to panic. She was surviving and she wasn’t complaining, she progressed on to drinking sprite and bits of juice and ice lollies but other than that nothing. And then she started to act out, I mean massively. And I completely got it, I understood why – she was processing everything and testing her boundaries but whether it was screaming at bedtime or a tantrum in a restaurant I started to think she was angry at us. I started to think she had some affiliation to Birmingham that we hadn’t realised and she was going to hold us in contempt for the rest of her life resulting in a ‘BRUM FOREVER’ tattoo from a street tattooist at the age of 15 and only talk to us in lines from British programs, an amalgamation of Only Fools and Horses, The Office and Peaky Blinders. I had dug myself a guilt-filled hole and thrown myself in head first and I just lay there, miserable for days. I barely spoke to Sam and in turn, he barely spoke back as the first few days we didn’t take in Cambodia, we merely survived it.
But here we are, day seventeen. Dylan is eating, she ate two meals today with some snacks and fell to sleep at just gone nine. Granted it was to videos of other children unpackaging and playing with toys and Blaze and the Monster Machines in Spanish but if I’ve learned anything from the last seventeen days it’s to choose your battles. That sometimes bedtime can’t be forced and you’ll end up in the Night Markets way past your bedtime eating ice cream for dinner. Dotty is thriving over here, whilst the rest of us have lost weight, Dotty is a ball of baby goodness – she’s learning to crawl and has started to mimic the sound of words and attempt a wave. We’ve quickly adapted to the Cambodian way of life when it comes to children, whenever we are out a waitress/shop assistant/another customer will grab one of them/cuddle them/engage with them and Dylan has taken it all in her stride, she’s learnt how to say thank you and bye in Khmer and has gained a flurry of fans at our local haunts. By that I mean the ice lolly shop and a restaurant around the corner but wherever we go she engages and it’s been really gorgeous to watch. Everything about her has intensified and whilst at times that has been incredibly hard watching her spin and dance and take on her new world has left me in awe.
One of the challenges we have had where we are is there are no pavements, so getting around with the girls has been a bit difficult. I’m wearing Dotty a lot but going out on my own with both of the girls isn’t as simple as I thought it would be as I thought I’d be able to use our pushchair but we’ve adapted. Dylan goes on my shoulders a lot when we head out in the mornings and we tend to head to town on the weekends or of an evening when there are two sets of hands!
This weekend we’re heading to Angkor Wat and I’ve got another ice cream dinner on my agenda. Tonight we part watched Orange is the New Black and had takeout from Jungle Burger whilst the girls slept inside, if you would have asked me this time two weeks ago if I could ever imagine this happening, you’d of got a mighty no. Well, you wouldn’t – you would have had me shouting obscenities from my hole of guilt and woe. But, here we are. Seventeen days in, happy, tired but settling (and it doesn’t feel like a mistake at all).