Four Months And Counting…
How time flies. It doesn’t seem two minutes since I was sat on a beach in Agonda musing about how much we’d done since we left Portsmouth, and now we’re rapidly approaching the half way point in the trip.
We’ve managed to get through the emotionally tricky Christmas and New Year period, and are now in Thailand. We are moving to Myanmar in a couple of days. Christmas was brilliant fun as we spent all the money that we would have spent on Christmas presents on having adventures the week before Christmas. But even with all of the Xmas fun, we still missed family and friends. Christmas and New Year are a time for getting together and we always have a really busy time, with the house full of people. These are the things that we always remember from Christmas, much more so than than the presents and the traditions. Chirstmas day in Mirissa was special, and the kids absolutely loved swimming on the beach in the morning, having a surprise visit to the world’s smallest cinema to see the new Star Wars film, and then having a very unfestive Christmas dinner at Pizza Hut. But I’ll be pleased to get back to having a more social Christmas next year, and I think that we have all suffered from a touch of home sickness for the past few weeks. Evan has struggled the most with it, declaring several times that he’s having a lovely time, but would rather be at home. It’s great that he’s so open about how he’s feeling, but it’s a real tough conversation to have, and has brought back many of the doubts and fears that we had before we left.
Looking back, one of the things I was going to try was to stop being such a grumpy and impatient stress monkey. You’d have to ask the rest of the family, but I’d say that I’ve had a reasonable amount of success with this goal. Some days are better than others, I still have irrational outbursts when things don’t work out as planned, and Sri Lanka managed to put me in a bad mood most days that we were there. But I can see when I’m being irrational. I can’t always do anything about it, but spotting it is half the battle I reckon. Sam has unwittingly managed to teach me the importance of trying to see things from the kids’ point of view, and think like an eight or ten year old. We all have different priorities, but if something’s important to the kids, then regardless of what it is, then it needs to be important to me too. Many times in the last two months when we’ve been down or cross about being lied to or have been conned, Evan has told us to stop dwelling on the past, move on and enjoy what’s happening now. They’re wise words which I’ll try and remember.
In the last couple of months, we’ve completed our India and Sri Lanka adventures. I’m genuinely surprised how much of a great time we had in India. I really was expecting it to be very difficult and, as we did thirteen years ago, we’d flee the country and vow never to return. But it wasn’t like that at all. We met some amazing people, and saw some absolutely fantastic things. But above all, we just had the best time. The kids got to see a completely different world, and have hopefully left with some appreciation of how different some people’s lives are to theirs at home. Nothing seemed to throw them off track. I’m ashamed to say that having listened to my grumblings, they started developing a strong sense of cynicism and mistrust. Having heard Sam say that he thought that practically everyone in the whole country seemed intent on ripping us off, I’ve tried to keep my negativity to myself and present a much more wholesome view of the world. I don’t always get it right, and more than once Floss has told me off for saying things out loud that should be kept to myself. More work needed here.
But again, the best bit of travelling is just having time. Time to do what we want, when we want and where we want. It’s not all peachy, and being an on-duty parent 24 hours a day is hard work at times. Spending three hours trudging around trying to find somewhere to live is also pretty demoralising, and the kids hate it. Sam is ever the pacifier in these situations, and always lobbies for staying at the first place we look at. Evan has picked up my habit of walking straight to the bed, picking up a pillow and giving it a good hard sniff. If the pillows aren’t clean (and well over 50% of them in the price bracket that we’re living in aren’t) then you can be pretty sure that the rest of the place will be nasty. Sam worries that we’re offending the owners by doing this, often saying that they don’t look that bad. Evan is much less bothered – his world is very much more black and white.
There’s no way that a day here or there messing about with accomodation spoils the trip though, and in a lot of ways, this is an essential part of the travelling experience. We’ve found some amazing places on booking.com, but have also had some real shockers. There’s no substitute for arriving at a place in the morning, and having a look around.
The formal education stuff with the kids is struggling along. We had very grand ideas of banging an hour of schoolwork out every morning, and then being free to enjoy the rest of the day. This very rarely happens as, to be honest, we’re too busy having a great time. We’ve made a concerted effort over the last couple of weeks, and have managed to catch up somewhat. Sam sat his first maths SATs tests just before New Year and did really well. We think that as he’s been keeping in touch with his mates at home, he quite fancied trying the tests just to be part of the gang. And secretly, I think that he enjoyed them.
Evan’s been catching up on fractions for the last week or so. It was a bit of a struggle to start with, but now seems to have mastered them. I think that I may have initially confused him with my 1970’s teaching techniques, but he soon got accustomed to being hit with the board rubber.
It’s as much an education for us as it is for them though. Lord alone knows how anyone willingly takes a group of thirty kids and tries to get them to learn anything. After the experience of teaching in Nepal, and the last few months, it’s clear that I’m not born to teach.
Ad-hoc learning opportunities on the other hand, come from the most unexpected places. We were on the beach in Mirissa and out of the blue, Evan said that he has never understood why the moon changes shape over the course of the month. It was super easy to model a sun, an earth and a moon out of sand, and then move them about and get him to work out how much of the moon would be lit up at any point. Five minutes later, we’d covered the cycles of the moon, and how the tides work. Superb. That sort of thing is priceless I reckon.
We also got them a couple of books in the “Horrible Science” series each for Christmas. They’ve grudgingly started to read them, and that’s triggered all sorts of questions about atoms, cells, chemistry and biology. I’ve had to get a book myself and do some background reading to make sure that I can head off the questions that Sam is going to be coming up with shortly. We have to tag-team stuff though, with Floss taking on all of the biology and medical stuff, and me doing chemistry and physics. And I think that they’re definitely growing in confidence when it comes to anything educational, they’re much more willing to get on with a bit of school work than they were when we started. I really want to build on this for the rest of the trip, as simply having the confidence to “have a go” at a piece of work is most of the battle won. I think a lot of the trouble we had with homework in the past was that the kids were simply scared of getting it wrong, and that all the wailing and gnashing of teeth was just their way of trying to delay the moment when they had to commit something to paper. As I write this, they’re both larking about “documenting” a Smug Monday kayaking adventure. To listen to them, you’d think that they were playing Minecraft. I’ve never known them to have so much fun with words, doing what is effectively a piece of literacy homework.
So, we’re all learning, and all having a fabulous time of it. The kids might not know their times tables properly, but they have met people who’ve taught them how to say “I fart in your general direction” in both German and Dutch. It’s not necessarily on the National Curriculum, but I’m sure it’ll come in handy, one day…
Still loving travelling.