Expat Stories

Sunshine

 

It’s still the South-Western monsoon season (read: the rainy season), and that runs right from May until November. We have a way to go yet! Nonetheless there have been blue skies as well as thunderstorms, and we try and make the most of the dry patches and get outdoors. It’s being out on the beach that really makes me feel good about our life here. We moved to the Maldives. Winning!

600316_10151547007495928_779141299_n

295641_10151547015720928_1679438592_n

392826_10151547013495928_1635695332_n

535832_10151590012090928_113234540_n

554875_10151547014220928_66889068_n

62782_10151549543125928_2095058679_n

Standard
Advice, Kiddo

10 Tips on Taking Preschoolers to Restaurants

 

I recently saw the following quote posted on the Just Eat Real Food Facebook Page:

“We do children an enormous disservice when we assume that they cannot appreciate anything beyond drive through fare and nutritionally marginal, kid-targeted convenience foods. Our children are capable of consuming something that grew in a garden or on a tree and never saw a deep fryer. They are capable of making it through dinner at a sit-down restaurant with tablecloths and no climbing equipment. Children deserve quality nourishment.”  ― Victoria Moran

“I’m with you until the part about the sit down restaurant!” someone commented on the thread, unleashing a mini avalanche of agreement. Hmm, well, my just-turned-three year old daughter eats at least two meals per day in restaurants, sometimes three. And she’s being doing this since she was two. Is it always easy? No, but I put that down to the unrelenting frequency of our restaurant meals. It’s harder to maintain socially acceptable behaviour when you have to uphold that standard 70 times a month instead of just two or three. Adults who have to see a disagreeable relative on a frequent basis may agree with me on that point. Nonetheless, taking kids to the restaurant is completely do-able. Here’s my advice for taking small children to restaurants.

1. Start early. We’ve been taking Mila since she was a chubby little newborn, and I think getting used to the restaurant environment really helps. If you’re breastfeeding, bonus: milk is always at the ready to settle a grumpy tot. (On that note: restaurants are considered public spaces not private buildings. If you’re entitled to breastfeed in public – and you usually are – you can breastfeed in the restaurant too.)

2. Take toys. One of the main pitfalls with eating at a restaurant is that you generally have to wait for food to arrive, and you have to sit still while doing it. So for the love of God, take something for your kids to do that doesn’t involve pulling someone else’s hair or testing their own decibel capacity. Small books, coloured pencils and paper/colouring books, a small bag of blocks or even toy cars are good ideas. We avoid toys that are cumbersome (you don’t really want the whole restaurant to be distracted by the giant stuffed panda on your table) and items like felt-tip pens that can create mess. Surfaces like shiny table-tops are just too tempting for small hands with felt-tips around… You get my drift.

3. Consider bringing a drink bottle and snacks. It’s obviously not ideal to bring food into an establishment that’s based around selling it, but it is much preferable to bring out a small snack for tummies that are getting impatient than it is to deal with a hunger-induced meltdown. On that note, don’t bring starving kids: or at least feed them a snack before you go in. Bananas or a small box of dried fruit are generally acceptable. Best to avoid plastic packets with their cringe-inducing rustle. And sorry folks, but it’s only ok for little ones to have a nibble. Big kids have to wait!

4. There’s strength in numbers. I often end up eating at restaurants with just Mila thanks to Mr C’s busy work schedule, but I really try and avoid it whenever possible. One person means you have to either take your kid(s) with you or leave them unattended if you need to go to the bathroom, go up to the counter, grab some water bottles or anything else. I have left Mila alone while getting something from the other side of a large restaurant room several times. 95% of the time she’s fine and the other 5% she yells “MUMMMMMMMYYY WHERE ARE YOOOOUUUU?” so loudly it sends me scuttling back. Two adults means no playing Russian roulette with your dignity.

English: Byways Cafe (Portland, Oregon)

5. Some restaurants are easier than others. 

You know that 9 course degustation menu that looks delicious? Yup, well, save it for when you have a babysitter. Your kids can get to know good food without going to a fine dining restaurant – at least until they know exactly what the deal is. A hotel buffet restaurant means no waiting times and can be a boon with picky kids. Pubs and cafes also offer eating-out experiences in a more relaxed environment. If you’re relaxed, they’re more likely to keep their cool too. Places that have outdoor courtyards often have a casual vibe and being outdoors soaks up the sound of your darling cherubs much better.  And if you do go to a restaurant, try going to lunch before braving dinner. Lunch is usually a more informal affair and you’re less likely to be surrounded by couples on (quiet!) dates.

English: Child eating a veggie burger at a fas...

Someone else’s child!

6. Skip the kid’s menu. One of the great things about taking kids to restaurants is that they get to eat really great food. No offence to your home cooking intended, but often restaurants are able to take their food up a notch. And then there’s the kid’s menu: usually an homage to the deep fryer. I have a friend who calls it the “beige menu” because of the shades of the items on it – chicken nuggets, pasta, fries. Personally, I don’t take my kiddo out to eat in order to jack her up on empty carbohydrates and sugar. Instead ask if you can order a half portion of something from the real menu, or share your own meal with your little one. Ordering a couple of extra sides can help stretch out your own meal to accommodate a small child. (Bonus tip: take their own set of child-sized cutlery to encourage cutlery use and minimise frustration).

7. Set realistic expectations and be consistent. I expect Mila to talk quietly. That doesn’t mean she always does but I will always remind her when she forgets. Our other rule is no playing with food. If she does, the food goes away (on the far side of the table) while we talk about how we need to respect the food we eat, and that means no playing with it. Then if she wants it back she can have it back. We’ve found this works better than talking to her while the immediate fun of messy food is still right in front of her. On the other hand, I let her eat non-messy food with her hands if she really wants to and if she wants to hop down from her chair, I’ll show her a place that is appropriate to play in. Like everything else in parenting, pick your battles – but don’t be afraid to set limits on what behaviour is ok and what isn’t.

8. Don’t drag it out forever. On the flip side, make things easier on your kids by limiting the time you spend in the restaurant. Order quickly: consider ordering a finger-food starter as soon as you’re seated so that hungry kids can pick at it before the main event. Reconsider a three course meal with very small children: two courses is  enough or one if there’s a storm brewing on the pre-schooler horizon.

Abort, abort the misson!

Abort, abort the misson!

  9. Evacuate the premises. Some days, even the best laid plans don’t work out and you end up in tornado alley. If your child is having a meltdown, do everyone a favour (including yourself) and take them outside until they’ve calmed down. Don’t let them scream the place down. It’s incredibly hard to stay present with your child when you’re intensely aware of the negative attention you’re attracting. A walk around outside for a few minutes can do everyone a world of good, including your fellow diners.

10. Enjoy it! Eating in restaurants is a privilege and something to look forward to, not hyperventilate over. Don’t stress about it too much or your kids will pick up on it. Just relax, expect to have a good time and take pleasure in eating together as a family. I promise, it won’t hurt a bit…

Enhanced by Zemanta
Standard
Expat Stories, Kiddo

No Nakey Bums in the Restaurant

Life with a nearly three-year old is life with a small round-cheeked hand grenade. I never know quite when she’s going to go off: a literal type of poo/liquid/finger paint explosion or dropping a verbal bomb at the breakfast table. Today it was the latter.

Breakfast has never been the easiest meal for us. Small children, well mine at least, do not like to have to sit quietly and eat their breakfast with a knife and fork while making small talk.We turn up at the buffet restaurant looking like we’ve prepared for a week-long sit-in. Colouring books and pencils, small bags of blocks, picture books, toy cars and other random assorted items that couldn’t possibly be left behind (a fistful of felt-tip pen lids without the pens? Check). Of course I also need my phone for making distress calls when I feel like Mr C has kept us waiting longer than necessary – ie more than a few minutes, and sunglasses for sinking in shame behind when my noisy mini-me threatens to disturb the peace.

The other thing about breakfast is that it requires clothes. Mila the would-be-nudist is not so fond of that detail. We’ve had many a conversation about how it is fine to be butt-naked inside (in our house, at least) but you need clothes on to go outside. We live in a pretty public space, without the luxury of a garden for naked runarounds. Mila knows that if you were to go to the restaurant naked, you might get in trouble with the restaurant staff and you would probably get told to go home and put some clothes on. So it was with great delight that she spotted the naked lady, sitting down to eat her breakfast.

Only she wasn’t nekkid. She was wearing a low-backed halterneck dress. Her hair covered most of the tie at the top and the seat covered the rest of the dress, but hey, she was wearing it!
“That lady is nakey,” Mila said, not quite quietly enough for my liking.

“No, she’s not naked, she has a dress on – ”

“No, she’s NAKEY! THAT lady. She’s got no clothes on.” The dreaded pointing finger came out. “THAT LADY THERE HAS A NAKEY BUM.”

“Sshhh,” I wheedled, “she has a halterneck dress on. See the tie of the dress around her neck?”

“I DON’T WANT TO BE QUIET, I WANT TO BE LOUD,” my definitely not quiet daughter boomed. “THAT WOMAN IS GOT NO CLOTHES ON. SHE NEEDS TO PUT CLOTHES ON. SHE NEEDS A GO HOME, PUT HER CLOTHES ON.”

Mila started trying to stand up in her seat to get a better look at this “naked” woman. I reached for the Sunglasses of Shame.

“YOU NEED TO PUT CLOTHES ON, YOU LADY,” Mila shouted, half out of her seat. A few heads swivelled in our direction but I could feel a dozen more pairs of ears becoming finely attuned to our corner of the restaurant. The woman in question remained miraculously unaware, or at least she had the good sense not to turn around and face the beady stare of a preschooler.

I searched frantically in our bag for more distractions. A peg and some string? a few hair clips? Nothing enticing.

“SHE WILL GET IN TROUBLE, SHE’S NAKEY,” Mila started a new angle of attack.

“No, no, she won’t,” I tried to calm her, “Remember she’s not naked, she has a dress on, you just can’t see it.”

“I can’t see it? It’s invisid-bil?” I could see cogs turning. Then, “Take my clothes off mummy. I want get my invisid-bil dress on too.” My daughter is trying to peel her clothes off in the restaurant.

Happy days.

This blog post is part of a Bloglovin link-up party 🙂

Standard
Expat Stories, Kiddo

Tiny Island: Pros and Cons

This is not a list of pros and cons so much as a summary of my day today. Ergo, the cons:

Mila is still doing it tough. Just on the cusp of turning three, away from all her buddies, her adored Nanny (nana) and Papa, and her much-loved part-time daycare. Her favourite word currently is RRROOOOAAARRR! She roars at me. She roars at the restaurant staff. She roars at the canteen staff. She roars at guests who look at her (you got a problem with your eye, boy?). She roars at everyone. And not a very nice, kindly type of roar, if those happens to exist. An angry, WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO ME? type roar. She’s not happy, and it’s all my fault.

Well, my fault and Mr C’s: together we made the decision to uproot her. But as women and mothers we are raised to feel guilty and inadequate, to soak ourselves in all the memories of things we didn’t do quite right. Not all the time, of course, but more than enough. Did you make the right choices? Are your legs slim enough? Is your career good enough? Is your mothering good enough? It’s that last question that creeps along in my shadow, no matter how much I try to kick it away.

Today the weight of all my doubts felt heavy. I roared back in words. Not in a nice, kindly way. Stop that! I am sick of this! Immediately I felt guilty. And that made me even more pissed off and upset. Mother and child: locked in a battle of wills that was not really about either one of us and more about all the changes in our lives and all the things we couldn’t really articulate, at least not in neat, tidy and kind sentences. So we roared.

Then Martha, our nanny, arrived. She has been making HUGE progress with Mila. Mila does not roar at her, at least not after the first 10 minutes. Martha rocks her to sleep in her arms if I’m not there. That’s quite a physical feat for a tiny-boned, petite Sri Lankan woman faced with my sturdy child. “I had to sit down afterwards and rest!” she says, “But it was worth it. She looks so innocent when she’s sleeping.” We smiled together at the caveat. If Mila wants cuddles, Martha has plenty of them. Sometimes they nap with arms around each other, like I do with Mila when I’m at home. Mila has started saying Martha is her friend. That feels good. They read books together, do lots of drawing together, go for walks around the island together. The trust that was broken in our first awful nanny experience is being repaired. That feels good, too.

So, after being a sub-par parent this morning, far from my best, Martha came in to relieve me. She’s only here for a few hours at the moment so that Mila can get to know her, but boy was I glad to see her. Mila was already deep in dreamland; I brushed her hair back behind her ear and kissed her forehead. Still so much like a baby. Then I grabbed my laptop and my book, tiptoed out the door, prayed no-one would feel the urge to do some lunchtime construction work or get out the insanely loud fogging machine, and high-tailed it down to the bar.

I might have voluntarily foregone my social and support network of family and friends, but being able to hire a nanny – at much more affordable rates compared to New Zealand – is helping to bridge that gap. Once I would have babysitted the toddler of a sick friend; she would have easily done the same for me if I was worn out or needed a break. Now I have Martha. Maybe my ‘village’ is a little contrived, but Martha really does feel genuine and warm. I am so glad to have her here. A day that was spiraling into messiness has been restored with a couple of hours – all to myself! – to relax and recoup.

One large frozen pineapple margarita, coming right up.

photo credit: http://www.tasteloveandnourish.com/2013/05/01/frozen-pineapple-margarita/

Standard
Expat Stories

Monsoon in the Maldives

The monsoon began a few days ago. It’s only the 3rd of May! That’s much earlier than I remember it beginning in India.

Heavy, warm, torrential rain. Fog like a soft grey blanket, folding us up in its grasp. Thunder so loud it makes the house rattle. Lightening so bright it temporarily blinds. A pressing humidity than makes everything damp, and everything smell like damp. The sand, the house, our clothes. Our bedrooms have turned into a makeshift laundry, trying to dry and air out clothes before they smell like cheese (sorry cheese-lovers, that’s not much of an advertisement!).

The weather is cooler but unpredictable. Last night Mr C and I ran laughing, in the darkness, in the monsoon rains. We only had 100 m to travel and still got caught out by the downpour. I am pretty sure half the staff were laughing at us too, but I don’t care.

During the stormy days we mostly stay inside. We’re all restless and irritable, but I do what I can to keep us all sane. Or maybe we weren’t all that sane to begin with? That’s not a bad excuse for the days when Mila and I don’t quite hold it together. When we do it’s by drawing, using modelling clay, reading stories, building forts. You can take it from that description that our house does not stay pristine.

Somehow the rain has made my brain foggy too. I feel like we’re all waiting for something – something to do? Somewhere to go? For the rain to stop? I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Grumpy by breakfast

Grumpy by breakfast

Hibernating

Hibernating

Building a road of blocks in Mila's room

Building a road of blocks in Mila’s room

Keeping herself entertained

Keeping herself entertained

Standard
Advice, Travel

What to Take to the Maldives

I once travelled around India for five months with nothing but a school-sized backpack. A couple of changes of underwear, one change of outfit, my passport, a book, my wallet and a bottle of water: that was pretty much it. Cleanliness went slightly by the wayside in favour of portability and adventure. Yes, I was that dirty backpacker, and it was bloody fantastic. So, I fancied my chances when it came to packing light. How hard could this be? This time we were all – adults and mini-me alike – allowed 27kg total each: 20kg in checked-in luggage and 7kg in carry on. That equates to about 60lbs per person. Sounds plenty, right? I thought it did. I was wrong…

Though I have been on a good number of overseas trips, I’d never travelled as a parent before. I didn’t take into account that most of Mila’s weight allowance would be taken up with her toys. When you’re not planning on coming back for a decent slab of time, packing toys takes on a sentimental as well as a practical slant. Anything we didn’t take, she will have grown out of by the time we next see it again. The only real point in keeping toys for storage is for potential future babies, grandbabies (now THAT is a weird thought) and just because you will never pry those precious mementos from my cold, dead hands… Ahem.

Mila’s toys that we managed to bring with us. You can probably see how this would eat up a luggage allowance.

So, Mila’s suitcase was filled with toys and hot weather clothes. Mine was filled with 7 kg worth of textbooks that would enjoy a brief fortnight or so of use while we had our first nanny, and my clothes and shoes. Mr C’s carried work shoes, work equipment and clothes. Our weight allowance was quickly being sucked up, and we still had a house full of possessions to sort out.

In the end, we went for professional storage: a 3m x 2.7m insulated and ventilated cube that would hold the majority of our clothes, furniture, books, kitchen utensils and odds and ends. AKA, our entire lives. I try not to appear super-materialistic, but I will admit that shutting the door on all the stuff that represented our happy lives in Wellington was a wrench. It was also a step into the unknown. Still, we had been living in a small two-bedroom house, so we got off pretty lightly on the amount of storage we needed. As for the rest, here’s a breakdown of what we actually brought with us, what we shouldn’t have bothered with, and what I wish we had brought. If you’re reading this and planning your move to the Maldives, I hope this comes in handy.

High design it’s not, but I’m glad we brought this wall frieze to add a splash of colour to Mila’s bedroom walls

Good ideas:

Me:

Long skirts, both on the resort and for trips to Male’
Long dresses, ditto
T-shirts, ditto
Shorts, for the resort
Bikinis
Sandals and wedges
Makeup, jewellery and toiletries
Sunhat, sunglasses and sunblock
Insect repellent
Books
Laptop and phone

Mila:

Shorts and tshirts
Skirts and dresses
Sandals and summery shoes
Toys
Books
Sunhat
Colouring pencils
Child sized life jacket
Bunting flags and wall frieze for her bedroom

Some of the offending tops I didn’t need to bring

Space wasters:

Me:

Way too many cardigans and tops – 3 or 4 would have been plenty
Heels: great for getting stuck in the sand
Boots: too hot
Text books – not much use without a nanny!

Mila:

Warm clothes
Raincoat
Toddler sized sleep sack that is too warm even with the air-con on
A brand new scooter (that sand again)
Cloth nappies. Too warm to store them and we don’t do laundry often enough for them not to get seriously stinky.

What I wish we’d brought:

Tonnes more sunblock
Another sunhat
Home decor stuff: rugs, wall decals, posters, ornaments… etc. Our rooms are still very spartan, and that’s being kind. On grumpy days I complain about our prison quarters.
More long pants/leggings for Mila
More picture books: the ones in Male’ are pretty poor quality

What we were able to buy once we arrived:

Travel washing line
Shoe racks
Cupboards and bookshelves
Child sized cutlery set
Disposable nappies and wipes
Basic kitchen equipment like a fridge, toaster, kettle
Cups and plates
Food and drinks
Pool toys
Potty training gear (potty, toilet insert, training pants etc). I live in hope.
Stationery, arts and craft stuff

Can’t find for love nor money:

Eco and skin-friendly toiletries and beauty products. Don’t expect to buy anything here that intentionally avoids harsh chemicals that are potentially damaging: that kind of awareness is just not here yet.
Good quality toys and children’s books (plastic tat, on the other hand, abounds). 
Affordable, modern art prints – or even just posters
Anything that might resemble a souvenir that won’t set you back at least a few times what the item is worth
Attractive duvet covers and home decor
A sewing machine

So, that’s my packing round up. Overall, I’d give our efforts a solid B. I don’t think we did too badly, given all the must-brings we already had to accommodate. If I did it again I’d do it differently, but hey – we made it in one piece, and nobody forgot their underpants. High fives all round!

Standard
Expat Stories, Kiddo

Nanny: Check

We hired a nanny today. Second time lucky?

God, I really hope so. Not that my gut instinct has proven itself particularly reliable, but I do have a very good feeling about her. Her name is Martha: she only moved here from Sri Lanka in February, with her new husband. I like that we’re both new here. She showed me her wedding photos. I wanted to talk about our wedding too, how we were married a month after them. Our wedding was gorgeous: blue skies, a country house, a garden wedding and a reception in a covered pagoda that had grape vines climbing all over the ceiling beams. But I pulled myself in. I’m wary, after being pregnant in Malaysia, of anything that might label me The Unmarried Heathen Mother, even though I am married now. I am not ashamed of having a baby outside of marriage – hell, I wouldn’t be ashamed if I’d conceived her during a one night stand – but I don’t have time for the labels people here might give me. Here’s my husband, here’s my child: I’ll leave you to your own assumptions.

Anyway, back to Martha. She’s lovely. She called herself shy but didn’t seem it. She misses her niece and nephew in Sri Lanka. She’s bored at home and wants a job. “OK, done!” I wanted to crow. She was just so nice. But we had three more interviews to get through first. I just knew they wouldn’t be as ideal, and they weren’t. A woman who spoke hardly any English, despite having perfect grammar when she SMS’d and emailed me. Was that her husband writing for her? Or was her writing just leagues ahead of her spoken English? It was an odd interview. Then two more women whom I could hardly tell apart. Painfully shy with voices so quiet I had to strain to hear them. They both rubbed Mila’s cheek as they left, which is the standard Maldivian greeting to children. She growled.

Actually, she did pretty well today. It was a long, hot morning. We were in Seagull cafe, sitting upstairs under a fan that I willed would spin just a bit faster. Mila occupied herself with her colouring pencils: then blowing bubbles in her juice, then mashing and mixing an ice-cream sundae as big as her head. She’s still not three, so I don’t expect miracles. Just remaining reasonably quiet and not exceptionally mobile in a public space is the miracle.

She fell asleep on my lap on the ferry home, tiny beads of sweat on her upper lip, skin sticky. I kissed her damp hair. This nanny will be better than the last one, I silently promise her. And then I hoped like anything it was true.

Standard
Expat Stories, Kiddo

Finding Childcare in the Maldives

Like everything else here, turns out it’s an adventure.

In New Zealand Mila was in daycare three days per week while I studied full time. Obviously, those numbers don’t quite add up: to make my study work I had to rope in my lovely husband and parents on occasion, and pull all-nighters when I ran out of time. I did make it work, but it was far from ideal. What was ideal was her daycare. Oh, that place! We all still miss it. A Reggio Emilia  based centre with an outstanding child-staff ratio and staff that were caring and engaged and interested. They cooked together, gardened together, went rampaging through the local forest and stream. It was an idyllic place for her. If I could find anything like that again – or if we ever go home with a preschooler – I wouldn’t hesitate to enroll her. But here? Wishful thinking.

We were of course, promised a nanny would appear almost as soon as our plane’s wheels hit the tarmac. I was anxious about it: I drove Mr C mental making him repeat the assurances and check that the deal was still on. It was, it was:everything will be ok! Don’t worry about it. We’ll have you a nanny within an hour. Three in the next day – just pick the best one. But I was right: promises are slippery things here, and finding a nanny was not that simple.

The first one, Irma, took two weeks to show up: an eighteen year old with an attitude and no previous experience. “My sisters don’t think I can do it, so I want to prove them wrong,” she announced at her interview. If there had been anyone else, we wouldn’t have hired her. But there wasn’t, so we decided to give her a go.
“Do I have to come this early? It’s too early for me, I’m so tired,” she complained on the first morning. It was 8am and she’d just stepped in the door. As a parent of a small child, I’m pretty lacking in sympathy for anyone who thinks getting up at 6.45am is an ungodly hour.
“Yes, you do.”

“I don’t like the food at the canteen.”
“Do I have to take her to meals? I don’t like that place.”
“Can you make the TV work? I want to put the TV on.”
“I didn’t see her drawing on the floor because I was busy talking on the phone to my ma.”
“I don’t like having to get the ferry.”
“We didn’t do anything today, it was so boring.”
“Do I still have to take her to breakfast?”
“I couldn’t play with her today because she doesn’t like me.”

Photo credit: Dharmaflix

No wonder she doesn’t like you! I raged inwardly. You don’t make an effort – you don’t take her to meals unless I practically drag you – everything is an effort and a chore. I split into anxious halves: let her go or keep trying? It was amazing how fast the whole situation unravelled. Irma left the house a mess every evening, kept turning the TV on after I asked her not to and seemed to be eternally distracted because she was on the phone. The last day Mila spent with Irma was awful. She’d just had enough and clung to my husband and I as we tried to leave. I held her and rocked her on my lap for an hour before I left. She screamed as I walked out the door and I could still hear her screaming as I walked away. My heart was broken: it was not right leaving her in that situation, with a nanny who obviously did not, to be quite frank, give a shit about her little charge.

I bawled down the phone to Mr C that I was not doing this anymore. I would withdraw from my studies for the semester if it meant no more Irma. He agreed. No more Irma. Despite the loss of my academic semester, I felt my lungs inflate properly for the first time in days. My stomach unclenched. Relief. We’d had two weeks of Irma and that day when Mila screamed was the last day she worked. We paid her out for the rest of the month, and went back to square one.

We had already listed on Great Au Pair, a site which charged a steep US$60 for a month’s premium membership. And you needed to have a premium membership in order to contact potential nannies – so basically for the site to be of any use, although of course it was easy to sign up for the free version without realising that. Despite the name, the site promised it was also possible to hire nannies for any country in the world. We had plenty of applicants: but nobody from the Maldives, and most expecting the same salaries from their home countries: France, the UK, the US. Here in the Maldives we are able to offer a salary that is much better than the local going rate, but it still doesn’t compare to a Western income. Plus, we didn’t want to pay for an air-fare over here or organise work permits – so in the end, the site was a flop for us. We needed to go local.

And then I found it: Ibay. It’s the Maldivian equivalent of Ebay, and it has jobs. It’s a hassle to sign up for: you have to register with a bizarre SMS back-and-forth, the terms and conditions you agree to are only in Divehi (so God knows what I agreed to!) and the links aren’t the easiest, but, but, but – 100% worth it.
Maldivians seem pretty keen on their phones, so I gave out – with some reluctance – my phone number as well as a robot-protected version of my email address. Nobody bothered with my email. I had ten applicants the first day, and ten the next. Where were all these would-be-nannies coming from? I didn’t care. Well I did, but there was time for going through their CV’s later. For now I just wanted to feel gratitude that anyone had replied at all. The resort hadn’t made any progress finding anyone else, and I had begun to feel like we’d just fired the only nanny on Male’.

Of course, not all the applicants were what we wanted. The most memorable was Amina. Our text conversation went like this:

Amina: How much you paying.

Amina (five minutes later) Why you no text me back.

Me: Hi, can you tell me your name, whether or not you are living in Male and your childcare experience please. [I give her the salary range]

Amina: So how many hours I have to work

Me: Four days per week and two evenings.

Amina: I want to keep the baby with me in Male’ during day

Me: Sorry, she has to stay on the resort

Amina: I will come and see environment then decide if I accept the job.

Uh, sorry Amina, but no-one’s offering it to you! We may be a little bit desperate for a brilliant nanny, but you’re certainly not The One and we ‘re not THAT desperate. Been there, done that. Not doing it again.

But then moments later:

“Hi, I saw your advert for a babysitter for your family. Am really interested to spend time with kids. I am a Sri Lankan, married, living in Male’. Thanks, Martha.”

Photo credit: Dharmaflix

Now that is more like it.
We haven’t got to the interviewing stage yet, but today I’m feeling upbeat: somewhere in my phone inbox is someone who will take good care of my beloved little one.
Today, despite all the idiosyncrasies and dysfunction of everyday life here, is suddenly bright and warm with sunshine.

Standard
Expat Stories

One Month In

Four weeks in and I’ve come to the conclusion we live on Crazy Island. Things which convince me of this:

1). Myself. I was crazy enough to move to a tiny island with my new husband and nearly-three-year-old daughter. What was I thinking?! Hmm, well actually, Ithought I knew what I was getting myself into: a two-bedroom beach villa on an island resort. What we actually got was actually a one-bedroom beach villa – first with one super-king bed, then moved to a villa with twin beds. Holla romance! (sorry, sarcasm). With our daughter to think of, the honeymoon suite it was not. Furthermore, we found out that we had it for day use only. At night we had a two bedroom suite in staff accomodation. This would have been fine if the apartment was furnished: turned out it wasn’t. Now what? So, we’ve spent the last couple of weeks in an increasingly farcical tug-of-war with the housekeeping department over silly things like  furniture and bedding.

2). Mila attempted to wee in the pool today. I became aware of this because she shouted to everyone in the vicinity: “I’m about to wee in the pool!”
Well,  I hoisted her out so fast she looked like she was the unwilling victim of an ejector seat, but I was still mortified. As I ran away she yelled at the top of her lungs: “I WANTED TO DO MY WEE IN THE POOL!” Yeah, we’re officially uninvited to any pool party happening any time in 2013.

3). My daughter watered the sandpit with the liquids from the mini-bar while I was in the bathroom today. I’m incredibly relieved she didn’t drink them (the sooner we can locate safety locks, the better) but still horrified by the loss of so much expensive alcohol. At the very least I could have put those beverages to better use.  Days like this, it’s tempting too…

Standard
Expat Stories, Travel

Moving into Chaos

We’re halfway through our first week living in the Maldives. Here’s the run-down:

The beaches are incredible. The water is clear and blue and warm. Yesss. I like this part of it! Mila has spent a good portion of her days on the beach or in the water, finding coral and shell treasures, hunting hermit crabs and chasing birds. Swimming in water that is still luke-warm at sunset? Pretty much the BEST THING EVER. At first glance the beaches look barren; drifts of soft white sand melting into the sea, but not much else going on. But look closer – the dark shadow of a sting ray or octopus, the glint from silvery fish in the shadows, shells getting up and trundling off in the evening. The whole island is alive with lizards and birds and things that swim.

The resort is still closed to guests and under construction. Along with the resort staff the island is a temporary home to 400-odd Bangladeshi labourers. It’s a weird vibe – are we in a luxury resort or a Bangladeshi village? It’s been eye opening watching the resort come together. Giant uprooted coconut palms swung into position by diggers; every plank of wood transported by hand; sand arriving by the truckload to smooth out the wrinkles; piles of rubbish disappearing by boat. I heard a story that the labourers built two brick houses for the two power generators, sanded down the outside and painted everything… Then realised they had no way of actually getting the generators into the houses (details, details…) and had to smash down the walls, install the generators, and rebuild the whole damn things. I’m glad I wasn’t the one who had to report THAT to my supervisor.

Most of the restaurant staff could qualify for the secret service. Four days here and somehow everyone knows what I like and don’t like and are quick to point out when my favourites are available on the buffet. (Confession: I live in fear of the day the waiter says loudly: “Oh look, they have your favourite cake today!”, just to let the whole place know I’m actually the resident glutton).

Yesterday at breakfast Mila sat down by accident in front of Mr C’s plate, which had a doughnut on it. He asked for his doughnut back (ha! wishful thinking), and she declared it was all hers. A plate of doughnuts to share was placed on the table virtually instantaneously. Oy! I’m guessing they’re not parents – the doughnut removal was more about trying not to jack our toddler up on sugar for breakfast – but you can’t fault them for speed.
Later that day we headed back to the same restaurant. Mila slipped down from her chair and ran away to talk to the staff, who she says are all her friends. One of the supervisors eventually lead her back to us and jokingly said, “she tells me she made a mess on your bed!”
“It’s true,” I replied. “She found a chocolate and hid under the duvet to eat it. Chocolate plus covert two year old, equals disaster!”
Twenty minutes later we arrived back at our villa to find the cleaners had made a late night trip to change all our bed linen. I’m torn between feeling guilty they actually sent out cleaners for us, and mightily impressed the thought even occurred to anyone. And honestly? I’m a mother to a small child, so I totally landed on impressed. Anyone who cleans up a chocolate-fabric mess on my behalf deserves at least a sainthood in my book.

So, our new life here begins. This stunning country and our small corner of it are not near-mythical paradises: the internet connection is infuriating, there is a lot of work here to be done and we’re living in the midst of an island-wide construction site. But it is beautiful chaos. I’m full of gratitude that our family has ended up here. Who knows what the next year will bring?

Standard