A Mum’s Perspective: 2 weeks into life on a Thai island
(Written by my wife, Susannah)
We are the Keene family and have recently moved our family (Isla — 4, Mali — 2, & Jack — 1) to Thailand to live on the island of Ko Lanta for 10 months. I usually leave the blogging to someone in our family who rather enjoys it (not Jack) but so many friends and fellow-mums have asked me to share the story, so here I am.
2 weeks into island life…the reality
I’ve been struggling to find a moment to even begin to start writing; but then I realised that in the last 18 days we’ve moved our family to a tropical island, found a wonderful new outdoor-indoor house to live in, negotiated hard to rent a reliable car that can handle the pot holes, settled the girls into a new international school, attended socials on the beach, hunted down shops and markets to find kid-friendly food and explored our adventurous geographical surroundings. I mustn’t be too hard on myself.
It feels like an eternity ago that we packed our bags and in terms of experiences it kind of was. I often find when you live overseas that you enter into some kind of parallel world where the two feel unconnected — like stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia.
Within minutes of arriving on Ko Lanta, dazed from our weary journey, I immediately felt at home. The luscious green mountains, red dirt tracks and blazing sunshine brought me straight back to memories of West Africa and more recently Bali. It was comforting to find it felt so familiar. The island was far more developed than Google had led us to believe and much to my relief, on the east of the island, there were more coffee shops than home and a medical clinic every other kilometre. Caffeine for me plus healthy kids meant we’d be just fine.
Mastering jet lag with three small children was not for the faint hearted but was also shorter lived than I had feared. Jack was not impressed by the sudden heat and dramatic change to everything he had ever known and went on a hunger strike. Fair enough — it’s kind of a lot to swallow aged 1.5 years. Isla and Mali couldn’t believe their luck that there was a swimming pool 1m outside our room and that, yes, they were allowed to swim three times a day. Unfortunately, this led to an ear infection for Isla and we were testing out the health clinics quicker than we had envisaged but were pleasantly surprised at how well she was looked after, if not somewhat lighter in the pocket!
I’ve totally loved witnessing the children’s minds unravel and open up to the new experiences they are having.
Jack’s eyes were on stalks as we casually drove past a captive elephant next to the national park and he curiously picks up every snail, gecko or tropical bug he can get hold of. Having never had a huge exposure to varying races, he was understandably apprehensive of the adoring Thais who want to hug, squeeze his cheeks and play with him at every corner. He’s already adapted well and now waves at every motorbike or tuk-tuk that drives past — he’s pretty busy.
From day 2, Mali has been telling me about ‘her friends’ she has made here which basically means anyone who is willing to return a big smile and hug that she regularly gives out. Without inhibitions, she chats away to housekeepers and restaurant staff, oblivious to the fact that many speak very little English, and even if they did, they still wouldn’t be able to follow her verbal outpours. The kind, calm and child-loving nature of the Thai culture urges her to continue to make ‘friends’ wherever we go which of course is lovely to watch. She too adores the wildlife that surrounds us and never a moment passes when she’s not on the look-out for the next monkey. Mali’s other new found love is for the water-gun — a hand-held water hose used in replacement of loo paper. Agreed, it’s not the most glamorous part of Thailand’s culture but she finds it hilarious and I can guarantee that it will be one of the things that she will always remember!
Everywhere we travel the girls’ eyes light up as they spot a variety of ‘fairy houses’ at every corner. The intricately built, colourful Buddhist shrines are, in their minds, the perfect homes for magical creatures and the offerings of food and drinks that are left would surely be enough to sustain any fairy. I love listening to their conversations in the back of the car about which kind of fairy would live there and when we pass ornate temples how the Queen of Fairyland too has a home.
Isla’s observation has already led to many educational and valuable chats; ‘Mumma, why do people in Thailand have dark skin?’, ‘Mumma, when we speak to Mai we don’t understand what she says and she doesn’t understand what we say but that doesn’t matter’ and whilst watching the sunset on our rooftop, ‘Where does the sun go?’
Having in-depth chats with a four year old about race, communication skills, appreciation of different cultures and languages and how the earth orbits the sun have been some of my favourite moments. They’ve also been strong reminders, amongst the bumps, as to why we are doing this and what she’s missed at school so far, she’s without doubt making up for in world-education.
Given that the last 18 days have been intense for us all, I think it says a lot that on only one of those have I considered packing our bags and going home. I’m not going to lie, I think my anxiety levels have been somewhat heightened as we settle into life here — thankfully the sleepless nights worrying about tsunamis and earthquakes have become fewer (it helps that we’ve found a house up the hill!), I still flinch every-time I see Jack pick something up as we’ve already seen three snakes and I watch the kids even more intently as they balance precariously along walls (as all kids do) as I know that the healthcare support isn’t so immediate. However, I’m trying hard to chill out a bit as my oh-so-level husband constantly reminds me that the everyday risks are worse back home.
From a day-to-day life we are getting more and more settled but there are two things that challenge me on a daily basis: food and heightened temperaments. I’m not quite there on where to source a variety of food that the kids like and I can’t even begin to understand the Thai ingredient lists on food packaging. I’ll admit it — I’m slightly missing the UK high street. And with so many changes, it’s to be expected that little people feel unsettled at times and so there have definitely been a lot more cuddles, management of sibling disputes and meltdowns than the norm. For now that is my focus — making sure that we settle the kids as quickly as we can, make them feel secure and grounded in a world where everything is different. If I can fit an occasional yoga class in then that would be great but until I feel happy that they are happy I’m not going to pursue my own goals. We hope that we might be able to find some help but this too is going to take more work than we had thought.
Overall, it’s a great feeling to wake up, throw on a summer dress and live this Narnia life for a bit. There’s so much to explore, to learn from and so much room for us all to grow. I’m glad we’re here.
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