A life that just gets better!

(Post Written for Diabetes Can’t Stop Me  link to post here)

Some Introductory details:

  • I was diagnosed with T1 diabetes in 1977, at the age of 11 years.
  • I was admitted to the Royal Children’s hospital (Melbourne) almost in a coma. I stayed in the hospital and was ‘trained’ to look after my condition over 2 weeks.
  • I was embarrassed and ashamed at that time and didn’t want anyone to know. My older brother (by 9 years) had been diagnosed at age 9 but he never talked about it.
  • My mother took the brunt of my care. She boiled my glass syringes and reusable needles every night, to soak in Methylated spirits until required.  I had to test my urine, using a dropper, test tubes and a magic tablet that was dropped in the tube, changed the colour and then was then measured up against a chart.
  • At the age of 13, more complications for my life after a serious car accident (Anglesea, during a Diabetes camp run by the RCH).
  • Needless to say, my teenage years were a mess, but I survived!

Skipping a few decades, I am now 51, working as a volunteer in Savannakhet, Laos – a little known landlocked country between Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Myanmar.  I have two amazing children, a boy aged 21 and a girl aged 7, who still live in Melbourne where I grew up. I did a lot of study over the years, culminating in a PhD (Education) in 2011.  I volunteered in the Solomon Islands in 1994 after spending two crazy years in Kalgoorlie (Western Australia).  I never believed that having diabetes should stop me – and it hasn’t.

Not to say I’ve always been in the best of health, or particularly well-controlled.  My teenage years were a disaster – but having diabetes in a way stopped me from going as far awry as some of my friends did.  I have spent some time in hospital on occasions from DK (Diabetic ketoacidosis) and learnt a lot about my body and control in the process.  I felt close to death on occasions, and this is frightening, but gave me more determination to survive.

My son was born in 1995 (I was 29) – I spent 5 weeks in the RWH (Royal Women’s hospital) before his birth because of my badly controlled diabetes and risk of preeclampsia.  He was induced early, weighed 5lbs at birth and is now a healthy 21 years old.

My daughter was born in 2009 (I was 43) – and that was when I was able to go on pump therapy which has changed my diabetes control incredibly.  Another gorgeous healthy baby, induced but much easier than the first time around.  She is now an incredibly delightful child of 7, so much like me that I’m afraid she will be the next diabetic to join our extended family (currently – 2 siblings, 1 cousin and his child, 1 uncle – and who knows who else draws the next short straw?).

So, at the age of 51, with 40 years of diabetes under my belt, I am proud to say that it has actually incentivised me to conquer the odds, and do the best I can for humanity.  Here in Savannakhet, I am working at a Teacher Training College, with teachers who train young people from rural areas, so that they are able to return to their villages and share their knowledge as a teacher.  I feel appreciated for what I do, and I am so glad to be of help however I can.  Life here is not necessarily easy – complete lack of availability of the medications I need (I had to bring as much with me as I possibly could, and have cut back on blood tests and some medications so they don’t run out), the heat is constant – I’m always sweating, the food is so different to home, there is no suitable medical care locally and I must travel to Thailand or Vientiane for appropriate treatment for any problems that occur.

On the upside, I’m happier and more content than I’ve ever been before in my life.  I have everything I need.  My insulin requirements are much less than when in Australia (yes, even with the dreaded rice as a staple of my diet) and I have had incredible experiences and adventures.  And I appreciate life and every moment so much more.  I really thought, as a young badly controlled diabetic, threatened with blindness, amputations, and kidney disease for all my sins, that I would never get past 34 years.  Well I have, and I’m loving it!

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Thakhek – Not so fun Adventures…  Heed the warning signs!

On the road to Thakhek… Long Weekend, Sat 29 April – Mon 1 May.

As I’m buying my ticket (30,000 kip – $5 AUD), a man a grabs it and points me to a bus.  I ask if I have time for a cigarette – he ignores me and so I climb aboard, find a seat, and just as I was getting a smoke out of my bag, the bus takes off.  With two local people running after it and waving it down.  So it was a quick getaway.  As usual, bus stops to pick up people on the way – I used to be mystified by this but I now know there is a telephone number on the side of the bus and it is prearranged (for those who speak Lao).  One stop included a motorbike to be packed on the roof of the bus so while a couple of them heave it up, I get to have my smoke.

Now stopped at a bus station, around ten women board the bus as soon as it stops, hawking whole bbq chickens on a stick, various chicken innards on sticks, 5 eggs on a stick, luke warm soft drinks, water and green papaya.  Half hour later, still sitting here with engines and aircon rumbling along.

There’s a driver and 3 helpers – who tout potential customers along the way, and load luggage – bags of rice, fertiliser, live chickens, gardening equipment – anything you can think of.  One little tough nut looks about 10 years old – he collects the money and has no English so stands there with his receipt book demanding – well something, because I nor the other English speaker had any idea.  So I had to ‘explain’ – “Driver … ticket …” gesturing – finally seemed to get through and haven’t been bothered since.  (Unfortunately I later discovered I did have my ticket in my wallet – sometimes it’s just not worth trying to argue with a foreigner.)

A bit of a story of Laos that epitomizes my (self made) experiences here.

Got off bus in Thakhek at main bus station that I knew was only a few kilometres out of town.  For once, no harassing tuk tuk drivers so I could get my bearings and chill a little.  Walked over to where the tuk tuks were gathered – not a lot of action going on but saw a group of locals heading for a tuk tuk and thought I’d try my luck in joining them.  Well no, they waved me off and another driver pointed to a tuk tuk with 3 guys hanging around it, one lounging in a hammock hooked up in the back.  “Where you go?
“Town Centre”  Ok they say… Thou dai?  (how much – never get into a tuk tuk without setting your price first!)  He holds up a finger and says ‘one’.  I say, incredulously, one what?  One hundred thousand he said.  I couldn’t believe it – AUD $16!  I’d never heard such thing!  No Joke!  They came down to 50k, I said 10.  They said ‘kin keow’ – we can’t even get a meal for that!  I think my jaw hit the ground.  Ok, 50k …. 40k…. 30k ….Then the other guy who had waved me towards them said 20k and that was the clincher!  So they got nothing.

In the centre of Thakhek,  which is a lovely tree lined square leading to the river, I found my hotel, Inthira Hotel  Error no.1 –book at least your first night online – they’re better deals and you can see what else is available after you’ve settled in.  So I paid the asking price $35 (forgot I was thinking in AUD, it was USD).  And cut my losses with my visa card (+ the usual 3% fee).  Had read online that rooms were good but better to go ‘deluxe’ for the advantage of a balcony overlooking the centre of town – so right!  Ended up in a really delightful room, well decorated, lots of added clever touches, really comfortable bed, compact shower and wc, and perfect balcony.  What more could I want?

Checked the tour prices for a day at my intended destination – Kong Lor caves – around $ USD121- – that is not really in my league.  Decided later to rent a bike for 2 days – the Thakhek Loop (or Tha Khaek) is a more hefty 3-4 day trek – and stick to local sites.  Good deal, only 60,000 kip per day ($10AUD – WangWang‘s – just across the road from hotel/night market), booked in for the morning.  (It is not Mr Wang, it is named after his young son, WangWang.)  And took myself off for a walk with camera ready.

Bought a delightful passionfruit drink with ice (served in a plastic bag with a straw for less than $1AUD). And walked towards the river.  Saw a seat.  Sat down.  Woman approaches, ‘madam?’  I say I just want to sit (not buy anything) she says no.  So I walked on and didn’t dare sit on any of the other plastic seats by the riverside.  Found myself a convenient (but dirty) kerb in shade, sat down there, and thought shit, I don’t like this place.

This is where the self-made stuff comes in.  Annabelle, get over it, go for a walk and who knows what’s around the corner!  Shift the attitude cos that one’s gonna get you nowhere…

Walked further along the river, passed by a group of people having a happy drink and food at little stall.  One of them, Khamone, invited me to join them.  Hey, why not!  Glass of beer with ice placed before me, women seeming to be talking very aggressively, chastising the men, all in Lao, child crying at the sight of me, I wondered if I should just go on my way.  An hour or two later, numerous beers, I’d made myself a number of great new friends, been in the middle of a whole lot of suggestive banter, and been very happy that I still wear my mother’s wedding ring on my ring finger.  And that I know enough Lao to say b’dai – cannot, boh – no, leo – enough, luk saow, luk sai – son and daughter, and la gon – I’m going now!

The women were clearly unsure about me, and the men were being rather close and suggestive.  Khamone who invited me to join him, managed to communicate to me that he was a teacher, that he lived at the nearby hospital alone, and could I come with him tonight?  Well we ended up all being friends (including the women who did warm to me) and me going on my way – alone.  To the sounds of the women telling the men to pull their heads in.  That’s it in a nutshell, I couldn’t have these experiences in a bad frame of mind worrying about the consequences or feeling insecure about where I was and what I was doing (alone).  I still love Laos!

Ended up meeting a fascinating young German in the hotel, and spending the rest of the evening drinking beer with him on my balcony.  If you’re feeling open to meeting people, it will happen!

Sunday Errors in Thakhek

So many errors today.  Rented bike from Wang Wangs and set off to explore around Thakhek.  Spent the first few kms in first gear – thought I had an automatic and gears weren’t kicking in.  Semi auto, 4 gears.  Along route 12, looking for signs to turn off to explore caves, swimming holes, various sights I’d read about.  First stop was about 5 kms out of town  I’d been told, Buddha Cave, but realised that the speedometer/odometer did not actually work.

Found a turnoff that looked promising, ended up riding towards the spectacular mountains and stopping at a little shop to buy water, park my bide and take a walk.  Decided to tackle View Point sala (according to the sign) and started the climb – after some difficulty (the gate was locked) and the kind shopkeeper (an elderly woman chatting away in Lao, saying something about her top and my top and … ???) who showed me how to climb in under the gate.  OK.  So I climb.  And I climb.  And I sweat.  I rest, I climb some more.  And then some more.  It felt like hours.  I was exhausted.  I was climbing up rickety ladders, steps, piles of stones.  I stopped and looked up – no sign of any end to it, in fact it just looked like it was getting harder … and steeper.  One good call for the day, took a photo of the view and decided to go back down again. By this time my legs were so weak and shaking I could hardly stand, let alone climb.  Managed to get back down and headed up the road to Tham Xang – Elephant cave.  Nice place, good rest, no one around to collect entrance fees.  Good view from inside the cave and some interesting figures inside.

Headed off to Buddha Cave – fascinating back story, only recently discovered and become a tourist destination.  This was weird.  No photos inside, around ten locals sitting around with their various offerings for sale.  Kind man asked me to sit by his fan – yes I was still sweating bucket-loads.  A group of kids had been following me – we all sat together, had a laugh, practised some English, and sang nursery rhymes.  Great meal there too.

Back on the road, I decided I really wanted that swim.  Stopped at a place where locals and their kids were swimming and having lots of fun, but decided no, I’ll go on to the swimming hole which in my imagination was deliriously cool, clear water, beer lao, cool off at the end of the day.

Warning signs.

  1. It’s called Pha Falang – what could I expect?
  2. Was told earlier not to take bike in because of thieves – local or foreigners I asked? That led to a conversation about the gangs and the drugs amongst young people in Thakhek at this time.
  3. Saw the sign hanging upside down as I was passing – this is not a good indication!
  4. Went down the dirt road  across from the sign, big mud puddles on the track. Felt wary, went back to ask if it was ok.
  5. Stopped at shop and asked where Pha Falang is – he said oh, you pay, you pay pay pay … But yes, it’s that way if you want to swim.
  6. Stopped at a big muddied puddle that filled the whole road. Barbed wire on the side, fence on the other, no dry trek through- ANNABELLE YOU SHOULD HAVE STOPPED THERE AND THEN!
  7. There was a truck parked on the other side of the mud and a guy came and offered to ride my bike through. OK (No, no, you should never have done that!)  So he rode it through and I followed on foot.  Slippery mud – I fell, I slipped, slid, fell again.  Both shoes came off because of the suction of the mud.  What a mess.  They were all laughing at me and my kind host came and gave me a hand.
  8. On the other side was an open gate and another guy came over and said come, come, come in here. I looked at the others in the truck and said, can I swim here?  Yes yes you come here said the guy (with a strong whiff of alcohol about him).  No, no said the others, no swim here, you go that way.  Huh?  (instincts – get out of there now, go back the way you came!)
  9. Follow the track on, see some water, go on further – more puddles, more mud, sun starting to go down. Turned around – not an easy feat – to head back.  Stopped by some water to wash the mud off my feet.  Not looking good – I knew I had to cross back over that hogwash on the road back.
  10. Met a group of people walking on to swimming hole – they’d (sensibly) left their bikes on the other side and walked the rest of the way. Got back to puddle, parked bike, and sat on the side of the road to contemplate my options.  Watched a guy ride through, skidding and sliding, but persistent, got through.  Saw another couple of girls coming through then they got stuck but managed eventually – one had socks and thongs on her feet – oooh, muddy.  And they weren’t going to help me.  A truck came past with about 9 drunken guys in the back.  Nope, no help there.
  11. Realised shit, I’ve just got to do it, slowly slowly. Fell off 3 times. Smashed the bike mirror.  Got ‘helped’ (harassed?) by a mysterious local guy who appeared, stinking of beer (maybe the one from earlier, by that time I was beyond noticing).  He helped me get the bike out of the mud but he couldn’t start the bike.  I got it started and then, he climbs on behind me!  No no!  Managed to get him off and head towards the road, getting darker by the minute, no time to clean off the mud that I was caked with.
  12. Realised I’d completely lost my bearings. Which way back to Thakhek, which way to Vietnam?  Three tries later, I got directions from a disinterested shopkeeper and headed off, slowly.  It was dark.  Route 12 has many trucks going between Laos and Vietnam – big trucks, complete darkness, middle of nowhere.  I was nervous, putting along slowly, freaking out about trucks running me down so I stuck to the side of the road.  A bit too far.

Shit.  Bang, went off the edge of the road, tipped to my left and head hit the road (thank god for that helmet), skidded down an embankment.  Glass smashing, glasses come off. Lying down a ditch on the side of the road, in the dark, on my own.  Can’t work out what is mud, what is blood.  Switch off the bike.  I’m ok.  I am ok.  Sat there.  What to do?  Am I ok?  I feel blood in my mouth and various scrapes, but hard to determine in the dark, and through the caked-on mud.  Found my phone, and a torch in my bag.  Called the motorbike rental company (Wang Wangs, thank you so much!).  The woman who answered the phone got the message and said she’d try to find some help.  However, being down a ditch by the side of a road, in the dark, with a constant procession of trucks and other vehicles passing by, I knew no-one could see me and I had to get up and walk – at least to the side of the road.  Easier said than done.

I was covered in slimy mud, had to try to find my shoes first.  Inching my way on my bum through the gravel (I couldn’t stand up at that point) I finally managed to get my slimy mud covered shoes on and find a way to the roadside.  Bare feet or slimy feet?  Fell back down a few more times, but finally managed to get to the road.  I started trudging back towards the last roadside store I’d stopped at.  Stopped at a mileage stone – 10km from Thakhet and Wang Wang’s called me again.  Waited there and my life savers appeared!  Noy and his assistant managed to get the bike out, start it up, and she rode it back while I went in the car.  He dropped me at the hospital, and well, that’s another story!

Cleaned up now, back home.  Scratched, sore and sorry for myself.  And wiser for all of the foolish mistakes that I made along the way.

Lessons learned:

  • If there’s a big muddy puddle and no way around it, change your plans.
  • If things seem not to be going right – trust your instincts and avoid trouble.
  • Don’t ride at night!
  • You can fit a lot into a day – get somewhere safe when it’s getting dark.
  • Trust your instincts.

But most importantly, when I went back to WangWang’s today and saw a group of young tourists renting bikes, clearly with little to no experience, and wearing thongs, shorts, skimpy tops and no helmets I realise that at least I followed the basics – helmet and good footwear… plus the previous advice to self (next time, I promise you kids…)

The truth is, I was pretty much in shock at this stage.  I was alone, I was scared, in a foreign country with severely inadequate medical care.  But I had to keep going, be strong, tough, all of that stuff.  Nobody was going to come and help me unless I asked for it.  I knew I’d made some dumb decisions that day, and as I limped back to the hotel from the hospital, in the dark, later that night, I knew I had to just get through it.  On the way back to Savannakhet the next day in the bus, I called a friend and asked if he could please come and pick me up.  It was only at that moment that I felt overwhelmed by what had happened, and how much more serious it could have been.  You have to stay tough, but you can only keep doing that to a point… So I’ll start again in the morning.

INFECTIOUS TALES

(Probably not so appealing to the squeamish – but good lessons to be learned…)

Some Pointers from a non-medical perspective:

  • Keep any open wound clean and covered when outdoors. Use your bottled water, and keep a supply of dressings.
  • Draw a circle (with pen) around any red areas. This is a sign of infection – if it is getting bigger, you have a problem.
  • Get any escalating problem seen to! Check the cleanliness of any medical help you get!
  • Don’t leave it, it is not like something back at home that fixes itself.

After too many tales of wheelchair bound travellers returning to Australia for treatment of infected wounds in the tropics (hey Kyra, hey Nik) I never wanted to get to that stage.  So when I fell over a drain (no I wasn’t drunk… see future post for the state of the footpaths in this region…) and grazed my leg, I made sure to clean it thoroughly and report it to my ICM (in country manager – for ‘just in case’ insurance purposes).

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The graze seemed ok and I covered and kept it clean, although was a raised lump underneath that wouldn’t go away.  After a few weeks I thought I’d better get it seen to.  I happened to walk past a clean looking medical clinic whilst away in Pakse (we’ve been warned not to get treatment for anything serious locally – I’ve visited the local hospital and can vouch for this!)  I went inside and surprisingly the guy at the desk had some English and took me in to see the doctor.  Again, minimal English but he ordered a blood test to check for infection, and sent me off with the nurse (who had no English at all).

She was good, laid me down on the bed and began work.  She cleaned it.  Then she dug a hole in it.  (youch).  She put what looked like a metal scone tray under my leg. Then she squeezed it.  (oooouuuucccchhhh).  Hard.  And harder.  I could feel something running down my leg and sat up to see … (bluuurrrrrgggghhhhh).  Well it was mostly blood.  Coagulated blood.  And clear fluid.  She made me lay back down AND KEPT ON SQUEEZING as hard as she could.  By that time I was biting into my finger and making little yelping sounds.

The big lump under my skin was not quite so big by the time she stopped squeezing, but she hadn’t finished yet…  She kept on saying, encouragingly, what I thought was ‘saep lai’ – which in my limited Lao means ‘It’s very delicious’!  Couldn’t be, surely?  (Later I checked my dictionary, the word for ‘infected/inflamed’ is ak-sayp – I’m guessing this might have been what she was referring to…)  By that time I was saying no, no, that’s enough!  I then watched her as she took off her sterile glove and began cutting a strip off it.  I think I must have been distracted by more pain as she worked away and was utterly relieved when she covered it up and let me go.  The doctor wanted to know how to spell ‘divorced’ and was very happy at learning a new word in the form filling exercise, and sent me off with a warning that it needed to be checked again the next day for more cleaning and signs of spreading of infection.

Back at the hotel the next day, after letting my ICM know, and him putting all resources into immediate action, I was waiting to be picked up by a car that would take me back to Savannakhet to pick up my things before getting to a place with more medical help.  My friend and colleague (working in Pakse TTC) was with me and I thought I’d better check the wound and wash it down, and re-cover it (the nurse’s handiwork with a bandage had actually fallen off as I was walking and it was looking like a right old mess).  So I poured some bottled water over it and wiped around it to make sure it was clean.  I noticed a little bit of white stuff on the sore part, maybe a bit of stray bandage, so I pulled on it.  Poor Debbie was my witness as I pulled out about 10cm strip of plastic sterile glove OUT OF MY WOUND.  (gulp, eeerrrrgggghhhhh)

OK, get over it, driver was getting impatient so cleaned and covered it again and got into the car.  The driver also had no English – he was not the regular driver, and I realised later when we were driving around lost in Savannakhet that he had no idea where to go.  The trip that took the bus 5 hours was done in about 2 ½ hours.  We passed every vehicle (and animal) on the road.  He drove like a mad man.  He refused to stop for anything, even though I was hanging out for a smoko.  When it started getting dark (about 5.30pm) I could see why he was in such a hurry to get on the way.  All those obstacles on and beside the road – bikes with no rear lights (often they ride with no front light on either, and on either side of the road), slow vehicles, cows, goats, dogs … bad enough in the daytime – far worse at night and in a hurry!

Well, made it home ok – forgot to mention the other complication, my phone had broken, being Sunday the shops were closed, my (work) computer is a dud and won’t let me get online, so I was also relying on other people with phones…  Thanks to Debbie in Pakse, and Susan in Savannakhet, and David (ICM) for his initiative, all things were put into motion.  Finally home I packed my bag (medications, passport, clothes for a few days) and managed to make contact with the medical insurance company and send them the latest photo of my wound.  I seemed to remember in the case of an infected abscess a few years ago (another joy of diabetes) that it was useful to draw with pen around any swelling or redness so hence the artwork around the wound in the photos.  Luckily it didn’t seem to be spreading or swelling up further.

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The next day the medical insurance people were still umming and ahhing about whether or not they’d cover me for a trip to a decent medical facility.  They decided yes at about 3pm and I headed straight off to airport for the ‘4pm flight’.  By that time the last plane was fully booked and I was put on standby – first they just said no, then after talking with David on my new phone (I’d been busy that morning – new phone but almost completely broke) said they would know by 6pm if there were any ‘no-shows’, and hence a seat available.

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The Airport Viewing Lounge
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The beer Lao – locked away.

At 6pm, after hovering around the sales office for 20mins, they asked me in, took my passport, looked at the computer and I got the ‘computer says noooooooo’.  Sorry?  No!  Look, I need to get to the hospital (big sad face).  Some more tap tap tapping on the computer and it seemed that one seat had appeared out of nowhere, and it had my name on it!  Phew.  Flew out on the 4pm plane at 6.30pm, surrounded by empty seats.  Huh?  But then we flew south to Pakse and got off the plane to pick up the rest of the passengers and sure enough, it was full to brimming!  Onwards bound, north to Vientiane, and taxi to good old familiar Alie and Hotel Lao.  And my Korean friends at the nearby restaurant who still remembered me from 6 weeks ago and invited me to join them.

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Set off to Australian Embassy Clinic the next day.  Dr Michelle is a breath of Australian speaking fresh air.  I love her!  And she speaks the Aussie Lingo!  Even if she does make babies cry (the previous patient was there for her jabs).  She congratulated me for coming in and having it seen to, and commented that the Pakse Clinic had actually done all the right things – blood test, cleaning out the wound and keeping the wound open – hence the rubber glove trick.  Put me on antibiotics (Augmentin Duo), took a swab to check what the infection was – ie what antibiotics would work – cleaned and covered it, and asked me to come back so she could check it the next day, and then for reassessment on Friday.

It is now Wednesday, and she is pleased with progress.  Still oozing, still red and inflamed, but getting better!  So fingers crossed that the wheelchair will not be needed in my case!

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After a number of checkups and some good times in Vientiane (luckily I only had a sore leg, no other symptoms) I was declared fit and ready to travel on Tuesday.  Unfortunately no flights to Savannakhet until Saturday so this little trip for good medical intervention turned into quite a long stay away from my home and workplace.  I have learnt some more lessons along the way and had rather an eventful two weeks.  Left work on Wednesday October …. Headed for Pakse  (see Pakse and Beyond post) and returned to work itching to get going on November …….  Wouldn’t want to be in a hurry!  (Luckily I’m not…)  Bor Pen Nyung (it’s ok…)

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First Post from Lao PDR

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All so good, all so happy!!!  My Room with a private balcony at Hotel Lao.  Perfect.

Started off at 3.30 am on Wed. 31st August with my baggage for a year.  Met up with Susan who will also be working in Savannakhet and almost 24 hours later, put my head down on the pillow in my French Colonial style hotel room for a dead to the world sleep.  Phew!  No disasters, just lots of queuing, waiting, walking (never knew how big Bangkok airport actually was!) queuing, and transiting.  Oh, and more queuing.   Some thoughts I noted down on the trip…

It’s been difficult staying set on my goals with all these goodbyes and unknowns.  Matilda and Pol, dad, Rob and Helen and Rani this morning – they all matter so much to me and there’s no promise that I’ll see dad again – he’s so tired…

2hrs from Bangkok:  I’ve been dozing for hours.  Thoughts slowing down.  I remember feeling guilty, no, selfish.  Dad seems to have come to terms with me leaving by concocting a story that I was working for the govt., taking on a very important role as a representative of Australia and tax payers.  He made me out to be generous and altruistic.  I’m glad he’s made sense of it this way, but when I reflect I can’t help but think that I’m simply being selfish.  I’m going where I want to go and doing what I want to do, and deserting my family in the process.

In fact I dread the idea of living at a snail’s pace [in Melbourne] simply to keep things humming along in the same way.  My ambitions have never been to simply succeed and maintain the status quo, or to get the most excellent job and work my way to the top.  Sure there’s been moments when I’ve applied for jobs and imagined such a life but I never get it.  And if I did, I can imagine the initial interest/passion would soon wane.  [Life is too precious].

Last leg – Flight to Vientiane

I’m not quite ‘getting’ that I’m embarking on a year away, working in a strange country and culture, away from familiar ‘comforts’ of home.  Yet I’m excited but I’m sort of resigned to it – I decided this was what I wanted to do, and now I’m almost there.

This is where I wonder about my selfish motives.  But then again, it is not as though I ignore the potential impact it may have on my kids (I actually believe it is a wonderful thing for them too).  I probably ignore, or just cannot know, the impact it might have on me [or them].  I don’t have ‘planned outcomes’ – generally it is unknowable.  Like so many other decisions we do or don’t make – we don’t know how it will turn out, or impact on all those involved.  But business/management – even teaching/education, is full of ‘outcomes’.  A ‘good’ project will be one with specified outcomes and steps to achieve those delineated results.  Is that really what life is about?  And why is it that I am always so keen to talk about ‘life’, rather than career, earning potential, possessions, reputation?

 

 

 

 

 

One Week Pre-departure

I have just spent four days at my ‘pre-departure briefing’ – information, advice, networking, and an absolute brain overload!  And too much food.

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As the departure date looms, I just have to maintain the pace – fill in all those little bits, tick off the ‘to do’ list (that really only exists in my overloaded head) and go through all the doubts, worries, trepidations and fears that are to be expected before setting off on a big journey.

During the four days of the briefing I learnt all of the rules for what I (we volunteers and ‘representatives of the government of Australia’) should and shouldn’t do, say or think.  What to say and what not to say, how to behave and how not to behave.  We learnt that there are people employed to support us on our ‘missions’ (my word, not theirs) and there is in-country, international and support from home if we find ourselves in need.  I learnt that our roles involve ‘capacity building‘ (the new catch cry for international aid).

Overall, I learnt that a hell of a lot has changed since I volunteered 22 years ago.  That changes in line with neo-conservative government have far flung consequences that have a significant role in how we might attempt to live a meaningful life.  That our ‘freedom’ only extends so far in what we are able to do, to say, to choose.  Or to share.

I have organised two ‘see you later’ parties to share with friends and family.  I have spent time with my gorgeous children and organised for their trip to come and see me for Christmas.  I have said farewell to my dog, my house, and my life in its current state.  One of my colleagues at the briefing said ‘oh, but it’s only a year’!  I think of a year in my child’s life and it is huge.  I want my year to be huge too.  We only have so much time in this life – I want to make the most of all of it.

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One Month Pre-departure

Got my motorcycle (scooter) licence

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Ready for the op-shop pickup

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All vaccinations completed…

Put on weight (thanks dad)

Read up on Laos history

Met up with my new Lao volunteer colleagues 🙂

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Joined Savannakhet expats Facebook group

Burned 20 yeDSC_0283ars of tax returns, bank statements, bill payments

Celebrated my son’s 21st birthday

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Expatriates – blogs, advice, adventures, (tbc…)

A blog that caught my attention early on, Mundane Chaos -Misadventures in Southeast Asia came up with a search on my destination (Savannakhet Teacher Training College).  Stephanie Crabtree wrote about her experiences there in 2012/13 with lots of amusing anecdotes, observations and experiences that I really enjoy reading (and writing!).  These are the sorts of stories I like to share/hear about and can give all sorts of insights about expat life.

mundane chaos

I responded to Stephanie’s blog and she kindly emailed back, saying she’d almost forgotten about the blog (don’t you love that they just ‘hang there’ forever?) since returning home 3 years ago.  But she sent me some contact names and some helpful advice which is great!

 The Culture blend thoughts on  expatting, repatting, transition and life is another blog I’ve enjoyed, from an ‘expert’ expat named Jerry Jones who writes with a thoughtful, humorous  and wise approach.

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The ‘expat’ comes in all shapes and sizes (and income levels).  I like Jerry’s ‘crawl in the hole’ advice (link below) because it pretty much rings true to my own (earlier) experiences.  I don’t think you can ever become an ‘expert’ inter/cross cultural participant because everyone is looking for different things, and that not everybody gets a ‘thrill’ out of being out of their comfort zone.  But … as an older and hopefully wiser participant, I hope that I can retain not only my sense of humour, but the ongoing interest in, and passion for difference.

culture blend
http://www.thecultureblend.com/

Love to hear about more examples – I will add them as I discover them myself!

Another site with great links and photos about the wonders of Laos!

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http://www.mappingmegan.com/why-you-should-travel-to-laos/