Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pool Disaster

I just tried to buy myself some time by sending the boys to gather banana leaves. Unfortunately Manuel, always the botanist, decided that they don’t really know what banana leaves look like and there may well be venomous snakes around so they are back. Damn.

Spending time in a developing nation comes with a certain amount of inconvenience, discomfort, frustration, and general malaise. That is part of the challenge and indeed the pleasure—it’s interesting, different, exciting…. And, yes I understand from my recent reading binge on China that the question of developing v. developed is vexed here. By per capita income it is developing, and yet its global power, economy, and influence defies that categorization. China loaned more money than the World Bank last year. That said, we’re in a place where it’s hot as hell, the water is not potable, there is nothing resembling a hospital, there are few paved roads, many homes have no running water, it is impossible to purchase any food without a huge amount of effort, etc… So the upshot is that while this is very exciting and interesting sometimes it’s inconvenient and uncomfortable and the presence of three kids exaggerates that. Kids are not always flexible nor, when push comes to shove, are they all that interested in wrecking their machines. Yesterday was one of those days when I decided that yes, in fact, this whole venture was crazy and that it might make sense to sell the children and spend the rest of the summer on a beach in Laos.

The inauspicious day began by figuring out that the blade for the bread maker had gone on walk about. It was an epic journey to figure out how to make bread in a place where MSG is more common than yeast or flour. The completion of two delicious breads made everyone happy for TWO DAYS. Without the stirrer we can’t make bread, and we have rendered someone else’s machine useless. So the kids and I hightailed it out to lunch at our favorite juice/fried rice/fried egg joint. After drinking mango ice I noted that the fresh tofu we had purchased at the agricultural market had spilled all over everything in my back-pack, me and my head. There was a butterfly on my head and while stopping to fix the tofu situation I squatted in a nice mud pile. Eli was chipper and belting out the star spangled banner calling attention to me squatting and leaking tofu juice. So we came home for an afternoon of bickering. At a certain point news spread through the compound that the pool had water in it so the whole neighborhood (all three families) headed over. This seemed extremely promising on a day where the temperature was close to 100.

Except… first we had to outfit a bike with a baby seat for e and then we had to ride there with Rebecca and Jonathan who just learned to ride a bike last week. It's about 1.5 miles. This involved walking down hills, falling, crying, screaming, etc.. When we arrived I asked if there was a pool bar—no one answered or laughed. Meanwhile we have no goggles, so Jonathan had started tantruming as soon as the word pool was mentioned. We explained that they don't use chlorine here so stinging eyes wouldn’t be a problem. No luck; the kid continued to scream. By the time we got there after the scary bike ride, a search party had been sent out for us. Both big kids acted like they have never been swimming, clung to our legs refused to put their heads in the water. There was no evidence of last year’s swim lessons or swim team. Thing two got out of the pool did a giant burp as if he might puke and declared himself “water sick” and unable to ever go back to the “namby panby wretched Chinese pool ever again as long as I live.” At this pool kids eat their dinner IN THE pool, which seemed pretty exciting to me. As we decided, a few minutes too late obviously, that it was time to leave thing two began a new round of screaming. He could neither ride his bike nor walk home. After reaching a feverish tantruming fit with the entire pool full of well behaved girls—even the local people have only girl children—he hitched a ride. One of our neighbors threw him on her Vespa with her six month old. Despite his objections we left the bike there. I tried to keep up with the Vespa on my NO SPEED purple bike. Manuel meanwhile rode home with Eli in the babyseat and Rebecca riding (and, according to ML, stopping every 20 meters because of some ailment). I understand that Rebecca fell into a three-foot ditch on the way home, but she seemed fine when they arrived. While Manuel ran back to retrieve the abandoned bike I attempted to make mac n cheese with Chinese noodles and no butter. I also fantasied about a beach in Laos and a long sola boat ride down the Mekong River.

So this morning we had yet another discussion of the proverb “nothing ventured nothing gained.” I’m also preparing a home schooling lecture on the excitement of the explorer and began by telling the children they would hear later about Matteo Ricci, Italian Jesuit who hung out in the Forbidden City in the late seventeenth century. I’ve become interested I him for his discussions of Eunuchs. We’re also embarked on a series of discussions about cultural difference. Although the boys failed to find a banana leaf, a random grad student delivered one to my door and the kids are now making shoes with it. Manuel is going to visit the town metal maker to see if he can fashion a stirrer for the bread maker, and we’ll give the pool another whirl tonight. Another day in the jungle…..

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