Hands and Hearts Build – Phnom Penh Cambodia February 2016

Our family travelled to Cambodia for the first time in July 2013. We went to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat and other temples. Basically, we went to see the sites, but we left remembering the people. Ever since, I have wanted to go back to Cambodia and in some capacity help the people there. The country has been through so much, the stories are haunting, but the smiles stay with you.  My first ambition was to help build a school there. After months of research and dead ends, I realised how much corruption and fraud is prevalent in Cambodia, and that working on a school project was not going to be straightforward. Some of you know that we have been able to pursue that goal in a different location for now, but that still left me wanting to do something in Cambodia. I cannot express it in words, but the feeling of wanting to help continued. I spent some time exploring volunteer opportunities here in Brisbane, and came across Habitat for Humanity. This was an organisation we had made a couple of appliance donations to back in Canada, and so the name and what they did was somewhat familiar. Turns out they were holding a meet and greet gathering the next night! I attended that evening, and met some people that had been on previous Global Village builds…and I just knew I had to go. They have build weeks in Vietnam, Nepal, Fiji, but I knew that my heart was in Cambodia. Long story short, I looked at their upcoming builds and settled on a build to Phnom Penh in November. However the dates didn’t work for our family, so I delayed until February. My friend Larissa (whom I met in KL, but now lives back in Toronto) really wanted to come along as well, so after getting her own ducks in a row, she registered too. The dates were set!

Our build was just outside of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Our accommodation was in Phnom Penh which was fortunate as we were able to explore some of the city in the evenings after our day was over, although truth be told, most nights we didn’t have the energy for that. I had been told at the Habitat gathering that an urban build may be a good one to choose for a first timer because of the additional options for food choice and other conveniences in the evening. I think this was sound advice. After 3 days of Khmer food for lunch and dinner (think rice and curry, and rice, and more rice…), our team was quite happy to stumble upon an expat restaurant where we could order pizzas and meat and fill our empty bellies after a huge day of physical work. One woman on our build had been before to Mongolia, and she indicated that the choices were few and far between as they had been in a much more rural/remote area.

Some facts about our build:

1) The Team – our team was made up of 9 people, all coming from Australia except Larissa. The team came from Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane, ranging in age from 22-63. There was also another group along – a corporate team from Procter and Gamble. On the ground in Cambodia each team had a translator, a construction foreman and 3 skilled workers. There was also a Habitat Cambodia employee that oversaw things and made sure all went well. Each team also had a driver that took us in a van to the build site each day (30 minutes drive in the morning, 60 minutes back in the evening)

2) The Families – Our family was made up of a mother, father and 16 year old son. Currently they have been living with her sister. Both parents have HIV but the son does not. Our family was quite shy, and only the son spoke a little bit of English, but through smiles, glances and gestures we could see their appreciation as we worked alongside each other. The father worked as a tuk tuk driver, and the son attended morning school. The other family was a mother, father, and 9 year old daughter. Both parents in that family also have HIV but the daughter does not. The father is also a tuk tuk driver and the mother works with other people affected by HIV.

3) The Houses – the houses our two teams built were not side by side because each family had purchased their own plot of land earlier. Most Habitat builds work where Habitat for Humanity buys the land as well as the house materials, but in both these cases the families had worked hard for years to be able to buy the land themselves. Therefore the houses were a few km’s apart. The houses are built for the families, after they are chosen in conjunction with other organisations in the community. The selection process appeared to be quite thorough and responsible.  In some cases the families may pay back small amounts (like a mortgage) but in these cases the houses were 100% funded. The families must contribute their efforts to the build as much as they are able to. Not all teams finish their houses (some builds are actually done in stages, such as brick laying for 3 houses side by side) so that is not a goal. Our build we were able to see it 95% completed which was great. The skilled crew stays on the build until the house is fully complete and then hands the house over to the family. Habitat keeps the title on the land for 5 years so that the family cannot sell the house after it is built. I found the support and sustainability factor to be very high. The houses themselves were very basic – one room of about 600 square feet. Brick walls, two windows, two doors and some ventilation. A basic squat toilet with septic tank out the back.

4) The Days – Each day was HOT! 36C with a feels like factor of 40C. Humidity was high, and we felt like we just walked out of a shower with all of our clothes on by about 10am. I think our time spent in KL helped a lot with that, and you do just get used to being hot and sweaty. We were lucky to have some cloud cover and breeze later in the week!  Each day we took a break for lunch, meeting the other team at a nearby temple, where we were brought a pre-ordered meal.  Curries, pad thai, chicken wings…and rice.  Did I mention rice?  An ice cold Coke or Fanta sure tasted great! By the end of the day we were sweaty, dirty, exhausted, but energised by what we had accomplished.  The van ride home felt long, the traffic was nuts, and the race to the shower was on!

I can’t possibly put down in writing all of the things we experienced or did during that week. We carried bricks, buckets of sand, water and cement. We mixed the cement by hand and shovel on the ground. We learned how to lay bricks, trowel plaster, tamp rocks and sand into the ground to build the floor. The men on our team dug a 1.7m deep septic hole, dropped tanks into it and then took 10 minutes refilling it with the sand that had taken hours to remove. But more importantly, and even more difficult to explain, is the relationship building that occurred. The smiles between people that could not communicate with each other through language. The camaraderie between people that dug till their backs ached, lay bricks in the beating sun until not one more brick could be raised. The ice cold towels to cool us down, jokes told over electrolyte drinks, encouragement given to finish just one more row, carry just one more bucket, and then the encouragement to take five minutes for a break. Our team worked hard. I don’t think we could have given one more ounce of energy during that week. The team I was able to work with was Amazing! Its such a cliche but the strangers I met Saturday, were family by Friday. Our team, our Cambodian family, our Cambodian crew….we will all be connected to each other forever, even if we never meet again. I truly believe that. One thing we were told by the staff there was that the families do not understand why we would come to their country to help. The culture there is not to help others so much,a nd I think that stems from needing to live to survive. You must help yourself before you can help others and so many people are still in that struggle everyday. I found that very interesting. A word that got used a lot on this trip was Perspective. It’s all about your perspective.  I think our team grew together in learning the meaning of that word through our experience.

Before we went, while we were gone (via texts, emails etc.) and since we’ve been back, a common thread from our team is that others want to know how to get involved. Coworkers want to know how to find out about projects like these. Friends have told me they’d love to be part of something like this as well. I recognise that I have been fortunate to have the time and resources to make this happen. But please understand that this has impacted my entire family, and did take planning, commitment and motivation to execute. We all had to make the decision together so time could be used, extra effort pitched in, events possibly missed,  looking after each other more than usual, because this was important. And I can tell you, it is so worth it. People are just people – everywhere you go. We are blessed to have been born in developed countries. Nothing more. We did not get to choose how we came into this world, or where.  From day one we were given opportunities that others can only dream of.  When you meet, and work together towards a common goal – you know that for sure.  So I hope that I can pass along some information, share my experience and encourage others to go for it.  It’s not just about helping someone else either.  All that you give will come back tenfold.

 

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From start….

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If you’re interested in this exact type of work or want to learn more about the process:

In Australia: http://www.habitat.org.au   You can link to Global Village from there and see all the dates, country options, costs etc.

In Calgary: http://www.habitatsouthernab.ca   They have Global Village builds as well that are closer to your neck of the woods. Also, there are local builds in Calgary that you can contribute to help locally if you prefer with less time invested.

Elsewhere….just search for it. Habitat for Humanity is not the only organisation doing this type of thing, but I have had some experience communicating with others and really felt confident with this organisation. It is the largest global charity doing this type of work that I know of.

Lastly I want to recall one last story…at the end of the build, both teams, both families and the Habitat staff sat inside the house we built. The family had decorated with balloons, some flowers, laid woven mats on the floor and welcomed us into their house, that they will soon turn into their home. I cannot convey the emotion inside that room that day, and wouldn’t even begin to try. We all know what those experiences and moments are like. The group went around and shared their feelings about the week etc. The story that will stick with me was from my team mate Tom and the response from Nat (the mother in our family) . We had presented the family with a mango tree to be planted in front of the house. Tom wished the family all of the best, with the hope that the family could take this hand up and go forward, doing better for themselves, and for their community, and their country. To look after themselves well, and that mango tree, and someday he would like to come back to visit, not as a helper or worker, but as a visitor to share one of the mangoes. When the stories got around to Nat, she broke down crying and spoke in Khmer. When the translator told us what she had said….Her reply was this:

“I  hope someday those of you that have given us something so special can come back to visit, and that I can invite you into our home and I will share all of my  mangoes.”

To see more photos click here

 

Australia Day

Australia day this year was so much more fun than last year.  Last year we had just arrived, knew nobody, and can’t even remember what we did.  This year we were invited to not one, but two Australia Day parties!

I reckon that Australia Day and Canada Day look pretty similar….we all know how to celebrate our country and have a good time.  But there were some differences that I think are interesting to point out.

  1. Pool time!  Spending the day in your boardies and togs is pretty standard.  Jumping in and out of the pool was a constant for the kids.  They had a riot!
  2. Food – Party food is party food! The party we went to in the afternoon was a pizza party as the family has an awesome wood fired pizza oven in the backyard that they built themselves.  Jim had to get competitive with the pizzas, and assured them we would make a Canadian pizza.  What is a Canadian pizza you ask?  Well he spent the morning making it up.  The final creation was bacon, caramelised onions and a drizzle of maple syrup.  Honestly I teased him about it all morning, but it turned out to be delicious, and was gone in a flash.  However other party foods that we sampled at both parties and that were very Australian included:
    1. Lamingtons – a sponge cake covered in chocolate and coconut
    2. Anzac biscuits – an oatmeal cookie with coconut.  This biscuit is called ANZAC referring to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.  It was a cookie that wives sent over to their soldiers because they didn’t spoil or fall apart when transported.
    3. Pavlova – a meringue dessert often topped with cream and fruit. However,  I know from living in New Zealand many years ago that pavlova is officially Kiwi dessert and I better never forget it!
    4. Pies (savory – meat)  Beef, chicken, shepherds, Steak and cheese…whatever the combo, they are a much loved food.  A little tomato sauce (not ketchup!) is all you need.
    5. Bubbles and beer (is that a food group?)  My new favourite combination- a hot sunny day with a glass of bubbles.
    6. Cheezels – a similar snack food to Cheetos
    7. Vegemite – a yeast spread that only a child that grew up on it could love.   We were actually threatened with a vegemite pizza but luckily it never came to fruition.  However we did find out our friend Carrie takes Vegemite travelling with her wherever she goes, kind of the way we have been known to take peanut butter! 🙂
    8. Lamb – it always needs a mention in Australia it seems.  We didn’t have any BBQ lamb on Australia Day, but did hear that is often on the menu.  We did sample some great lamb pizza though!
    9. Golden Gaytime – this is an ice cream treat that includes vanilla and toffee, covered in chocolate and then coated in cookie crumbs.  Friends told us that the tagline used to be “It’s hard to have a Gaytime on your own.”  I didn’t know if they were pulling my leg, but according to the all knowing World Wide Web, this is true.  I’ve seen them everywhere for a year but finally got to try a bite and they are delicious!
    10. Fairy Bread – had never heard of this one, and when our friend’s teenage daughter heard we had never tried it, she scooted off with a couple of the other girls, only to return with a tray for us to try.  Fairy Bread is white bread, with a layer of butter, and then hundreds and thousands (candy sprinkles) sprinkled on top.  It looks adorable and tastes pretty good!

The best part of Australia Day was definitely the people.  Australian decorations, napkins, hats, and everyone just having a great time.  We got to spend some more time with friends we’ve made, meet a bunch of new people and realise what a difference a year can make.   Happy Aussie Day!  Can’t wait for next year!

 

 

 

Bringing blogging back.

What happened to your blog?  Hey, how come you aren’t writing anymore on your blog?  I used to enjoy reading your posts but haven’t seen any in a while….  Those are all comments I heard when we were visiting in Canada over Christmas.  So here I am 🙂

It’s been an interesting few months in our lives, but I didn’t really think it was interesting enough for anyone else to read about.  Life just keeps ticking along…and is it just me or does it start ticking faster and faster as you get older?  My response when asked about the blog, was that Australia strikes most people as being so similar to life in Canada, and certainly not as “different” as our life in Malaysia was, that I didn’t know if there was enough to write about.  (even though there is only some truth to that viewpoint)  But your responses were that you just wanted to know what we are up to.  And it dawned on me, that that is exactly how I feel about all of you.  We want to know what’s going on with everyone.  The good, the bad, and ya, even the ugly. The common theme that seems to resurface is the feeling of belonging.  Knowing what’s up. Being part of something. A family, a group, a tribe.  This blog helps accomplish that and I let it slide.

So the overall gist during the last few months for us, has been searching out, and feeling that belonging in everyday life.  Finding new “mates” here, staying connected with our tribe in Canada, and keeping track of friends that we have made, now spread all over the world.

The short story if we haven’t caught up in person lately,  is we are well.  We’ve been in Australia just over a year! Tick tock, tick tock!    Jim is enjoying his job, and has even found a hockey (ice hockey for our Aussie friends, and yes fellow Canadians – there is hockey other than on ice in other parts of the world – shocking!) team to play on once a week.  I have found some new hobbies and projects to keep me busy – and look forward to some exciting challenges in 2016, and the kids, have just started their second school year here.  It was a pretty great feeling seeing them off to school this week smiling, ready to meet up with  friends, and not be the newbies!

Going forward, I’ll tell you what, I’ll try to do better.  Because it’s pretty great to be able to keep in touch and up to date with everyone.  And now I’ve been reminded that our friends do want to know about the python on our back fence, the Australian lingo our kids are picking up (apparently Kaden is developing an accent?), and driving on the beach. Plus we’ve met some lovely Aussie friends that I haven’t blogged much about. Oh… and I’ve started saying lovely…a LOT!  So I guess I do have enough to say (like that was ever the problem 😉 )  Next blog post….Australia Day!

October School Break

Here in Australia the school system has a two week break in April, three weeks in July, two weeks at the end of September, and then an 8 week summer break in December/January.  This seems like a lot of break time – however during the actual terms there are no PD days, other days in lieu, and very few national holidays.  So when they are in school, they’re in school – 8:20am-3:10pm everyday.    The term 3 break started two weeks ago and today is the last day. We had two great experiences during this break…the second one I will leave for a blog later in the week.  This first blog post started out being about our first week away and what we did, but what came out has turned out to be more of an honest reflection of the way our family is travelling together now, and our transition from being a family with young children, to one with older ones.  I have a feeling its similar to a lot of our friend’s current experience…..I hope….please…Anyone??? 🙂

A couple of months ago we were deciding where to travel to during this break, and while New Zealand (and returning to Auckland to show our kids where we lived back in 2000) was the front-runner – with a little research we realised it was still a little cool to travel there now, as it is just the beginning of Spring.  So…we decided to take the kids up north to the Great Barrier Reef and area. A place that Jim and I loved when we visited 15 years ago, and also being further North, a safer bet for some nice warm weather.  We found some great activities to do, and settled on staying up in the Daintree rainforest for a few days, and then back in Port Douglas to explore the reef.  We planned some hiking, ATV riding, river cruising to spot crocodiles, snorkelling to the outer reef, and a sailing day/snorkelling to the Low Isles.  I thought it sounded pretty good!  However, when shared with the three humans…the response was less than enthusiastic.  “Do we have to?” , “Can’t we stay home for the break and just hang out?”, “Why do we always have to go somewhere?” Jim and I have realised that no matter how much effort we put into our adventures and travels, and how much thought we put into planning activities that they enjoy…we have entered the land of tweens and teens. Honestly I will tell you, we thought we could avoid it.  We were naive enough to think that because we are pretty active parents (read cool and awesome lol) and do a lot with our kids, that they would continue to want to do stuff with us forever.  We were wrong.   So we decided to put on our thicker skin, and hope that our 9 days would all work out.

Well I can tell you our time was not a disaster…it was actually incredibly fun. We did all of those activities I mentioned, plus the boys quickly learned that each accommodation had tennis courts, and were keen to play.  So much so that we adjusted some of our time so that we could stick around the hotels more than planned, and play some doubles and single matches as well.  This post could be all about the fun activities we did, and how great it was to share our past experiences, and a place that we love, with our kids. ( I will add for those of you reading – if you ever have a chance to visit Australia, go to Port Douglas. You will not regret it! Check it out at http://www.pddt.com.au)  But what we really took away from this trip -the effort was worth it.  We adapted some of our time to respect the things the kids wanted to do, and showed interest in.  We skipped a couple things we had planned because we were enjoying the moments we were having.  I tried to have the teenager help plan and get involved from the early stages, and he wasn’t all that interested, but when the actual time came….he had a good time. We all did.  That doesn’t mean that every moment was amazing and fun and without arguments…it wasn’t.  The kids are growing up, with strong personalities and opinions that differ from ours, and each others. So while we are past the physical caring of our kids, and travels no longer involve diaper bags, strollers, and chicken nuggets (Ok, actually with the middle one,we still see chicken nuggets regularly), we have reached a new phase of interacting as a family.  The teenager is witty and pretty darn smart about a lot of things, the middle one is perceptive and observant, and the girl…well she is still positive and enthusiastic and an absolute fish.  They’re pretty cool people when they’ve slept, been fed, and are not expected to sit beside each other in a car. (Does anyone have children that sit in the same row of a car peacefully???)

I hope our kids look back at this time and know all of it has been for them as much as for us.  What I do know is that our kids were exposed to the oldest rainforest in the world, looked out over the ocean from the point at Cape Tribulation, spotted crocodiles and snakes on the river, snorkelled with some beautiful fish at the Great Barrier Reef, and laughed as they beat their mom pretty badly on the tennis court.

On the plane back to Brisbane, I did get a… “That was actually a pretty good week.” from the teenager.  For now we’ll take that and be happy. Just wait till we tell them what we’re not staying home next break either….

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Finding our Aussie way

Almost 7 months.  That’s how long we’ve been in Brisbane now.  Hard to believe.  Couldn’t wait to get here.  Couldn’t wait to have our furniture arrive.  Couldn’t wait to have new furniture arrive to fill the empty spaces.  Couldn’t wait to get a few changes done, a few things fixed and a few friends made.  Couldn’t wait for things to settle.  And now…. 7 months later, I think we’re there.  (small cheer!)  Routines have been made, first dentist appointments have come and gone…. I know that sounds funny but I’ve always found when we’ve moved, that its when you’re settled that you finally make the time for “those” things.  Regular old things that you take for granted when you’ve had the same dentist for 15 years. (which we did in Canada…and still went to him even during our time in Malaysia)  The dentist was a turning point for me! Check ups – Check!

It is now middle of winter here in Brisbane.  Let me tell you, a couple of weeks ago we experienced highs of 16C and lows of 6C.  I know, I know…as a Canadian we should be used to it. (as everyone here keeps telling us!)  The thing is, the houses here are built for summer.  They have single glazed windows, tile floors, no central heating, and I literally can feel the wind blow through my front door.  So if its 6C when you wake up in the morning, it’s freaking cold!  So that week we wore slippers, sweaters (jumpers), scarves and sat under blankets and near space heaters.  However, that only lasted about 10 days (a really long stretch locals tell us) and now we are back to beautiful sunny days, averaging somewhere between 21-24C and about 9-12C at night.  Winter is the dry season here so the grass is less green than usual and the pool is too cold to swim in.  (are you feeling sorry for us yet?)  But spring is about a month away. If this is winter…its not too bad.

Our life has morphed once again, but we are finding our way and learning how local families work. I have to say sometimes it feels like life was when I was a kid.  And I mean that in a good way mostly. Lol  Shops close at 5 or 5:30 6 days a week so there is no evening runs to the mall for this or that.  Grocery stores are open later so when we’re really bored we go pick up some milk.  Most malls do have a late night shop on Thursday evenings, so that’s your only chance during the week to go get kids haircuts, or a new pair of shoes etc.    It gets dark quite early here in Queensland so sport training is after school until about 5pm.  Then its dark.  Any outdoor activities that we are used to doing in the evening (kids soccer, baseball, bike rides, etc.) are not really possible. We have found that a bit hard to get used to.  School sport games are on Saturdays.  Schools compete against each other in a league and play on Saturday mornings.  So our new Aussie way is to have Saturdays as sport days.  We’ve actually grown to quite enjoy it as the weather is usually sunny and warm so we enjoy watching the kids play (currently basketball, soccer and netball).  It suits me much better than an ice hockey rink I can tell you that!  There’s usually a bit of time as well for the kids to have a friend come over for a while, or mom and dad to have a chance to read a book, or even take a nap. (gasp!)

Sundays we have reserved for family day. (much to the teenagers chagrin at times)  Most weekends we try to pick a spot to go check out.  Last weekend we went to Stradbroke Island which was fantastic.  There are a lot of day trips within an hour or two.  We have an ongoing list, but as one gets checked off, another seems to get added.  If we are feeling a little more lazy, a drive down to the Gold Coast (Burleigh Heads) and lunch at the local surf club has become our “thing”.  The Sunday afternoon hanging out at the surf clubs is an Australian favorite pasttime.  These places have good food, cheap drinks (apparently!) and the best spots on the beaches to watch the waves come in and the world go by.

Like I said, life here feels a bit like it did when I was a kid.  I think our pace has slowed down a little bit (maybe not too much, but a little) and the kids seem really happy with being able to participate in their activities, walk to school, spend very little time in the car, or eating fast food as we race from one place to the next.  It’s taken some getting used to but I think we’re finding our Aussie way.

Bored or Busy?

Boredom. When is the last time you were bored? For me it’s been a long while. There’s always something to do, finish, clean up, pick up, complete. Work, volunteer, plan family activities, have people over, mingle, network etc. etc. etc. The opposite of being bored in my mind has always been being busy. When’s the last time you were busy? Yesterday? Today? Or do you exist in a constant state of busy-ness? That seems to be the buzz word now. I’m busy. So busy. A friend of mind commented on a Facebook post just the other day about hating that word. Busy. What does it mean? (Honestly, I try to avoid using the word at all to describe our life.)

Well I’ve had time to think lately. I’ve been bored. Even to say that seems wrong. If I’m bored it means I’m not creating value, or have worth, right? That was exactly my initial reaction. Get going Shannon. Do something! Fill your time, get a job, meet people, GET BUSY!!!

Moving to Australia is the 6th time we have moved to a brand new location for Jim’s job (4th country). Upon arrival, I found that a lot of the families here are dual income. More than I’ve been accustomed to in the last 10 years. So I panicked. I figured I needed to get out there and get a job – teaching or otherwise. Because job/work=value. Right? I applied for a couple of jobs right away. The head of primary school talked to me about how to register here as a teacher and offered to help with the process. Another job elsewhere – didn’t even get an interview for it, and I was pretty down. But now I am so glad. Why? Because it gave me time to breathe. To reflect. To experience being “bored”. Not be so busy. Instead of jumping into something, I had time to sit and think about what it is that I really want to do. How many people are lucky enough to say that? This whole being busy thing seems to be a big cover up. Even for those that aren’t “working”. Too busy to meet a new friend? Too busy to meet an old friend? In past years I’ve had friends turn me down for lunch because they were too busy. Turn down the opportunity to go to a show because they couldn’t fit it in. Those same people have since told me they wish they had made more time, because now we live apart and don’t have those opportunities. Previous said friend that commented about hating the word busy….she’s about to embark on a move, and I suspect frustrated with those same kinds of responses.  The opposite is happening to us as we prepare to visit Canada soon….people ARE making the time.  Do we really need that obvious distance and limited time though to create the space?  We all have a lot going on. (Ok so maybe I haven’t lately….but its picking up LOL) Our kids are in a ton of sports and activities. The calendar is full. Your calendar is full as well. I know. But does that make us “so busy”, or are we just trying to enjoy life, create memories and have some purpose? Are we filling our time with the right things? I try to answer that with a yes.

This conversation is everywhere. A new friend remarked to me the other day how her children don’t always get along and she wants to improve that. She searched the internet and found a simple reminder about how its a good idea for us to allow our kids to be bored sometimes. Because during those moments of boredom, new games are invented, old toys or books explored, relationships that have been neglected are nurtured. When kids are bored they reach out to each other to look for something to do. She experimented with this theory last weekend, after having to really make an effort to clear their schedule, and lo and behold she was so happy to see her son and daughter, after a couple of hours of nothing to do, playing a new game together.  Is it any different with adults?  I’m learning that its not.

That corner I talked about turning a couple of weeks ago. I’ve turned it. The friendships that were budding are starting to bloom. My experience with “boredom”, which you can see is not really boredom at all, has been amazing. I’m bucking the “I’m so busy” trend. And though it has been a bit lonely at times, it has also created space. Space that I have enjoyed, and have had time to think in. To think about what’s next. Part of the new path is reconnecting with things I enjoy. I’ve been out singing and sailing. If I had jumped into a job and all that busy-ness, I wouldn’t have had time to realize that sailing is something I enjoy, that I can go out and do for me. Yes, as I write this I do realize that a lot of people don’t have the option of not working. I fully understand this privilege. I also know that I am proud of the working and non-working/volunteer paths I have taken over the years, and am excited about my potential new venture.  While unpaid, I believe is important, fulfilling and will make a contribution as meaningful as any paid work that I could do. I’m not quite ready to share the next phase, but I know that working full time teaching is not it. There’s something that excites me more at this time that I want to do – and soon I hope to share :-). So with this time I research, think, connect, and explore. I am not bored anymore, but I am not too busy either.

Radio Silent

Silence. It’s been a while. I haven’t felt like writing. It’s been completely selfish. I just haven’t wanted to put the effort into putting words down on a page. I should have asked someone else in this house to do it, because I am sure they have a lot to say. They have all been very busy….making new friends, getting involved in many activities (at this point we’ve got 3 in rugby, two in volleyball, one in netball, primary drama club, piano lessons, the teenager telling me yesterday he wants to start bass guitar lessons again – cue smiling mom). Both boys have learned to tie a tie like a pro. From starting out grumbling about the strict uniform guidelines, to wearing the tie everyday, not just Fridays, because “ Mom, it looks better that way.” The school has been great overall and I think the kids continue to thrive in their academic and social setting.

Maybe I haven’t written because it seems like Australia is so much more like Canada than Malaysia was. Does anyone want to know what we’re up to here? It just doesn’t seem as exotic as living in South East Asia. And it’s not. Everyone wears seatbelts, there are no rogue scooters carrying a family of 5, and I haven’t seen any raw meats sitting out in 30C heat anywhere. But it IS different. And there have been many blog posts I could have written. About the way we pronounce our r’s, or say toque rather than beanie. About fashion dos and don’t – like its Ok to go barefoot everywhere, but you’re not supposed to wear your UGG boots anywhere but in your house. ( But wait…us Canadians don’t wear shoes IN the house! ) They DON’T say Shrimp on the Barbie…..they’re prawns thank you very much! You CAN eat a sausage morning, noon or night, but not on a bun (roll) – on a piece of white bread. With tomato sauce (not ketchup). Shops close at 5:30pm everyday except Thursdays, and that can be really irritating. But I’m pretty sure they close early because everyone goes to bed at 9, getting up at 5am. Seriously. No wonder Australians have a huge coffee culture. They’re up at the crack of dawn! We moved from a country where nothing gets going until 10am and you party till 2, to a country where if you see midnight you win a medal! People really do call you Mate, darling or doll, and Australia has a crazy obsession with not going over the speed limit. Like at all. Not even a little. (hence my two speeding tickets and Jim’s one so far!!!) So there’s been blog worthy “stuff”.

Maybe I haven’t written because its been tough. Not really tough, just sorta tough. Not enough to be get me outta here tough, but enough to whinge and complain if I got going. For me. And I haven’t wanted to admit it. Or articulate it. I think that at any moment I will turn that corner and all will be great! Shut up and suck it up and all that….. And the thing is there are days I love it here. Absolutely adore it.  And so it goes….

Brisbane is beautiful. The river winds its way through the city, with ferries weaving to and fro. The Gold Coast is 40 minutes away and absolutely stunning. When we drive down there and walk down to the beach, or ride our bicycles along the pathways, we can’t help but smile. We drove to Sydney over Easter break and ate more fresh seafood than I’ve ever eaten in a 10 day period. The Sunshine coast is 1 hr. north and wild, natural and totally different than the Gold Coast. The weather has been incredible, with more blue sky and sun than you could imagine. Having palm trees in the yard, a slight breeze all around, and the fresh air….oh how fantastic the fresh air is.

There’s been stuff. We bought a house that has needed more work than we had expected. We arrived with minimal furniture and had to furnish some extra spaces. I’m over Ikea, so its taken time. And it’s frustrating to say the least ,when you have items stored in some warehouse in Canada that you could use here, but there’s no way it makes sense to ship them over. There have been family events that make it feel like I wish I could be two places at once. So much.   We now have friends in multiple places that I miss, and I just haven’t found my tribe here yet. So it’s been lonely. I’ve done all the expat musts….gone to anything I’ve been invited to, invited others over, repeatedly, sent friendly texts with smiley emoticons….all the things that make me feel hopeful, and like I’m a 15 yr old girl dating again, all at the same time.

The kids are great. They have friends and come home with new invites, weekend sport schedules that keep us all busy and active, and the smiles on their faces tell me they’re happy. It has been a great choice to live within walking distance of the school, as all have friends close by, and the freedoms we’ve wanted for them. Jim is enjoying his job and loves the flexibility he has once again. Driving his own car to and from work. Leaving a bit later one morning to go into the office so he can watch a school assembly that Abs narrated, or coming home early enough to pick the boys up from rugby so they don’t have to walk home with all their gear after a tough training session. Working with some great people and enjoying the intellectual stimulation his job affords him. He tinkers in his garage (no I don’t really know what he’s doing) but I can tell he’s content. He deserves that. I’m also pretty sure he’s made more trips to the hardware store in the last two months, than he did in the two years before that. And everytime, I swear he has the biggest grin on his face. 🙂

As for me, this last week I got out and went to a choir rehearsal, went sailing at a yacht club that has a ladies sailing afternoon (had an amazing time, with dolphins swimming off our bow, toe rail under water) and have spent some time with a couple of women that I think could be part of my tribe. At least I hope so. Because I’ve got a good feeling about them. I went for a volunteer job interview, and have just hit send on an email that I’ve been contemplating writing for a long time. A path towards something I’ve been thinking about for a while…..something I hope to share down the road. I know not all of it will turn out the way I hope, but thats ok. That’s life. It doesn’t matter where you live. I just want to make sure that I’ve made the effort.

That corner I mentioned earlier…I think I’m turning it. This isn’t all about me. Which is why there’s been silence. I’m the one that blogs, so its been quiet. But you should know that we are happy. We are doing well.