Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The end of an era

Cadbury Schweppes has announced they have stopped making three iconic Kiwi lollies, the Snifter, Sparkles and Tangy Fruit due to flagging sales. By 4pm on the day of the announcement on stuff.co.nz, a New Zealand news website, there were more than 600 comments almost exclusively from New Zealanders expressing sadness and anger at the demise of much loved Kiwi icons:

Luke said-

My first car was a light green mini with a brown interior that i lovingly referred to as the racing snifter. I loved sucking the hard shell off first then enjoying the chocolate before crunching down on that hard stuff (nougat?) I'll certainly miss the humble snifter and i know my wife will miss her movie time tangy fruits. BOO Cadbury, shame on you for condemning a kiwi icon

Cynthia said-

I am angry, "SNIFTERS" are the one sweet that I REALLY do enjoy & have for many years,!!!! don't eat heaps, but they are always there,!! a REAL OLD FAVOURITE. !! And MOST enjoyable. !!!

And Kiwi Anges said-

What on earth are Cadbury's doing? First of all they got rid of the chewy throaties without warning to any overseas kiwis and now snifters, jaffas and tangy fruits!!! Who is doing the market research.
Overseas visitors love all of these products and I have to bring large quantities of these products back to the US each time I return from the land of the long white cloud.
Cadbury's need to do better market research!
Very angry kiwi

Some were expats, horrified that they would no longer be able to get their fix on trips home:

From Caroline in Australia-

What! the end of Sparkles and Tangi Fruits?? As an ex-pat kiwi what I am going to feed my kids when I come home? I'd like to be able to say "this is what real lollies are like - not that rubbish you get in Australia" What's next? the death of the Fruju, or even worse the Grainwave? Can I sign a petition to save NZ specific junk food?

From Sara also in Australia-

This is really sad. I travel to New Zealand quite often and buy up big on snifters to bring back to Sydney. OMG if pinkys go I will be devastated.

The saddest part is that the Snifter and the Tangy Fruit were an essential part of the Kiwi cinema going experience and were therefore part of the happy memories of many a New Zealanders childhood. The movie candy bar was one of the only places Tangy Fruit could be bought.

The Snifter- An egg shaped lolly with a hard minty coating over thin chocolate with a mint nougat centre. Not really my thing but loved by many.

The Sparkle- A fruit flavoured, square shaped boiled lolly with a dimple in each side for suctioning onto the tongue so that conversation was still possible without losing the sweet either down ones throat or onto the floor. (Well thats what i thought it was for anyway!)

The Tangy Fruit-Chewy inside with a thin hard fruity coating. Conveniently packaged in a lidded cup so fellow movie goers weren't disturbed by the contant rustle of reaching for another lollie. They rolled like ballbearings down the wooden floors of our old movie theatres leaving behind a trail of muffled giggles.
RIP the Tangy Fruit, Sparkles and Snifters!!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Being a gym rat

I am a bit of a gym rat. I have been going everyday give or take for the last 19 years, longer if you count the on and off memberships I had at school. I even went twice or even three times a day when I was working in a gym a few years back. I have tried every aerobic class there is and taught a fair few as well, used just about every piece of cardio equipment on offer and tried all sorts of combinations of lifting weights, using balls, pulling stretchies, boosting bars and wedging myself into machines. Every time we have moved country I have found myself a ‘local’ and eased myself into a newish routine.

My ‘local’ here is the newest, biggest and probably the least populated gym I have been in so far. It has an amazing view of Independence Monument from the treadmills and crosstraining machines and a weight machine for every muscle you can think of and probably a few you’d forgotten you had. The ‘personal trainer’ rattles around the huge room waiting for someone to look confused or possibly just stunned at all the equipment. There are two weights floors, each with their own set of attendants who are actively trying to look busy or at least trying to look like they are not spending the whole day watching one of the 10 televisions on each level. Most days I like having the gym to myself. After years of being at the gym for someone else, years of answering questions and dishing advice (always of the solicited variety of course!) I usually prefer to be an antisocial gym goer. You see I like to work out with emphasis on the work part and sometimes it hurts and sometimes I am out of breath and sometimes I am just trying really hard not to fall over.

Speaking of falling over the other day I was reading older posts on a blog (Paradise lost in translation)I read regularly when I came across a gym confession that made me smile. The blogger (sorry I don’t know your name) recalled falling off the treadmill at the gym in front of some rather more sedate gym goers who were no doubt smugly thinking ‘Yep knew that was coming’ as they strolled carefully trying not to break a sweat.

I didn’t use the treadmill for years due to my own mortal fear of ending up horizontal under the end of the belt. I was, however, a runner for many years regularly pounding the pavements or tracks where ever I was at the time. After a while running became a kind of meditation. My feet fell in a rhythm, my heart slipped into a comfortable work mode and my brain was left to wander with a small alert bit keeping an eye out for holes and dog poo. This is exactly why I don’t like the treadmill. The treadmill is flat you-controlled terrain, devoid of the tree roots and the ankle turning stones of a bush track or the oncoming human and animal traffic of an urban footpath. There is no longer a pressing need for the alert bit to remain alert and a running body becomes a small stride from daydream land and from there it is only a very small miss step to having legs above your head instead of on the floor where they belong!

I have had to rein in my fears a bit since we moved to the tropics and the idea of heaving a slimy, sticky body around humid, dusty, rubbish filled streets lost its appeal. I have conquered the treadmill demons...well on a Monday and a Friday anyway.

On a Wednesday I have discovered (or should I say rediscovered) spinning! Not the woolly kind (which would definitely be a meditative sort of exercise) rather the sweaty, panting thank-god-for-gelly-bike- seat kind of spinning. It’s a mindful exercise in that it is almost impossible not to be aware how hard your body is working and it is working hard and what a rush!! One of these days I might even recover enough to go twice a week.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

P'chum Ben

P’Chum Ben or Prachum Benda, which means ‘gathering together to make offerings’ (prachum-gathering together and ben-offering), is a major holiday in Cambodia. It is held on the 15th day of the waning moon (Ronouch) during the tenth month of the Khmer calendar, Pheaktrobotr, and usually falls in the first half of September in the western calendar. This year it began on September the 14th and ends on September 28. The 15 day lead up, starting on the waxing moon (K’nert) with P’chum Touch (the ‘small festival’) and ending with P’chum Thom (the ‘big festival’), is a busy one. During the period between the big and the small festivals Cambodian Buddhists take turns offering the monks, who are supposed to remain indoors on a three month dharma retreat, food. Each of the 15 days has a name and a purpose.

HENG CHIVOAN Sek Yeam, 67, buys ansom chrouk, a traditional rice cake at O’russei Market on Sunday. (from the Phnom Penh Post)

Each day the devoted take turns to ready the temple grounds. Before sunrise on the day of the Kann Ben, (which means ‘hosting’) special food is cooked for the ancestral spirits. A variety of favourite dishes of assorted flavours and colours from the simple and traditional nom ansom (sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves with various fillings) to the more complex and rich coconutty amok (steamed fish marinated in an amalgam of herbs and spices). As a sign of compassion the hosts also prepare bai ben (balls of sesame seeds mixed into steamed sticky rice) which is tossed into shaded areas of the temple grounds as an offering to the hungry souls who have been forgotten or no longer have living relatives to provide them food.
Incense and candles are lit before noon and the food is offered to the monks. The urns of ancestors, which are kept on site, are polished and bought into the viheara (the main chanting room) and their names are recorded on an invitation list so that they can receive the offerings. The list is then read and burned to guide the lost souls to their families.
The host family then join the monks to be blessed with sprinkled water and then for chanting and meditation.

Best clothes and full tiffen

The 15th day of P’chum Ben is for the priad spirits. Cambodians believe that although most living creatures are reincarnated at death some souls, due to bad karma, are not reincarnated but remain trapped in the spirit world. Each year these souls are released to search for their living relatives, meditate and repent. Priads are afraid of light and so can only receive prayers and food on the darkest day of this cycle, the day of P’chum Ben. Their living relatives offer food to those unfortunate enough to have become trapped in the spirit world and pray in the hopes of reducing their bad karma and eventually releasing them to be reincarnated. After the ancestors are reincarnated, they can then accumulate good karma on their own and can begin to look forward to achieving a peaceful inner spirit, which is the greatest blessing a living relative can hope for their ancestors.
Devout Buddhists believe that if they do not bring food for their ancestors to seven pagodas during P'Chum Ben, they will be cursed with bad luck.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Tuol Sleng

(Note: This post has fairly vivid descriptions of Tuol Sleng and its horrors. I thought hard about whether to write it and decided I needed to, to be able to process what I saw and felt. It is up to you whether you read what is written below. It is important that we, as expat guests in Cambodia, visited both these places, since every single Cambodian alive today is affected by what happened here from 1975 to 1979 in some way or another.
The photos in this post are disturbing in the context of the article but not gruesome. There are more photographs here http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=37760&l=59de3&id=711058324.)

On Sunday we went to Tuol Sleng (which can be translated as ‘Hill of the poison tree’ ) Genocide Museum. The museum is at the site of the notorious 'Security Prison 21' or S-21. Formerly the Tuol Svay Prey High School the four three storey buildings in street 113 were converted by the Khmer Rouge, in May 1976, into a prison and interrogation centre to ‘detain, interrogate and exterminate’ people accused of opposing ‘Angkar’ (The organisation). It was a place known as 'konlaenh choul min dael chenh' or ‘the place where people went in but never came out’.
In 3 years, 8 months and 20 days, from 1975 to 1979, more than a quarter of Cambodia’s population is believed to have died under the terror reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge (see previous post for more history). At Tuol Sleng an estimated 17000 people (some estimates suggest a number as high as 20,000) were imprisoned, systematically interrogated, tortured, coerced into signing fictitious confessions (usually that they were working for the CIA) and then murdered (although many would have died from starvation or disease before then). Prisoners were taken from all parts of Cambodia and from all walks of life. There were Vietnamese, Laotians, Thai, Indians, Pakistanis, British, Americans, Canadians, a New Zealander and two Australians but the majority were Cambodian.

In the beginning most of the victims were from the previous government and anyone who was educated, lived in the urban areas of Cambodia or was overtly religious. Soldiers, government officials, teachers, doctors, students, monks, Muslims, engineers, professionals of any kind and anyone who stood out for any reason were herded into S-21 and interrogated until they confessed their connections to Lon Nols government, Vietnam or America. Then they were tortured into giving up relatives, friends and neighbours. Later on paranoia within the ranks of the Khmer Rouge saw hundreds of their own party activists and their families bought to Tuol Sleng to suffer the same fate. Whole families were taken including new born babies and children. According to Khmer Rouge records found at Tuol Sleng some 10499 people were killed not including the children. The final fourteen victims, who had died in the hours before the Vietnamese pushed the Khmer Rouge from Phnom Penh, are buried in white washed graves in front of the first building. There were only 7 survivors of Tuol Sleng.

The classrooms of the old school were turned into cells, some little more than a meter wide, and torture chambers with iron bars and electrified razor wire to prevent escapes and suicides. The first ten rooms on the ground floor of A-block were used for ‘interrogating’ important prisoners. The rusted wire bed- frames, manacles and tin latrine boxes are still there. The Khmer Rouge kept meticulous records including photos of prisoners at the point of death or soon after which were used as evidence that they were doing their job. In each room there is one of these photos.

The rooms on the floor above were large cells used to hold between 50-100 prisoners, lying prone, shackled by their ankles for days, able to very clearly hear what was going on in the rooms below. There is still a school blackboard in one of the rooms.

Outside A-block there is a sign in both Khmer and English with the rules of Tuol Sleng:

1. You must answer accordingly to my questions - don't turn them away.

2. Don't try to hide the facts by making pretexts this and that. You are strictly prohibited to contest me.

3. Don't be a fool for you are a chap who dare thwart the revolution.

4. You must immediately answer my questions without wasting time to reflect.

5. Don't tell me either about your immoralities or the essence of the revolution.

6. While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all.

7. Do nothing, sit still and wait for my orders. If there is no order, keep quiet. When I ask you to do something, you must do it right away without protesting.

8. Don't make pretexts about Kampuchea Krom in order to hide your jaw of traitor.

9. If you don't follow all the above rules, you will get many lashes of electric wire.

10. If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric discharge.

Behind the rule board is the scaffolding usually used in a school to hold a swing or two, a set of uneven bars and beneath them huge terracotta plant pots. During the reign of Pol Pot these were chillingly turned into torturous apparatus used to inflict torment on prisoners in order to extract bizarre and outlandish confessions.

The next building has been turned into a gallery for some of the thousands of photographs taken by the Khmer Rouge of the prisoners, each with a number around their neck, some smiling but most with just an empty look in their eyes. There are men, women (some with babies) and children. One of the boys I noticed had had his number pinned to him not to his clothing. These photographs were among the records found by the Vietnamese after they liberated Phnom Penh. There are many thousands of pages of meticulous records of arrivals (including the negatives of the individual numbered photographs) torture and execution schedules, manuals of the methodologies of torture and signed confessions. Many of the victims were buried in shallow graves on the grounds of S-21 but most were trucked under the cover of darkness to Choeung Ek, ‘The Killing Fields’, and forced to dig their own graves. They were then bludgeoned to death to save bullets and dumped into the hole. (We couldn't manage The Killing Fields on the same morning but will make the pilgrimage soon)

The third block is covered with razor wire and houses small rudimentary brick cells and on the second floor even smaller wooden cells some still equipped with manacles and the ammunition tins that were used as latrines.

The last block holds an exhibit containing a collection of photos and paintings. The paintings are the work of artist Vann Nath, one of the seven survivors of Tuol Sleng, kept alive so he could paint oil pictures of Pol Pot. After the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime Nath returned to Cambodia to paint a series of paintings depicting ‘life and death at Tuol Sleng’. There are a few of the instruments, equipment and furniture used at S-21 on display in this block too.
On the first floor is another photographic display this time of some of the people who worked at S-21 as they are today, free and living ‘normal’ lives. There were 1720 workers at S-21. Many were children, 10-15 years old, who had been recruited and trained by the Khmer Rouge to work as guards and 'medical officers'. Most started out as normal but grew increasingly cruel and disrespectful to their elders and the prisoners.
In 1997 the Cambodian Government asked the United Nations for assistance in setting up a genocide tribunal. It took nine years to agree to shape and structure of the court which is a mix of Cambodian and international laws. In the spirit of 'achieving justice, truth and national reconciliation', the Cambodian Government and the UN decided that the court should limit prosecutions to the senior leaders of Democratic Kampuchea (the name of the state established by the Khmer Rouge) who planned or gave orders, as well as those most responsible for committing serious crimes. It is expected that only a small number of people will fall within this limit and be tried. The maximum sentence is life in prison and the minimum sentence is five years. There will be no death penalty. The death penalty is unconstitutional in Cambodia.
At the end of 2005 the judges were sworn in and were presented with the names of five possible suspects. On 19 September 2007 Nuon Chea, second in command of the Khmer Rouge and its most senior surviving member, was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Tuol Sleng and The Killing Fields are chilling reminders of what human beings are capable of. It still blows me away that this happened in my lifetime. According to http://www.globalsecurity.org/ there are 42 current wars or conflicts in 31 different countries today many are already decades old. Two countries are involved in 4 current conflicts; America and Indonesia.

What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?
Mahatma Gandhi(1869 - 1948), "Non-Violence in Peace and War"

A little bit of history

Independence Monument Phnom Penh

Around 1st century BC the heavily Indian influenced Funan Kingdom was busy shaping Cambodia’s history. It’s remnants can still be seen in Cambodia’s art, alphabet, religion and architecture. There is also archaeological evidence of a commercial society in the Mekong Delta from the 1st to the 6th centuries. During the 9th to the 14th century Cambodia enjoyed relative prosperity and growth. A huge number of temples were built including, Angkor Wat (more on that later I hope), and by the 12th century Cambodia had spread into what is now known as Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and the Malaysian peninsula.
Then things began to get tough. From the 14th century right up until the 19th century Cambodia was repeatedly ravaged by Vietnamese and Thai invasions. A war that began in the 1830's almost destroyed Cambodia so the then King Norodom signed a treaty that enabled the French to become a protectorate and, for the next 90 years, France had the final say on most matters.
In 1953 Norodom Sihanouk petitioned France for independence and, when he was ignored, went into voluntary exile until the French finally conceded and Sihanouk came home to an independent Cambodia. The Geneva Peace Accords proclaimed Cambodia would be guaranteed the right to remain neutral and non-aligned and committed Cambodia to a constitutional monarchy with elections open to everyone. Despite his popularity Sihanouk worried the republican-minded Democratic Party, who were determined to abolish the monarchy, would win the next election. His strategy was to abdicate the throne, announcing that he would establish a truly democratic party, ending the rule of privilege. He formed a political movement called the ‘Sangkum Reastr Niyum’ (the People's Socialist Community) and because he had the support of the peasant majority and several other political parties, who feared annihilation at the polls, in 1955, Prince Sihanouk was elected premiere.

Photographs of prisoners at Tuol Sleng or S-21

In the 1960s, Sihanouk tried to remain impartial during skirmishes in Laos and Vietnam despite Nixon’s frequent carpet bombing to it’s border villages. The United States, believing that the North Vietnamese had communist strongholds in Cambodia, conducted bombing raids along the Cambodia-Vietnam border, slaughtering an estimated 600,000 people. Many were Cambodian peasant farmers. The US were also attempting to shift Sihanouk's loyalty, using offers of aid, from pro-communist neutrality to pro-American. The United States tried to pressure Sihanouk into joining the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), an organisation they believed would help keep Communist China in its place. Sihanouk refused because of his pro-communist neutrality. He also caused alarm in Washington by establishing relationships with the USSR and Poland and accepting aid from China.

In March 1970, while Sihanouk was in Paris, General Lon Nol used anti Vietnamese sentiment inside Cambodia to overthrow Sihanouks government. He pledged to remove foreign communist forces and appealled to the United States for military aid. It worked, the cabinet cabled Sihanouk in Paris announcing a radical change in military and foreign policy. Sihanouk's efforts to escape the imminent coup failed and on Wednesday, March 18, 1970, the assembly met to vote Sihanouk out of office.
Meanwhile a man called Saloth Sar (or Pol Pot from the French ‘Politique potentielle’ as he became known) had become the acting leader of the largely underground communist party. In March 1963, Saloth went into hiding after his name was published in a list of leftist suspects put together by the police for Norodom Sihanouk. He fled to the Vietnamese border region and made contact with Vietnamese units fighting against South Vietnam. Sihanouk formed a government in exile with Pol Pot’s communist party, the Communist Party of Kampuchea, and called it the Khmer Rouge.
Soon civil war raged between General Lon Nol’s government, whose control had been limited to a few enclaves, and the now more powerful Khmer Rouge. The embattled people of Cambodia, who were fearful of the repeated American bombing and the warring Vietnamese, were easily swayed by the communist policies of the Khmer Rouge.
On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge won and initiated its plan to create a collectivist, agrarian society, effectively forcing Cambodia back to ‘year zero.’ Banking, finance and currency were all abolished, all religions were outlawed, and the traditional social structure was destroyed. Pol Pot, the leader of the Khmer Rouge, attempted to create a classless agricultural society by forcihng the withdrawl from urban areas such as Phnom Penh and Battambang to try and eradicate trade and business. The educated, religious, non Khmer, people who had contact with western countries or with Vietnam, the disabled, even those wearing glasses were targeted. Over 3 million people were marched out of cities and forced into labour camps to be ‘re-educated’ or they were never seen again. The labour camps were terrifying dismal places, where if people struggled to survive torture, disease and starvation which would leave them barely alive. Many died at the hands of cruel soldiers some hardly more than children. Some were put in S-21 for interrogation involving torture in cases where a confession was useful to the government. Many others were summarily executed. Survivors were traumatized by over hearing people, often family members, beaten to death, seeing bloodied clothing and smelling dead bodies. Children were punished or killed if they showed emotion.

Peace sign in Cambodia (Photo from onemillionpeacesigns.blogspot)

The Khmer Rouge was finally overthrown by the Vietnamese in 1979 after nearly 3 and a half years of terror. Cambodians flooded into refugee camps on the border with Thailand where the Thai soldiers could be almost as cruel as the Khmer Rouge. The US, who opposed the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia, approved 5 million USD in aid to the pro Sihanouk Khmer Peoples National Liberation Front but the Khmer Rouge were receiving funding from China. In December 1984, the Vietnamese launched a major offensive and overran most of the Khmer Rouge positions. Pol Pot fled to Thailand and then to China. In 1989, Vietnam withdrew from Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge established a new stronghold area in the west near the Thai border and Pol Pot relocated back into Cambodia. He refused to cooperate with the peace process, and kept fighting the new coalition government. Eventually the Khmer Rouge disintegrated and Pol Pot was placed under house arrest in the North of Cambodia where he died while waiting to be tried for his war crimes.
Today, The Killing Fields and S-21remain as testimonies to the unimaginable cruelties of the Khmer Rouge. The Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale University reports that at least 20 percent of the population, or 1.7 million people, died during the Pol Pot regime. The people of Cambodia are still living with the effects of the years under Pol Pot. In this century, there has probably been no other revolution which so completely altered the lives of an entire population. Literally overnight, entire cities were emptied, property abolished, money rendered worthless, homes and familes destroyed. Every aspect of every life was suddenly and completely dictated by the new government. There was no transition period; hundreds of thousands of people... store clerks, factory workers, taxi drivers, cooks were forced to become farmers. Thousands were executed immediately. Overnight, Cambodia became a nation of slaves. For every Cambodian old enough to remember the events of 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge reign would mark a turning point in their lives. The hustling, bustling developing economy of today’s Cambodia is evidence of their ability to endure and to thrive. We feel very privileged to be able to be a part of this beautiful country and guests of its friendly, smiling people for a few years.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Our stuff has arrived

Deciding what to bring when you move from one country to another can prove difficult, traumatic even. As those of you who read this will know this time we have not only moved country but company as well. Our previous company, The Company (red) had a generous allowance, built into our contract, so in Singapore we were able to sit on our own couch, eat off our own plates and even ...bliss....sleep on our own beds and we weren't even bumping the edges of the provided container. By comparasion the allowance The Company (blue) pays for is barely enough to cover linens and clothing let alone all the things you bring to make the house feel like a home. We carefully separated our precious things, making sacrifices and saying goodbye to all but the things we couldn't live without and still exceeded our limit by more than half! The rest went south to New Zealand to join what is left in storage.

When we moved from the Pacific to Asia we skipped through New Zealand on the way and dipped into our storage crate to reclaim some of our furniture for the Singapore shift. Both boys loved trawling through their boxes chosing what to bring and what to leave behind again. The part of their lives they had grown out of grew a little bigger, the precious things they moved with changed from stereo, lego and books to files stored on an ipod, CD cases filled with discs and books. The container has become a time capsule of sorts with an as yet unknown date of retrieval. I would have loved to have been able to pass some of the passable stuff on to my nieces and nephew but because we are non residents that would mean paying duty so unless we move back for a spell in storage it stays.

Yesterday our stuff arrived. Well most of it arrived. I arrived home from the gym to find a hallway full of boxes, a meagre 62 precious boxes, waiting for me to unpack. I attacked the 'kitchen' boxes looking for our brand spanking new coffee machine. Kitchen sorted I turned to the boxes marked 'misc', then 'misc and ornaments', then 'art frames', 'books and games'. Still no cappuchino. I unpacked 'clothes', resurrected 'pillows and bedding' and shelved 'linens', checked the labels on the remaining 2 or 3 boxes, left a strained message on Js phone and sat down with a diet coke instead. Finally in a box marked 'entertainment centre' and after almost everything else was homed the coffee machine emerged. Whew!!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I dreamed my whole house was clean

I have just finished scrubbing tiles. We have a lot of floors, all tile, and a lot of bathrooms, floor to ceiling tile. I know, I know I can hear you cry...why??...am I scrubbing floors when I could for a tiny sum have someone do it for me. There are a myriad of reasons why I am still the one doing the scrubbing and the moping, the wiping, the washing and the ironing, the cooking and the horde of other countless things a house and its hold needs done to keep it clean and running as a household should.

In each country that we have expatted to it has been the norm to hire a maid, a helper, a housegirl, a cleaner, a someone to do those jobs you are not that fond of and, let’s face it, those you really hate, those you don’t have time to do justice to and then there are those pesky ones that scream ‘clean me’ every few weeks (like the outside of the upstairs windows and the inside of the bathroom cabinets and the spiders at the back of the board games cupboard). A lot of people we have met went the maid route because they needed a someone to watch the kids while they went to the gym, went for a coffee at a child unfriendly cafe, had a date with the mate at a very child unfriendly restaurant (with mood lighting, linen napkins and a fork for every occasion) or did the shopping quickly (because it really is never quick when you have a child or two in tow) or cooked dinner without toddler ankle weights or had an important businesslike conversation on the phone without constant covert shushing at the end of every sentence
...Oh sorry... no...I didn’t mean.... oh no I’m sorry not you....I wasn’t shushing you...yes that would be great...by Friday? (Shusshhhhhh)....no,no not you shussh...yes Friday would be wonderful!

B was already 14 when we moved to Samoa and capable of a few hours as child in charge plus most of the nighttime things we went to either involved the kids or only one or other of us so I never felt we needed a baby sitter.

Try as I might I just can’t get my head around the idea of having someone clean up after me. I can almost hear a whispered ‘You made the mess... you clean it up’ following me around. And so I still do. I have never been the kind of person who is comfortable giving orders I am too shy and far too fiercely independent for my own good it seems. I’m the one with the plunger not the plumber’s phone number. I’m the one who decided one day it was time to remodel the kitchen and by the time J came home most of it was already outside on the back lawn. I am the one with the cache of power tools in the shed (at least I had power tools when we last had a shed) and I wasn’t afraid to use them.

It’s a definite character flaw I’m inclined to believe especially when I’m on hands and knees scrubbing around the bottom of the toilet or knee deep in ironing with a sweaty sheen on my forehead or trawling the market, sweat trickling down my back, looking for mangosteen and ripe pineapples. I admire those who can sit squarely on their desire to do it themselves and let someone else sweep under their feet without feeling huge pangs of guilt and I’ve really tried to imagine being comfortable doing it too but I am afraid I am going to have to admit defeat again. I am just not ‘ma’am’ material.

( Domestic godess fridge magnets from Amazon)