Friday, April 11, 2008

Happy Khmer New Year!

Next week is Khmer New Year. Jemima made me cry last night at her school party when she stood up on stage and sang and danced to traditional Khmer songs. As usual schools, shops and businesses close, Phnom Penh’s residents make their mass exodus to the provinces and the festivities commence. Oh, and the police come knocking on the door of your child’s preschool asking for three crates of beer. (The more inhibited ones go to impressive efforts – last year they came to our house and presented us with a very official looking proposal for a new fire station.) But given that their salary just about covers the hugely inflated costs of a month’s supply of rice and gas, we can hardly blame them.

Tomorrow we leave for Vietnam for three weeks, or less if we run out of money. I know, I am only just back from the UK. Blame James! He has to travel, it is in his blood. I’d be perfectly happy in a cottage in Herefordshire writing for mothers and teaching yoga and never travelling another carbon mile again. (Well, I think I would be…). At least we are only taking one very short flight. The rest of the time we shall be ‘child-packing’, bussing and training around the country. Very, very exciting. How lucky are we?

I am seriously excited to get into the mountains and carry Bella on my back without us both getting miserably sweaty and slippery. We even bought a second Ergo so that we can carry Jemima in the hills when she gets too tired of walking. She will be four in September but it is still comfortable to carry her – how cool is that? I really ought to get commission from them. Half of PP now seems to have an Ergo thanks to me. Except that I have heard they are not made very ethically. When I get back from Vietnam I plan to write to them about this. I also plan to write about the fact that garment workers in PP, who make clothes for Next, M&S and Hennes, to name a few British brands, get paid $50 a month, without benefits, insurance, sick pay etc. How disgusting is this? The cost of one pair of trousers for a whole months’ salary. This is old news but we need reminding. Especially given that clothes companies are refusing to increase salaries to reflect recent and crippling inflation. Trade Unions are threatening to strike but this is a risky business in Cambodia where just last year an outspoken TU leader was killed in very suspicious circumstances. If you care about this I recommend you visit
this great blog site, Fair Trade Blogger – written by my brother-in-law, Paul. Something to read while I am away.

I will try to pop in from time to time and tell you how things are going but I will probably write about it all on my return. What I will do while away is repost old posts which are now buried in far corners of the blog, for all my new visitors to read. I’m off to pack, hoorah! See you soon!

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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Arghhh, how could she? The embarrassing things they say...

I wrote this blog post ages ago but was too embarrassed to publish it. Then I told Jemima’s teacher who was delighted by it and said I must. So seeing as I cannot think of anything brilliant to say in its place, and that I met someone this weekend who confessed that she actually checks my blog out every day and sighs with disappointment when there is nothing new to read (she does live in Ratanakiri, bless her, so she can’t get out much), I will go ahead and publish it. This one is for you M. Now you will have to comment :-).

A few weekends ago now I was at a children’s birthday party where I knew no one other than the hosts and their children. It was a first birthday party so most of the other guests were adults. I was chatting to an extremely lovely lesbian couple and their sweet daughter who reminded me of my ten-year-old niece. Just as I was thinking how nice it would be to meet up with them again and introduce them to James, Jemima decided to announce, loudly and quite out of the blue, to the entire party:

“My daddy likes to eat pussy”.

I quote her to the letter.

Arrrrgggghhhhh. I was speechless, mortified... I knew it was only a matter of time before Jemima, like all small children, said something really embarrassing in public. I had no idea how crucifying it would be.

What was the best response? Should I pretend I had not heard or try to explain? Would they believe me? Of course I was the only one who had heard the lead up to this apparent confession. She had been thinking aloud (not aloud enough, damn it) of things that would be silly for her Daddy to eat, and having gone through her teddy, doll, the sofa, naturally she progressed to Pussy. Our Pussy. Sophie-Anna to be exact. You know, the poor cat that was mauled by our neighbours’ dogs. (Read about that here).

Probably the cleverest thing to do in this instance was to have pleaded ignorance, but instead I burst into nervous laughter - I know, a sure sign of complicity – and then made it all worse by repeating what she had said. Don’t ask me why. Reason escaped me at that moment. And James’s good name remains sullied to this day.

It is bad enough when our children embarrass us by saying “Poo!” or “I don’t like her” in public. But what do we do when their comments could be construed as some sort of political incorrectness on our part? “Look at that lady’s fat tummy!” Or worse, outright racism? My three-year old nephew refused to sit down next to a man on the train. The man was very old and wizened with a long, straggly beard, the kind of face from which any child who has heard enough fairy tales will naturally shy away. He also happened to be black. What could my sister possibly say in response to “I don’t want to sit down next to that horrid black man?” that would not have made it far, far worse?

“Oh I am so sorry. It is not that you are black. He’s just a little scared of your scraggy, old beard and wrinkly skin!”

Does anyone have any great ploys which will make our children’s embarrassing comments weigh less heavily in the air, or do I need to learn to just smile and bite my tongue? I look forward to hearing your stories!

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Friday, April 4, 2008

Natural remedies for babies and children

As I have said already Bella and James have both had bad coughs and colds this week. The house, infused with garlic or cloves depending on which room you are in, is strewn with little pots and jars, each containing olive oil and some combination of essential oils. I have broken the lemon squeezer and grated my fingers in with the ginger. And we are out of honey. I thought I may as well share a few natural remedies I am using. I do not have very many so would love to hear your ideas as well. And, for those of you reading from Cambodia, I have to tell you about PP’s only and most wonderful homeopath, Sally Anne Matthews, who also gave me many of the ideas below.

Ok, here is a (rather hurried, sorry) description of what poor Bella’s has been made to endure every day this week. Thanks to all this and the wonders of homeopathy, we have managed to avoid antibiotics or drugs. Hope you find some of it useful and look forward to your ideas!


Bella had fluorescent green and yellow gunge oozing from her eyes for seven days. I managed to get rid of it eventually by cleaning her eye every few hours with cooled boiled salt water and cotton wool, followed by dropping or squirting (!) breast milk in her eye.


Each morning Bella has woken full of green mucus and snot, which is making her cough a lot. I have held her over a steaming sink full of boiling water and cloves. I would add eucalyptus and lavender if I had not used them all up in another remedy, but cloves works brilliantly on its own actually. I have held her in a towel so that she does not put her hands in, lying face down in my arms, with her head over the sink. She does not exactly enjoy this experience but it works wonders and is a lot less stressful for her than the nose sucker which she hates. Doing this once a day has got all the night’s build up of snot out of her system.

At her next feed I then drop or squirt breast milk up her nose. They say to do this at the beginning of a feed because they sniff it right up. Not sure why, perhaps in anticipation of the drink to come!

Chest rub

I have then rubbed a mix of eucalyptus, lavender and cloves in olive oil onto her chest and back. This is replacing the usual massage she gets, with citronella and olive oil to ward off the mossies.


Because she occasionally rubs her ear as though it might be sore or slightly infected, I have been sticking garlic down there. I chop it up with olive oil and drop into the ear. You can stop up with cotton wool if necessary. Do not push it far into the ear! It really helps with any pain and seems to prevent the development of an ear infection.

I have been giving Bella ginger water to drink and garlicky vegetables – ginger and garlic are tow great natural antibiotics. Have filled her up with citrus fruit and tried to keep off wheat and dairy, though not exclusively. She has had oat porridge made with fresh orange juice which Jemima now loves too so that’s a good way to cut down her intake of milk. (Here we buy long life milk generously donated by some poor hormone pumped cow. As a breast feeding mother I am feeling solidarity with dairy cows! If it were not for my daughter’s love of everything dairy I would consider going vegan. Maybe when she is a bit older. I do miss British organic milk! It may be very expensive but milk is something I really think is worth buying organic.)

I also came across this this on natural remedies which has taught me a lot about using diet to prevent and cure almost everything. Trouble is, change is hard! James looked at me as though I were trying to torture him when I told him he needed to go on a fruit juice fast for two days and then only eat fruit. It is true that on his metabolism he would probably die if he did not eat a good meal every few hours, but I bet he would have fought off his cold before he did (die of starvation that is).

Jemima never gets ill. She gets run down and shows signs of getting ill, but she never seems to succumb. But just in case, this week she has feasted on 3 daily doses of echinacea, two daily spoonfuls of olive leaf tonic and a one a day probiotic!

Now it’s time to get Jemima and I have not told you about my homeopath, Sally Anne. Actually she needs a post of her own so I will write more next week. But suffice to say she has treated me and Bella twice now and it has been a wonderful healing experience both times. In a country where the kids get sick so often, having a homeopath in town is totally brilliant. Three times now we have avoided antibiotics (which we fell back on rather too often last year) thanks to Sally Anne’s remedies. I will tell all next week. Have a good weekend!

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From nappies to nine to five... anyone else terrified of the prospect of going back to work?

Hi everyone. Sorry for the long silence, this week I have not had a moment to blog. Both Bella and James have been ill and when not busy administering every conceivable natural remedy I can think of, (see next post), I have been completing an application form for a Foundation Course in the Healing Arts that will begin in September. And joining the board of Jemima’s parent-run pre-school. What all this has taught me is: it is true what people say. How ever much I love being at home with my kids, it is quite frankly terrifying to even consider stepping back into the professional or academic worlds of deadlines, meetings, team work and the rest. Oh, and that I hate it when everyone is sick.

The combination of waking half-hourly, to the tune of coughing, crying or the strange night bird that lives in our mango tree, and staying awake when all is quiet again to worry about my incompetence at the school board meeting, failing to get onto the course I so desperately want to do, and the painful silence from editors about the variety of half hearted feature ideas I have been exhaustedly churning out… well, it has turned me into a (just about) walking, insomniac zombie.

By day I have sweated it out with Bella on my back, (sleeping lying down makes her cough), spent too long on the computer, while saying “Yes… yes…. yes? Really? Just five more minutes” to an increasingly fed up Jemima, and then losing my temper on discovering that in the absence of all parental supervision she has gone and painted a wall, given cat food to Bella and eaten all the biscuits.

By night I have let down my friends, cancelled all social plans, the mere thought of having to appear somewhere after bedtime in a presentable state filling me with further fear and loathing. My confidence needs a serious boost.

I was last seen in an office (Christian Aid) in August 2004. Actually that is not true. Last year I revamped the Save the Children Norway offices, but that involved nothing more technical than a measure tape and a lot of shopping trips to the market with someone else’s money. 2004 is also when I completed my Counselling Certificate at London University, the first step on a new career ladder that was happily interrupted by the beautiful Jemima Rose, followed by a rather inconvenient move from Winchester to Cambodia.

This morning, as I finally felt ready to send in my application, I realised I had to attach my CV as well. Last updated a few years ago, most of it seems completely irrelevant now. My areas of expertise are no longer Africa, poverty in all its guises, gender and communication, but breastfeeding, baby-wearing, child development and the best baby carrier on the market (Ergo and Hotslings). Natural health will soon be up there too at this rate.

My professional experience ends so many years ago that most of the CV is now filled with voluntary activities that have filled my spare hours since Jemima was born. Oh, with the odd published article thrown in. Ok, I have written a book, but until that is published that does not really count does it? So I have left that out. My blog? I can’t really put that one down can I? They might read it. Washing nappies? No, doesn’t sound good. An honest personal profile would deter any reader from moving further down the page. Although yesterday I did make an inspired puppet doll with nothing more than a chopstick, a round cardboard lid and some wool. That shows I am the creative type, right?

None of this would matter if it weren’t for my latest revelation, which came to me in the middle of my yoga class on Monday. I want to combine creative arts therapy with Kundilini Yoga and goodness knows what else to work with women, mothers, refugees and children. What a brainwave! Not only does it combine two big passions of mine, it is the perfect portable career which I could work around school runs etc. I bounced home to tell James about my plan. He was very supportive and positive given that this basically means several years of expensive re-training and zero likelihood of me contributing to the family income for the foreseeable future. But you see I followed him to Cambodia, and so I will always have a trump card.

I would love to hear from other mothers about their journey back into the professional or academic world, how they combine it with being at home and how they built up their confidence and caught up with all the latest lingo etc. I feel out of my depth on the school board for goodness sakes. And now to what I do best. Telling other people what to do with their babies… I’m off to write a new post on how to treat sick family members naturally.

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