February is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and Morning Teals are being held all around the world to to raise money to fight ovarian cancer. My mum and I are both wearing teal “ADE” bracelets to support out dear friend and applaud all her astonishing achievements as a philanthropist, mother, novelist, wife, businesswoman, and friend. To donate, please go here.
Jan 08 2014
Hayden and I both had compulsory holidays between Christmas and New Year, so the three of us wanted to do something really special. We discussed Iceland and Turkey, but finally decided on Sri Lanka. We wanted to be able to show Hayden wild elephants, but he’s not quite ready for a safari in Africa. Sri Lanka seemed to promise some great wildlife experiences without worrying about malaria or lions. Inspired by our camping trip in India, I organised our stay in Sri Lanka to be at a camp site just outside the Udawalawe National Park.
We left Belgium on Christmas Eve and arrived at 5 a.m. on Christmas Day. We spent quite a few hours getting through immigrations and customs, and then waiting for our luggage. The suitcase finally turned up, but the baby cot and stroller were delayed for several days (as is tradition). We caught a tuk-tuk to the nearby Airport Villa so that we could rest from the 13 hour transit and prepare for the long drive to the campsite. There was even a plum pudding in a nearby restaurant.
After the sunset, we all swam together in the pool, surrounded by fireflies. Hayden loved the “big blue bath”.
Missing our travel cot, we put Hayden asleep on a mattress on the floor, in between two single beds. In the middle of the night we woke up to a distressed Hayden who had somehow managed to sleep-wiggle his way off the mattress and underneath one of the beds. He spent the rest of the night in our bed, which set the theme for the rest of the trip (and the weeks after our return).
The next day at 8 am the van arrived to pick us up. This greatly allayed my fears that the camp was nothing more than an elaborate Internet scam to which I had transferred full payment. After a five hour drive south, during which Hayden slept, I read “What Alice Forgot”, and Adrian read “A Memory of Light”, we finally arrived at the campsite. The eight large were tents set amongst sugar cane and banana tree plantations, with a river running along one edge. Our tent had no electricity or hot water, but a toilet and shower, and at night the camp was lit with torches.
We had a lovely lunch by the river. Fresh salads, curries, rice – it took me nearly the whole week to adjust my taste buds to the very piquant spices. During our stay in Sri Lanka, Hayden refused to eat anything except for milk, bananas, cookies and papadums.
At 3pm it was time for our very first safari. We told Hayden that we were going to see elephants and he was very excited. He wore his elephant shirt and took his elephant Duplo animals along for the ride. This first safari was one of the best of the trip. Around every corner, there was another family of elephants in the open grassland. There were baby elephants everywhere! The park is experiencing a huge increase in elephant numbers, which was apparent from all the new families that we could see. A decade ago there were only 250 elephants, now there are over 600. During our time in Sri Lanka, we also saw jackals, water buffalo, white spotted deer, toque macaques, tufted grey langurs, mongoose, mugger crocodiles, land monitors, and a water monitor.
For the rest of our trip, we settled into the rhythm of life in a safari park. Waking before dawn (5:30am) to say “brahhh! good morning elephants” and spending the first three hours of the day watching the sun rise over the national park. Back to the camp for a breakfast of fruit and pancakes, before a nap, lunch, and then a second safari before dinner. Sometimes we mixed it up by visiting the Elephant Transit Home in the morning or Yale National Park in the evening.
We had our own jeep which was very convenient, especially if Hayden just wanted to sit and watch the cows, water buffalo, or peacocks. He was surprisingly attentive and involved – offering us a running commentary of the animals that he could see (“Daddy, Mummy, Hayden upyumyum” “Mummy upyumyum too big bath” “Upyumyum eating grass trunk mouth” “water buffalo jumping muddy puddles” “hello monkeys”). As soon as we drove off, he would say “more upyumyum please”. Sometimes we would drive down to the reservoir and watch the sun set over the water.
We were surrounded by jungle fowl, kingfishers, cormorants, painted storks, grey pelicans, black-headed ibis, changeable hawk-eagles, crested serpent eagles, Indian rollers, Malabar pied hornbills, cuckoos, and the woolly necked stork. The driver would turn off the engine, and we would sit and listen to the sounds of the wild and watch the birds start to roost as the night fell swiftly over the park.
On our last night in Sri Lanka, we arrived at the airport at 10:30 pm for our 1:00 am flight, only to learn that it had been delayed until 6:00 am. By the time we finally arrived home in Brussels (with all our luggage!) we were exhausted, and after a long hot shower and spoiling the kittens, we all went to bed at 8pm on New Year’s Eve. All in all though, it was a fantastic way to close the year, and I hope that 2014 will bring us even more family adventures around the globe.
Nov 28 2013
In November I was lucky enough to be sent to Melbourne for a congress on non-communicable diseases. Adrian was already committed to a conference in Japan, so Hayden flew with me. I was a little intimidated about handling the 28 hour journey as a sole parent, but we were flying Qantas economy premium and Hayden was very well behaved. He barely ate or slept on the plane, but was content to watch his LeapPad, watch the Qantas TV, and play with his Duplo. I was really thankful for everyones’ kindness. The security screeners who let me keep Hayden in his pram while he was asleep, the strangers who help to carry my bags, the flight attendants with their Crayola kids packs.
We landed in Melbourne at 7am, I dropped off my luggage at the hotel, and I went to meet my mum and Josef who were staying nearby. Even though I hadn’t seen them for months, I barely said hello before jumping in the shower while Hayden was still asleep. I might not have slept for a day and a half, at least I was clean. After we caught up and Hayden got settled, I walked back to the convention center to check out the set-up of the congress.
With such severe sleep deprivation, it felt even more surreal to be back in Australia. On Thursday it was Winter in Brussels, on Saturday it was a glorious Summer day in Melbourne. Somehow it felt almost magical to be able to reverse the seasons. I caught up with a friend at MoVida and we explored the street art at Hosier Lane before walking to the the Melbourne Botanic Gardens.
After a long and stressful flight, tethered to Hayden without respite for nearly two days, I felt free again. The scents of eucalyptus and the sounds of the crimson rosellas surrounded me and I felt so happy to be back in Australia.
I learnt that “folly” also means “a costly ornamental building with no practical purpose, especially a tower or mock-Gothic ruin built in a large garden or park”, and saw one for myself in the Gardens. We then sat on the grass and enjoyed a sorbet, both of us relishing the rare pleasure of free time to catch up and relax. On the way back we saw a wedding in the park, a practise that is not legally recognised in Belgium, as all official weddings must occur in the Town Hall.
The next day it was time to begin the congress. While Mum and Josef watched Hayden, I spent my days rushing from scientific congresses to meetings with with committee members and potential project partners. With over 10,000 people at the event it was a very energising place, and it was the first time I had face-to-face meetings with many leaders in the field. We kicked off a few excited projects, and started brainstorming many more.
I had a fantastic hotel room, and each night I would collapse into bed, with the spectacular view of the Melbourne CVD below me. I would watch the cars zoom by as I fell asleep, and I was gently woken by a beautiful sunrise every morning.
One morning, as I was looking out the window, I spotted a large creature that looked like a floating whale with eight large mammary glands that seemed to be secreting helium. I instantly recognised the Skywhale – the enormous hot air balloon created for Canberra’s centenary. I was so disappointed to miss out on the centenary celebrations, so it was a lovely surprise to get a visit from this uniquely Canberra creature. I watched it float over Melbourne and serenely gaze down on the citizens below.
Hayden was also very happy to have two sets of grandparents to join him over one weekend, as Adrian’s dad and step-mum flew down from Adelaide to visit us. We all enjoyed brunch together before a lovely stroll along the Southbank. Unfortunately Hayden hasn’t had that much time with his grandparents in the past, so it was very special for us all to be together. We are looking forward to welcoming them to Europe in 2014 so that we can create even more magical memories.
Finally the congress was over, and it was time to take Hayden on a week’s holiday in Newcastle with my family.
Nov 15 2013
Amazon had recommended this book to me several times, but it wasn’t until it became my book club book that I finally started reading it. The premise is very simple – an old man sets out on a long walk, and with each mile he remembers a moment from his past. Harold Fry is a meek man who is afraid of everything and has spent his whole life trying not to be noticed. Inspired by a letter, he sets out on a journey that will change his life.
One of the loveliest themes in this book is that of looking back at painful memories, of coming to terms with them, and of forgiving yourself and others when they acted out of fear. It acknowledges that we cannot change the past, and we may not be able to change the future, but we can be kind to people, and open up our hearts to love and to loss.
“It must be the same all over England. People were buying milk, or filling their cars with petrol, or even posting letters. And what no one else knew was the appalling weight of the thing they were carrying inside. The inhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal.”
It is also an ode to British countryside. Rachel Joyce describes the scenery with such tender detail. “The hedgerows were sweetly scented with bowing heads of elderflower, and would through with wild clematis… The first of the gooseberries hung like hair green pods… The apple trees began to shake of their blossom, and bore beads of fruit; bluebells spread thick like water through the woodlands. The dandelions were already fluffheads of seed”.
I must admit that after reading this book, I have been investigating English walking holidays myself. The simplicity of simply putting one foot in front of the other, and the joy of slowly savouring the richness and diversity of the landscape does sound very appealing indeed. Though I’m glad I don’t have to bind my feet with duct tape every night.