Food for Thought
Travels with a Two-year-old
I have always considered myself to be an adaptable and adventurous person (though there are those notably my parents! who would take issue with both of these assertions). Hence, while I was planning a trip to visit my friends Lisa and Nigel in Nepal, I welcomed the suggestion from another friend that she accompany me on the planned three-day jaunt.
Of course, I was aware that there was another agenda at play here. My friend Chicha is the proud adoptive mother of a 3-year-old daughter, Aria. At the time of this incident, Aria was aged two years plus, and had yet to go abroad on holiday with her mother, due to the long delays in obtaining her passport. Whether these delays were due to the fact that Aria is adopted, or merely a reflection of the venality of some bureaucrat, I still don't know.
But the long and the short of the matter is that despite being fully entitled to a passport as a citizen of this country, it had taken the better part of two years and a considerable amount of blood, sweat and tears for Chicha to get hold of that small green document for her daughter. Having finally obtained the precious passport, Chicha was now eager to take the (repeatedly delayed) holiday she had been promising her daughter for so long. However, given her less than smooth experiences so far in this regard, my friend was keen to have some backup on the trip, which is where I came in.
I have to admit, I was a little nervous myself. There was always the possibility that the immigration officers at the airport would kick up a fuss about Aria being taken out of the country (since with our luck, we were likely to be accused of being child traffickers!). So we decided that, apart from anything else, our documentation would have to be watertight. Suffice to say, I have never undertaken such elaborate preparations for such a short trip in my entire life…
In the event, most of the objectives of the trip were successfully fulfilled, with a few unexpected bonuses, and more than a few expected challenges (mostly related to travelling with a two-year-old!). I had been a little worried about how Aria would deal with the experience of flying.
We managed to clear immigration with some questions, and eventual acceptance. But as we approached the doorway of the plane, the little girl's eyes got bigger and bigger until they began to resemble saucers. Her grip on her small teddy bear tightened, but she stepped gamely into the plane, saying "Don't worry, Teddy. There is nothing to be scared of. Kono chinta nai. Aria is with you, isn't she?" All in all, I have to say that she managed the air travel admirably, though we heaved a sigh of relief when she fell asleep shortly after boarding.
I hadn't really considered whether it might be difficult to manage my interactions with three adults and a child, most of whom did not know each other prior to setting out on this trip. But I knew that I would just have to manage things along the way, since this was also Lisa and Nigel's last week in Nepal (at the end of a two-year posting). As it happened, Lisa turned out to be an asset to any child-centred trip, even being brave enough to volunteer to introduce Aria to a swimming pool for the first time! Indeed, it was an uncanny stroke of good fortune that Lisa should have been a trained children's swim coach, thereby relieving Chicha and me of any responsibility related to Aria's progress in the pool, other than making encouraging noises and taking cute photographs throughout the process.
Although it was a really unusual experience for me to be travelling with a young child (and a good introduction to how your perceptions of the world, safety and time management change radically as a result of that), I think I dealt with it reasonably well. Though it took me a few weeks to catch up on my sleep afterwards! Aria on the other hand, fell asleep at the strangest times (though managing to stay awake effortlessly at her bedtime, and well past ours on most evenings!), including in the midst of chaotic traffic in the tourist district of Thamel.
Once again Lisa proved to be a real trouper, and carried Aria through the hectic traffic, in order to spare Chicha the sole responsibility of child-carriage. She even said the experience was an enlightening one, because it was the only time she had ever walked through Thamel and not been badgered into buying something! So the trick to avoiding harassment is clearly to carry a baby (preferably a sleeping one, so that you can safely and unobtrusively check out the wares without being expected to buy anything…)
At one point, during our Thamel odyssey Chicha left Aria to Lisa's and my tender mercies at a cafe with a swing, while she rushed off to buy a woodcarving. As we attempted, with some trepidation, to keep Aria entertained, Lisa was highly amused by my comment that she should allow Aria to climb off and on the swing by herself, as it "used up more time". She clearly found the idea that I would bother at all about an additional couple of minutes when Aria was occupied, a hilarious one!
At the end of a strenuous 10 minutes, when Aria was yet again attempting to climb onto the swing by herself, Lisa said to me, quite seriously "Let her do it, it'll take longer"! We looked at each other for a few seconds before we both burst out laughing, and I officially welcomed her to the world of child-minding, where every minute that they keep themselves entertained is to be appreciated, and every tactic aimed at that end is to be encouraged…
The shopping aspect of the trip (one of the guilty pleasures of any visit to Kathmandu) was surprisingly successful, despite the responsibility of managing an active 2-year-old. To everyone's amazement, I actually succeeded in bargaining down the price of the shirts and caps we purchased, in some cases by half the amount requested. When I was subsequently asked about the secret of my success (Lisa remembering from my previous trip that I had been terrible at bargaining), I tried to smile mysteriously and say it was just a question of being nice to the sellers. Frankly, I'm still trying to figure it out myself…
As it happens, we did have some good exchanges with the shopkeepers, including one place where I was rather touched when they said to me (after the usual attempt to identify my nationality that I go through every time in Nepal: first-guess Nepali, second-guess Indian, never-guess Bangladeshi!) that they were impressed by the performance of the Bangladeshi cricket team. I told them that we too were thrilled to have been in the Super Eight of the Cricket World Cup that year, and felt warmed by their comment that they were happy each time Bangladesh won a match. Perhaps it is not so strange for one small country to be pleased at the victory of another, since the more common experience is to be dwarfed by regional giants such as India.
I was therefore duly crushed when we returned home that evening to find that one of my T-shirts was missing. There I was, thinking that they had liked me, and all along they had been planning to cheat me out of my T-shirt! It was the following morning when Lisa pointed out that I had in fact taken out one of the T-shirts purchased earlier to determine the right size at the shop where I bought the maximum number of T-shirts, and it was possible that I had simply left that T-shirt in the pile which I didn't buy. As we were due to leave that morning, Lisa went above and beyond the call of duty yet again and took a taxi to the shop, where my lost T-shirt had been neatly folded and wrapped in a plastic bag awaiting my return! So my faith in humanity (not to mention Nepali shopkeepers) was restored. A good note on which to end the trip!
(R) thedailystar.net 2008