Friday, 24 April 2015

The calm and the turmoil.

Today is kinda an off day for me. Getting so close to leaving the island and things start to get a little pressured. Shipping boxes, selling cars, winding up school, closing bank accounts.....tensions become frayed with what to do, when, who and how.

I was feeling low this morning after I ordered two chocolate cakes at the local patisserie. The plan is to take a cake after lunch into both Nellie and Jack's class for a classroom farewell party next week, and I left the patisserie after a lengthy discussion with several staff about what size they should be. 

Finally we agreed (or I convinced them) that a '6 personnes' gateau will do the job for a class or 4 or 6 year olds.

I was driving away, thinking about how I need to organise napkins, plates, juice.....but I just felt sad. 


And the frustrations over moving, and the sadness of leaving made me decide to go for a drive somewhere new and quiet.

So I drove, towards where I hoped there would be a surprise church at the end of a long road. My friend Louise told me about how she found it some time ago and I had really wanted to find it too. So, with general directions in mind, off I set.

After about 25 minutes of driving through peaceful tribu,  over hill and dale, just when I thought I was on the wrong road - a lovely church appeared, poking it's tall steeple through the top of the jungle.


Unfortunately it was locked, but l'eglise de Tiaoué was just what I needed to get my mind calm enough, my thoughts in order and shake a little of the blues away.

I never knew that such lush valleys were so close to us, with beautiful creeks, idyllic cases, the occasional dog or goat on the road amongst a sea of jungle.

We leave Pouembout in exactly a week. In this turmoil, there can be calm.

Monday, 20 April 2015

The L-word, the G-word and me.

This morning I had to give myself a stern talking-to and push past the part of me which loathes goodbyes. 

The kids went back to school today for trimestre deux (oh, how I only just made it through these holidays!) and I had to meet the school director to give him our final attendance date and then run around to finalise the payment of cantine. And since my French is tres mal, it required meeting a friend to help translate.

Because of this, I had to cancel what has become part of my Monday routine: hosting drum lessons. Which meant a friend would host instead. Which meant I could have done my chores this morning and then gone home and pretended drumming has finished for me, given that it would be my second-to-last week, and I wouldn't have to talk about the L-word. 


And it's close pal, the G-word. Hello, goodbye.

I argued with myself in the car heading back from Koné, having just emptied my wallet of pieces and borrowed 300f from my friend in order to avoid writing a cheque which may not clear before we close our account. I could just go home. Make coffee. Quietly keep on with the packing.

Or I could go home, put my coffee in my carry-cup and just be a little late for practice. And have fun.

I chose fun. Yay me! And though the discussion around *leaving* and even more, what will we do/where will we live etc was prominent, it was okay. I suppressed the fear and anxiety. Filed under 'deal with later'. Great coping!

I was sad to talk about future plans for the group. To be sitting outside on a breezy, fine autumn morning in the back blocks of Koné, knowing it has finality which is right there. To be drumming well, finding my groove and be told that I will be missed. And to know I will miss this, this moment of doing something refreshing and joyeous and for no other reason than because I like it and dammit, I'm good at it. But it has to end. Bahhhh!

Leaving is hard and goodbyes a bitch because we don't want to fun to stop. Leaving is easy when there's no enjoyment. So it's a credit to New Caledonia and all the amazing people who have been part of our lives for the past 3 years that my gut response is to just pretend it's not happening and walk away and ignore the pain of parting.

I wrote a couple of years ago here about being on the opposite side, of having to say goodbye to friends leaving NC and returning to Australia. Now we are them, and I understand it better.

So I hate goodbyes but bring them on. Perhaps the pain is therapy and the tears help to wash it away. The talking makes it real so that I can't ignore it. And the drumming helps to find the groove that will transport me, and the beat will keep me going to the next adventure.

Friday, 10 April 2015

My funny girl.

Lately I've written a lot about Jack, for good reason. But this morning I realised that my four year old daughter Nellie is doing a great job of coping with everything our circumstances throw at her.

Nellie has spent more of her life living in New Caledonia than Australia. She was a chubby 18 month old when we arrived. She slept in a cot, ate in a highchair and ate rocks off the driveway. Now she's four and hardly ever eats rocks.

So she's sort of more New Caledonian than Australian. She doesn't remember our old house in Sandringham or our two dogs, who she's scared of when she sees them at my mother-in-law's house. She's more familiar with having a 'bonne sieste' than a nap and her speech is a mix of English and French.

Nellie also loves to talk. Actually both of my kids do. But Nellie also loves to sing. She can sing and sing and sing. I don't like asking her to stop but sometimes, for sanity's sake, I ask her to sing quietly or in her room. But I tell her I do love her singing.

A few days ago she wanted to sing me a song in French. In her pajamas. I must admit I didn't understand most of it and it goes waaaaaaaaaay too long but her dedication and acting prowess is evident. I think it's a mashup of songs from school and her own composition. She gets a bit stuck a couple of times but it's very expressive. I don't expect you to watch it all. 

Just about every day she has a song for me like this. Life with Nellie is fun and I truly cherish these funny moments. I hope you enjoy Nellie's song.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Our experience :: living in NC with a disabled child (part 4)

Here we are on my final post about our experience of being expats in New Caledonia and how we manage daily life with our six-year-old son who has Cerebral Palsy.

You probably thought I'd forgotton about this post, being the final one in this series. To be honest, I'd put it off because right now endings are very much front-of-mind for me. This week I've had a girly sook twice after dropping the kids at school, thinking about how our time here is ending soon. 

Ilot Maitre
Back to business. So far I've covered school, which occupies much of Jack's time, and therapy. Today I will finish off with briefly covering the general topic of accessibility on this particular French tropical island.

So, accessibility.

As I touched on when writing about school, most of New Caledonia is not built with wheelchairs and prams in mind. Think broken or non-existent paths, heavy doors, narrow supermarket aisles. One of our local supermarkets has an upstairs section with no lift access. So I can only go to this supermarket with Jack if laundry and bathroom items aren't on the shopping list. Or alone (which, let's be honest, is the preferred method of shopping when you have small kids).

Riding bikes in the tropic rain
I also discovered that I couldn't take Jack with me into the local post office. Once up the small ramp I am greeted by two heavy doors. While battling to hold these two doors open, which would be threatening to flip me back outside, I swallow down expletives as I try to push a loaded stroller plus a whining toddler into a space about 2 metres square, already full of a queue of people. Visiting the post office is another Mummy-only event.

I only know of a couple of walking, waterfall or lookout attractions which have paved or smoothed walking tracks but none outside Noumea. We've carried Jack into only one waterfall on the east coast, which is a shame because there are lots of stunning waterfalls in that region. 

In all the time we've been here we've not visited the iconic lookout Coeur de Voh (Heart of Voh), less than an hour from where we live. The image features in lots of tourist advertising for New Caledonia but Jack is too heavy to carry such a distance (I take solace in the fact that apparently it's not as good from the lookout and that you really need to take a helicopter flight to see it).

Beach wheelchair on Amedee Island
This is not a whinge, just a fact which needs to be understood and expected. It's a shame but there it is. We would encounter similar problems worldwide however I know that National Parks in Australia and many other parts of the world increasingly have wheelchair access to allow everyone to enjoy their beauty. I do hope this catches on in New Caledonia very soon.

On the bright side, destinations such as the Noumea Aquarium des Lagons and Parc Zoologique et Forestier have good wheelchair access. We also had a really great experience at Phare Amedee where there is a beach wheelchair available to borrow through the tour company which totally made our day (I wrote about that experience here). The glass-bottom boat and boards with viewing windows for observing coral and fish were also great. 

Front row at a local music event
It's always worth asking about access for handicapé or chaise roulant, most places will do their best to accomodate with assistance on and off boats, accessible rooms and alternative entrances where possible.

In Noumea, one of our favourite things to do is just walk the fabulous promenade. It stretches all the way from Baie de Citron to  Anse Vata and beyond. Any time of day this is easy to navigate with a wheelchair or pram (except for days where there is a swim or cycling event, then nobody can navigate it!). The beaches are idyllic and shaded, full of families enjoying the clear water. Picnics are everywhere. Groups of men play petanque and cafes are close to hand. We love to go out to dinner and then work off the icecream with an evening stroll, admiring the twinkling lights and spotting the occasional cruise ship leaving port. And it's totally free and accessible.

The Aquarium
We know that the world is full of obstacles for Jack. Some are small, which we will overcome. Some are going to be too big to beat. Others will take more effort, and with lateral thinking, persistence and team effort we can conquer them. This is life. Deep, huh?

Ultimately New Caledonia is a great place to visit or live for a while. I really encourage it. It has made us better people in countless ways exactly because it has tested us. I guess that must be a positive thing or I wouldn't be tearing up every morning at the thought of leaving.