With any big life decision or transition there are risks and trade-offs. We knew that our family would be faced with a new set of health concerns by choosing to move to a faraway tropical island. But, we also believed that the trade offs would be worth it and the challenges manageable.
And so, we kicked into preparation mode – stocking up on regular and just-in-case medicines, soliciting advice from other experienced families, consulting medical types and health guides. We were immunized against Japanese Encephalitis, Typhoid and Rabies (at a family cost of $5,000! Thankfully reimbursed, but still). We cleared out a local store’s supply of bug spray and loaded up on sunscreen and other protective gear. We were as ready as we could be.
As we settled into our new home, our initial headline concerns soon faded as the practicalities of the day-to-day routine took over. Though the potential risks differ, in terms of practical actions the daily process of slathering our kids in mozzie spray and SPF-50 is not so different from bundling up the little ones to brave a cold winter day. It just becomes part of life.
Mosquito-borne illnesses are our biggest worry here – Dengue Fever and Malaria are common and can be particularly scary for kids. We decided against long-term anti-malarial drugs for our family and instead rely on regular use of mosquito repellent in various forms. It’s a pain sometimes, and it would be easy to get lazy, but you just can’t. (It also helps that I’m good at delegating…ie. my kind husband usually handles this unpleasant task).
A number of adults we know have recently recovered from nasty bouts of Dengue, though fortunately none of the kids have been affected. As parents we are extra vigilant when it comes to our children, though it seems to me that we often don’t take care of ourselves in the same way. I know I’m guilty of this.
We are also really careful about water – using bottled water at home and exercising caution when eating out. Yet it is still hard to control everything. In our early days I frequently felt like the broken-record bath police: “Don’t drink the bath water! You’ll get sick!”
(Now we just toss in some Dettol and trust that they know the drill by now). But, it’s not always easy for the kids to get their heads around our seemingly arbitrary rules.
On the spectrum of parental worrying, I fall somewhere in the middle. I do my best to control what I can and try not to waste too much energy fretting about things I can’t do anything about. I like to let my kids be kids and know that there will be bumps and bruises (both literal and figurative) along the way.
However, I am also painfully aware of how very fortunate we are. I have access to and can afford safe drinking water, healthy food, vitamins and medicines. I’m not likely to be affected by many of the preventable diseases that are common here. If I’m not feeling well, I have the cash to visit one of the international doctors. If I fall seriously ill, I will likely be evacuated to a nearby country with better health facilities. This is not the case for the majority of Timorese.
So far we have been very lucky health-wise. On balance, the kids have actually had fewer illnesses and ailments here than they did at home. But, you still have to keep your guard up.
And then there are the crocs…
East Timor’s creation myth tells the story of a crocodile that overcame his nature and returned the kindness shown to him by a young boy who saved his life. When the crocodile died it became the island of Timor. The symbol of the “grandfather” crocodile can be seen everywhere – from traditional art to company logos and sporting mascots.
It’s a lovely story, but I have no desire to come face to face with one of these sharp-toothed beasts myself. In my trusty (though very slender) Timor guide-book, the crocodile entry mostly dismisses this risk, advising travelers to take croc sightings with a grain of salt: “for all the talk about crocs, not many Timorese have seen them.”
Okay…but lots of people have been seeing them lately – along the Dili waterfront, at close-in dive spots, and at one of our favorite beach hangouts. More than usual, it seems. In a place with limited recreation options, it’s a shame to have to restrict our activities. But, in this case, it just isn’t worth the risk.
Whether coping with crocodiles or dealing with child-proofing, we all do the best we can to keep our kids safe. Whether it’s at home, in others’ homes, at school, or out in the world. In Dili, Delhi or Des Moines.
What’s your experience?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Shaula Bellour in East Timor. Shaula can also be found on her blog, Notes From a Small World.
Photo credit to Shaula Bellour.