The adventure began with my inquisitive daughter stepping on the baggage weight machine as we checked in for the first leg of our 36 hour journey to Myanmar. I briefly glanced down and noticed she weighed 9.9 kgs. I quickly compared it to the 21 pounds I estimated her to weigh in America and moved on. I had not realized that exactly 72 hours later while standing in the local corner market, the knowledge of her weight in kgs would be essential to me purchasing the first of many strange brands of diapers across the globe. I was prepared for the big differences of travel with a baby, but it is these little things, like buying diapers based on kilograms, that come to mind when I think about sharing the story of my adventures in Southeast Asia with my 10 month old daughter.
I’ve always liked getting lost in the streets of places I end up. I typically do this by exiting my place of residence and walking without a destination in mind. I am sure to put on a pair of comfortable shoes and activate my profound appreciation for witnessing daily life, in all its shapes, smells and tempos. What I have come to realize on this trip, is that the scope of my expos will be significantly shortened by the addition of 9.9 kgs to my hip, the extreme heat and humidity of July in Southeast Asia, and a keen realization there are no baby changing bathrooms in all of Yangon.
This shrinking of my new world has not however depreciated my adventure, but rather, it has quickly deepened my familiarity with, and connection to, what lies much closer to my home base (which happens to be a quaint little unfurnished two bedroom apartment with a water basin and bucket shower in a building full of locals). In only 5 days, I have a mango vendor picked out who adds in one extra mango for free each time due to an appreciation of Sia’s curly hair. Next there are three precious little bread shop sellers who eagerly grab Sia from my hip to click and hum at her while I browse. There are also a fleet of local Shan soup shop waitresses who are all smiles and wave each time we pass. Last but not least, there is a little girl a few months older than Sia at the local dress shop who always pounds on the glass as we pass to say hi, beckoning Sia to pay her a visit. All we adore for their efforts to make us feel at home in our new home.
I’m sure there will be much more to come but these are the top ten things I have learned about traveling to a foreign land as a mommy of a 10 month old:
1) As David Sedaris so aptly pointed out, folks in different countries make different sounds for things such as how a dog barks or how a cat meows. By simply getting here, I discovered that people from different countries make different sounds when they encounter a baby. While I think we would say people in America say goo-goo-ga-ga (although I have never actually heard an American say that to my baby and in reality most people tend to either ignore babies or make direct comment to the mother about something they noticed about her parenting style). In Japan, folks tend to make a sort of hissing sound; in Singapore it is more of a click, and here in Myanmar folks click from their cheeks followed by a big smile.
2) It is much easier to feed a child with a pair of chop sticks than with any of the 10 dollar specialty baby spoons we are suckered into buying in the West.
3) Bucket showering with a small baby is a delight. They appear to feel much more in control of their bathing experience and really get into the splashing it takes to gets things done.
4) A baby is the best bargaining chip out there. I feel 10 times less hassled with “foreigner prices” this go around, even though there are significantly more foreigner around raising the prices. Taxi drivers and street vendors alike appear to give discounts instead the minute they see this exotic looking 10 month old on my hip.
5) If Sia were able to answer the “what meal would you choose if you could only eat one food for the rest of your life” she would, hands down, say Shan Noodles. Tonight, we had it for the third time in five days, and when I opened the container she flew across the room to get to it but then sat down patiently to be fed with the chop sticks. Then, after a helping had not quite made it in her mouth, she busted up in giggles when she got to suck up a long noodle that was hanging out of her mouth. To top it all off, a few short minutes after I believed we were finished eating, I turned my head to discover her sucking noodles off the floor. Sia clearly needs a t-shirt that says I heart Shan Noodles.
6) My child has lost all angst over bedtime and sleeps soundly throughout the night. For a week straight the minute I see her rub her eyes I grab her bottle and she lies back in my arms and closes her eyes. She then finishes her bottle and blissfully transitions to bed. I don’t know if it is the sheer exhaustion of processing everything new she has been experiencing, or the heat or something about our new environment, but it is indeed, amazing.
7) I had no idea I would feel this way, but I like places where people feel it is only natural to grab the child you are carrying out of your arms the minute they are close enough to reach for them. Everywhere I go here, women and men alike, are constantly grabbing Sia from me to hold. Either while I browse, or simply because they couldn't help themselves and wanted to hold her, they grab for her everywhere I go. Sometimes she is fine with it and lays a smile or a ‘high-five’ on them, and sometimes she is not and reaches back for me. These strangers are fine with either one of her responses and simply hand her back or hold her and pass her around with clicks and giggles. This tendency is true in Africa as well and I think it is a bit sad that the comfort zones of Westerners have become so large and defined that even the thought of reaching for the child of a stranger (even if the mother appears in need of any extra hand) would instantly set off the amber alert app on at least 10 phones in the nearby vicinity. It is worth noting that this comment is coming from a girl who has a history of having a rather large comfort zone and a zero tolerance for the unplanned hug. Nowadays, I am the one forcing the hug on the unexpected and tearing up with my child places a slimy open mouth kiss on my nose or mouth.
8) My favorite quotes I have heard thus far about Sia include: “Oh those lips, I just want to eat them” "her hair! It so curly!" and “’Is that baby part African?’ ‘Why yes.” ‘Oh my! You have a Barack Obama baby; she is half African, half America and is living in Asia. She is charmed. She will do great things.”
9) What can feel exhausting as an adult – the process of trying to understand a foreign language, appears to be the most interesting and stimulating experience to a little baby. I constantly see her turning her head to watch someone talk as if recognizing it is not familiar and yet knowing it is utterly possible.
10) There are no boundaries to being a proud mama. Today in the furniture shop (I splurged and spent 50 bucks on a table, chair and a few floor pillows for the empty apartment), Sia was cruising around checking out all the furniture and a woman asked me how old she was. After I told her she was 10 months old she walked away. A few moments later she had returned with 5 other women talking very fast in Burmese. When I asked my friend what they were saying, she smiled and said, “She is telling them all that your baby is only 10 months old and look at her walk!” They are all very impressed.” Proud, proud, mama, indeed.