Creature Comforts

Having just had a night away camping where we slept on the ground in a tent that leaked by the bucketful, I am reminded that we humans - and Westerners in particular - like our creature comforts. Some of us like them more than others and while I was certainly appreciative of a hot shower and soft mattress when we arrived home last night, I hope I realise that even when we think we're low on comfort, we have so much for which to be thankful.

In all honesty, we don't really know what it is like to go without our creature comforts. Even in South East Asia we were blessed to have such comforts. They just weren't always what we expected or were used to.

Food. You hear dreadful stories of food poisoning or worse when eating whilst on holidays, and we were careful to heed warnings not to eat anything that hadn't been cooked or which we couldn't peel, but we had absolutely no problems while we were away. There was one public eatery where I chose to eat only bananas but everywhere else we ate well and suffered no side effects.

I even got to participate in an impromptu cooking class where we made a steamed banana cake and where everything had to be prepared from scratch (even down to grating coconut to make coconut milk). I haven't tried this particular recipe at home but I did try the Steamed Chocolate Cake (edible but not nearly as light as the one we tasted in South East Asia) and I am keen to try my hand at fried bananas. If you haven't had these fresh and hot for breakfast, you don't know what you're missing!

Drinks. These were another story. They tended to be very sweet - and I mean very sweet - with condensed milk or honey or sugar as a base. Some contained avocado, some coconut, and a very spicy one obviously contained a lot of ginger. I'll admit that I tended to stick to water - which wasn't a bad idea given the humidity. And since milk was only of the powdered variety I quickly learnt to drink my tea black (and still do whenever I can't get raw milk).

Showers. Where we were in SE Asia, bathing was a large bucket of cold water and a scoop. We were fortunate to have a shower in our guesthouse but it still only delivered cold water. We found it was actually less likely to make us cringe and cry out in shock if we used the bucket and scoop rather than the shower head. The two nights where DH and I were the only guests in the guesthouse (between the American team leaving and the Australian team arriving) we sneaked about two cups of hot water into our bucket of cold water and that was enough to take the chill off the water and make it a far more pleasurable experience. I did have the task of bathing a three-year-old girl one day and I couldn't believe that she didn't cringe when I poured the cold water over her. I guess it's what you get used to. Next time we're taking a solar shower.

Water. Our friends had a bore and water purifier so any water on their property was safe to drink. Many locals collected their water from the property. We had a water dispenser where we stayed that delivered hot and cold water. The water pump had to be repaired one day which provided Grade 3 (whom we were teaching at the time) with lots of amusement and an impromptu science lesson from DH who was probably as fascinated as they were.

Power. We had power. Well, sometimes. Our friends had a back-up generator on their property which kicked in pretty much straight away. It was a little different where we were staying. When the power went out, it could be out for hours. We learnt the hard way that if the washing machine was filling up with water when the power went out that it would just keep filling and filling and filling. Eventually it would flood the whole house.

Shelter. We stayed in a very nice guesthouse. It had air conditioning - when the power worked which didn't seem to be a lot of the time when we were actually at the guesthouse. The floors were tiled, the windows were barred (okay, I didn't like that part and spent a few anxious moments wondering what would happen if there was ever a fire which is a very real danger in that part of the world due to the fuels they use for cooking), there were bathroom facilities (even if the Western style toilets didn't always flush), and we had a wonderful landlady who would come in and quietly leave the most delicious tropical fruit all prepared ready for when we emerged for breakfast. And we had a bed to sleep on which, if not the most comfortable bed, was at least clean and roomy.

Dress. We were warned to keep our shoulders, middle and knees covered. I wore calf-length skirts which were hot and sticky. I realised that I could have worn skirts or shorts touching the knees and not given offense but because it was our first time, and given the information we had received, I didn't want to commit any cultural blunders. And cotton shirts with some 'stretch' - even if it's only a tiny bit of 'stretch' - are definitely not comfortable in the humidity. And forget light colours even if they are meant to detract mosquitoes. Too many of my light coloured shirts required an extra layer underneath to remain modest which just increased the heat factor. Next time I'll be better prepared.

Communication. Technically we had no cellphone coverage in the area we were in. We discovered that we had cellphone coverage if we walked across the road and stood underneath the banana tree with our phones held skywards. In reality, we had more success sending texts than in receiving them. The night we received a text from our youngest son that he had had a car accident threatened to throw me into an emotional breakdown. We had no way to contact him (he was four hours ahead of us time-wise and should have been asleep by the time we received his text), no landline that we could use, and we were going to have to wait until morning before we would have an opportunity of using the internet (which wasn't that reliable anyway). When we finally did make contact with family, I inadvertently sent Son#2 into a minor panic until he was able to sort out the details of said accident. On the other hand, we received the news that there had been a large earthquake and family were safe a few minutes before it was all over the internet - something for which I was extremely grateful. This was probably the most difficult aspect of our trip - even more so than the planes and the snakes and anything else - not being able to have regular and reliable contact with family back home.

Recreation. Some cultures just know how to have fun. And some countries have the most beautiful places available for rest and recreation. And some people are just so beautiful that you can't help but want to spend time with them. We found glorious examples of all three.

The following are not creature comforts but lack of them can lead to uncomfortable situations!

Alarms. I don't use an alarm at home unless I absolutely have to wake up at a different time to usual. My body clock rarely lets me down. But we used an alarm in Singapore to ensure we would arrived at the airport in time to catch our flight to SE Asia. Nervous about sleeping through just one alarm, we set two: our phones. Mine went off and we couldn't figure out why DH's didn't. We turned the lights on, started to make a cup of tea, and then realised: I'd left the time on my phone on New Zealand time which was five hours ahead of Singapore! In SE Asia we didn't have to worry about alarms as we were generally woken by the rooster at 5.30 in the morning. If we were lucky. If we were unlucky and didn't hear the rooster then we could be assured of being woken by the neighbour's loud music. And I mean LOUD! As in teeth-rattling, ear-drum bursting, who-has-teenagers-in-the-house loud. Wherever we went the music was LOUD. We were also in the unenviable position of often being woken through the night by the landlady's pigs who took it upon themselves to torment us just as we were drifting into a deep sleep.

Currency. By the end of our stay we were starting to get a handle on the currency. All those noughts! It had its upside, though. For a few days we felt like millionaires knowing that we had several million of local currency in our pockets! Still, it was rather confusing.

Security. Someone asked me today if we felt safe while in SE Asia and the answer was 'yes'! I don't know if there was ever a time when we felt fear - despite the anxiety about some of the modes of transport. There was a real sense of God's presence the entire time we were away. There was also something else. Some would call it intuition but we like to think of it as God's Spirit directing our paths. There were a few times when we were alone at the airport with no interpreter, no knowledge of the language, and things could have gone wrong. One time we could have missed our plane (our boarding gate number was changed from the gate shown on our boarding pass), another time we could have lost our luggage (it hadn't been booked through to a major airport as we'd been led to believe), and yet another time we could have boarded the wrong plane (two planes were being boarded from the same boarding gate). With each incident, there was really nothing to warn us, yet either DH or I - or both - would sense a stirring in our spirit that something was not right - that we needed to check or change plans. And then there were all the security checks! Much to my amusement, DH was the one constantly being pulled aside to open his bags. After all my fears about travelling on an Australian passport, I experienced no difficulties whatsoever. (DH got to the stage that he would be opening his bags before they even asked to view them!).

This post has been perhaps a little tongue-in-cheek. It is not meant to in any way be disrespectful of the culture or the beautiful people that we met. I admire our friends greatly for what they endure daily, and my friend for having the courage and resilience and faith to raise a family (their youngest was a newborn when they went out to SE Asia) in a culture that is so different to our own and where creature comforts are not all that we are used to. And she does it all without complaining and while at the same time giving so generously to others.

She, and others like her, are the real heroes and giants of the faith. Not someone like me who experienced it for only a short period of time and always knew that I would return to my own comfortable world with its familiar and safe comforts. I am seriously in awe of this incredible woman  and all like her.