Robert Kelly, Malaysia, Travel Tape
I’m a Canadian expat living in Malaysia with my Italian wife and our 16-month-old boy. We live on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, literally at the edge of the jungle, and our toddler has really taken to the outdoors. He cries to go out and see moths at night, he can do three different bird calls, and when he makes a pig sound, he’s not imitating a farm-raised hog, but a wild boar.
But there are some real dangers out there I have to protect him from: dengue- and Zika-carrying mosquitoes, aggressive monkeys, venomous frogs, and, of course, snakes.
After a king cobra was found slithering across our neighbor’s lawn, I sealed up every possible entrance into the house, placed heavy objects over the drains, and even duct taped the unused toilet seat shut. But vigilance has its limits. One night, when we were taking our boy out for a drive to lull him to sleep, we stopped to breathe in the perfume of the night lilies, and listen to the music of the cicadas chirping. We weren’t enjoying this alone, though. We didn’t know the other neighbor just a few steps away. In fact, we didn’t even see him until we got into the car and turned on the headlights. It’s amazing how a two-meter-long reticulated python can go unnoticed like that.
Stefan Johansson, Bolivia
When my wife got a grant from the American Embassy in La Paz, I took a leave of absence from my job as an architect. I was a gringo in Bolivia, not backpacking, nor partying, nor trying to score Bolivian marching powder. Instead, I was a Swedish, somewhat Americanized, stay-at-home dad, trying to get by on a very limited Spanish vocabulary of maybe 20 words and expressions. In Sweden, it is expected that you will go on pappaledighet (paternity leave), but in America, that’s not really done, so when I had this window of opportunity to be home with our two-year-old son, I took it. Our long trip, with flights from New York to Miami and from Miami to La Paz, had an ill-fated start when DS vomited immediately upon takeoff. When we arrived in La Paz, where the 4000-meter elevation makes the air thin, my wife was ailing with “Boli-belly” (Bolivian stomach misery).
One day, I took DS to Plaza Avaroa, a park where you can buy birdseed to feed the pigeons, see performers, and ride on carousels, beyond the normal playground fun. Often DS and I got into a standoff when he begged for ice lollies made from Bolivian tap water (i.e. the root cause of Boli-belly). Of course, DS never got it, but the wife and I had it countless times. As the father to the only blonde child on most Bolivian playgrounds, we encountered many curious smiling Bolivians who wished to ruffle our son’s hair. Once whilst visiting Tiwanaku, an ancient Aymara sacred site, we were followed by a group of Bolivian schoolgirls shouting “Justin Bieber” at my son.
I still blame the combination of altitude, Pachamama juju, and Boli-belly for our twins who were conceived in the Bolivian Amazon.
Gary Trippeer, Costa Rica
“Dad, I heard it again.”
Monster repellent in hand, I headed into my daughter’s room. Lauren hopped out of bed, her bare feet leaving sweaty footprints on the tile floor.
“We’ll check the closet first,” I said, dramatically throwing open the door. “Come out, Scaredy Cat!” I yelled into her clothes and shoes. “We’re not afraid of you.”
We checked under the bed, in the shower and behind the curtains. “All safe, Honey. Go back to bed.”
Lauren climbed under the covers, and I tucked her back in.
“I don’t like her sleeping downstairs all by herself,” my wife said again when I rejoined her. She wanted us to move into the crappy spare bedroom, which adjoined the one our daughter was using, but the upstairs master had a view of the jungle and a luxurious bathroom.
“She’s fine,” I said. “Perfectly safe.”
A few minutes later, Lauren dashed into the living room. “It’s back,” she gasped.
I headed into her room again. The scratching was unmistakable. “Um,” I said, “Why don’t you keep Mom company.”
I grabbed the broom and crept into the bathroom where the noise seemed the loudest. There, in the toilet, an angry iguana tried to scale the slimy walls of the bowl, getting nowhere.
At home, I would have had leather gloves, a wire cage, or at least, tongs. Not here.
“Hey, Lauren, bring me a towel.”
I threw it in the toilet, the critter scrambled out, and I shoved him through the sliding window with my broom. “Problem solved,” I said.
My wife smiled, and then we moved our things downstairs.
David Swartz, United Arab Emirates, Munchkin Treks
We were American expats living in Dubai when we were stopped at passport control before boarding our flight to the US. It wasn’t my passport or my wife’s passport that was the problem, but my then six-week-old daughter didn’t have the required United Arab Emirates entrance visa in her passport. She had been going back and forth between the UAE and the US without a problem in my wife’s pregnant belly. She didn’t officially enter the UAE until she was born at the American Hospital in Dubai. My daughter didn’t even have a passport until a few days before our flight. It was hard enough to get her birth certificate translated from Arabic to English and arrange for her American passport to be shipped to the US Consulate in Dubai within a six-week window.
In the airport, an Emirati passport control worker ushered us to an office where we waited behind a Saudi Arabian man with a checkered red and white shemagh on his head who was waving his hand violently and yelling in Arabic at another Emirati man. When it was our turn, the passport control worker presumably explained our situation in Arabic to the man behind the desk. The rapid speed of Arabic completely foreign to my American ears made it impossible for me to gauge how this conversation was going. Once you’ve lived in the Emirates long enough, though, you know that what you really need is wasta, an Arabic word that loosely translates to knowing someone important. Wasta was definitely not something we had in our favor at that airport, but sometimes being Americans who don’t know any better in a foreign country has its advantages because a few hours later we boarded a long-haul flight en route to the US.