A nomad mother in Singapore

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Our very own safari lodge

When we just moved into our new jungle house, the first thing the kids did, was organise an expedition. Armed with hats, backpacks, water bottles and a self drawn map, they safari'd through the garden. When they returned I asked what they had seen, and the answer was a very disappointed: 'Just a squirrel. Oh, and some birds.' 

Not much later I heard screaming from the kitchen, and I still regret I did not have a camera ready to snap the grinning macaque that sat in the middle of the kitchen table, dextrously peeling the skin of a banana he just pilfered from the fruitbowl I had naively placed in front of an open window.

The macaques were only the beginning. One day Indah came running, pointing excitedly at what she described as 'a tree-hugging rabbit'.  I immediately knew what she meant: this must be one of the flying lemurs that our area is known for. Flying lemurs have large skin flaps between neck, arms and legs, allowing them to glide through the air like a flying cloth, sailing from tree to tree. Once we were lucky enough to spot a whole family, and on the picture below a trained eye might spot he baby in the top left skin fold of the upper lemur. 

Some animals, like our lemurs, are highly cuddly, others are just plain beautiful. Like this white throated kingfisher that got stuck in our living room, and tried to seek refuge on a matching turquoise painting.  

Or the fluffy caterpillar that we don't mind offering our palm leaves to. 


Some visitors we have come to regard as good friends, like this tree frog, that we have affectionately named Kermit, who likes to live in our beanbag.

The most illustrious of our guests must have been the pangolin mother and child we found napping in our drain one morning. This friendly, scaly anteater is an endangered species, and not a sight we will easily forget. 

For convenience's sake we name all our amphibians Kermit, and this guy lives under the outdoor sofa, and the slightly grumpy face below was due to the fact that he was disturbed from his slumber by Indah, who moved the roof of his house for mopping the floor. 

Less popular is our Jungle Fowl rooster, a rather pretty cocky fellow with colourful feathers, who likes to wake us up very early in the morning with his cheery cock-a-doodle-doo. Roel has threatened to turn him into cock-au-vin more than once, only to be stopped by the knowledge that, although increasingly easily seen in Singapore, this wild ancestor of our domesticated chicken is in fact a protected species. 

This, for Singapore modest sized, monitor lizard of around a meter long frequents our garden increasingly. It's sneaky silent crawl allows it to sneak in unobserved, until his presence is found out by the Myna birds, who will try to scare it away with loud squealing twittering. 

Often we are enchanted by the lovely song of the bulbul, so we were excited when a pair of them started to build a nest in our lipstick palm. For days we followed them packing leaves, sticks, and a strip of discarded snake skin into a small bowl. Not much later we saw the hardworking bird fly back and forth with food, filling the mouths of his demanding offspring. Then, this morning, disaster stroke. I saw the macaque strolling close to the tree, but it was not until he leapt up in one big jump that my heart stopped: the babies! I ran towards him, shooing, but it was too late. The rascal swiftly climbed to the top of the tree, a fistful of grey fluff in his fist. Nature at it's cruelest, and the incident left me with a bad taste in my mouth all morning. 

This picture, although not technically taken in our garden but just down the road, is remarkably deceptive. The fern in the middle is in fact well over a meter wide, making this python roughly four meters long and as thick as my thigh. Since I was within inches of stepping on it, I still check under my bed, every night. Just in case. 

And, of course, there are all the animals I did not get a picture of. It was way too dark, that one time that Indah was afraid there was a burglar in the bushes, and she was very relieved when our flashlight proved it in fact to be 'just' a large wild boar. 

There are all the birds, the yellow orioles, the scarlet sunbirds, the fluttering butterflies big as my hand, the woodpeckers, the omnipresent Myna birds. The numerous ants, termites, mosquitos and, before I forget, the 30 cm long giant centipede that once scampered over my foot. I was too busy screaming to think of camera's that night. 

I also never got a shot of any of those slender squirrels and tree shrews that jump around our trees so abundantly that we hardly even notice them. Not because they are so fast and agile, although they are, but because I never tried. It makes me realise how spoiled we are, here in our very own private safari lodge.  

Monday, 5 May 2014

Mother's Day off

On Sunday morning I find myself badly hung-over, baking thirty cupcakes for a birthday, preparing a quiche and a pile of salmon cream cheese wraps for a picnic, whilst simultaneously trying, with my hip, to shoo off kids that keep pulling at my skirt for attention. ‘Get out of the kitchen; entertain yourself for a minute, will you. Mama is busy, or do you want to go to school empty handed tomorrow?’

I plod on, head throbbing, and not so silently cursing the fact that there is no time off, ever, for a mother, that we have to work 24/7, with no time to rest and no time to clear our heads from the constant screaming. And that we hardly get any appreciation for all our hard work, only on that once yearly commercial trap called Mothers Day. Downing another panadol I curse myself for staying out too late and drinking too much, and for not doing all this the day before. The day when I had an extra pair of hands around the house.

I could now write that this experience made me understand the fact that some parents do not give their domestic worker a day off on Sundays. But that would not be true. Even in my miserable sick-to-the-stomach state, I realised that it was not all about me. That there is one group of people even worse off than parents: foreign domestic workers. These brave women who travel to a different country, and leave their own kids to take care of those of someone else. They get up before their employers do, to prepare breakfast, and don’t finish until the last dinner plate is washed up and put away. Or later, if the whim of the employer wants it that way. In Singapore, domestic workers are not covered by the employment act, which means there are no laws regulating their salary, working hours, days off, sick leave, annual leave, overtime pay, or any of those things other workers have a right to. A domestic worker is totally dependent on the generosity of her employer. 

Sure, there are many employers that treat their domestic workers well. They even call her part of the family. The problem is, a family member, like a mother, has really crappy collective labour agreements. Family, like a mother, does not get paid, time off, sick leave, treated considerately, et cetera. A domestic worker would be better off protected by clear regulations. Clearer than the recent law in Singapore, claiming that domestic workers have the right to a day off, but still leaving a loophole by stating the worker can be offered extra payment in lieu if she does not get one. 

So yes, it sometimes bugs me that as a mother I never get any time off, nor the appreciation I deserve. Yet, I feel utterly blessed that six days a week, I do get that extra help that makes my live infinitely more easy. Next Sunday it will be Mother’s Day. But I know someone who deserves to be spoiled much more than I do. 

Photo by Jolovan Wham, taken at the HOME labour day celebration picnic (the one I was making the quiche and wraps for) which we had to celebrate on the Sunday after, as most domestic workers were not given Labour Day off to celebrate on the actual day.