I’ve travelled to visit family and to move my life to a new country. I’ve travelled to build houses or present at conferences. And, I’ve travelled just for the sake of it. Travel to see what there is to see. But I’ve never travelled with such purpose before. Packing involved thinking ahead to what one person could carry in case the other one had occupied arms. It involved guessing what sized clothes I need to bring for a person of whom I had no idea how big he’d got. Does he need shoes?
Bangkok! We can get everything there. No worries.
Now that I am sitting in a taxi all of those preparatory thoughts fall behind. Driving through the big posh areas of Sukhumvit and Silom with all the trendy girls with nail polish and tourists taking photos of giant golden spirit houses only to enter the old towns in the West of the city. It’s like slipping into a comfortable blanket. People are doing normal things like bathing children in buckets, disassembling jackfruit and pounding som tam. The other Bangkok is fun, but I love this Bangkok. I feel comfortable and at home here and we usually stay out here in old teak houses cooled only by fans and sips of nam manao. But not this time because this time we are travelling with purpose. We’ve rented an “aparthotel” in Lumpini with a swimming pool downstairs and a kitchen and cot in the room. We wanted all three of us to be comfortable.
The taxi driver, my husband and I team up as we enter the narrow sois and try to spot the tiny, handpainted, sign for the orphanage. There it is! I tell him, “We can walk from here, kaaa” “No problem”, he says, “I can take you there”, and we finally stop at the end of the driveway. My husband told me in the taxi that he felt nervous, but I hadn’t felt that until now. Looking at old Bangkok calmed me, but now we have stopped moving and all I can hear is a bird and some clinking dishes as someone in the neighbourhood is washing up. We have to straighten our legs, stand on them, and go and meet our son.
I almost catch a glimpse of children playing as the director warmly greets us and takes us to her office. We are offered a drink and a biscuit as we talk about so much in so little time. We want to know what his routine has been so that we can keep that comfort going for him. She shows us a stack of photos and other little things and puts it all in a giant folder for us. 20 months of life summed up in a tiny parcel that we will carry home. We ask a million other questions and are happy that we have written down the answers because we already know that we are not taking anything in any more. It’s time to go and she wants us to leave quickly so that the children don’t confuse us with the volunteers who come and go. Our son has been prepped to know that we are forever…if forever is and understandable concept to an under two.
As we enter the sala one boy shouts out “Hello!” but they all seem to be moving in a blur as we try to spot the one who is coming home with us. The director jokes that we must identify him before we are allowed to take him home. As we haven’t had a photo since his first birthday this might seem impossible with all these little pairs of eyes looking at us, some children cosying up or showing us toys. But then I see a little boy sitting on the floor as his carer puts on his blue Crocs. He is looking and pointing at us. He knows it’s us and we know it’s him. He walks a little way, hand in hand with the carer, until someone picks him up and puts him in against my body. My mind switches locations and I am picturing those little kiwis we take to give to students in other countries, the ones that clip on to things and don’t let go. He is a limpet with eyes on me, so close. He’s just looking. We expected crying or pushing away but, no, just looking. Someone says “Mama, Mama!” and then points to my husband and says, “Daddy!” and his eyes flit to and fro until the director ushers us out to the taxi.
The taxi affords us a good amount of time to check each other out until he finally starts crying and then changing from one person to another. Holding* a biscuit calmed him but he never took a bite. He liked looking out the window, just like us, but in between spotting interesting things he started to cry more for what was missing. “Kaw thort” I apologise to the taxi drive for the noise. “Mai bpen rai”, no worries, he says back and I think about how lucky we have been with both drivers today. And then it dawns on me that we are about to get out of the taxi, at our hotel, as a family of three.
*He held on to that little biscuit until it finally fell apart in the bath at 7pm, and when we opened his hand half of it was still in there.