Protecting your children against illnesses in Indonesia

I went through a stage where my children were constantly sick and down with some kind of bug. Initially I thought the causes for their ill health were environmental, and as an expat mother, I felt guilty for exposing my children to a foreign country that could potentially be harming their health. So, I did some research, spoke to several doctors and asked my friends from around the world about their experiences with childhood illnesses. I concluded that what we experienced was normal. They all suffered from the same kind of illnesses.

The simple fact is children under the age of six develop at least six to eight colds per year. On top of this, children are more susceptible to other common childhood illnesses such as coughs, viruses and stomach bugs because their immune systems are not yet developed. With three children close in age and attending preschool, the amount of illnesses going through our household is multiplied because they are constantly passing their bugs to each other, sometimes without recovering from the previous one!

With this information, I tried to focus my energy on preventative methods for keeping our family healthy and stopped trying to point the blame. Here are some tips on protecting your family from illness:

Vaccinations

Most expat parents choose to vaccinate their children according to their home country’s schedule; however you may need to get additional vaccinations that are relevant to Indonesia only.

As parents we sometimes lose focus on our own health and forget our own vaccinations. It is recommended that you discuss with your doctor what vaccinations are required for everyone in your household. It’s also a good idea to discuss your travel plans with your doctor, in case you may require additional vaccinations for the country of destination.

The following are the recommended vaccinations for individuals who are residing in Indonesia long term:

The annual flu shot, both southern and northern hemisphere, if you are travelling or exposed to those who travel to those areas.

– Typhoid

– Rabies

– Hepatitis A, B

– Japanese Encephalitis

Household staff

My family’s health extends to our household staff too. We provide our household staff with a monthly contribution towards the Government funded health insurance scheme JKN (Jaminan Kesehatan Nasional). We also allocate an additional month’s worth of salary for their yearly medical allowance. If a staff member needs to see a doctor or dentist outside of the insurance scheme, they can use money from their medical allowance. I try to ensure that my staff work reasonable hours and I allow them time to rest if they are unwell. This also means giving them vacation and time off work, even if they are adamant that they want to work extra hours for overtime.

I send my long-term staff members on yearly health checks and have reviewed their vaccinations ensuring that we are covered against the right diseases.

Vitamins

After an illness or dosage of antibiotics, I give my children probiotics and zinc for an immunity boost. They also take this during vacation for added protection (zinc should not be taken continuously).  We’ve also started using local raw honey for healing and medicinal purposes (ensure it is from a trustworthy source).

Healthy Diet

We try to eat a healthy and well-balanced diet that is mostly vegetables and low in sugar and salt. The best way to do this is simply cooking your own food at home. One of the best outcomes from living in Indonesia is that I have eliminated most of the unhealthy foods that I previously consumed in my home country that were mainly convenient, processed, and packaged. This is purely because they are difficult to find here! This restriction has forced me to cook my own alternative or substitute with healthier options.

I buy fruit and vegetables from local street markets because I find they offer the freshest produce. I also purchase fresh coconut water from street vendors for our whole family to drink daily, instead of juices and soft drinks (Note: limit coconut water to only one glass or 200mls and less for young children due to the high potassium levels).

I check for MSG, which is hidden in most processed food such as chips, sauces and children’s snacks (In Indonesian MSG is called mononatrium glutamat, dinatrium inosinat and guanilat).

When my children were babies I avoided all baby food sold at supermarkets because the local brands usually contained sugar. The imported and organic ones weren’t fresh and sat on the shelves for months. I found that making my own baby food at home was the easiest option.

Exercise and time outdoors

I try to encourage lots of outdoor, active play with my children and expose them to the sun for a daily dose of vitamin D (building natural immunity). I have significantly cut down on their screen time because I found that it was too addictive and kept my children indoors, making them easily agitated. I observed that they wanted the iPad or TV when they were tired. So instead of screen time, I now start their bedtime early and engage in winding down activities such as reading or bathing.

I’ve also started to relax more as a parent by allowing my children to be bored and giving them the freedom to simply be. This means that they don’t need to be constantly engaged or placed into planned classes such as school holiday camps. Although it can be more stressful for me, it teaches them to slow down and enjoy their time together with creative play.

Other things…

We purchased an air purifier for our kid’s room and started using essential oils. I strictly enforce good hygiene such as washing hands for everyone and have placed hand sanitisers in our car, kitchen and bathrooms. Indoor plants are a natural way to clean the air in your rooms.

The final thing that I have changed about our time here in Indonesia is trying to make sure that we take care of our emotional health. For us, we found that having short day trips or weekends away from the city revitalised us and helped our mental health. Fresh air is so refreshing!

*** Further advice offered by Facebook member, Jessica, suggested to regularly clean and service the air conditioning unit to ensure that the air quality of your home is free from pollutants and to avoid mould build up (in your machine and your home). Thank you for the suggestion, it’s a great idea.

Seek advice

Finally, find a good family doctor who is engaging and invested in your family’s health. It’s important to have someone who you trust to talk to and discuss your health concerns.

This article was originally published at Expat Indonesia

Why I love condo living

Having a family with three young children, I dream of living in a house with an endless backyard. I imagine my children’s feet stomping on the grass and laughter filling the air as their sunlight-kissed bodies explore their tropical surroundings, while my husband is grilling on our outdoor BBQ and I’m sunbathing on a lounge relaxing the afternoon away. Of course, the reality   is very different to this, but it’s my fantasy!

We can easily make this dream come true by moving out of our practical condo and into our own lavish Indonesian house. The houses in Jakarta are so charming and have a strong allure to them. We came very close to moving into one when we first moved to Jakarta, especially after living in our cramped condo in Singapore. However, after much thought, we decided that condo living was the best choice for our family. At this stage in our family life, when our children are still very young, we prioritise efficiency, convenience and safety.  For us, these three factors are critical for an enjoyable stay in Indonesia as an expat family.

Living in a condo satisfies all three requirements for us. Our condo building is secure. It is full of security guards working 24-7. It has a robust security procedure for allowing non-residents onto the premises. Cars are checked before they enter and no one is allowed up into our condo without authorisation. The condo also runs regular fire drills and building safety inspections.

Our condo is efficient for us because we don’t need to worry about the finer details of running a household, such as hiring our own security guard, fogging of our yard, or maintenance of our pool and garden. That alone cuts down on at least four extra staff members that I would need to manage and who would occupy my personal space daily. Power outages or air conditioning maintenance is smoothly managed and I really don’t need to give much thought to handy work or upkeep. I simply pick up my phone and help is on the way!

Condo living for me is convenient because I have access to many amenities at my doorstep. Convenience wins bonus points for our family because it’s so difficult and frustrating to go anywhere with three young children. Most family-friendly condos in Jakarta are designed around resort style living. The condo will have children’s playgrounds (both indoor and outdoor), swimming pools, a gym, a convenience shop, possibly a restaurant, dry cleaners and beauty salons as well. Having access to all of these has drastically improved my lifestyle and I will take any opportunity I can to avoid traffic.

Another reason I love condo living is that it has nurtured my emotional health. I am a social person and love to be around people. As a stay at home mum spending most of my time with my children, I crave the company of other grown-ups. This is something that I recognised about my personality early on after experiencing motherhood and I make extra effort to be around other mothers. Especially during pregnancy and immediately after birth. By surrounding myself with other families in my building, I have warded off postnatal depression and the feeling of isolation.

My children also benefit from condo living. They have countless friends to play with and I never have to organise playdates for them because it happens naturally at the playground. I’m a part of a community where we take care of each other and socialise by the pool. They are my network to lean on and they make my time here worthwhile.

Of course, there are drawbacks to condo living. Privacy and having my own space is limited. I can’t go for a late-night swim in my own pool or walk outside with my kids without passing several neighbours and security guards. There are also a million rules to the complex that frustrate me tremendously.

The final reason why I think that efficiency, convenience and safety are the most important factors as an expat in Indonesia is because it eases the process of integration into the country. When you are new to a country, it’s crucial that you quickly adjust into your new home. You need to reinforce your decision for your move and the first few months will influence your feelings. Any negative experiences early on can unfairly taint your view for the remainder of your stay. Having things run smoothly as soon as possible and feeling safe greatly help with your adjustment period. Relieving the stress of setting up your new home can allow you to focus on more important issues, such as schooling, making friends and exploring Indonesia.

This article was originally published at Indonesia Expat

Long weekend in Central Java

We decided very last minute to book a short weekend away over the Easter break. Recommended by a single friend who has no children himself, we took a huge chance and decided to stay at a coffee plantation resort called ‘Mesastila Magelang’. This is a beautiful eco friendly resort, over looking Java’s countryside with mountains in the background. We took a short 1 hour flight to Samerang airport and was picked up by the Hotel’s car. It was a scenic 1.5 hour drive to our hotel.

The resort’s entrance foyer is an old railway station that they moved and restored. It was so charming and gave us an instant feeling of ease.

Our children immediately fell in love with the place. They couldn’t decide what to do and explore first! The gigantic gong, an interesting reflexology walk, a big chest board game, croquet balls or simply sitting on the rocking chairs!

Our children loved the kid’s room with an outdoor play area. They had toys, craft and bicycles. Our favorite hang out was the jungle gym in the middle of the trees, where we all joined in the fun and played the obstacle courses together.

Each afternoon, we enjoyed the tea which had delicious finger food and freshly brewed coffee or herbal tea. I was quite surprised to find that our children loved the herbal tea. The tea magically changed colors when we squeezed lemon into it. It was such a calm and laid back setting. We really felt a world away from Jakarta.

Our days were filled with lots of outdoor time together. We explored the huge grounds and walked around the plantation. They had goats, horses, fish ponds, organic farms and beautiful gardens. Our lungs were filled with so much fresh air!

I was so impressed by their restaurant. Mesastila emphasize on fresh, and healthy food with low fat options. They used vegetables from their garden and it tasted really good! They also had a great kid’s menu and the staff were so friendly. We sat at the same table each night, which was outside, next to a big lawn. We let our kids run around and play while we waited for our food to arrive. Even in the dark, we all had a great time together.

We didn’t bring our nanny on this vacation but we still felt like we had a relaxing break. I was lucky enough to have a 90 minute Hamman spa treatment at the spa after our children went to bed.

Fresh cocktail drinks were delivered to our rooms at night, so hubby and I could kick back, sitting on our patio in the cool night air. Bliss!

Through the hotel, we organized our own car to go on two day trips. We drove to Borobudur at 2.30pm in the afternoon to explore the ancient building as the sun was going down. It was a 1.5 hour drive and the crowds were less than the morning tour, where to see the sunrise, you have to leave your hotel at 3am! We had our own tour guide and took our time absorbing in the beautiful 9th century Buddhist temple.

There are approximately 130 steps in total, to get to the top of Borobudur but our kids actually enjoyed themselves. I thought the trip would be more difficult however with the timing that we chose to go (after lunch and their naps), everyone seemed to be fine!

Our other day trip was to a railway museum, Ambarawa Railway Museum. There we got to ride a real steam train that was commissioned on 1913! It was a scenic and bumpy ride through the countryside, along the river and villages. The train was busy and full of Indonesian tourists. Everyone was so friendly and we all enjoyed sitting next to each other, cramped in our tiny seats. We sang songs, shared biscuits and took lots of selfies together! It was such a great adventure!

All in all, I loved this weekend away and highly recommend Mesastila to other young families! It’s really opened my eyes to travel within Indonesia and how, with the right planning, it’s quite easy and enjoyable to travel with our three young kids. I can’t wait to do more!

Is it all worth it?

Ok I’m going to be real now. Is it all worth it? I’m sitting at home alone and thinking. I’m missing all of my friends. I’m listening to songs that remind me of my friends back at home who I continue to love but unfortunately it’s been so long, I know they’ve moved on. I want to pick up the phone and call them or send an email to say how much I still love them, but time has passed and it’s probably just going to be awkward.

I’m reminiscing of old times with my friends that I’ve met along this expat journey. I send them a note. Tell them that I miss them. Tell them how much I appreciated their time with me, even if it was so short. They too have moved on, into another country, dealing with their expat journey.

I’m texting my current friend who I adore but know that one day too, I will most likely have to say goodbye. Every time she says she has news, I catch my breath because she might be telling me she’s moving on and I will have to say goodbye too…

Then today I attended another going away lunch. We made promises to keep in touch and visit each other, should we ever happen to be in the same country again. My Facebook friends are building up but my physical friends are diminishing.

I am so blessed to have met so many wonderful people in my life. They truly stay with me forever but it’s getting to the point where it’s so difficult and I just want to keep still. I want to be bored and share those boring moments with same people who I won’t have to say goodbye to every year or so. I miss the mundane and normal life where nothing really changes. We all grow old together.

I know it’s a far cry from my expat life right now. It feels wrong to feel this way because I am so much in love with this moment. But is it worth it? Is it worth the pain of constantly staying goodbye, trying to stay strong and focusing on the positives? I’m not so sure anymore. Tonight, I’m questioning all of this and have no answers. That is my Expat Housewife dilemma.