Photo Credit: Munnar66 by Ben3John, Wikipedia
Remember the field trips you used to take in school? A full-day or half-day trip to some local “tourist site”, that began with an overcrowded, wild, bus ride with your teacher yelling at everyone to calm down so the driver wouldn’t crash, and culminating with lunch in some park where you consumed a squashed peanut butter sandwich and a warm Capri Sun. Well, things have either changed, or my kids are the luckiest little toerags on the planet, because that’s not how it is in Expatland.
European schools and international schools regularly take students on extended overnight trips. And European parents are pretty laid-back about this, letting their kids spread their wings and get the Hell out of the house so that they can enjoy a kid-free weekend. Paradise.
Beginning in Kindergarten, DiploBoy 1 began overnights with his class. Initially, it was just a fun sleepover in the school with the teachers. There was always a theme, like Native Americans or circus, with activities like bow shooting, making headdresses or pretending to be lions jumping through hoops. Eventually, the kids move on to overnights away from the city, perhaps to a camp or a retreat center. In foreign countries, however, things get a bit more exotic.
In about a week’s time, DiploBoy 2 is heading off to Kerala for a week. Yes, Kerala. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerala Not the local art museum, not the recycling plant, KERALA. Last night, DiploDad and I attended the obligatory Parent Orientation for the trip. 39 kids are going, but as usual, the room was dominated by mommies. Worried mommies. Except for me, because (a) this ain’t my first rodeo; and (b) I figure the kid who always finds the golden egg at the community Easter egg hunt every year is probably blessed enough by the Heavens to avoid some major accident on a simple zip line. Don’t get me wrong, I’m concerned about my kid’s safety, but when a school has been doing things like this for a long time and a well-regarded tour company is involved, I’m relatively sure that the they have crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s. Give me a contact number for where my kid is and a general itinerary and I’m good to go.
The director of the tour company, Jungle Lore, http://www.junglelore.net/index.php introduced himself, fired up a slide show, and began to discuss the activities our children would be participating in for the next eight days. The itinerary for this trip is off the hook. Tribal museum. Visit to the tribe from the tribal museum and an afternoon of archery with them. Bamboo rafting.
Photo: Jungle Lore
Hiking and an overnight campout. Spice walk. A tea plantation. A trip to an NGO for lessons in bamboo weaving. A mountain hike.
Photo: Jungle Lore
Campfires. Luxury resorts. As the lights flickered back on, I looked over at DiploDad and noticed that he too, was stunned. Our 6th grader was about to embark on a trip more elaborate than our honeymoon had been. I’d better not hear a damn word this week about how abused and mistreated he is because I tell him to make his bed.
“Are there any questions?”
“Yes. Why aren’t parents allowed to go on this trip?” Laughter all around.
Then the real questions kicked off. They started out pretty reasonable, with the mother of a 9th grade girl asking about security at the hotels. Honestly, I thought that the guide, and Mr. P, the English/History teacher and trip leader, answered the question directly and to my satisfaction. I had underestimated the concern (aka, “paranoia”) of the Mommy Brigade, however, and DiploDad and I watched, fascinated, as the tension in the room rose.
“Do you have your own security?”
“What about the police? Do they have a station at the resort?”
“How many patrols?”
“Does the hotel have security?”
Mr. P, who is crusty, old, and British, finally assuaged some of the fears by saying that our children were his children, and he would take it as a personal insult if anything happened to any of our children. The Mommy Brigade seemed skeptical, but moved on to the next topic: Snakes.
“What is the snake situation?” asked a well-dressed Indian mommy.
“Yes,” piped up one of the few men from the back, “They obviously have pit vipers and cobras. What are you doing about that? They’re going to be camping, and snakes like to camp.” Snickers, and an involuntary laugh from me as I pictured a snake in a boy scout uniform slithering along to roast marshmallows at a campfire. Dirty look from man. Eh.
“Well, we sweep the campsites before we camp. It’s private land, so we can eliminate the snakes with no problem.”
“But what about the rooms?” said another man. “You’re more likely to get a snake in your room. I’ve had a snake in my room.”
“We have no interest in your marital problems,” quipped Mr. P.
“Look,” chimed in the tour guide, “we have a professional snake handler on the premises, who will be out patrolling the area while the children sleep.” DiploDad and I looked at each other. We were sending our kid out on a trip where they had a professional snake handler. OMG. I decided that it was a good idea to pay close attention to the discussion on anti-venom availability. I wonder if I can order that from amazon prime.
“What about the tents? What is the condition? Are they washed regularly?”
“I assure you, if they are disgusting, I won’t be sleeping in them.”
“What about sunscreen and bug spray?”
“Send it with your children.”
“My daughter won’t put it on!”
“Were you at sport day on Monday?”
“Then you had to have heard me shouting, Sunscreen! Shade! Water! They will be reminded and told to put it on.”
By this time, I was beginning to realize that there was no such thing as a Free Range Kids movement among the Indian upper classes.
When the topic moved to “self-medicating children”, DiploDad and I were ready to split our sides. Sometimes the choice of wording is just too good not to laugh, even if you’re getting nasty looks. I was also beginning to think that if this interrogation went on much longer, Mr. P was going to need to go self-medicate.
“OK, now are there any more questions? Serious questions. It’s five until eight, and I’ve been here since seven a.m., and I’d really like to go home. Only serious questions. Madam, in the back.”
“Yes. Does the resort provide towels?”