Back to Square One

Lori and I can’t recall the last time we didn’t feel tired and worn out.

It’s no secret that having little ones is hard. Living with two toddlers in the bustling capital of a developing country thousands of miles away from family and long time friends is hard.

We’ve now been doing this overseas aid work thing with at least one little one for just shy of four years — seven house moves, four international moves, lots and lots of visa paperwork and packaging tape. And countless sleepless nights.

We were running on fumes when the new year dropped.

But we were managing. And making the most of it.

And, there was reason to be optimistic for 2020.

We had just submitted the final payment on our graduate student loans in late December (a year ahead of schedule). We officially had no financial obligations beyond food, shelter, and clothing. That meant, we’d finally be able to start more aggressively growing our investment portfolio and taking advantage of the historic bull market that began just around the time we started paying on our loans.

The hard work and countless hours I’ve invested into this blog were finally paying off as well. I was being asked to write articles for well known influencers and travel bloggers. I was also starting to see respectable monthly returns from my own travel blog, and more importantly, seeing tremendous growth, month over month. The hope was that this additional income stream would allow us to chose lower-paying, more impactful assignments overseas and offer a modest income to live off of for travel stints with the boys between assignments.

In addition, after three long months of living out of suitcases, we were finally moving into long term housing in a great area of a new city to explore. We were super excited to have a bit of consistency for the boys and having [a little] more room to spread out. We loved the nursery school we had found for the boys and it was a five minute walk from our new place. Lori’s office was a ten minute walk and I had a dozen excellent coffee shops (and a nice little home office) to work from.

To top it off, we had a week on the books in April for finally getting to explore one of Cambodia’s stunning islands during the Khmer New Year holiday. After living in land-locked Laos for three years, it seemed unreal that we could visit some of the most beautiful islands in the world without getting on a plane.

Then came Corona.

And indefinite school closures…

And playground and pool closures…

And travel and visa restrictions…

And the hottest hot season on record…

And, like a lot of people, some tough decisions.

And, like a lot of people, a lot of soul searching.

But we managed. And we made the most of it.

But we believed it would be a temporary speed bump in an otherwise promising year, particularly after it became apparent that Cambodia had dodged the bullet with Covid.

We did our part, we took advantage of the quality time we had with our growing boys, and did our part to keep ourselves and others healthy.

We pushed on. And we made the most of it.

As a result of Corona, the travel industry globally is on its knees.

And, along with that, the profitability of nearly every travel blog and travel website out there (including mine) has plummeted.

But, I pushed on, improving the blog for some unknown time in the future when it will see a return to profitability.

We’re rapidly approaching the 100 day mark having the kids at home in a space roughly the size of two stacked shipping containers (and just as hot). Indefinite school closures here in Cambodia have definitely put an additional strain on our mental wellbeing (they say schools might reopen in November…if there aren’t any new outbreaks — that’s eight months with all of us home together in a hot city with very few shaded green spaces).

But we’ve managed.

We read a lot of stories about folks back in the U.S. struggling because they haven’t been able to hold love ones in three months.

We’re fast approaching the 18-month mark without the four of us having seen a single member of our family in person. We haven’t made it back to the U.S. since December 2018, and due to a variety of circumstances on both sides of the Pacific (Covid and the process of moving to Cambodia being two big ones), we haven’t hosted a single visitor in that time either.

But we’ve managed.

We have tickets to return to the U.S. this summer.

At least, we hope.

We were supposed to head back in July. But the carrier has no plans for flights out of Cambodia in July. Now, we’re slated to head back in August. But there’s no guarantee those dates will pan out.

Cambodia now requires a US$3,000 deposit for foreigners to enter the country, along with a $50,000 health insurance policy and covid-free certificate that must be issued within 72 hours (which really means less than 24 hours if you’re coming from North America due to the fact that travel time can take over 30 hours and you lose a day crossing the international date line).

Oh, and if just ONE passenger on your flight tests positive for COVID, all passengers must be quarantined for 14 days at their own expense (about $1,000 per person).

Unsurprisingly, most airlines are hesitant to resume service to Cambodia given that so few passengers are willing to be subjected to all that.

But we’ll figure something out.

And then came this little last minute detail to iron out.

Lori’s employer suddenly decided not to renew her contract in September, and there is no work to be found here for either of us.

So, it looks like our time in Cambodia is quickly coming to an end, two years earlier than planned.

We uprooted our young family on the promise of a three-year opportunity with a better work-life balance to suddenly find the wind knocked out of our sails in the midst of a deep recession, global pandemic, and unprecedented global uncertainty.

I won’t mention how we packed up our entire life in Laos with two little ones to relocate to Cambodia and start all over again for an assignment that was intended to be fully funded for three years.

…or how we spent over a month looking at apartments and 2.5 months in a small Airbnb with a baby, a toddler, and only a handful of books and toys (and not very good ones, at that) — owing to the fact that we didn’t receive what little we actually do own in our freight shipment until five months after we left our home in Laos.

…and it’s not like we had to find nursery schools for the boys, a new pediatrician, new babysitters, new supermarkets, set up a new bank account, navigate a new local language, a new city, a new country, or a new culture with two little ones in tow.

…or figure out a new system of submitting health insurance claims, paying rent and utility bills and school fees, how to not get screwed with our mobile phone plan, figuring out the transportation system, how to avoid local scams, which restaurants have high chairs (or chairs that will work for our cloth high chair), and where we can take the kids to … you know … play and stuff.

And then, there’s friends. Friends for the kids. Friends for us. We were here for four months before the city closed down over Corona. Not a ton of time to cultivate any quality social connections.

Nope, I won’t mention any of that…

We had no intention of, or desire to, go anywhere but here. After careful consideration, we even made the tough decision to remain in Cambodia in the depths of the outbreak when most other foreigners returned to their “home” countries.

Lori was loving her work and I loved what I was doing. We were just getting to know Cambo and wouldn’t have chosen to be anywhere else over the next two years if we had the choice.

But now we find ourselves, yet again, slowly working through the logistical nightmare of packing out our lives [again] and job hunting [again]. But this time, it’s completely unplanned and unwanted, in the midst of a pandemic, and with both boys at home in a hot and crowded space.

In the past, we were ready for a change of scenery or a change of pace. We like change. We welcome it. We thrive on it. If anything else, this blog has been a testament to that over the past decade.

But everyone has their threshold. Even us. And we’re quickly approaching ours.

To say we’re bummed is a bit of an understatement.

And to top it all off, my almost-four-year-old hounds me on a daily basis about my “itchy” [unshaven] face, my “funky” haircut, and the many, many holes in all of my favorite shirts.

Lay off the daddy, dude.

So, what happens now?

Honestly, we don’t know. With the blog on life support and funding in Cambodia drying up, there aren’t a whole lot of options for staying here in Cambo.

The U.S. isn’t looking promising at the moment either, with, you know, rolling Covid outbreaks, civil unrest across dozens of major cities, and 40 million people also looking for jobs.

We have family and friends in the States (whom we miss very much), but owing to our nomadic lifestyle, we currently have little else to draw us back to the U.S.

Additionally, whatever international work we continue to do remotely will likely require midnight and wee-hour Zoom calls with colleagues in Asia/ Africa/ Europe on a regular basis, which just isn’t sustainable with two little boys that we’d actually like to spend time with (and have the energy to do so).

So, we’re doing what we’ve become all too accustomed to doing — working our global networks that, thankfully, have become a lot more robust in the past couple of years than they were prior to having the boys.

We’ve got some promising leads, but we’re also taking nothing for granted in the time of Covid, as we know visa and entry requirements and flight availability can change on a moment’s notice, and countries that have so far gotten by relatively unscathed may see outbreaks (or second and third waves) a few months from now.

As you might imagine, there’s been a good deal of anger and frustration in the weeks following the news of Lori’s assignment being cut short.

While we would have preferred to stay in Cambodia for another two years as planned, the hard reality is that with each passing day our situation here is becoming untenable for our young family — there are simply too many unknowns and extraneous hardships in the time of Covid… (indefinite school closures, lack of a clear national Covid strategy, nowhere for the kids to play, crazy re-entry requirements, poor health care resources and capacity, challenging housing situation, etc., etc., etc….)

In that way, Lori’s shortened assignment has provided us an out, I suppose. If there’s any silver lining in this whole mess, that is it.

It’s an out that was unplanned and unwanted with an unknown destination. But when the ship’s sinking and you’re being ushered into the life raft, you can’t dwell too much on what could’ve been.

The only thing to do now is head to the lifeboats and keep pushing on.

Stay tuned…

1 thought on “Back to Square One”

  1. Laura Courtney Headley

    Oh, David. Thank you for sharing that. Our hearts go out to you four. We’re glad you have one another and absolutely sure you’ll land on your feet, ready for your next big adventure. My short-term wish for you is an unseasonably and blessedly cool night during which both boys sleep all the way through, and you and Lori get some much needed rest.


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