x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Delayed launch worth the wait

Iola and I went to Cambodia expressly to see an old friend named Brian Calvert. We were accompanying my husband on a work trip, but under no illusions did I expect to get any of my own work done.

Iola and I went to Cambodia expressly to see an old friend named Brian Calvert. We were accompanying my husband on a work trip, but under no illusions did I expect to get any of my own work done. Calvert had moved to Cambodia six months before my husband and I moved to Abu Dhabi, which was just before Iola was born. We had lived with him for two years in Washington DC, and five years before that he and John had been friends and journalists together in Phnom Penh. I wanted him to meet Iola.

As we were packing for our eight-day trip, John got a text message saying Calvert had been admitted to the hospital with dengue fever. I thought about cancelling the trip, and letting John go on his own. Ten hours of flying on a budget airline with a toddler isn't exactly fun, and neither is staying in budget hotel room. And if you discount the lack of fun, think about the risk. Planes crash, potentially killing our whole family. Food isn't safe; it's a whole universe of microbes that Abu Dhabians aren't used to. And what about the tropical diseases, dengue for example? Obviously rampant.

I kept plodding forward in the listless packing to keep from letting my inner thoughts show to John. I'd back out in the last second, take a taxi home from the airport with Iola, kiss John goodbye and let him die alone - if it came to that. Plodding forward, in the end, is what gets everyone everywhere, and Iola, John and I ended up in Cambodia together, alive, at a nice hotel called Feeling Home. Feeling Home is in a great neighbourhood, costs $44 (Dh160) for a double room, and has blackout curtains, which were essential for Iola's jet-lag sleep schedule. John went off to work and Iola and I moped around waiting for Calvert to get better. "Too nauseous for visitors," said the doctor on the first two days. "Too tired to talk on the phone," he said on the third day.

Moping, it turns out, is hard to do in Phnom Penh. There are too many beautiful garden cafes and, despite Cambodia's vicious history, too many wonderful people. Iola and I went to Le Jardin, a garden café with a sandbox and playhouse and toys. We spent hours there, sipping watermelon juice, eating crêpes and playing. It would have been fun if only there was someone - Calvert for instance - to play with. In the evenings we went to a poolside café called Villa Langka. It has beautiful rooms, excellent watermelon juice and mediocre burgers; a dip in the pool is allowed with the purchase of a drink. John met us there and swam with Iola while I read my murder-mystery.

On the fourth day, John was told Calvert was going home, and could we come over for dinner. We walked from our hotel and met a wan, greenish version of Calvert with braces and a moustache. Can two years and two diseases change a person more? He cracked a smile and the spell was broken with his humour, the most stubborn part of his entire being: "Initiate launch sequence," he said. And we did. travel@thenational.ae