it’s all happening!

As many of you may now know, Benison, Sam and me are moving at the end of the year to Berry, a beautiful small town two hours’ drive south from Sydney. Benison’s parents have lived there for many years, and all of us have grown to love the town and area over our regular visits over the years.

Sam’s take on our tree-change has been in the usual Sam-style.

‘Will I have my own room?’

‘Will I be able to take my video collection?’

‘You’re not going to throw out any of my stuff are you?’

Also on the radar is the release of Sam’s Best Shot (Allen & Unwin), the book about our epic Africa journey. While all the stories on the blog are contained in the book, there was, of course, a lot more involved with the trip, and that will be revealed in the book, which is being released in late July.

The last piece of news is to announce the launch of my new parenting website www.drjamesbest.com.  Here you will see regular blogs on parenting and development issues, such as how to handle tantrums, how to communicate with children and how to foster a good relationship with your child. Also available for purchase on the website is my comprehensive book on children and children’s health, kidsense.

So, that’s enough from us for now! Here’s to Berry, and here’s to fun with our kids.

Namibia revisited – Part 2

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The next day we caught up with Michael and Petra again, as they took us to a farm, 50 kilometres from Windhoek of some friends, Martina and Frank, where we joined them for their weekly ritual of a walk with Michael’s favourite horse he has known since early childhood.

The short walk taken by the troupe, which included three dogs and Frank and Martina’s young grandchildren, headed through the spectacular arid landscape, spotting some dassies, small thickset mammals living in a rocky outcrop, and red hartebeest scurrying away from us in the thornbush scrub. We then chilled over breakfast on the verandah, with brotchen, wurst, kudu salami and herbal tea, evidence of our hosts’ German descent. Sam chatted and tolerated the challenging new foods well, but refused my attempts to teach him a few German words, telling me in no uncertain terms he wanted to stick to English.

With the emotional hurdle of camping in Etosha over and done with, Sam’s tension was easing. While he still counted down the days until our departure, he was talking positively about Africa and our trip, even saying he was enjoying himself.  Sam’s autism and anxiety are inextricably linked – the more anxious he is, the more withdrawn he becomes.  When his anxiety lessens, this allows his personality to shine through.

In the afternoon of a jam-packed day, the three of us visited N/a’an ku sê Lodge and Wildlife Sanctuary outside of Windhoek.

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Namibia revisited – Part 1

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As the plane touched down at Windhoek’s Hosea Kutako International Airport, Benison got her first look of the beautiful desert landscape of Namibia. The airport is set far away from the city because the altitude of Windhoek, at over 1700 metres, is similar to most Australian ski fields and inhospitable to take-offs and landings.

The staff from Chameleon Backpackers recognised us and greeted us warmly. For Sam and me, who spent a few weeks on and off in the hostel two years ago, it felt like our second home.

Our driver during our previous stay, Fernando, a Mozambican who emigrated to Namibia in the 1980s, remembered Sam. ‘He is much better now. He is much calmer than the last time.’

Benison and I shared a look of satisfaction.   ‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘he seems to be enjoying this trip much more.’

In the morning, we headed off on safari to the world famous Etosha National Park, a six-hour drive away in the north of the country.

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South Africa revisited

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Tired and bedraggled, we arrived out our airport hotel late at night, after a long and arduous flight from Sydney, a long and arduous wait at JoBurg passport control and a two-hour shuttle flight to Cape Town.   With his low muscle tone, Sam found it a real challenge to sit upright for such a long time.  The next morning, rested and breakfasted, we grabbed our rental car and emerged onto the freeway into town. Sam noticed with glee his old friend, the different font of the South African road speed limit signs.

‘They still have a one hundred and twenty!’

It was a trip of catch-ups and reminiscence. We drove to the same Cape Town hostel where we had spent a week just short of two years ago. The staff would do a double take, have a quizzical look at the two of us, and then it would dawn on them. ‘Oh, I remember you now.’ With Benison accompanying us, she was able to meet some of the people she had, until now, only heard or read about.

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A long long-haul

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The Qantas ground staff at the counter knew straight away.

‘How old is your son?’ she asked, looking at Sam standing behind us in the queue.

‘Sixteen,’ Benison replied.

The woman bit her lip. ‘Do you have his birth certificate, or a certified copy?’

Benison and I shared a look. ‘What? No.’

‘It is a requirement of entry to South Africa when travelling with any minor under the age of 18, I’m afraid. It is to stop child trafficking, which is a big problem in Africa.’

I was indignant. ‘Nobody told us!’

‘Err, actually…’ said Benison, ‘I do recall reading that when I booked the tickets. But that was months ago.’

‘Where do you live?’

‘Annandale,’ I replied for Benison.

We quickly figured out we just had enough time for Benison to dash home in a cab, grab the certificate and get back in time to board the flight to South Africa.  That is, if all went well and the certificate was where we thought it was. Best not to consider the alternative…

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Merry Christmas 2016 from Sam and James

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Hello, long time, no blog. Life is so much duller in Sydney than in Africa, but we thought it was time for an update, and what better time than Christmas. Sam has now finished Year 9 at De La Salle College, Ashfield.  While it hasn’t been all smooth sailing, his behaviour at school this year was in stark contrast to that prior to our Africa adventure, with him being able to focus better and rarely cause any disruption. Benison and I used to fear the school phone number appearing on our mobiles’ screen. This year the phone calls didn’t happen. Sam is increasingly able to fit in and attend better to what is happening around him. There was some low level bullying this year, but Sam stood up to the bullies and the school has been supportive. He even passed his Year 9 science exam in a mainstream school, something we were all particularly pleased about.

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Merry Christmas from Sam and James

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Back in April this year, Sam and I travelled by bus along the aptly named Wild Coast of South Africa, heading from Cape Town towards Durban. In one of the very early blog entries from the trip  I recorded our interaction with a young couple on the bus.

Ed and Lana, about to be Australian citizens from Israel and Belgium respectively, lived in inner Sydney not far from our home. They were so understanding of Sam’s behaviour and make such an effort to engage and involve him that I was yet again deeply touched. On the bus to Coffee Bay Ed asked the group where we would go in time and place if we had a time machine. Nominations included Ancient Rome, the Renaissance, the building of the pyramids and Nelson Mandela’s release.

‘Where would you go back in time to Sam?’

‘1992, in California.’

‘Why?’

‘To see Bill Gates releasing Windows 3.1.’

Ed and Lana thought that was awesome.

Sam, Benison and I caught up with Ed and Lana last week and went out for dinner near our house in Annandale. It was great to see them again, and also illuminating to see how they perceived the changes in Sam.

When we met them on the footpath of a shopping strip, Sam was very excited to see them again. ‘I am seeing Ed and Lana again!’  

Lana was taken aback. ‘Sam, you are so tall!’

Sam grinned broadly. ‘Yes, I am.’

The five of us strolled up the street looking for a place to eat and chatting about Africa. When we sat down at a pizzeria, I directed Sam to go up to the counter where orders were placed and order the food and drinks for the five of us.  Arrabbiata pasta, pesto pasta, garden salad, margarita pizza, a Sprite and water for the table. Righto, off he went to the counter and successfully completed the transaction.

Benison was still getting used to this. Ed and Lana looked on with raised eyebrows. This was a very different boy to the one they’d met on Wild Coast.  Back at the table the conversation flowed. We reminisced about Africa and, as seasoned travellers, Sam and I gave Ed our recommendations for his next trip to Africa; prolonged reciprocal conversation.  Ed and Lana observed this all with interest.

Psychologist and developer of Relationship Development Intervention, Dr Steve Gutstein, has recently shifted his focus from relationship development in autism, to also include an emphasis on the development of a sense of self. He discusses it here.

It is this sense of self and also self-belief that we’ve noticed in Sam since our return. It isn’t only his speech that has developed, although this change has been commented on by everyone who knows our boy. He believes in himself enough to go to the counter, make the order and know he has done it correctly. As we finished our meal, he announced he wanted to go home. It was dark now and our house was half a kilometre away, across a main road that required crossing at the lights at a busy intersection. He had never done this before.

Sam believed he could do it, and I believed he could do it. ‘Yes, you can go, just be careful at the lights.’

Benison turned to me. ‘Are you sure?’

‘He’ll be fine.’

Ed looked at as both as Sam took off. ‘Amazing.’

So the trip, with all its trials and tribulations seems to have been worth it.  And we got to see magnificent Africa along the way. If you haven’t been there, book your ticket!

Sam, Benison and I would like to wish everyone a merry Christmas and a safe and adventurous 2016.

PS The photo doesn’t do it justice but it’s a reproduction of the personalised Christmas cards we sent our this year, designed by my very clever sister and all round fabulous person, Linda.  Check out her business, Boodle Designs here.

 

Sam’s final post

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Hi, this is Sam and I’ll tell you about my African trip.

The big fact of my African trip is I’ve been to 10 countries in 6 months and I have just ended the trip. The reason that I had to go to Africa is to learn about Africa and lots of other like talking to people and organising things. I have met a lot of people such as tourists and locals but unfortunately some places only had locals which is not fair.  I was very unhappy when the Malawi preschool children try to scare the chicken away. I think this is animal cruelty so the Malawi woman and children are sometimes cruel to animals.

I only had been to McDonald’s 2 times in the whole African trip. Dad and I have been robbed once in Dar es Salaam which was very nasty. I have seen all of the animals except for gorillas. I have done white water rafting which was crazy fun and on a helicopter which was cool.

Bad things included getting sick in Uganda (I had to go to the hospital) and scary stuff like bad places like Zimbabwe.

Overall, I have enjoyed the trip and I’ve learnt a lot of stuff.

Cheers Sam.

PS Scroll through the pictures.

Home, James, (and Sam)

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All good things must come to an end. Our last few days in Africa were spent in the hustle and bustle of central Dar Es Salaam, winding down and thinking about home. Sam, like me, became nostalgic, starting to once again notice the Africa which we had initially found interesting or different but over the months had become to accept as normal.

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Zanzibar part 4: Call me Ishmael

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In the morning we bade goodbye to Morton, after nearly a month travelling together. We were on the road again, but this time, for the first time since Cape Town, I was doing the driving. We had hired a small Suzuki all wheel drive, which would be perfect for purpose.  Travelling north out of Stone Town,  finding a petrol station proved a challenge, given the African penchant for vague directions.

‘Yes, turn left down there.’ (A wave off into the distance)

‘It is some kilometres.’

‘Yes, we have one, it is close around here.’

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