Thursday, March 08, 2007

Le club de mercredi

Expat schools have new children arriving all the time, as parents take up new posts in Asia. Nina’s class began with twelve children in September, but by the end of January 2004 it had doubled. Nina found some new friends, French twins, Marie and Julie, and a Malaysian/German girl called Nadia. Several of the French mothers had younger siblings and suddenly I wasn’t the only mother who was lost and I could actually give advice about childcare, parks and places to visit with a baby or toddler.

Several of the French mothers had joined my weekly international mothers and babies group, 'ibu', which I recommended. At the ibu house I recently had met two French expat women who were involved in ibu. Odile was married to an English chap, with two children similar in age to Nina and Gabriel, worked part-time in the office. Julie was married to an Indian, had a four-year-old daughter, and sold decorative Balinese items at fairs. We met at the ballet-school where our daughters practiced on Mondays. Talking together we thought there would be enough French-speakers to form our own playgroup. We hired the ibu house for Wednesday afternoons, a time when the French school is closed, following French tradition of no-school on Wednesdays. We advertised in the ibu magazine and at the French pre-school.

The first meeting was very busy. Odile, Julie and I received about twelve mamans and their children. We put on French music and served a French style snack or gouter of baguette with nutella chocolate spread and asked everyone to introduce themselves and say what they wanted to get out of the group. Most just wanted to speak and hear more French, especially for their English-dominant children. Over the first month the group stabilized to about eight regulars. There were four mixed-marriages - me, Odile, Julie and Corinne, who was French and married to a Scot. Christine, Blandine, Cecile and Sylvie were French expats with young children. We also welcomed Fara, a Malaysian who was friends with Odile and Julie, and didn’t speak French but wanted her four-year-old daughter to speak it. Over fifteen children, ranging from baby to nine-year-old, played very well together and the mamas were free to sip ice-tea and chat about good places to visit, eat and take the children.

I felt very priviledged to be accepted at such a group. My French was improving dramatically as we shared stories of homesickness, sleepless nights, strange tropical illnesses and great holidays. The conversation was not demanding and I could easily partipate.

We met at the ibu house until the summer, when issues of membership fees and paying for the rental/snacks surfaced, and three organizers were tired of tidying up all the mess and toys afterwards. So we began to meet in a local park or play-area, at our houses, by the condo pool or in the garden and the hostess provide the gouter. It was a successful group and kept going for over a year with regular monthly lunches sans enfants, attending our children’s birthday parties and social events together too. Over the year Cecile, Julie and Blandine all had babies and we were conscious to be there to support them without their families. However in spring 2005, Blandine and Slyvie left KL for new postings, Julie opened a shop, Fara was too busy with other activities and the group disintegrated and became more occasional lunches or three or four of us meeting at a pool with the children.

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