Three months….yikes! It’s hard to believe that it has been 3 months already! It seems like just a short time ago that we were frantically throwing our things into boxes, eating final meals of Aussie sausages and lamb roasts and drinking the last coopers beers before getting on the plane. And yet it also seems like such a long time ago that we were saying teary goodbyes to everyone and setting off with trepidation to Cambodge…. We are now old hat’s at this. We know where to go, how to get there and what to do once we get there. We can explore the markets without screwing our noses up at the stink of dried fish and pig guts on display. We don’t turn around at every clap, honk or “LADY! SIR!” that we hear on the streets. We can even ride our bicycles down the main roads without worrying that we will get smashed by a car or motorbike.
There has been some crappy days, though I must say that Mick and I have taken to Cambodia pretty easily. It’s not as “easy” as Thailand but that’s because we knew as our second home by the time we left. There have been days where I wish that I could go back to Thailand, eat Khao Ka Moo and Yum Woon Sen and have a great life. There have been days where I wished that I could just go to the shop I know and buy the thing I know they have and go home and cook the food I want. But I also know that I don’t want to live on “easy street”. I want to be challenged, excited, scared and rewarded for hard work. I want to feel out of my depth and push myself to do things and go places I haven’t been before. So for me, and for Mick too, the awesome days definitely outweigh the crappy days here!
New Awesome Friends
One of the scariest things about going away from home / overseas is of course whether you will meet new fun friends. Will the people you meet be complete douches that you will want to avoid? Or will they be peeps who are keen to go explore, eat, drink, be merry, chillax and have fun? Thankfully, we have made an amazing group of friends over here who are all fabulous. They are all really wonderful and generous, intelligent, passionate and kind. We all spend time together regularly, look after each other and check in on how we are going and share our frustrations and fears. I feel very fortunate to have met these people (some through the Red Cross, others are old friends and then there are the new ones too!) and to get the opportunity to know them and I believe that we will be life-long friends due to our shared experiences, beliefs and passions. YAY! FRIENDS!
Koh Rong Trip
A trip to a tropical island with friends…what more can I say. It was wonderful and relaxing and the location is amazing. Can’t wait to go back! Think thatched huts by a perfect white beach with coconut trees, turquoise water, light breeze and sunshine galore. Even the lack of electricity for most of the day, limited food options, stinky dogs and overcast days couldn’t detract from the great trip.
After our jaunt to Siem Reap and then a night visiting a friend in Sisaphon, we made our way to Bangkok for 5 days of eating, shopping and generally loving Thailand. Its our 2nd home so it was really awesome to go there and be amongst it. It also made me realise just how developed Thailand is compared to Cambodia and how much of a power-house it is. We also had our awesome friend Nick from Chiang Mai come down and we got to spend time with him and his laaaarvly girlfriend Juup who now lives in Bangkok. Good friends + great food + Thailand = winning.
Asukasa + Kittens
Nawww! Kittens! It was meant to be it seems. She’s a funny creature and her kittens are adorable. I think life here is a little bit easier when you have a pet or an outlet to help you chill and realise everything is right in the world. And on top of her coming in and being annoying, demanding and savage, i mean lovely and sweet, our friends back home have been so generous to donate funds to the desexing and vaccinating of Asukasa and all 4 kittens! How great is that!
So I am still slowly getting used to Khmer food and all that it entails. This is a slow process unfortunately for a number of reasons. One is that my work is in a dead zone for food places. There are a couple of little spots nearby, but going for a lonely meal (*sob*) to a place that you can only communicate “fried rice” or “fried noodles” to is a bit boring. So I have been bringing my lunch…usually salads because of no microwave or other heating implement available. Secondly, Cambodia isn’t as dedicated to the world of street food as Thailand. You have to hunt food down in little hole-in-the-wall restaurants, noodle shops or bbq stands and although you definitely get rewarded when you do, there are distinct times for eating and not-eating. Mornings from 6am to 10am are food times. 12pm – 2pm is food time. 5pm-8:30pm is also food time. Outside of those hours you can find yourself wandering from restaurant to cafe to market and back again in search of noms only to be told “no have, finish, no” etc. Thankfully we have a couple of friends who are as excited about eating as Mick and I so we have been trying out new places at appropriate eating times and finding yummy things to eat. Like stuffed squid and grilled fish. Mmmmm!
The rainy season is my favourite of all seasons. Its hot and its rainy! Whats not to love! The rain comes down by the bucketload, flooding the streets and cleansing the buildings of all the dust and grime and cooling it down considerably in the space of a few minutes. The cloying humidity is gone and everyone can put away their sweat-rags for a few hours. It differs a lot here to the rainy season in Chiang Mai that we experienced as there are days where the cloud cover remains here and there will be drizzle for a few hours. There are even afternoons when I come home from work and the rain will be constant for the rest of the evening. In Chiang Mai it rained almost by the clock at 2pm and was all over and done with my 3pm and the skies would clear up again. The season lasts for longer here too I believe, all the way to November!
Oh Garbage….present everywhere and just as stinky in the third-world and the first-world. The stink can touch you when you least expect it. Like just before you take a sip of your delicious iced coffee when walking down the street. Or when you stand on the balcony and stretch out with a big yawn. Or cycle along a tree-lined street. Its around. It stinks. blah blah. One thing that Mick and I didn’t make a note of (silly us) was that our great light-filled sunny apartment opposite the local market is right near “the great garbage pile”. All the market stalls and surrounding apartments pile their rubbish in a huge heap every day that gets rummaged through by dogs, cats, rats, people looking for recycling and desperate folk. Fun to watch…not. We can lament the fact that we have garbage stink, but the whole city can get a bit stinky so I don’t think it matters that much. We just light a few bits of incense and make sure we are inside when the garbage truck arrives.
One day, in early July, I headed out to Takmao province with my work colleagues for some observations, eating icecream and meeting school kids. It was sunny, dusty and noisy, so really a typical Cambodian place. After a morning of doing this, we got back in the car and headed back to the big smoke during which time I noticed a red rash coming up on the inside of my forearm. Nothing I thought…until a few days later it was now up to my armpit and also on the opposite side of my torso…whoops! I tried antihistamines. I tried cream. It seemed to not go away. After a trip to the clinic and then some medicine from our cleaning lady (i still don’t know what she made me have) it eventually went away 10 days later. Still not sure what it was from but think perhaps an allergy to a chemical or something on a tree? Cross fingers it doesn’t come back!
Work smerk. Its difficult and rewarding and interesting. There are things I hate but I am thankful that I have some great colleagues. I’ve made assumptions about people that have been proven wrong and I have learnt the hard way to mind my p’s and q’s and smile and nod. It hasn’t been easy to work in a highly suspicious, restricted and moderated workplace – things that we would share with our stakeholders and even other office’s is not done here. Not even as a way to collaboratively work on something. And that word “collaboratively” isn’t in the dictionary. Nor is “independence”, “cooperatively”, “effectively” or “sharing”. The fact that I have been pulled up for speaking about our projects that are already being run in the public with our road safety partners is an indication of the type of environment this is. But when I compare my own work challenges with those of other volunteers, I do think that the issues I face are a lot smaller than what they could be!
For Mick these challenges are more to do with working remotely for a boss in Australia and having to manage his workload along with expectations and demands. This can prove quite difficult with time differences, deadline and content sharing, appropriate briefs and a boss who has a lot of other priorities. But I would say that Mick does a great job and even if there are hurdles, he manages to keep creative and productive as best he can.
The traffic situation is crazy here. Motorcycles will have up to 5 people on them, no helmets, the driver will be drunk and unlicensed. Less than 20 percent of people here even have a license and the police do little more than take a “fine” and send people on their merry way. Speeding and drink driving is common place and the lack of helmets is also challenging. And working in this field is difficult due to the massive task that the road safety organisations have to deal with, without the support from citizens or the government of this fine country. Joy!
The next few months are looking pretty interesting and hopefully we will do some more travelling. I have already got a trip to Vietnam planned with my work and Mick will be coming and joining me after that so we will probably kick around for a few days there. We also want to check out some more of Cambodia and have a weekend in Kampot on the horizon and hopefully we will make it to Battambang for a weekend and out friend Toni can come meet us there too.
Workwise, hopefully I have a bit more clarity and direction about my roles and responsibilities. I want to work on a couple of projects that will be really beneficial for the office (templates and standard comments/responses) and will increase the professionalism too. We have a few plans for advocacy activities that will start happening too. Mick has a number of freelance gigs he’s got his teeth in already and I’m sure they are going to be pretty fun to release too.
So onwards and upwards! Here’s to the next few awesome months in Cambodia!