A little taste of what it’s like riding on the roads in Phnom Penh.
We sat overlooking the Tonle Sap. Burns from the previous nights cooking, and the comical incident that followed, were throbbing.
“Was it hard adjusting to life back home?” I asked, pushing my fingers against the icy glass.
“You know a close friend died shortly after I left? That was really hard.” He softly stated, looking beyond the water. ”This is the first time I’ve been back, and yeah, it does feel weird.”
“Wow, I had no idea.”
“He was a returnee.”
“You mean a Khmerican?”
“Yeah. He jumped from a bridge not too far from here.”
I sat in silence, running my hand against the glass, praying for the pain to stop.
“He was a junkie,” he continued, scratching at a sodden coaster “he stole my moto.”
“I hadn’t seen him in a few weeks and when he eventually turned up at work he couldn’t look me in the eye.”
He paused and began to smile. “And you know what he said to me?”
Burrowing his chin into his chest, he looked up at me from puppy dog eyes “Ahhhhhh…” he whimpered, mimicking his lost friend, “I sold it for a hundred bucks man…”
“You weren’t angry?”
“Well, that’s the thing. You couldn’t get angry at this guy” he explained, straightening himself in his chair.
A sly grin crept across his face. “I had to track down the family he sold it to and pay them a hundred and twenty bucks to get it back… and then an extra twenty to get it running again!” he chuckled.
A smirk edged across my face.
It was a long time before he spoke again.
“That was the thing, everyone loved him. Whenever he had a dollar in his pocket, he’d just give it to you.”
Vacancy returned to his eyes. “You know Pelican Pies?”
“I took him there when it first opened. You should’ve seen the look his face – it blew his fucking mind.” He held an imaginary pie to his mouth.
“He just couldn’t grasp the concept.”
The throbbing in my fingers had disappeared.
“He grew to love these pies, and by love, I mean he fucking loved meat pies. I worked out pretty quickly I could trick him into coming to work by bringing pies. He used to ask, are you bringing any pies tomorrow? and I’d answer, well I don’t know, you’ll just have to come and find out.”
His eyes glimmered, “I was thinking I’d like to eat a pie on the bridge and maybe… I don’t know… maybe push one into the water – you know, as a send off.”
“I think that’s a lovely idea.”
“He used to love those fucking pies.”
A culture that eats prahok - fermented fish, fish heads, fish eyes, innards (of any animal), spiders, cockroaches etc is no match for Vegemite.
Today Friends-International held a ‘global village’ day. While I had a fantastic time cooking an Australian BBQ as an Australian Football Player, I’m afraid I embarrassed my fellow countrymen and left the Khmer staff bemused and slightly queasy.
You can only imagine the pandemonium as the meat was served…
Caged PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) activists protest KFC on Norodom Boulevard, Phnom Penh, Cambodia (before being carted off by police).
I’d like to remind everyone that Cambodia is a developing country where the majority of people living in the provinces struggle to eat.
It’s like being vegetarian in Cambodia (or any developing nation). “Oh sorry, I’ll have no meat in the beef stir-fry dish I’m choosing to order. Yes, yes, I know on the outskirts of your city there are families struggling but I’d just like to remind you that while many of your fellow country men do not have a choice about what or when they’ll eat, I do.”
“I’ll also have an espresso martini thanks. At these prices, I can’t afford not to.”
Well, finally, the first of (hopefully) many websites has been completed.
There’s been a definite learning curve working in an NGO environment, coordinating between communication, IT, design and management teams. Things at Friends seem take a lot longer than anywhere else. It’s just the nature of the beast. The advantage of that is I have free reign to begin and project I like, the disadvantage being it’s hard to cement things and move forward quickly. Everyone has an opinion and is quite vocal about it. Trying to pin down Sebastien for final approval on things has been trying, especially as he is out of the country for large periods of time.
Anyway, that’s one website down. The next one is already under way.
I’ve learnt a lot working closely with my Khmer counterpart Thyro, who is an excellent programmer. It’s been fantastic working with him and breaking down communication barriers. We went out for lunch last Friday and ate sour soup. Yeah, it tastes like it sounds.
You can view the website here.
It’s not all negativity here in Cambodia. In fact it’s quite lovely which makes the terrible things all the more harder to stomach.
The people are lovely – really.
The country side is amazing, especially in the wet season.
The cheap beers are dangerously good.
There are many interesting, intelligent people doing fantastic things. It has really been a privilege to meet them all.
And then this, only twenty minutes from Phnom Penh. It shows how most of the country live outside of the small capital city. It’s not all four wheel drives, expat bars and coffee houses folks.
Some of the things Lauren writes about in this post relate directly to me.
Fortunately a lot don’t. Fortunately for me I’ve come as part of an (AYAD/AVID) group and have ready made networks here in country that have made integration less traumatic and stressful.
I know I’m lucky.
At times it’s easy to feel a lot of what Lauren has written about. You can’t be anything but smacked in the face with it just by living here. There are many passionate and angry pieces I’ve had held back about the frustrations and sadness of living life in Cambodia. It’s not all cheap beer and warm weather. At times it’s just plain dark.
Side note: Four of my female friends had their bags snatched last week. One young woman had her bagged snatched twice in two days while one was pushing her baby in a stroller and dragged to and along the ground.
It’s not all smiles…