I’ve been in Cambodia for three weeks now and those weeks have been action-packed! For the past few days we have been having so much rain. Every night I can watch the lightening splash around the clouds, and sometimes the downpours are so heavy the street outside our door floods. The porch roof of the volunteer house is tin and sometimes the drumming of water-drops is so loud it interrupts your conversation and you need to speak up. For a South Australian this is all very exciting and jealous-making.
I’m really enjoying living in the volunteer house here in Phnom Penh. It’s like being back at boarding college in lots of ways. There are eleven of us volunteers staying here and we all get along well. About an hour ago we even had a yoga lesson from one of the volunteers! The house itself is quite luxurious – there is a wide front enclosed verandah that leads in to the tiled living area. On this ground floor there is also the kitchen, the laundry, and a TV room with a large collection of DVDs, which are very cheap and easy to pick up at the Russian Market (Toul Tum Pong) not far from the house. The next floor up is bedrooms – all bedrooms have ensuite bathrooms with Western-style toilets, and most volunteers share a bedroom with another volunteer. There is no hot water in the shower but you honestly don’t need it. The top floor is bedrooms too, and access to the roof. The roof is a beautiful place to hang out… it all makes you feel very lucky and very rich!
The volunteer house itself is very conveniently placed less than five minutes walk from the CWF school, about five minutes walk to a couple different internet cafés, and about ten minutes walk to Toul Tum Pong, the Russian Market, where you can buy just about everything you really need. For creature comforts like Milo, Tim Tams and Vegemite you can catch a tuk-tuk or a moto to the supermarkets or shopping centres closer to town. Riding in a tuk-tuk is the most enjoyable form of transport I have ever come across. Because you’re in the open air you feel so connected with everything happening around you. You can smell the food cooking in the markets, watch the crazy “no rules” traffic dance around you, and feel a beautiful breeze on your face, which is absolutely divine in the humidity. Riding on a moto is also enjoyable but make sure you take a good look at where your footrests are before you hop on behind the driver! It’s very difficult to find them with your legs in the way. And watch out for the exhaust pipe when you get off, or you’ll get a nasty burn.
The people here are very friendly also. They smile a lot and like a laugh, and the smaller children are always calling out “hello!” to you. The kids are very inventive with the little they have. In our street and other streets nearby they play for hours with elaborate, very long-tailed kites they make out of plastic bags and sticks and string. The older boys like to play hackey-sack and are extremely good, especially because most of the time they don’t play with a ball but with a weighted shuttlecock! Badminton is very popular here. There are a few people who play in our street every morning (morning is the best time for exercise), and if you head out towards the Riverside in the evening you see many Khmer out playing badminton, hackey-sack or soccer. Soccer is probably the most popular game here though – I suppose because the equipment is cheap and the game is fairly easy to learn. If you go to Olympic Stadium in the city at any time of day there is always a bunch of boys playing soccer in the wide, empty space out the front. It’s amazing, considering the climate, how much exercise many Khmer do – five minutes into our yoga classes I’m always breaking a sweat, and that’s in comparison to those brave kids running around in the sun!
Another favourite Khmer pastime is playing cards. Four of us volunteers went to a local karaoke bar the other night and took a pack of cards. The minute we started playing we had the waiting staff and even some of the other customers peering over our shoulders and watching the game. At one point the manager joined in our game, and did quite well considering the amount of English he spoke and the amount of Khmer we can speak! There are often great moments like this when the gap between cultures is spanned and I absolutely live for those times.