This is a personal site. The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of VSO.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The way home?

It took me so long to feel a part of it here, that now going home is just a week away I’m really starting to feel, well, sad.

It’s so strange, wanting to go home and not wanting to leave at the same time. Every time I see a cow in the middle of the road, of a child clinging on to the back of a motorbike, I can’t help but think about the everyday images that I’m going to miss. Going outside and looking at the palm trees, riding on the motorbike and going for dinner with friends. The ex-pat community is so small here, and everyone is so accepting – there’s no pretense, and we’re in it together.

At work, I’ve found some projects I really love, they stretch my job description a bit, but as I tramp about in half a foot of mud up in Tmar Puok, I suddenly realise what my expectation and image of working in Cambodia was. Part of me really can’t help but feel bad that I’m leaving, there is still stuff to do and everyone that has become a part of my Cambodia will carry on without me. They will moan about about 3.30am wake-up calls, cockerels and cows without me. Is this the point at which someone throws in their Western life and stays? Or do you say ‘thank you very much, have a nice life’and waltz off home?

I don’t know. I very much want to go home. I picture living a life with my boyfriend, being cosy, going camping, wearing nice clothes and (heaven forbid) showing a shoulder without feeling weird about it. I want to see my family, torture my little brother, go out with my friends and tell everyone about it. I want to take my first piping hot bath in 365 days. I would like to get a good job, go to ASDA and go to the cinema (also for the first time in 365 days). I want to be able to understand the world around me, not worry about mice, mosquitoes or malaria. I would like, very much, to feel clean.

But I am really going to miss Cambodia and a very real part of me would like to stay. Perhaps that means it’s the perfect time to leave, but it kind of feels like I’m about to miss the end of the story.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Top 10

Things are drawing to a close, and although it hasn’t quite sunken in yet, in less than one month I’ll be sleeping in the spare room at my parent’s house. As time runs out, and I’ve finished watching all the DVDs I own (I should get a medal: 6 series of House, 5 series of Spooks, 3 series of Gossip Girl and 1 series of Glee, is no mean feat) time is a tickin’ and I can’t help I think about what I’m going home to, and exactly what I’m leaving behind.

So in light of this, let me introduce Jen’s top 10:-

… things I will miss about Cambodia …
1) Waking up to a blue-sky, knowing it will be as sunny today as it was yesterday.
2) Driving my moto round the countryside, looking at the green of the paddy fields and skillfully dodging the cows.
3) Art class and my friend Remy.
4) Having my daily iced coffee with condensed milk and Ovaltine.
5) Being told I’m beautiful by almost everyone I meet (Khmer’s love a bit of white skin and a big nose).
6) The instant diet potential of life in Cambodia.
7) Floating home after a successful day at work (such rarities should not be taken lightly).
8) Life, and the network of fellow volunteers – I’ll miss you all!
9) Living in a world where anything is possible. Especially if you have a moto and enough string.
10) A good meal at Cow-On-The-Mountain and Red and Yellow Chairs place.

… things I WILL NOT miss about Cambodia …

1) Cockerels.
2) Mice, especially the rotten ones under floorboards.
3) Returning home from a hard day at work only to find that your ‘Bum Gun’ has exploded and the lower floor of your house is half a foot deep in water.
4) Washing my clothes in a bucket.
5) People that cannot drive and look at you with a blank face after they have almost killed you.
6) “Laydeee wanna tuk tuk? / Pineapple? / Moto?”.
7) Ants on my washing line, and correspondingly, in my pants.
8) Loud speakers, Khmer music and 4am.
9) Living in a world that is not designed for people over 5ft, and the back-ache that comes with it.
10) Actually, I can’t think of anymore.

... and then there were three.

With just four weeks left to go, my family has finally decided to brave the boarders for a flying visit to the land of Cambodia. Well, two of them did, anyway (Dad and brother).

Flexing my tour guide muscles and practicing my very best Khmer, we began our trip in Siem Reap. Taking in the temples, swimming pools and markets, I tried hard to convince my family that I am indeed ‘roughing it’ in Cambodia – nevermind that I am on first-name terms with the staff of my favourite hotel. It was great to show them everything that Siem Reap has to offer, but I did find myself secretly disappointed that they a) seemed to want to sample the local cuisine, when I am now very much craving steak, and b) as men, didn’t find the shopping in the Night Market nearly as exciting as I do.

From Siem Reap I bowed to requests for a slice of ‘the real Cambodia’, so we headed off to Sisophon for a surprisingly enjoyable three days of da-laying (aimless wandering). Without much effort at all, I got my dad to ride on the back of my moto, and with my brother following on my push-bike we were an unstoppable force. Well, that is until people decided that ‘the real Cambodia’ is in fact far too hot and sweaty, and that the locals seem to like to use chop-sticks and eat chickens eggs with fetuses in them. So we finished the holiday with some four star, $30 a night accommodation in Battambang.

Fortunately, my dad is much easier to convince to do stupid things than my mum is, so whilst in Battambang we rode the precarious – if not ingenious – Bamboo train and then took a tuk-tuk out to the Battambang Circus in the middle of a monsoon. An adventure that was well worth it, where else can you see some 15 year old boy do a handstand on top of 10 creatively stacked wooden chairs?

And now they’ve gone, and I have three weeks left. I’m glad I got to the opportunity to show-off my Cambodia, and give them an insight into what I’ll be talking about when I get home. But for now, it’s a weird feeling. A little empty, perhaps.

Monday, 26 July 2010

The key to success?

It's exam time in Sisophon, Cambodia and what greater way to show off weeks of hard study, revision and learning? Pass your Grade 12 exams and become one of the intellectual elite. The world is indeed your oyster... well, sort of.

What's that I hear you cry?! You haven't done enough revision? Not to worry, outside the exam centres today there are hundreds of buzzing entrepreneurs just waiting to sell you the answers to your exam paper for the bargain price of $2.5. Competition is fierce and preparation this year can't be faulted, with people leaking the exam papers with weeks to spare!

Short of cash? Then why not text your uncle, brother or cousin or aunt, and they will hand deliver your answers personally!

Whatever your move, I hope you've planned it in advance, because this year the restrictions are tough and it's harder than ever to pass Grade 12. The police are in place, the centres are fenced... how do they expect anyone to graduate at this rate?

Sunday, 18 July 2010


Over the last 11 months, I think I have felt every emotion known to man - at ten times its normal magnitude. There was a time when I really didn’t think I could do it. And, if I’m honest, that it wasn’t worth what I had given up. Now, with just six weeks left, I am sitting in my living room, having just gotten home from an impromptu party at the school where I’ve been attending a local art class. I think I have just had one of the nicest afternoons of my life.

Leaving the party, and saying goodbye to some of my friends there, has really made me think about my life here and how its changed. The children I’ve gotten to know are just wonderful, and their openness and warmth will stay with me long after I’ve gone home. Its difficult to explain, to them they are just being themselves – they were curious about the foreigner, a little shy, but took the time to talk to me and practice their English. They made me feel welcome, and they wanted to be a part of my life here. I can’t tell you the impact this has had on me. Going to this art class has given me something to do here that I really truly, love. Something that isn’t work and was just for me. Going, and having people there that want to tell me that they moved house yesterday, and want to ask me one question please – why is it that foreigners don’t want to always eat rice? Why did I want to travel to Cambodia? It’s made me feel a part of something, a part of the town, a part of someone else’s life. I wish I could tell them just how important they have become to me and how much I will miss it when I am gone.

I used to think that I came to Cambodia for a variety of reasons. I always wanted to travel, and I wanted to help. Good reasons, I think. Now –selfishly- I think the biggest reason I came here is because I wanted to live in another country. I wanted to see if I could do it. The work is of course important, and I am happy now that it is going well and I have made something of the job I came to do. But right now, after today, if you asked me what my biggest accomplishment in Cambodia is? It’s that I like it. I feel now that I don’t just live and work in Cambodia, but that I have a life in Cambodia. It’s taken me a long time to really feel this way, longer perhaps than it should have done. But now I know that I have friends, not just foreigners, but Khmer friends too. I feel a part of Sisophon and a part of Cambodia. I am looking forward to going home, but I can honestly say that I will be sorry to leave. And for me, that’s the greatest achievement of all: I’ve done it.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Match of the Day...

Here's the video Oly made of our 1GOAL football match. Worth watching, I think!

Fever Pitch

Considering that up until two weeks ago I wasn’t even aware that there’s a World Cup this year, I’ve suddenly found myself in the midst of all the football fever – and seem to be organizing a football match.

It all started when fellow volunteer Oly Shipp stopped over at Jen’s Hotel on his way to some medical meeting. Over a cup of tea and a biscuit (I take payment in foodstuffs) he casually drew my attention to an e-mail we’d gotten about a month ago that asked volunteers to organise a football match as part of the 1GOAL campaign. I remember getting that e-mail, seeing the word ‘football’ and pressing DELETE.

Well. Oly is a male volunteer, and these are few and far between out here in Cambodia. So I must admit my heart-strings were tugged when he started exclaiming just how much it would mean to him to be able to play in a football match. Wouldn’t I help organise it?

Always keen to have something to do, yes, I said – I would. What does he need? Not too much,
I was assured. It’s just a football match, how hard could it be to organise? Well, indeed. So I committed to organising a match at one week’s notice. Oh, and then Oly tells me he’s going to be away until Wednesday. The match was to be on the following Saturday. Do I mind?

Actually, organizing the match was surprisingly easy. Nevermind that we showed up to the training match without a football. Even the best made plans have glitches.

1GOAL is an event piggy backing off World Cup fame, aimed at raising awareness for education. There are 72 million children worldwide that are still being denied the opportunity to attend school, and by signing the petition at a local 1GOAL event, world leaders can see just how much people across the globe support the concept of Education For All. We got 340 signatures to add to this petition - the majority from children.

The grand plan: A football match between VSO volunteers and Ministry of Education Staff. Both teams must have at least two female players. VSO will provide t-shirts, the Ministry a referee and Linesmen and we got the local arts school to provide some of their drummers for added effect.

I have to say, considering we threw it together in a week – the morning went really well! There were loads of spectators, a good team spirit, music, banners, cheering… Never mind that the ‘Education For All' banners actually turned out to be second hand from an old drugs campaign, the message was there (VSO also provided a couple of banners) and everyone was in high spirits. We turned up the evening before to find kids doing some litter collection and the Ministry painting new white lines on the community football pitch. We bought some new sand for the goals and have left a new set of goal posts as a donation to the community.

It was great. And the best part was that everyone was involved: Education volunteers, health volunteers, translators, community members, ministry education staff, the local arts school and an ever growing selection of random children. A brilliant Saturday morning. We even ended up on the local news!

Now, I have no idea how England are doing in the World Cup this year. But our score? VSO [6] : Ministry of Education [4]. A new England squad in the making?