Welcome to Cambodia. So far I’ve found testicular looking balls of something in my soup and have been dazzled by other local delicacies including the likes of fried spiders and grasshoppers. Much to everyone at Serif’s disappointment, I’m afraid I had to draw the line at both food stuffs. Quite frankly, the spiders look just a little too much like spiders for my liking, although fellow volunteer Simon said they didn’t taste too bad (having said this, he only ate one leg and put the rest in the bin). The photo above shows the spiders neatly stacked at a local service station on our road trip up to Kompong Cham – they were selling like hotcakes and if I ever wanted some extra income, apparently they aren’t too difficult to find lurking about in corners. I very much hope I NEVER find one, and am beginning to think that maybe I should have tried to fit a spider-catcher in my suitcase after all.
Spiders allegedly became a favourite during the Khmer Rouge years when almost everyone was forced to hide food and eat whatever they could find, spiders and lizards included. I appreciate I haven’t spoken much about the Khmer Rouge yet, I will do – I’ve lots to say already and have heard several personal stories, but I’m trying to think of a way to best put across what happened. Every person over the age of 30 in Cambodia remembers the Pol Pot years and quite openly has a story to tell, and I feel no less shocked every time I hear one.
Back on the subject of food, spiders aside, the food here really isn’t too bad, although I’m trying hard not to focus on the prospect of eating nothing but slimy vegetables and rice for a year. Generally, the food is nice and is as good from the market stalls as anywhere. I’ve also succeeded in buying my own vegetables, eggs, bread and tinned tuna from the local market in the hope of one-day fending for myself. Unfortunately the tuna wasn’t tuna but some other form of non-descript fish (with a spine) in a tomato sauce (not sunflower oil as I’d hoped).But still, it tasted okay. We were in a small village the other day as well and had some rice and banana concoction that was wrapped up in a leaf, which is a new personal favourite. I’m also a fan of sugar cane juice and coconut milkshakes – of which there are plenty.
I’m really enjoying Kompong Cham and learning the language and I look forward to the day when I say something in Khmer that isn’t met with a look of confusion. Already I’ve started to feel a bit more at home, which is being helped by the fact that my jet-lag has gone and I don’t need to go to the toilet as frequently as I did when I first arrived. Kompong Cham is a nice, small, manageable town. I can ride my push-bike and brave the roads (which aren’t actually too bad at all) and it doesn’t matter if I get it wrong and drive on the wrong side of the street because everyone else does too, and people are used to it. Here are a couple of photos, there’s one of the local three-legged, one eyed monkey and one of the view from the roof of the VSO house – and one of a shack, where a lot of the locals live on the river.