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

Friday, 23 April 2010

A mouse in the house

Over this last week I have learnt a very important lesson.

At roughly 3am every day for the last month I have been woken up by the suspicious sound of scuttling. The other day, I turned my light on and got a sneaky peak of a mouse's rear end as it disappeared behind my wardrobe. Not wanting mice babies to materialise over the week I was to be away, I decided to be proactive about the situation, bought poison pellets and cunningly dropped them through a few holes in my floorboards.

Today, after two days of wondering why it smelt like gone off chicken in my room, and three days of hoping what I realised to be dead mouse smell would go away - with the help of Samuth we lifted a couple of floorboards and removed the offending item from my room. All other mice look to have made it outside before their end came. Sorry, I know it's not very Buddhist of me.

Anyway the lesson I have learnt and wish to share with others:

It isn't a good idea to put poison pellets down where the mice wont be able to get out. Use sticky traps instead.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

You know you've been in Cambodia too long when...

Inspired by my friends Oly and Kelsey, I've decided to create my own list of Cambodian conversions too!


You know you've been in Cambodia too long when:
  • You are no longer concerned by the presence of a mouse in your bedroom at 3am. As long as there's a mosquito net between you and it, you're fine.
  • The highlight of your evening is that 'Mamma Mia' is showing on HBO. Again.
  • Doing the laundry involves chucking all your stuff in a bucket, adding water, wash powder and stamping on it for a few minutes.
  • You hang around in the ATM, purely because it has air-con.
  • You start to appreciate ants for the job they do.
  • It's perfectly okay to drive on the wrong side of the road. In fact, sometimes its safer.
  • Spending 5 minutes deciding exactly which seat you want on the bus is an acceptable thing to do. Afterall, seats 6 and 7 are over the wheel and for some reason 16 and 17 don't have as much leg space as the others. And don't forget - it's best not to be too far back or you'll be last in the toilet queue at the service stop.
  • You've forgotten how to use a knife.
  • Happiness is a cup of iced ovaltine coffee in a market, under a fan a little too near the hanging cows heads.
  • You have to hold all your clothes up with a belt.
  • You start to speak to your fellow foreigners in broken English: "We go your house what time?"...
  • Seeing another white person is the most interesting part of your day.
  • Striking a match and setting light to your rubbish is as a good a waste disposal system as any other.
  • Your three main topics of conversation include: work, food and what DVD series your watching at the moment.
  • It's perfectly normal to discuss your bodily functions with complete strangers.
  • 9pm is a late night.
  • You no longer accidentally wee down your leg when using a squat toilet. You've got that technique mastered.
  • $2 for an item of clothing is an absolute rip off.
  • A trip to the supermarket is akin to seeing Angkor Wat or some other wonder of the world.
  • You dust your balcony.
  • All of a sudden your bright pink pair of joke purchase shorts are the most favourite thing you own. And did you just buy a fake diamante hair clip?
  • You will argue about $1 for at least ten minutes. It's important to have principles.
  • Your daily perfume is deet with a hint of bodily odor.
  • Sitting in a hammock is too much effort.
  • You prefer practical durable cotton underwear over anything else.
  • It's ok to eat rice for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner.
  • The concept of 'sharing skills' means that you request 'The Macarena' at every opportunity, just so you can teach people the dance moves.
  • A five hour journey is a 'short hop'.
  • You're appalled at the sight of someone wearing a skirt or shorts that do not cover the knee. When did it become okay to start showing so much skin?
  • A car is not considered full unless there are at least 10 people in it.
  • You can't sleep at night because it's too quiet, where did all the weddings go?
  • You know the words to: "You know you want me" and actually get excited when it comes on over a speaker.
  • A day below 30 degrees is considered cold.
  • You get excited about rain.

To see Oly and Kelsey's lists, feel free to check out their blogs:

Sunday, 4 April 2010

The Jolly Boy's Outing

As part of my attempt to encourage people to separate the role of community from the word ‘money’, I decided to run a study tour with my focus cluster to see the work of another VSO volunteer in Battambang. It was fool proof. I’d been with the two deputy directors from the District Office of Education in Mongkal Borei the week before, we’d checked out what we were going to see, more importantly – they liked what we were going to see, and I’d linked with another more experienced volunteer who helped me to plan the days activities. All I had to do was hire a mini-bus and make sure we left on time…

Nothing is ever foolproof.

In the days leading up to the event everything was going to plan. As requested by the Director of the District Office in Battambang, I was hauling everyone up extra early so that we would be in ‘the bong’ at 7.30am (it takes an hour to get there). I lied to everyone about the kick off, and as anticipated everyone was late, so we left on time.

The mini-bus was sparkling new, I’d even bought us breakfast the night before and everyone was in high spirits. Unfortunately, as we neared our destination I began to get a little concerned about the colour of the sky. As you've probably guessed, the sky in Cambodia is normally blue. Unless it’s the monsoon season – which right now it isn’t.

On this day, however, the sky was a worrying shade of grey and as we pulled up to the office for our first meeting the heavens opened and it started to rain, or to be more specific, it started to monsoon it down. I had a sneaky feeling that this rain would make the outdoor-based community open morning we were heading to see, a little difficult. Then my phone rang. The director had decided, at five minutes notice, to cancel our morning meeting. So, trying not to feel too guilty about the fact I’d just dragged 14 people out of bed early for nothing we headed to the first school to see (or not see) the open morning.

It continued to rain and as predicted, no-one came. So we got to sit around for an hour and a half. I can honestly say that this is the first time in Cambodia I have ever been cold. And to put a cherry on it, Roy, the volunteer helping me organize the trip, told me he thought the road to the second school would be too dangerous and slippy for us to drive on.

Now, I know it was no-one’s fault, but I have never wanted to scream so much in my life! It hasn’t rained in Cambodia for three months. Why it decided to rain on this particular parade, I don’t know.

Fortunately, and bless the Khmers who will smile anything,
everyone was still in fairly high-spirits (I think just being out of the office was enough), so with the promise of some good food and maybe a little sight-seeing before we gave up and went home everyone was more than happy.

But then someone of greater good took pity on me. The rained stopped and some people turned up. Slowly, slowly we began to salvage the day. The community morning had sadly been thrown by the rain, but we still got some sweet performances from the Student Council, it's just a shame that the flow and excitement of the morning had been lost and the monotony of Khmer speeches took over. I tried desperately not to despair as the school director discussed the history of the school and started telling all my keen eared visitors that he’d won some money gambling (which is illegal for Khmers) and this is how he’d started the development process in his school – sorry VSO, he was meant to be talking about the role of the community and his new Student Council!

Still, considering what was and what could have been, we managed to get a little something from the morning. So, fuelled up with a hearty lunch accompanied by just the one beer, we decided to brave the road to the second school. Luckily we didn’t slide off the road and into the river – and we actually managed to have a very lovely afternoon meeting that almost made my 5am start worthwhile. To be honest, I was surprised and impressed by everyone. Maybe things being rubbish is just so normal they really weren’t bothered by the way the morning turned out. We left the school in a jolly mood and I was even hoping we’d have the time to take in a temple before we went home, but sadly we didn’t. Still, we managed to pick up someone’s son who wanted a lift up to Svei and everyone had a good nap on the journey back.

And in conclusion? Well, it may not have been the day I was imagining, but I’m beginning to learn that nothing every will be – and that that’s okay, I’m in Cambodia not England. The important things is we saved it and managed to get something from it after all. No, it wasn’t the greatest revelation ever, but it was a start – and the nicest part of the day? Not the schools, not the open day, not the meeting… but the fact that everyone went home smiling, and I think what we achieved most that day – a little bit of unexpected team building. And that’s sustainable.