Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Loved up on Cambodia

The first thing you notice about Cambodia is just how different it is to it's close neighbour, Vietnam. You cross the border into that fantastic country and immediately you can sense a clearing, an ease a more relaxed atmosphere.

To think about what all Cambodia has been through, to visit the Killing Fields and feel the evil deeds that went on. To go to Toul Sleng Prison where all the tortures took place and feel the palpable energy of what went on. To know all of these things and just try for a moment to comprehend it, which of course is impossible. And then the people. These people after all what went before are still picking up the pieces of that awful time not too long ago but have this resolve, this lovely warm spirit that makes the country so fascinating. To be there was a privelege I have never experienced before.

The journey to Chi Phat (West Cambodia, Koh Kong Province-Cardamom Mountains)

We left Pnomh Penh early and set off on a long day of travelling. After 5 hours on a bus we arrived at a river where a wooden engine boat waited for us to board. Soon into it, I knew just how remote a place we were heading to. With just a peppering of small bamboo houses along the way things started to look very intriguing. The boat was full and the sun absolutely belted down, sweat pouring at a steady rate. A falcon flew overhead and these swift fish bounced and tripped along the water's surface. We chatted to this seemingly nice guy, who in hindsight had a bit of an edge to him. Later his Jackyl was firmly replaced by Mr. Hyde. But more of that later.

We disembarked the boat grabbing our bags and baggage (no pun intended.) Some kids started to gather and excitedly shout their hello's and beam out their smiles, which were to remain steadfast for the rest of our time there. We were tired, hungry and in need of a cold beer. So we take ourselves to the Eco centre, which is for all intensive purposes is the life line of the island. The project supports local industry through eco tourism and has been up and running for the last few years.

So back to Mr. Hyde. As we settled ourselves in and while we waited for food we were given a brief on the island and the treks that were on offer. Our "friend" began to unravel and spout blood curdling rudeness at the locals. From commenting on their basic English to actually raising his voice to another. One of those ground swallow me up moments as the locals presumed he was our friend. After a few firm words from us, we parted ways and bid good riddance to him.

So onto our trek. Or in my case trek attempt. We had decided on a 3 day 2 night option, which on paper looked fantastic-sleeping in the jungle, cooking, swimming in waterfall-all brilliant. Except for one thing. The actual doing it part! The intensity of the sun knocked the stuffing out of me. 10k and 5 hours later, I threw in the towel. A little defeated and downtrodden, I was picked up by a local man and returned to the village on the bumpy dirt roads we had just walked. But for the next 3 days as I waited for my friend to return I had the one of the most enthralling experiences of my life. I hung out with the locals, skipped hand in hand with some kids, drank cafe sou da at the vietnamese joint (that was hilarious the 3 words of vietnamese I know was used here and they loved it! they almost whooped!), chatted to a buddhist monk about spirituality, was incessantly asked why I wasn't married, went to a buddhist service where same said monk was trying to conduct it as what seemed like all eyes on me. Saw a colorful wedding procession, swam alone in the most tranquil lake have ever been. And so, so much more. Mad. Brilliant and utterly inspiring.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Never a dull moment

Sitting listening to Billie Holiday, chilling and hearing the low drone of traffic in the not too far distance. I am well and truely in the thick of it now. I look like a true pro crossing the road with confidence while inside I am petrified as one wrong turn and I could be toast. Then on the back of a motorbike, I relax, hands free, no longer white knuckled grip on the handle. That is apart from one night when I got a truely insane driver who was going 90 on the motorway, swerving in between trucks and heavy traffic. That was scary and weirdly kind of thrilling! Ah, yes taking it all in my stride. I eat rice like a local and my daily ration of cafe sou da is a staple part of my diet. The lady that sells me coffee now warmly greets me, not like at first when she was shy, a little suspicious. 

My work is growing all the time, building momentum, building new friendships, building all the time. The kids at the Social and Medical Centre start to recognize me now and tug at my necklace or just want a hug. My haggling skills are improving but marginally-I am sure have been ripped off many times over, but all part of the story. I took pictures the other day of a small Tet (lunar new year-it is a magic time of year and the atmosphere is electric and a big family time) party at CNCF. These people were the poorest from the sponsorship programme and were invited to recieve gifts and give them the chance and right to celebrate like everyone else. That's what's amazing about this work. It works to help people with their confidence, their sense of pride in the world. A disabled man in a ramshackle wheelchair moved me to tears. There he was with his young son, probably travelled a great distance to get there. He proudly wore the most immaculately clean and ironed shirt and his whole demeanour was that of gratitude. I went to shake his hand and was recieved warmly. These are the moments that keep me in check. That make it all absolutely feel like this is the right experience for me now. Ok, so homesickness starting to creep in but I guess that's normal. I am off to Cambodia at the weekend to sleep and trek in the jungle and take this adventure to new and dizzying heights. Never a dull moment in SE Asia and that is for sure.