When I arrived in Cambodia, the first thing I thought was “Wow, the humidity is worse than I remember.” Let’s just say that that feeling didn’t dissipate, unlike the lakes of sweat I accrued this weekend. Brenna and I arrived in Cambodia late on Friday night and were greeted by a nice guy named Liam (for us Americans) who got us a tuk-tuk which would take us to where we were staying. Along the way, he casually mentioned that instead of the guesthouse we would be staying with a family closer to where we would be working. While surprised/apprehensive at first, I quickly realized it’s all about rolling with the punches in Cambodia.
Last time I came to Cambodia was a completely different experience than the one I have had this weekend. Firstly, the living accommodations are sparse compared to what I am used to. My room consists of a bed, a chair, and a fan (thank heaven all mighty). Secondly, it is definitely a more “authentic” Cambodian experience. My host family consists of Savuth and his wife, who we lovingly refer to as Mommy and Daddy. They have two sons, but I have only met one named Piseth who works for the UN on human rights activism. There is also Lucky who is the dog. Along with Brenna and I, three other volunteers live in the house: Chao Chao from China, Nacho from Spain, and Leo from Germany, all of whom have been here much longer than we have.
The first day, Brenna and I thought we would venture into Phnom Penh, which is about a twenty minute tuk-tuk ride from the home where we were placed. We woke up at 6am for breakfast as Cambodian sun rises MUCH earlier and so the days follow suit. After that, we hailed down a tuk-tuk to take us to the Riverfront, aka the most touristy area in Phnom Penh. Walking about 2 minutes, we rapidly became cognizant of the humidity and sun beating on our back. So we hopped into Blue Pumpkin (because I recognized the name from my last trip when we visited their Siem Reap branch) for iced drinks before realizing we shouldn’t drink ice after we had already ordered. But, because we were rolling with the punches, and every white person in town was there, we assumed it was safer. No bathroom problems yet!
We then decided to go (READ: WALK) to the central market. And no one walks in Cambodia, partly because of the moto lined sidewalks making them unwalkable and the scorching heat making life unbearable. After walking around the market and perusing without purchasing (we are on a budget, remember?), Brenna and I decided to go (READ: WALK) to Wat Phnom, the temple at the center of town. The trek really was not as dramatic as I make it seem, but it was hot. Still. As I write this, that day was the hottest we have encountered. It might have something to do with all the walking, but still, take my word for it, whatever that is worth. Then we ate, and tried to make it home. We got lost a little because we live pretty far out of the city and our Khmer is less than stellar. But an adventure calls for an excursion every now and then.
The second day was much more laid back and much less heat intensive. First we ventured to a coffee shop with Piseth and his friends. A very Cambodian thing is to lounge around with coffee; I mean how else does one beat the heat? We talked about Cambodian politics (later we learned we probably shouldn’t do this), culture, and NGO work. These guys’ effort to make a difference and change the way their country is run is really quite inspiring. Then we came home lunch to find the other three volunteers eating, and we proceeded to talk with them to get to know them better. It turned into a cross culture talk about stereotypes and Cambodian life to which we got to know a little more about each of their lives, both here in Cambodia and back at home. The afternoon was lax with (more) lounging, coffee, and reading. Dinner came around, and we then decided to go drink a little at a nearby beer garden with Nacho, Chao Chao, and our new friend Louis (that’s what he will now be referred to as since I really don’t know how to spell his name). More ice, more lounging, more drinking. Seriously, sitting around is a profession here. But still no stomach problems!
Between the ice, the inability to speak comprehensible Khmer, getting lost, leaning to sit, and dealing with the heat, Cambodia has been an adventure in two days: an adventure which can throw a mean punch, but has been really quite amazing thus far.
Note: I realize this update is coming to you quite late, bear with the lack of internet and my tiredness when it comes time to write.