A new year a new blog article after all this time since the last one… I’ve been back in Cambodia for about 2 weeks now after a nice long Christmas break back in freezing Germany. It was lovely to be back home with everyone and so great to meet everyone I’ve met in the short time. A little strange at first being back in the developed world with endless choices and varieties of the same products in enormous supermarkets, motorways and traffic rules, hot showers and indoor heatings, trained hairdressers, washing machines, etc. The list is long but after a few days I settled back in quite well indulging Christmas time in the cold weather.
But then the time too leave again came sooner than expected and I found myself saying goodbye again which was quite sad. Not nice to leave everyone behind again and there at the airport I felt like not wanting to leave. The flight back was long as expected but this time the plane as full to the last seat with no space to stretch out a little. I had quite a bit of leg room thanks to a seat in the emergency exit row that made it better. Back in Bangkok I was completely tired though and still the bus journey back to the Cambodian border in Poipet ahead of me. I managed to shake off all the taxi drivers and found the bus terminal where I got my ticket and had 1h to wait. Sitting there right by the parking bay for my bus I did actually manage to miss it, which was surely due to the tiredness and not just stupid… It hadn’t gone for too long when I asked the staff but I expected them to say I’d have to wait for the next one in 2 hours. But instead the girl at the counter got her mobile out and phoned the bus driver asking him to stop and wait for me. So they put me and my heavy luggage into the front seat of another bus going in the same direction which dropped me off on the side lane of the motor way where the other bus was waiting. I was really relieved to get on this bus but you can imagine how embarrassing it was when I finally got on and everyone was looking at the stupid tourist… Anyway, I made it to the border, stayed with Elise, another volunteer, for the night and went on to Battambang the next day. And despite the sadness of having to leave Germany again I was also happy to come back here – crossing the border, being able to chat to people in Khmer again and seeing the cheeky smiles again.
After a day more to recover I went back to work on the Monday where 3 of our NGO people were waiting to have a meeting with me and my colleague. I had no idea what it was about and my colleague was nowhere in sight. Luckily Khmers aren’t really pressed for time so we chatted away about the holidays – or rather my holidays cause in Cambodia only 1st January is a public holiday. Everyone worked through Christmas. Eventually my colleague arrived and the meeting went on. The next day we held a workshop with rice farmers and traders in one of the communities here and discussed activities we can support them with in terms of business training. Lots of good suggestions and ideas and it was nice to get straight out to the field and the community again after coming back. These days out in the community are not very frequent (because our NGO partners do most of the field activities and we don’t want to distract that too much, so we work more internally with the NGO staff) but for me they are the best because you really get direct feedback on what is going on and what the needs are. And its great fun as well because of the chats with people and the funny unexpected things that happen. These funny things often involve animals wandering around the working area, like chickens jumping tables, cats playing with rolled-up flip-chart paper, dogs in search of attention from the trainer, etc…
Last weekend, Battambang and the rest of Cambodia and Asia marked the start of the new lunar year. It all started on Sunday with many people burning paper money outside their houses for good luck. But it wasn’t just paper dollars but also an amazing selection of paper gold bars, passports, place tickets, visa cards, etc. Quite some range of things. My landlady invited me to join them so I sat with the kids and burned it all. Then they set off large amounts of fire crackers and chased each other with them which I didn’t find that funny but hej, go with the flow I thought. Afterwards my landlady served up a large lunch with different delicious dishes. We sat down but people didn’t eat so much and a lot was left over. It was probably also more a part of the ceremony as well. On Monday the celebrations went on and there were a lot of dancers in huge dragon costumes out around town, dancing to some Chinese drums in front of the richer people’s houses, who gave them some money afterwards. Very Chinese and very un-Khmer but many Khmers have Chinese ancestors or family influence, so it is quite a big deal. And of course it’s an occasion to celebrate – otherwise everybody has to wait until the Khmer New Year in April…
Photo: Burning money for chinese New Year - my landlady and the neighbours and their kids
Photo: My landlady getting ready for lunch
Photo: Traditional dragon dance at a house near our office
Last weekend I also went out on a moto trip to a temple in the countryside with a few fellow Battambangers. The rains have stopped for months now and the gravel roads around town are more than just dusty, especially when you have a truck coming past. We got completely covered on our motos and when we got off, trousers, shirts and everything where in various shades of grey and red. And the moto as well - apart from the area where I sat which was the only thing sticking out in black. But it was great fun to be on the road again. Anyway, I feel like I’m well and truly back in Cambodia now...
Photo: Monks around the temple we visited
Photo: Having a good afternoon!
Wishing everybody I haven’t managed to write or talk to yet a very happy and very belated New Year!!!
Will keep you posted!