A Travellerspoint blog

Heading north

Another long trip to some (still…) beautiful forest areas.

semi-overcast 32 °C

Time flies and I can’t believe its been a month now since I wrote the last story. Work has been busy and we have been around a lot to meet with other NGOs and some of the big international organisations involved in business development projects out here to hear how they are working and see some of their projects to help us shape our work a little more. It was quite interesting to see their different approaches and also to get an idea what works and what doesn’t. Not all projects have been successful as you might have imagined and it really confirmed that throwing lots of money (in the form of training or more material things like cows for example) out at communities is one of the things that really doesn’t work, if its not part of a longer development and support process. These aren’t new conclusions but unfortunately its still happening (not always though). We also went to see a small community shop in a pretty village only accessible by boat via the Mekong (no roads), which was set up as a cooperative to make it easier for villagers to buy products locally instead of having to travel a long way to the market. This is one of the things our NGO partners want to do as well.

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Photo: A few thatch houses in the village we visited

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Photo: This boat was the only way to get there - nice ride!

From there we went on to Phnom Penh to meet some of the bigger development organisations and talked a lot about agriculture. It has quite good potential, given the fact that over 60% of the economy is based on it but focussed on rice, which means a lot of imports of fruit and vegetables. So we’ll probably get into that as well, if we can alongside other areas like fish products.

Then I went on to a workshop up north close to the Laos border in a place called Stung Treng, a small town on the Mekong, 9 hours by bus from Phnom Penh (and that was on a good road!). Thinking about it I realised that this is not so much less than flying from London to Bangkok but without the free drinks and food and a very different entertainment programme, i.e. karaoke and Khmer comedian DVDs on high volume all the way. There were quite a few foreigners on the bus as well, headed for Laos. Two Dutch and two British guys were exchanging travel plans behind me with a bit of a surprise for the Brits who heard from the Dutch that there aren’t any visas available at the border, which they didn’t know and of course didn’t get any in Phnom Penh. Bad news rather late during this journey but I think they probably made it anyway – maybe it cost them a bit more but the right amount of money makes almost anything possible – unfortunately (not for the travellers I mean but in terms of the corruption problem in general).

However, the countryside east of the big Tonle Sap lake and Mekong heading north is very different from the west side where Battambang is. Here its pretty flat with plenty of rice fields in large open areas, whereas there it’s a lot more hilly with large forest areas. The workshop therefore was on enterprise development for ‘non-timber forest products’ (sounds strange but means basically anything out of the forest, that’s not hard wood, e.g. honey, rattan, resin, berries, …). Traditionally, people have been collecting these products for a long time but usually for family consumption only or sometimes sold some but without much processing to add value. Also conservation of the resources wasn’t high on the agenda.

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Photo: View over the Mekong near Stung Treng - its big!

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Photo: And on the way to the village - via this wobbly wooden swing bridge. (keine Angst Mama, war alles ok!)

So on the first day of this 3-day workshop we went out on a village visit to hear from the community how they work towards commercialising forest products in sustainable ways to increase people’s incomes. It was in a beautiful tropical forest environment on the borders of the Mekong, with some of it already underwater from the rising river. These are very unique habitats and breeding grounds for the ever decreasing fish populations.

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Photo: At the village meeting

Once the meeting with some people from the village committee started, they also talked a lot about threats of ongoing deforestation by large (foreign) private logging companies. As it happened in other countries with lush tropical rain forest, the government grabs the land and sells logging concessions for I don’t know how many millions, not caring much about any of the consequences, like environmental or purely the livelihoods of these villagers. NGOs have been active for years now to help communities to get THEIR community forest areas registered to be able to keep them. But for some reason this process is very slow, while concessions are sold much more quickly. Also, the size of the community forest areas is tiny compared to the private ones. What has already started to happen and I could see along the road, is that at some point the logging companies come in, take all the wood out and start plantations for cash crops, like oil palm or cassava. This looks still green but the natural habitat is destroyed and the income potential for local people isn’t great, either.

I’ve seen documentaries about this in other countries on TV but seeing it for real out here, really brought it home. Also because a lot of the forest is still there, the areas have been sold but logging hasn’t started, yet. And then saw all this and imagined what it might look like in 5 years time – not good. And there was a Philippino forester on the workshop as well talking about how all this happened in the Philippines years ago and only now the government stopped all logging because of too many casualties in floodings and land slides. And the problem does simply lie at government level with very, very limited scope for any NGO or international organisation to do anything effective.

The problem are the big $ involved throughout the entire chain of government, local - provincial – national. Everybody has to buy their way in somewhere as well as every time they want to move up and this is normally more than they can afford, so ‘extra’ payments occur everywhere, any time and for anything given the low government wages and the need to top it up a little. And as long as wages are like this and the dollars rule, practice will stay as it is with people not caring so much about what they do for their people and country but simply do what they get the most money for. Having met a few government people here in lower positions (like e.g. one of my last taxi drivers), you can’t blame them because they care for their families as good as they can – the ones to blame are sitting much higher up.

To end on a positive note, the rest of the workshop showed that small things are developing and in some areas people manage to brand and market forest products quite well, which was great to see. I really hope that we can get our project in Battambang to go into the same direction and help to set up sustainable small-scale businesses but to get there is still some way away …

Posted by Brizie 19:49 Archived in Cambodia Tagged volunteer Comments (2)

Just a normal week.

… daily life in Battambang

semi-overcast 32 °C

Having talked about work in the last story, this one will go back to country and culture more generally and what I’ve been up to in the past weeks. My highlights were daytrip by moto on one weekend with my volunteer colleagues to some temple ruins and Wats around Battambang and the chance to go to a wedding in Siem Reap which I combined with a visit to nearby Angkor Wat the next day, which really is a truly amazing place to visit. But I don’t just wanna write about my ‘touristy’ experiences (check out the photos in my photo gallery, if you like) cause like in a travel guide but a little more about the rest of ‘normal’ life out here.

My working week is Monday to Friday from about 7.30 to 17.00 with a 2 hour lunch break from 12.00 to 14.00. The long lunch was a little strange to me at first but most of the time we go to a nearby restaurant and then come back a little early. Most Khmer people however really take the time, eat at the office or go home and then have a little nap in their hammock afterwards and some organisations even have 3 hours. Easier to bear the mid-day heat probably like in Spain but still a little long for me. The good thing about having our own office and not being located with an ‘employer’ NGO is the flexibility in terms of working hours. As I’m not really an ‘early bird’ as some of you might have noticed, I usually go to the office a little later, cut the lunch a bit and work later in the afternoon. Perfect for me. But at home, my landlady and her family (as most other people) really get up with the sunrise around 5.30/6.00 am and are out for work around 7.00. As most Westerners here I have a cleaning lady for my house and laundry twice a week, who also thinks I sleep a lot because I’m usually still there when she comes at 8.00. Her name is Sophy and she is really sweet. Not that I desperately need a cleaner for my little house but I do for the laundry. There’s only about a handful of washing machines here and almost everybody washes by hand, which clearly is a skill I don’t have. It is also very hard work in the heat of the day and I feel I already sweat enough anyway… The other reason for having Sophy is that I can help her making a living. Mind you, it only costs me $25 per month (she works for about 4 people at least and that gives her quite a decent income by Cambodian standards), which I can just about afford with my allowance but it does make life a lot easier. She also makes sure I have drinking water in the house and even washes my shoes occasionally which is great after a day out on mud roads. The normal tap water, which comes from a big container on the roof (delivered by truck to the house from God knows where…) is not clean here and I have to use bottled water for all cooking, washing food and brushing my teeth. At the beginning this meant carrying a lot of bottles all the time but now I use big 20 litres or so containers. I tried boiling and filtering the tap water for a bit to be more environmentally friendly but gave up on that pretty quickly after some stomach troubles. The tab water is never clear and sometimes even quite brown. For me, this is all not a big problem, the container is cheap and my cleaner lady replaces it for me all the time. But for the poor people out in the villages, access to safe drinking water is an issue and I saw statistics the other day, that in some poor areas, only about 15% of the population use safe water. Quite a scary thought, showing one of the many basic things poor people lack out here because they don’t can’t access or simply can’t afford them (other big deficits in many places are electricity and toilet facilities, just to name two of many more). I’ll write more about this once I have a better picture what village life is really like when we go out there more for work.

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Photo: Decorating my living room a little.

Monday and Thursday evenings I also meet with a Khmer tutor for some language lessons in a café in town. It’s going ok so far and I start speaking and understanding a little, which makes life easier. Since I can’t read the script and won’t really have time to learn it, I learn it all from Lautschrift / phonetic language (??) in latin script. A bit strange sometimes because different books / dictionaries use different spellings for the same words. Also, the spelling is based on English pronunciation, which I sometimes find a little strange and change it according to how things sound to me when they are pronounced. But I’m getting there and my teacher is good at understanding me, whereas I sometimes fail miserably in shops just asking for a simple bottle of water. But the thing there is also that many people really aren’t used to foreigners speaking Khmer and think its some weird English word that sounds similar to the Khmer for ‘water’. But when they get it they are over the moon and laugh because they find it hilarious that foreigners speak their language. And it opens up hearts and minds when you make an idiot of yourself and all of a sudden a lot more English comes out of them as well. So that’s good and I don’t mind a bit of embarrassment on a daily basis, hoping my Khmer will improve.

On Fridays after work, we have also started an ‘English Speaking Club’ together with some other VSO volunteers for the staff from our local NGOs. They are all extremely keen to learn more English and despite the extra effort for us, we also see it as a way to get to know them better and create social contacts as we don’t really see them on a daily basis because they are in their offices across town. Its not about giving English lessons because we aren’t teachers but more about practicing speaking and playing some fun games with them. It helps them and in turn hopefully also us when they speak more English and we can have more direct conversations with them rather than always with a translator, which can be really difficult and lengthy. We’ve only done this Club once so far and despite we still need some fine-tuning of planning the content, they really liked it and wanted even more and longer sessions. But once a week is really all we can manage.

Most lunches and evenings I still eat out as food is really quite cheap and its nice to meet other people and chat. I said before I think that there are a lot of other volunteers in town and I get to meet more and more outside VSO, like Australians, Phillipinos, Americans, Belgians and even 2 Germans last week. Cambodian bed time is quite early, given the early morning starts as well, so by 21.00 the streets are quite empty, apart from the better off youngsters who still hang out in the park to flirt or go out to a club or karaoke place. But then around 22.00 it gets really empty and on a weekend night out, the only real disco-type night club shuts at 01.00 am.

For food and other shopping I go to one of the local markets where they sell almost anything – food, kitchen equipment, toiletries, clothes, etc. I had to get used to the fact that here is no supermarket here (they are building one to open next year or so) but by now I figured out where to get what and what it costs. Then there is also that shop in town which sells the ‘western stuff’ like milk, cheese, olive oil, ice cream, etc. (I mentioned this before – just repeat it to stress how essential this little place of ‘luxury’ is for me!). I go there quite often and always buy small amounts, which is really necessary. With this climate, nothing can be kept for long or it will go off, spread bacteria or attract hundreds of very small ants, especially anything containing flour, sugar, etc. Once a friend left a couple of muffins in a plastic bag outside the fridge and the next morning they were truly occupied by a small army of these little bastards. Same with any crumpet you drop on the floor – within minutes the ants arrive (amazing how they find it so quickly though). And then the only thing that really helps is to get the spray can out, which is not exactly the healthiest thing… Anyway, shopping in small quantities is easy to do because everything is sold individually and not in any pre-packed quantities.

Talking about daily life, I also have to mention the most integral part of Cambodian daily life. What that is? The Dream Machine (most of them are Honda Dream) of course – or more generally – the moto. It really is the most common form of transport here and everybody who can afford one has one. Even about 10-year old kids (or as soon as they are tall enough to reach the pedal to change the gears). Despite I’m still on the bicycle most of the time as I live so close to work, I drive more and more. Even got a proper Cambodian driving license now. It is not really important and most locals won’t have one but officially required now. Registration plates are also a new requirement and police does check from time to time but probably more to raise some money and sometimes make a dollar or two on the side for not writing a ticket. Anyway, I’m getting more and more confident driving the moto across town when I have it (me and my colleague share one) and sometimes even out to the countryside and on dirt roads, which is a bit tricky with big pot holes, especially after some heavy rain when everything is flooded and slippery. I’ve had a couple of times where I killed the engine in the middle of a busy crossing but then the locals have a bit of a laugh and just keep driving around. Also did my first drive through town with my colleague on the back the other day, which went ok (we didn’t crash at least). It’s a little trickier because you need to balance more, especially when traffic is dense and slow. But with a little more practice, I’ll be ok I hope. Ot panjaha (very important Khmer phrase, meaning ‘no problem’).

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Photo: Esther and I at Saturday lunch at Phally's (our translator - on the right) house

So this is that so far. Just a normal week but then you never know what happens. I’m also still in touch with Chey – the monk I wrote about earlier. Have visited him a couple of times for a chat and he also asked, if I could help him practice English. I agreed and started going to the pagoda once a week for an hour to chat with him and some of his friends/ monks and we read and discuss some English newspaper articles. Quite interesting to hear their stories and views of things from a very different perspective. But no worries, I’m not planning to convert to Buddhism. ;-)

There are so many things here that really are different but I don’t wanna make the story longer. If there is anything you’re curious about, just ask…

Lear hi (bye, bye)

Britta

Posted by Brizie 22:31 Archived in Cambodia Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

What are we actually doing?

The first joint project partner meeting and other things

semi-overcast 35 °C

Another month, another story before we’re heading into the next big Cambodian bank holiday (it’s the King’s birthday this week, which means between one and 3 days official holiday, depending on the employer). And as if that’s not enough, there’s another one next Monday, the Royal Ploughing Day (but not everybody has that day off as well – we don’t). I’ve decided to work most of this week though and take the 1 day we get over into next week to go to Siem Reap (the city close by Angkor Wat) to meet up with my former next door neighbour from the US who invited me to come along to the wedding of one of her Khmer friends.

Anyway, I wrote a lot about what country and life is like here and settling into everything but not much about work, yet, mainly for the reason that me and my colleagues are really still figuring our what we should/ can / want to do but things are beginning to take shape and we´re close to getting our work plan for the first few months together. Essentially, the objective of the project is to help our 3 partner NGOs to increase their capacity in terms of enterprise development so they provide better / more services so that people in their target villages can run / build more profitable businesses and earn a better living. In order to achieve this, we’ll work together side by side with the NGOs in providing trainings, etc. in the villages. However, to get there, we’re at the moment still in the process of putting a picture together of what each NGO does where at the moment, which is not as straight forward a task as I thought as there are barely any written documents, so we try and get the information in meetings, questionnaires and the help of Phally, our assistant and interpreter. Once we have a complete picture, we’ll start with a pilot phase, which will be mainly us going along with them to existing projects to really understand their work, so that we can then plan where we support each NGO. Alongside this process we’ll also get more into systematic value chain analysis and micro finance institutions and how they work, which are 2 other main areas we’ll work on with the NGOs because access to finance and understanding of how markets function are major essentials for business development to work. Sounds pretty sophisticated for me as a non-economist but it will all be at a very basic level as the target group are really small-scale fishers and farmers, trying to earn a living for their families. The main problems are things like for example lack of farmers’ information about real market prices because markets are too far away, people don’t have a mobile phone and entirely depend on traders coming to villages with supplies and buying local produce at whatever price they want to pay.

So what is really happening on the ground at the moment are many meetings with our partners for information gathering as well as a number of workshops with all of them to discuss what we found and get their feedback and input on the work plan. And it is so important to work as closely as possible with them not only for us to learn but also for them to understand our role and the fact we can’t provide any funding (which is how it usually works in this country) but just ‘us’ to work with them. As it looks like at the moment, concrete projects for us to get involved in will probably include one project with five women producing and distributing fish sauce, setting up community shops for rice and fish products and equipment, supporting ongoing measures to increase rice farming yields and help rice farmers to get better prices. Some of these are running already, others are new and also quite big ones (like the shops) and the NGOs have asked us for support. All very interesting, so let’s see what we can do and how (and this is probably the next big question…).

All the NGO staff are really friendly and very welcoming from the start. Many of them do speak some English but not enough for work, so we always have Phally translating both in smaller meetings and bigger workshops which can be quite tricky: firstly, everything takes twice as long as you think. Secondly, we also need to try and figure out whether the questions and answers really come across properly, which always means rephrasing and summarising the most important questions and points. Thirdly, we have to avoid too much focus of everybody on the interpreter because he does most of the talking. See below for some photos of our first workshop in Battambang with all the NGOs, some other volunteers and some of the programme office staff from Phnom Penh, where we discussed the rice and fish value chains and tried to identify opportunities for enterprise development within them.

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Photo: Presentation at first workshop with my colleague Simon and Phally interpreting at the frontn

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Photo: Group work

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Photo: ME and my volunteer colleagues Maurice and David

Enough talk about work now but I hope it all makes a little more sense now and I could at least start to explain what our work is about (or at least what we think it is...).

(NB: I started writing this a couple of weeks ago (see date) but then things went a little crazy plus we got our internet connection disconnected until now, so that I could only finish and post this now. Will try and write the next one sooner … But yesterday we had another workshop with our partners to discuss and finalise out work plan for the next few months, which went well - see photo below. Once we really get the ball rolling, we'll also get to do more direct project work in villages and communities, which I'm sure will be good fun as well.)

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Photo: Group work at second partner workshop

Posted by Brizie 17:51 Archived in Cambodia Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Happy New Year!

How I passed my first Khmer holiday and eventually found a place to live.

semi-overcast 32 °C

It has been more than a week now since the Khmer New Year celebrations but I haven’t found the time to write earlier. Instead of the official 3 days holiday, the Khmer New Year turned out to be more like a one to two week thing as many people took a longer holiday. This was something my colleague Simon hadn’t quite understood beforehand and workwise it meant that we really couldn’t do much in terms of meeting people as nobody, including our project assistant and interpreter was around and we had some very quiet days in our office, which had its benefits as well.

Anyway, before that and still during the bank holiday time, it was really interesting to get out in town and watch what was happening but it had its risks, too, as it kids line along the streets and throw water bags at each other and everybody that comes past to bring good luck. There were even pick-ups and sometimes full-size lorries with kids cramped in on the loading areas in the back driving around town, throwing water in the small bags or sometimes whole loads straight from buckets back. Most left the obvious foreigners like me out of it (not to upset them too much), others however saw them as prime targets for extra fun. And I experienced both…

On the first main day of the holiday, I went around some of the temples where many people came and brought large amounts of food offerings or money and prayed. They piled up huge buffets and I am not sure if any of it ever got eaten or if it all was for the Buddha. It was quite busy and for the first time I saw not only monks in the Wats but also nuns. There weren’t that many and mostly they were elderly, dressed in black and white robes (not the usual orange) but with the same very short haircut as the monks.

Later that day I felt like going out of the city and took a moto to go to one of the really old temples in the nearby countryside (a la Angkor Wat but in small scale). That was when I got soaked, passing through small villages on the way, where kids were just waiting with their water bags to through. Not all of them threw but the few ones who did aimed quite well and hit me, while my driver stayed dry. Out at the temple called Ek Phnom, some 15km north of Battambang, they had a huge party, almost like a fun fair going to celebrate (with food stalls, music, games, kids rides, …) and I seemed to be the only Westerner in sight. Kids were playing everywhere around the temple ruin, families picknicked and teenagers danced to very load old techno tunes. The moto driver walked with me and spoke some English to explain a few things. Then we went over to the more newly built pagoda, where people sold huge quantities of talcum powder. This seemed a little unusual but before I had more time to ask about it, I was already dusted with it by the kids there. So together with the water, this is the second thing they do – just throw white powder at each other for good luck and a happy new year. And there was a lot of that – the whole pagoda areas was covered in a distinct white cloud and smelled like a freshly powdered baby. Interesting tradition!

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Photo: Ek Phnom temple

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Photo: Ek Phnom pagoda

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Photo: and the kids with the powder

So I was wet and white by the end of it and on the way back the driver probably started feeling a little sorry when I got hit by the next lot of water bags, so he stopped at a little street stall where they actually sold the water bags and got me some ‘ammunition’ as well to throw back. That was much more fun then and I also landed a few good hits. Back at the hotel, I was in a complete mess but it was also quite refreshing in the heat. So much for my first Khmer New Year experience. The rest of the days I stayed in town, the water throwing continued but on foot I didn’t really get hit (obviously too easy a target). Overall it was great to see how everyone had such a good time and was out in the streets (not only throwing water but also just enjoying the parks, eating, dancing, etc.).

Later that week I finally also found a little 2-bedroom wooden house to live in close to our office, which is a bit of a mix between the traditional Khmer style house on stilts but with built in stone / brick section where the kitchen and bathroom are (with a proper sit-down toilet and electric shower for warm water – these things are getting more and more common here but aren’t standard). The house is sort of semi-detached (connected to another identical one where an Australian volunteer lives) and the landlady and her family with 5 mostly grown-up children, one baby grand child, a dog (plus some chickens) live in a large house next door (the chickens stay outside though). They are very sweet people and most of them speak at least some English. There is also an American girl living on their top floor, who was the one who told me about the place. There is some basic furniture in my place – quite simple but enough for one person plus a TV (TVs are really essential here – everybody has one, even out in the villages without electricity they are run from car batteries) and fridge & gas cooker in the kitchen. Even though I love the charm of the traditional wood structure, I have to get used to the open-air elements of it. The walls and floor are basically just wooden planks with some small gaps here and there, e.g. where the stilts come through. So I can hear pretty much everything going on outside and even though I have glass windows plus good mosquito screens fitted inside the windows, little lizards can still come in from under the house from time to time. They are really common here and everybody has them in their houses without being bothered by them but I still get slightly freaked out when I see one unexpectedly on the wall. They are tiny though but there are also bigger noisy geckos as well as crickets and flying cockroaches or so around here, which hopefully won’t make it into my little place. That’s all I’ve seen here in terms of creepy crawlers so far – let’s hope there isn’t aren't any more strange species. The locals don’t even have any mosquito screens plus lots of open bits in the walls for ventilation and don’t seem particularly bothered by any of the small wildlife, so I guess I just have to toughen up a little...

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Photo: My little wooden castle

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Photo: Living room and entrance

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Photo: Living room

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Photo: My kitchen with a very low sink ...

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Photo: My bedroom - almost a four poster bed but just for the mosquito net

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Photo: The office complex where we are based for work

Posted by Brizie 20:38 Archived in Cambodia Comments (3)

My first week in Battambang

and some first insights into Cambodian and non-Cambodian life

sunny 35 °C

Last Tuesday I got on my way from Phnom Penh to Battambang. Somebody from the programme office (Reth) accompanied me to help me settling a little and also to introduce me to the NGO partners taking part in our project. So we got on our way to the bus station in the morning and I managed to fill a whole tuk-tuk with my luggage because of the extra things I had to take from Pnomh Penh, like a water filter and other bits. Luckily Reth took over the job of making sure that everything got into the luggage compartment of the bus as it was quite chaotic at the bus stop with many different buses leaving in the morning and even more people waiting and searching for their connections. And this was not anything like a coach terminal but just somewhere along a busy road with a sort of traffic warden working hard to make motos and cars keep clear of the space where the buses were stopping. All the loading and boarding happened straight from the pavement and reminded me a little of the London rush hour but without the queuing system… The second hand bus from Korea was generally fine and even had air-conditioning but the seats had awful plastic covers which weren’t the most comfortable and made me sweat once again. Once we had left the city, the on-board entertainment in form of a Khmer-dubbed Jacky Chan movie, followed by Khmer comedy and music programmes started. Unfortunately Reth and I had the seats underneath the only working speaker on the bus, which was turned up really loud, so conversation was a little difficult at times.

The bus was a direct one but stopped from time to time for little breaks. Just before the lunch stop, the driver made another stop at a small garage on the side of the road and everybody had to get off because there was apparently a problem with one of the tires and they had to get it changed. Reth was really surprised about the fact the driver had discovered the problem on time and could stop at a garage. Apparently this happens frequently and normally the bus runs until the tire goes completely flat and then tries they have to change the tire themselves (there was also a sort of conductor on the bus)… After about 45 minutes or so we were on our way again. Then we stopped at a small road side restaurant for lunch with some delicious fresh mango for dessert. April is the main mango harvesting time and there really are a lot here at the moment and they really taste so good! Anyway, we made it to Battambang in the afternoon, a bit over an hour late due to the extra stop. Normally the bus ride takes 5,5h.

Most of the following 2 days I spent going around with Reth to our office and the NGO partners to get introduced and I’ll write more about them later in another article. Me and my colleages on the project will have our own office hosted by another enterprise development organisation in town. The facilities are basic but fine, even though there’s only one computer (luckily I brought my laptop!) but much of our work will also be out in the villages around Battambang. But to my pleasant surprise there is a reasonable fast internet connection installed there.

Apart from the introductions, I spent the vast majority of my time house hunting, which has been difficult but an interesting experience so far. I’ll get a monthly allowance for rent from the programme office but have to find a place myself, which is not a bad thing. There also is a really large expat population here, so also a lot of nice, new and ‘western’ style houses for rent in all shapes and forms and all of them surrounded by rather large gates, some even with barbed wire on top. These are not really what I had in mind when I thought of moving to a Cambodian province and not really my first choice to live in. A lot of them are also rather large and rents above my budget. Another fact that I can’t come to terms with is that the landlord families (parents, kids, sometimes the granny as well) tend to live in a tiny wooden house in the back garden, mostly with outside kitchen and toilet. Of course the rent from the house is their main income and they usually can’t afford another piece of land to live on but I can’t think of living as the ‘rich foreigner’ in the big, nice house on my own, while a family of 6 or so stays in one tiny hut in the garden. On the other hand, proper Cambodian style apartments are more like wooden houses on long stilts without glass windows, many open bits so any small creature can come in and (semi-) outside bath, toilet and kitchen. Not sure, if I’m made for that, either… The combination of both would be perfect and these places are rare but I keep looking with the help of the local ‘estate agent’ (who is a young woman working in a backpackers’ café, who I mainly depend on for taking me on her moto and showing me places she has heard of as there aren’t any paper advertisements, sometimes just a ‘for rent’ sign outside the gate – some of them also in English but many are written in Khmer only, which I can’t read of course…).

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See what I mean with different styles of housing???

However, things went quiet over the weekend as Khmer New Year is being celebrated since Sunday and until tomorrow (Wednesday) at least. Its one of the biggest festivities in Cambodia and people take time off to go on longer holidays and visit their families as well. Around town many places close and kids perform traditional dance. Yesterday, I sat in a street café and suddenly a large pick-up pulled up with all these youngsters in bright costumes and with their instruments on the back. They all got off and performed for half an hour or so in front of the café, then got back on the truck and off to the next place. Really nice and everybody had great fun. Apart from the dance, there is also a lot of blessing going on and traditional games in some places. There is more to this that I'll save for another story.

Today, despite it was absolutely boiling in the morning already, I took off to look at some of the temples (wats) in town. There are always many monks around in their orange outfits but today I bumped into some who were keen to practice their English and spontaneously invited me to join them in their little house and have a chat aout whether I could tell them how to take the TOEFL test. They were really open and wanted to show me what they did and how they lived and invited me to come again some time and tell me more about the temple and things.

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Chey and hos friend in their house

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and their Wat - Wat Pacha in Battambang

So I have a few days off now as well. My project colleague who is already here has gone off to visit Angkor Wat but I’ll stay here to get to know the town better and also let all the new impressions sink in a little more before the house search goes on. There are really so many things that are so different over here and I have figure out – all very exciting still but it takes a lot of energy, so I’ll go off to the local pool now to cool off a bit!

Hope all well in Europe or wherever else you are.

Britta xxx

Posted by Brizie 07:16 Archived in Cambodia Comments (4)

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