In May this year, I journeyed back to Cambodia, a country I had lived in for five years. Sixteen months had gone by, and living back in Australia, the land of clean water and relatively good health care, had made me forget numerous aspects of Cambodian life.
I stayed there for two and a half weeks and every day had flashbacks to my past, experiences that I relived during my time there. Some good, some not-so-good and some just plain irritating.
Constant blackouts – On the morning I arrived in Cambodia, the skies were blue. That quickly changed, and our trip by tuk-tuk to Human and Hope Association in torrential rain left me hyperventilating and fearing for my life. When we arrived in one piece (albeit, without my dignity), and ventured inside to surprise my team who didn’t know we were coming, we found everyone sitting in the dark. I stupidly asked, “Why is everyone sitting here in the dark?”, to be met with the standard response, “We don’t have electricity.” The blackouts continued constantly over the next couple of weeks, though I once again became comfortable with the darkness and lack of air conditioning and wi-fi.
How exhausted work made me – I spent several days at Human and Hope Association, making fundraising videos, working with the Director, participating in meetings and conducting my monitoring visit. I would scoff down my lunch early so I could lay on the hard, tiled floor in the library and take a nap with our sitting cushions acting as a pillow. Sometimes I would have a nap at 10 am, because I just couldn’t deal with the heat, the noise and the sheer exhaustion of work.
Amazing ethical shopping – I was living beyond my means when I was a resident in Cambodia. I was earning, at most, $200USD a month which didn’t even cover my rent. So you can imagine my delight when I returned, with lots of spending money in tow, and shopped up a storm around the various social enterprises Siem Reap has to offer. My favourite purchases were handmade ceramic vases that I am proudly displaying on my bedside table.
Needing to shower after five minutes outside – I would spend an ample amount of time primping my hair, making sure I smelt reasonable and selecting a coordinated outfit. I wanted to look and smell like Australian Sally, not Cambodian Sally. Yet, five minutes after walking out our hotel door, I would need another shower. The sweat was dripping down my face, legs and armpits; my clothes were suddenly dirty and my hair would turn into a frizz ball (which is a hard thing to do considering I hardly have any hair).
Beautiful countryside – Cambodia has the most beautiful countryside. Sure, you do have to travel through dusty roads to get there (which resulted in me contracting pneumonia in 2016), but it is worth it. The luscious green rice fields; the fresh air; the gorgeous smiles you see along the way, and the phenomenal sunsets. It’s something you just don’t get living in Sydney, and I missed it dearly.
Dangerous roads – My oh my. I hadn’t actually forgotten how dangerous the roads were, but I certainly wasn’t prepared for the chaos that was around me. For most of the trip, my ‘son’ drove me around in his tuk-tuk, and although he is a fantastic driver, the terrible drivers surrounding him made me fear for my life on a daily basis. It took me a few days to get up the nerve to ride on the back of my motorbike, with my boyfriend at the front. On the day we needed to drive to his cousin’s wedding, I couldn’t manage to sit at the back of the motorbike because of the dress I was wearing. So, nervously, I took the wheel and drove us cautiously and safely to his mother’s house, with my trustworthy Australian motorbike helmet keeping me safe. That was the only time I drove my motorbike during the trip, and fortunately, we were driven around in a car for the last few days of our stay. I felt safe, protected by those metal walls.