My Time in Cambodia, Part 2

Part 1 was back in April and here we are now in July! It’s not that I have been avoiding starting part 2, well much anyway, but I think that I was sulking and feeling sorry for myself. I was robbed, Guv, in colloquial terms, what I mean is that I was sulking because I was cross about having to cut my wonderful adventure short! Months of planning and preparation, anxiety and anticipation and it’s GONE just like that. I was, and still am, extremely disappointed that it was cut short, this life long ambition to try and circumnavigate the world and getting the chance to see far flung friends and family had to be put on hold. I know that I am acting like a petulant child and I can always do it again, and isn’t it great that I actually got a chance, and everyone is in the same boat, and that at least I am not dead (all the things that I have been told!), but here I am, looking out onto a wet and windy scene, having had to move into my parents place……!!

But it is what it is and I can’t change it so I have embraced it, I managed to get a job and I have spent lovely times with my boys. Plus I have been planning what I will do when I think it is ok to travel again, obviously!

I got to meet some great people on my travels, see some amazing sights too. Working at SKO, I met Panhari who was the finance lady. She spoke great English and was a great lady. She asked me to go with her to her favourite Pagoda on the anniversary of Budhha’s death. I hesitated when she said it would be a 7 am start on Saturday but I couldn’t really refuse such a kind invitation, and I am so glad that I did not. It was a bone shaking 30 mins in a tuk-tuk, we picked up another lady on the way and then stopped to buy offerings for the monks, packet noodles, luminous green water and biscuits – you know, just the usual stuff!!!

It was just beautiful, busy obviously but everyone was very respectful. We took our offerings to the Monks into the main hall and they gave us a blessing in return. It was wonderful, Buddhism is closely related to Hinduism so I said a prayer for my family and friends.

We took a walk around the grounds and went into the main temple which housed the different representations of Buddha in white. I was not allowed to take pictures of the Monks in the main hall but could in the other areas. From the pictures you can’t tell, but it was very busy, people dressed in their traditional dress with wads of 100 Riel notes, 2p, to place in all the boxes in front of the icons. I think I am correct in saying that it is the only place where you will find female monks.

This video shows the outside tent where people could take their offerings to the monks.

Outside, they had food stalls, very interesting! They do eat everything, I mean everything! Insects, all kinds of offal and strange things.. take a look!!

The work at SKO was not really enough to keep me occupied full time, even though a fellow volunteer John, joined me there. We both thought that we would need to find other organisations who may need our support. Well, it was then I met one of the most interesting, inspirational and wonderful person – Sopheap Ros.

We were introduced to Sopheap and her organisation, Gender & Development in Cambodia by Naseema who was working at partner NGO that we had met through SKO, and told her that we were available, if she wanted some support. John and I went to meet her in her offices near the university, she introduced herself and told us a bit about herself, why she started GADC some 20 years earlier and some of the stuff that she got up to. When she got up to get some water, John and I just looked at each other and mouthed O.M.G, she is amazing! She very cagily asked us what pay we were expecting, as they don’t have much spare in the budget, she was so grateful when we said that we were not looking for money, we were volunteers!

I was asked to assist in organising their 4th Annual Women’s Conference, applying for funding, working with partner organisations all around the country to put this conference together – I was in heaven! The whole team were so impressive, mainly female, spoke perfect English, highly educated in their field and wanted to make a change for women in Cambodia. To show women that they do not have to put up with domestic violence, that they are entitled to an education and empower them to become community leaders so that they could enable change in their own communities.

While I was there, they hosted a conference on International Women’s Day, the Women’s minister spoke and then there was a role play session with the students at the university showing how girls should be protected from violence and get equal educational rights as boys. It is part of the social norm in Cambodia that women are second class citizens, that they should be in the home with the family, do not need to be educated and remain subservient to men. This is quite similar to Indian culture although things are improving there and the younger generation are making the change. Education is not thought important in Cambodia, I think that this is because there is such hardship and poverty, that earning money is more important and so kids are sent out to work, sell trinkets to tourists, run market stands etc.

I loved just sitting and talking with Sopheap, listening to how she used to protest for women’s rights, get thrown in jail, and then just keep fighting for her cause. I learned so much about what it was like to be a woman who wanted education, wanted to make a change so much that she actually feared for her life. Cambodian Govt. don’t like her or GADC, they find her a thorn, I just loved her!

This is Sopheap, regarded as one of the most influential people in Gender Equality in the world.

I will stop gushing now, but I wish that I could have stayed on and finished the project, it would have been such great experience. Oh well…

I learnt alot out there, about people, cultures and myself. How people in power can just take over and dictate through fear, keep people down by making them think that they know better. Money helps too, money that buys protection and leadership. That’s enough of my views on the government there, they might read this and send someone to shut me up!!!!! 😉 I did hear some really scary stories.

I learnt that I can interact with anyone, talk to new people even though I can’t speak a word of their language, and share lovely moments with people that I hardly know! I also learnt that 40 degree heat and 80% humidity does not suit me, that there is no way that I can sleep during the deep thud, thud, thud of an all night rave, that I have had a privileged life, that ice cold beer is a great antidote for heat and humidity and that I can only live the hostel life for short periods of time!

Oh, and that fish sauce in breakfast scrambled eggs is terrible!

With landing the great gig with GADC, the potential was there to stay for a year to see it all through which I was excited about but I knew that there was no way on earth that I could stay in the volunteer hostel for that long, so I looked for a place to rent, my main aim was to get air conditioning!!!! I wanted to stay around Toul Tompoung, Russian Market area as I was familiar with it, had an expat community and some lovely places to eat and drink. I found a lovely studio flat in a new block, so new that I was the only person living there at the time! Top floor would be a coffee shop, gym and swimming pool – ideal!

There was a few of us that spent time together and travelled a bit, everyone said that we must go to Koh Rong Island, that it was a gorgeous island with blue water and white sand. What I was not told was that it was where the party people went, I mean the young ravers! Booked a beach hut, basic but decent – or so the internet said! It was ok, very basic and on a slant so that if your feet were wet, you would slide towards the front door!! Outside bathroom, private though, and fans that really didn’t work. The reason for the $100 price tag was the fact that it was one step from the beach and sea. Friday night was fine, Saturday…. was not! Police Beach was nearby and all night banging rave! I was a really grumpy old woman the next day. Island was nice though, obviously very touristy, open selling of weed, sometimes on the menu but looking back on it now, it was an experience and I got to swim in the sea so I was happy!!

Those rose tinted spectacles are always good to have around…..

Come back later for part 3, please….!

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