April 14, 2002

Back in Phnom Penh (but not for long)

Good Morning!

It is Sunday morning here again, and yes it is still hot. After I wrote last Sunday I think we pretty much just watched an Irish movie that was on TV and played some table tennis. Monday I got a few things ready for my trip out to the project office and for lunch I went to a Thai place. I also met with Geof in the morning and discussed some trip details.

Tuesday morning I got up a bit early and went down to the clinic to get another dose of vaccine. When I got back I went over to the office, met up with Geof and went to his house which is near the ADRA office. From his house we caught three motos (which are basically motorcycle taxis) down to the central market area to find a taxi to Kompong Thmor. We had three motos because Geof, his wife Ruth and I were traveling together and we also had luggage. Since there were three of us we rented an entire taxi instead of just getting seats in a shared one. Normally it would cost about $10 to do this for the 2+ hour trip, but we ended up paying $15 (most of the drivers were holding out for $25, partly because of the upcoming New Year holiday and partly because of our white skin). We found out later that at some point in the market area one of the compartments of Geof's bag was unzipped and a couple of pencils were taken. Luckily nothing of value was missing. The taxi we ended up in actually had AC, although one of the back seat windows was stuck partially open so it wasn't as cool as it could have been. I've been told that the road we took is one of the good roads in this country. It did have a pretty good blacktop surface with not too many major potholes, but some of the bridge areas were dirt with a few planks and other pieces of wood covering dry streambeds. On the way we made one stop for some sort of palm juice, and another for water. Our water stop was in a town famous for the local treat of fried spiders. I didn't see them up close on this stop, but from a distance I saw some merchants with platters piled high with something blackĀ… The last part of the road was a bit rougher with only a thin blacktop area in the middle and a dirt section of road on either side. We probably spent more time off the blacktop than on since we had to yield to trucks, and there tended to be deeper potholes on the asphalt section. We got to Geof's place in Kompong Thmor about noon, and his live in helper had a lunch of vegetables with rice waiting for us. It looks like I will be spending most of my time during the week living with Geof in Kompong Thmor, but I will probably come back to Phnom Penh on most weekends. The building I will be living in seems to be designed as a store downstairs with living quarters upstairs. The upper level houses 5 of the ADRA project staff members, and Geof, the helper and I have the lower level. It is a bit of a bachelor pad with no dining table yet, although there is a Sony flat screen TV with DVD/VCD player and surround sound. The floors are bare concrete since the landlord doesn't have enough money to tile it until he gets more rent money in about a year. The upper parts of the walls are painted white, but the lower part is also bare concrete waiting for tiles. At the moment there are two rooms, one with more solid concrete walls and the other with thin, more temporary wood walls. The plan is to add another wood room for me, but for now I'm sleeping near the living room area. The helper does laundry, cooking and cleaning as well as the shopping. The "kitchen" area is basically a concrete counter with a two burner gas stove and no oven, sink or refrigerator. Food is pretty much purchased from the market the same day it is eaten, although there is a cooler that gets a daily block of ice to keep the powdered milk and some water cold. Electricity is pretty expensive here, but ice is very cheap. Geof says that he may get a refrigerator eventually if needed, but so far the cooler with ice has been fine. He has only been in this place for a month or two so it's not fully set up yet. The bathroom has a squat toilet (basically just a hole in the ground with foot pads for squatting), an open water tank with small bucket scoop for showers and flushing (Geof also got a hot water heater that may eventually provide some running water for showers I think, but it isn't hooked up yet), and a sink with running water fed from another water tank that is upstairs. All water is pumped from the well to the tanks as needed using an electric pump. For this trip I slept on a cot with a small mattress on top of it, but we plan to get a regular bed soon. I also have a little wardrobe that was purchased from the local market the day we arrived. It's basically a metal frame with a cloth cover that can be zipped up to keep the dust out. It has room for hanging clothes and also has a shelf. Overall the place is very basic, but livable. It definitely helps to have someone else cooking the meals.

After lunch we went over to the project office which is about a block or so away from the house. The office is in a Colonial style house with a large veranda on the second floor which is actually used as a meeting area and as office space for a couple of people. They do have a shower with running water and a sit down toilet at the office. When we walked in the door the staff and some of the health workers from the surrounding villages were in the middle of a training session. This was interrupted and I was told to introduce myself while Geof disappeared to talk to someone else in the office. There were probably about 25 people there, and through a translator I introduced myself and after some prompting from Geof I told them all about my parents and sister and where they are. When I was done they went around the circle introducing themselves and I of course promptly forgot all the names. After the introductions were over Geof showed me around the office. They have a small computer lab with about 5 desktops and a couple of laptops networked together. I spent most of my time at the office doing some minor upgrades and organizing the lab a bit. I also spent some time helping Geof with some paperwork for USAID. The computer room is the only one with AC, but it is currently not working.

In the evening we went and got some local deserts for supper which we ate with mango. The desert we had was some sort of rice pudding with pieces of soggy bread mixed in. I ate some, but didn't particularly like it. The mangos on the other hand were "bad" according to the vendor that sold them, so they were cheaper. Here they like to eat mangos when they are green so the ripe ones we like are not considered good, so our "bad" mangos were very tasty. For breakfast Wednesday morning we had fresh bread from the market with Ovaltine from a restaurant (basically sweet chocolate milk). For supper Geof and Ruth introduced me to what they call "rice cream" which is basically rice with sweetened condensed milk, milk and fruit. We had it with mango Wednesday, and then with bananas on Thursday. It was actually pretty good, and they considered it to be an Australian food (the helper couldn't believe what they were doing to the rice, so it's not a local food anyway). Wednesday afternoon we had the first good rainstorm since I got here. It got really windy, and then poured rain for a while before clearing up. It reminded me of the rainstorms in Sri Lanka. In the evening I went for a paddle on the river in Geof's "canoe" which is more like an open version of a sea kayak. It was quite nice to paddle along the peaceful river and I saw quite a few people taking baths, washing motorcycles and fishing along the way.

Thursday evening we caught a taxi back to Phnom Penh where I got to take a shower with running water and slept in my nice queen sized bed there. Friday I went to the markets and got some computer supplies for the office, and went to a motorbike rental place that didn't end up having any bikes available. On Sabbath I went to church where a man from Pakistan had the sermon in English that I could understand most of the time. He preached on Daniel which was also the subject of the Sabbath School discussion. After church we had haystacks with black beans and lettuce (my style, not the Australian style this time) and then I took a nap. Saturday night I went to an Indian/Nepalese restaurant where I got my favorite curry with peas in it.

Today I started this email in the morning, then went looking for motorbikes, found one, came back and I am now finishing up the email before hitting the road. I'm planning to head south towards the coast and will be gone until Friday. There are several areas I'm hoping to visit including a mountain national park and the beach. Since it is New Year here it's about the same price to rent a dirt bike for 6 days as it is to take a taxi down there and back. I'll have a lot more freedom to stop when and where I want with my own transportation than I would in a shared taxi.

Anyway, I think that's it for now. Happy New Year!


Posted by andrew on April 14, 2002