25.03.2012 - 25.03.2012 37 °C
The First Day
On my first moring I awoke uneasily, covered in sweat and aching all over. Could I catch Malaria this fast? In the middle of the night I had been awoken by thudding Asian techno penetrating through the wooden shutters, so I'd had little sleep. The beds here seem to consist of a short double frame with an old sheet across the hard slats; I could not easily move.
After several failed attempts to sit up I noticed my water bottle from the night before at the periphery of my vision; the brand on the label saying Life. Feeling powerless, like a character from an old arcade-game I drank from it..
Press START to begin Volunteering Level 1...
The heaviness of the chlorinated tang running down my sore throat and cooling my chest was my first taste of Cambodia. Not a particularly pleasant one, but at the time it could have been Elysian Ambrosia. I emerged to find my fellow volunteers sat around a large, combined wooden table on the concrete veranda and introduced myself, still blinking against the flood of light and heat pouring into my vision from the sides of teh sloped corrugated iron roof. All of them were Southern English, but for a solitary blue-eyed Finn. Mostly girls, but there are two other guys. The skinhead shadow from the night before revealed himself as David: an enthusiastic 19-year-old due to start with the Royal Marines in September. The girls went round the table introducing themselves Annie; Alex; Eve; Vilya. A few minutes later Savraj (Sav) appeared: an 18-year-old on his gap year before starting an investment management degree. Both lads are keen amateur fighters: David boxes and Sav is something of a cage-fighter who visited Muay Thai Gyms in Bangkok to train prior to volunteering here. Am still probably biggest human in 50-mile radius; nevertheless I feel a bit outclassed! (I don't know, maybe they can teach me a few tricks in return for award-winning lectures in History? OR NOT.) Anais (Annie) is a vet nurse with many cool tattoos and piercings with one side of her short, red-tinted hair shaved completely off. Eve is half-Greek and from Essex - so is Alex, who had been working admin in the City for an engineering firm. Vilya is a newspaper photographer in Southern Finland (for other details and info on new arrivals I shall do an updateable Dramatis Personae entry).
My first breakfast in Cambodia was a local take on hot dogs, of all things: a sort of fried savloy in tough, yellow-tinged baguettes under a bright orange rice cover. Looking around I was immediately taken by how remote and rustic my surroundings were: dry fields and asymmetric huts stretched to the horizons, fragmented only by tall Asian palms watching over bony, white cattle from incredible heights. The dirt is redder than home and there is a coarse, weathered texture to Nature here. Talking of Nature, there are three dogs here. They are all called "Let", which means "Lucky" in the local form; owing to their brindle tiger-striped coats. Their teeth are savagely sharp and their eyes an intent caramel. Apparently they are very useful at dealing with the local python population and keep any wandering tigers away. Thus, they are my new best friends (but no substitute for the beloved family Spaniels!).
Is that a washing line, or a power cable? The two are often indistinguishable from another, as both are strung out out along wobbly stilts between the huts in the village area for basic utility. Not much else interrupts the sound of the almost-breeze here, aside from traffic. Aside from the (very) occasional minivan, 90's Toyota or Pick-up that would make the average Libyan rebel seem glamourous, most Cambodians ride along the roads on small scooters or "motos". Some are shiny and new; others are held together with little more than string and prayers to Buddha. There doesn't seem to be any sort of age-limit, nor any road regulations. Small children and entire families chug along, crammed into a single scooter and young kids ride large pedal bikes like cross-trainers as they are unable to reach the saddle. There also seem to be a number of heavily improvised trucks with skeleton chassis and whirring, mechanical retro-tech mounted on the back and sides, such as antiquated grinders.
I also walked the 2km into the village today. It is called Bak Kod , but some locals say it almost like "black cod" , "bak cock" or ruder combinations still..
As for what the village looks like? Quite rustic. It is a single, short street of little shacks with improvised store fronts off a T-Junction, populated by careful, skinny Khmer. Opposite it is a local Temple-Complex, with gaudy stupas and a 3-story house that serves as a monastery.
After the walk back a few local children had turned up. They were all smiles, beady-eyed and slender with a playful naïvety about them. Their English is limited so I did not have the opportunity to say much other than who I was, where I was from and my age.
The night was to bring more interesting developments, including a run in with the law.....