When boarding my plane just under three months ago I felt no fear, I was exited to get away from the fast approaching Melbourne, Australia winter and "same old" routine for the sun and new experiences that awaited me in Cambodia.
However this false confidence and euphoria did not last long, it was quickly replaced by dread as I stepped out the air conditioned ice block that is the Phnom Penh Airport and stepped into what felt like a wall of heat. It all felt so hard and different and I just kept asking myself "What have I done!?"
Thankfully for me this was a feeling that soon passed as I fell in love with this beautiful place that never ceases to amaze, confuse and charm me.
From the Phnom Penh transportation system: The Moto, which can take you anywhere you want to go, at any time, for any price (depending on your haggling abilities) and which has given me the opportunity to see Phnom Penh and the Phnom Penhians go about their daily activities whilst also getting to where I need to go...well, most of the time.
To the markets in which you can pick through the rows of stalls to find something unique or stand still and be bombarded with the usual "same, same" tourist merchandise by overly enthusiastic stall owners.
To the night life: Pop cafe for Italian, Heart of Darkness for dancing or Happy's for a great atmosphere and the best Nuttella pancakes; whatever you are craving you can be pretty sure you'll find it in within the eclectic mix of bars and restaurants.
And of course the street food! Because there is nothing like walking down the street and being offered any number of delicious foods like pork buns, corn, fried noodles, chicken skewers, rice or soup for about a third of the cost of a Big Mac.
Now, as I face the prospect of leaving in just over a week I find myself struggling with a new set of questions…
How I will say goodbye to the fantastic people I have met here? My fellow volunteers with whom I have shared so many experiences both within Phnom Penh and whilst traveling on weekends. I will never forget the children who live on a small island in Karatie. Children who use the rare presence of Westerners as an opportunity to practice their English thus providing a chorus of "hello"s that follow you as you pass their traditional houses on your bike. Nor will if forget enjoying the night life (a little too much perhaps) in Sihanoukville or seeing the awe inspiring temples in Siem Reap. It has been so great to meet people who have not only shared these highlights but who are also always there to talk, help you out when you are missing home or point you in the direction of the Internet cafe or the best place to get coffee when you first arrive in this scary and alien place and are dealing with severe caffeine and facebook withdrawals.
What will I do without constant support of my Cambodian family?? That is the always helpful and fun Projects Abroad team. Who I must thank for the way they have helped me and allowed me to learn about Cambodia in a way that I could never have done as a tourist. Whether it be organizing doctors appointments, teaching you the odd Khmer word or phrase, explaining the oddities of Cambodian culture, cooking and cleaning, driving to and from work, or picking you up when you are stranded in knee deep water due to torrential downpour and tuk tuk failure, The people at Projects Abroad will always go out of their way to make sure that you feel at home.
How will I go back to life without seeing the smiling faces at the CPCDO gates every day? I know the hardest thing to say goodbye to will be the beautiful, resilient and kind hearted children at my orphanage who have welcomed me into their home and their life’s. Who have laughed with me and at me, played with me, told me their stories, shared their fears with me when they have been sad, talked to me about their dreams for the future and have given me countless gifts of drawings, jewelry and letters.
When i first arrived at my orphanage I was so overwhelmed and shocked that I was not sure how I could help or make any difference. But I have been comforted by small victories like organizing an activity that is enjoyed by children who do not always get the luxury of basic "kid stuff" like play dough, pencils or beads, seeing the face of a toddler that I have been caring for light up when I arrive in the morning or a child remembering something I have taught them whether it be an English word or just a lesson in manners.
I am thankful to these children because they have taught me so much about happiness and never taking anything for granted. Their ability to get the most out of every opportunity, have fun and enjoy life despite being faced with unthinkable disadvantages has truly humbled and inspired me.
See you soon Cambodia,
I have loved every minute!
Voor ik op reis ging had ik wel het een en ander gelezen over wat mij te wachten stond waar ik naar toe zou gaan,daarom was ik een beetje voor bereid.
Het was mijn eerste reis naar Azie en heb Cambodja gekozen omdat men zei dat het een van de armste landen was van de wereld.
Bij mijn aankomst in Phnom Penh was ik verrast dat er niemand was om me op te halen dat kwam doordat ik een paar dagen later was gearriveerd door de toestand met de vulkaan. Maar met wat gebel ben ik in een tuk tuk gestapt en kwam aan op de plaats van bestemming.
De appartementen zijn eenvoudig maar schoon en het eten was ok hoewel na een paar weken rijst had ik het daar wel een beetje mee gehad.
De volgende dag zijn we de stad een beetje wezen verkennen en ook bij sfoda langs geweest wat wel indruk op mij maakte,53 kinderen van 8 maanden tot 23 jaar.
Het verkeer is een gekkenhuis maar na enige tijd went dat ook. Ongelooflijk wat er een grote luxe auto`s hier rondrijden en de duurste merken en vele brommers en tuk tuks.
Alles rijd kris kras door elkaar maar niemand maakt ruzie. De volgende dag begonnen bij sfoda wat eigenlijk meer leek op een commune iedereen ging met elkaar om als broer en zus en er was een manager en natuurlijk Mony die alles een beetje regelde omdat ze ook wat engels sprak.
Mijn familie had wat geld meegegeven en daar werden de volgende week wat eten en kleren en nog veel meer van gekocht.
Ik was met mijn leeftijd veruit de oudste en ik heb in die 3 maanden heel wat vrijwilligers voorbij zien gaan waarvan de meeste niet ouder dan 20 jaar en sommige hadden niet het besef waar ze mee bezig waren,gingen veel op stap en doen dingen die ze normaal nog nooit hebben gedaan en daarom waren ze vaak zwak ziek of misselijk en gingen daarom niet naar hun project.
In de drie maanden heb ik wel een beetje een indruk gekregen van Cambodja door veel met de mensen hier te praten en begrijp nu ook zo`n beetje hoe het er aan toegaat.
Het meeste waar ik me aan ergerde was het vuil wat overal lag te slingeren en ben ook in de achterbuurten geweest en wat je daar allemaal ziet hou je niet voor mogelijk.
Toch zijn van de meeste mensen en hun kleren wel schoon en dat meestal op de hand. De eerste weken was het behoorlijk warm vaak ruim boven de 40 graden dat was wel even wennen en het slapen was een probleem maar later toen de regentijd aanbrak was het wat beter om uit te houden hoewel je wel af en toe tot je kuiten in het water liep.
Met het weeshuis ging het goed en had een volleybal veld aangelegd een net en ballen gekocht en er werd elke dag gevoetbald of gevolleyd en gaf ook engelse les en rekenen.
Sommige kinderen waren erg leergierig maar hoofdzakelijk de oudere waren moeilijk te motiveren dat heeft wat meer tijd nodig. Het was me gelukt om ze wel aan het werk te zetten om al het vuil op te ruimen en ook op de slaapplaats was een grondige schoonmaakbeurt niet overdreven.
My time in Cambodia!
I joined the marine conservation project in Cambodia for 2 months, 1 June – 28 July 2010. I can happily say that it was 2 of the best months in my life. It was an experience way out of my normal life which really gave me prospective on things. I got to know a totally different culture, I learned how to dive, I explored the jungle searching for orchids and I thought English to young happy children.
When I left Sweden I wasn’t sure what too expect. I had read that it was best to travel with an open mind and just be open for anything, not expect too much, so thats what I did. So I was totally exited too find out what I given myself into when I stepped of the airport in Phnom Penh.
I got picked up straight away from the airport by one of Projects-Abroads staff. He drove me to the apartments where he introduced me to Ben, another volunteer from the US, who also just had arrived. We spend 2 days in Phnom Penh getting to know the place by foot before we took the bus down to Sihanoukvill.
Down in Sihanoukvill one other worker from Projects-Abroad, Janey, picked us up and took us by boat to the Island. From the first minute I stepped my foot on the Island I loved it. The atmosphere was so friendly and relaxed. Janey introduced me to my 2 roommates who sat in the hammocks outside my bungalow when I first met them. We had 4 hammocks on our porch which was a really good place to chill out.
In the coming two weeks me, Ben and Lynn, another volunteer, learn how to dive. We had some bad luck with weather and that the villagers accidentally sank a boat so the course took a little bit longer than usual. Instead I got involved with teaching the kids English. It was really fun, the kids where so happy and egger to learn. And the more they learned the more we could speak to them.
When I got my certifications I spent most of my diving time doing work for the science project. It was fun and I thought me a lot of the different fish-families they have down there. Even though the water visibility wasn't that great every dive offered a new experience thanks to all the fish. One day we we found a Seahorse on a totally different dive site than usual. And two other times I manage to find small sharks, about 70cm, hiding underneath some rocks.
Other projects I help out in was to build a furnace for burning garbage. There waste disposal system for the moment was really bad, just making a big pile and light it on fire. I also joined for some orchid spotting in the jungle where we found some really nice flowering ones.
On our spare time we took it quite easy. Chilled out in the hammocks or at the long beach. I manage to find some Swedish books in a hotel at the mainland to read. But I did also play a lot of beach volley-boll with the locals. They where really good, some even better than me, and I've played for 4 years at home. In my last month I also started to train Khmer boxing. One of the villagers was willing to teach us. The boxing and the volleyball playing was a really good way to get to know the people better.
What I'm going to miss the most is definitely the people, especially my students. But I'll also miss the diving, playing volleyball and the lifestyle of living so far way from todays big city's. Thanks for a great experience.
light being the beautiful street lamps’ glow coated in light drizzle. There really is just something about being on your way to work and having children smile at you, their parents encouraging them to make an effort and say, “hello” in your language. Cambodia glows, the people in it glow, and it has become this magical land where anything is possible to me. I never thought I could find a place like this, but I did. Working at my placement is by far the best thing I have ever done with myself, more fulfilling than any award or medal I have received. It isn’t working; really, it is pure and honest happiness, ecstasy you could never buy. The second the bell rings for class to finish, all of my children come running to find and hug me, drag me away into their wonderful minds filled with laughter and creativity.
With tears welling in my eyes, I can tell you I shut myself off from real emotions for too long. I had loved, lost, been hurt and had stopped loving things in fear of losing them… I didn’t realize how much I needed help, but something magic and unexpected happened. The children have taught me more than I could ever teach them; they have given me something I can never replace. Sure, they are brilliant and can learn a new language, speak English to the best of their ability. But the thing that matters most is that they love with all of their hearts, cherish everything that life has to offer and every person worth loving inside of it. They are so open to the new - new cultures, new games, new thoughts and new people. Seeing them smile makes me want to be a better person, it makes me want to be like them, so stunning and beautiful.
I had never taught a school class before, but I have always been extremely good at teaching things I felt passionate about, so I figured I’d be okay. The funny thing is, I feel like I could teach the world English through the new perspective I have developed. When there is a goal, when there is a reason, people feel motivated to do something. Without direction we are lost, but how can you find where you want to go without light up ahead? You can’t. Teachers are the guiding light in the classroom; children are the guiding light of the world. Through my children’s eyes, I see games in each activity, fun in each chore, a gain from every loss. Because of them, I don’t hurt anymore. I don’t feel resentment, or anger towards any bad things that have happened to me in the past. I feel as though they have drifted away through the ripples of the water, replaced with new hope and things to strive for in the future.
This is how I can honestly say Cambodia will forever have a place in my heart. Cambodia has given me personal freedom, belief in myself, and a certain confidence that is real and you can only find within yourself. The people in this country make it as gorgeous as it is today. Every place in the world is just another place without people you care about, when it comes down to it all, your relationships with people are what matters the most. I could easily write about my experiences as if they meant nothing, but that would be lying. I could say that I didn’t cry driving through the huts built on garbage, but I did. I could say I cried only that once on my entire trip, but I’m not that weak. The raw emotion of this country flows so richly through the atmosphere, I hope for the rest of my life I can close my eyes and feel the way I do everywhere in this angelic, improving country. I want to feel optimistic and hopeful forever.
It is one thing to know the facts and let the past rule your future, and it is another to learn from the past to strive to make a better future. That’s just one of those things that you will never understand unless you understand it, unless you have felt it. I realized to what extent I can take my passion for people, from just being able to understand them to being able to give them what they need. The gift I have always wanted, as usual, came in the strangest package.
Today on my way here from work, I realized that I have exactly two weeks left at my placement, less than a month left in Cambodia. I felt this astounding feeling ripple through my body, something all too familiar but I couldn’t recognize it. I then realized I feel this way when I think of the people I have lost, or the people that are closest to me in the world. I can never imagine leaving my children behind, saying goodbye to Cambodia will be one of the hardest things I will ever do. I think I just fell in love with this country, and I know it is something that will never need a goodbye.
With my best of intentions,
After arriving in Cambodia- Phnom Penh, you probably feel tired and prefer to go to hotel for relaxation. The following day you may go to markets. Of course in Phnom Penh there are a lot of markets so it is hard for you to remember the names of all those markets. But, wait, I will introduce you to the three most popular markets, especially for foreign visitors. Guess what the markets are called??? The first one is called Pras Thom Thmey, or Central market. The second one is Pras Toul Tom Phong, or Russian market, and the last one is Soriya Shopping Centre. Central market is definitely unique in Cambodia; at the moment it may be hard for you to find something that you want because it is being re-constructed, but will still keep the same style and some parts have been repaired already. There are lots of things that you can find there with a good price. The next one, the Russian market, was built in the 19th century. At there you can find wonderful souvenirs, crafts, clothes and movies, all at good prices. Be aware that the walk-ways are quite narrow. The last one is Soriya Shopping Centre; it is big and comfortable compared to the two other markets. You can find western food such as pizza or burgers, ice-cream at the centre and also newly released movies. There is also an entertainment place on the top floor. This market is a good facility for you because it is open from 9:00am until 9:00pm, whereas Central market and Russian market open from 7:00am to 5:00pm only. I am sure you will enjoy them.
So please, do not miss an opportunity to visit these three markets in Phnom Penh.
You can always be assured of a warm welcome.
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