As in my first blog, I am writing this from Incheon airport, South Korea - how nice and circular. Even though logically it is time to come home and I've done everything that I have wanted to do, it still doesn't seem quite right! I think I'm in a state of suspension - all my emotions are kind of balanced so my excitement to get home is neutralising my sadness at leaving.
I'm so glad that I went back to Phnom Penh for the weekend to say goodbye to the city and my friends there. We had a great weekend full of parties, eating and I even managed to tick the last sightseeing off my list.
We also managed to go on the sunset cruise across the Mekong again - the same time there was a huge thunderstorm! Lukcily it cleared by sunset.
One of the new volunteers said the other day that she knew before she came that even if she hated the experience it would still be incredible - I think this is very true. Cambodia is one of those places that everything is so different and so remarkable that you could not possibly have a non-incredulous time here. And, fortunately, I have loved pretty much every minute!
Time after time my 'top life experiences' have been eclipsed and changed whilst in Cambodia and South East Asia. There have been so many moments when I have taken a step back and realised what I was doing - moments when I wouldn't have rather been doing anything else in the world. Standing in the middle of a bright green rice field in Kampong Chhang, with the mud and water between my toes, surrounded by good friends and watching Sython eat a live fish. On the edge of the open door of a plane 9000 feet in the air. On the back of a moto winding my way up otherwise deserted dirt tracks in Ratankiri to find another waterfall. Seeing a mother reunited with her child briefly at her appeal hearing for her unjust imprisonment.
I have met too many great people in every country I've visited that have made the experience even better. In particular, without the support network of the other Project Abroad volunteers it would have been a completely different experience and I am so grateful that there were so many lovely people in the apartments. It will be strange not to have a roommate!
I think that Projects Abroad are generally a good organisation - look at all the opportunities they have given us. The Khmer Project really is incredible and I would recommend this to anybody interested in Cambodia or who are going into a project later - it's such a good insight into the culture and people that it really is invaluable. My human rights project has taught me a lot about the issues Cambodians face in their day to day life and how different our countries really are.
Top things I have learnt in Cambodia
Thank you all so much for reading my blog and I can't wait to show you all my souvenirs, photos and share my experiences in person. I can't stress how much I loved Cambodia and my time here, I hope that all of my friends still travelling continue to have an amazing time and that everything goes well for you all. Looking forward to our reunion already!
Time to fly - see you in about 12 hours Cambridge! xxx
My last week in Phnom Penh has been a bit of a mixed bag! I'm incredibly sad to leave this place that has become a home to me but equally I am looking forward to seeing Vietnam and getting back to England! Packing inbetween my busy week has been a bit horrendous.
The heat has, safe to say, been ridiculous. It's just very very hot. Ice is thwarted by the merest suggestion of leaving the air conditioning. Sweat appears as soon as you twitch a (non existent) muscle. Oh well! I will miss it when back in England.
I heard a very strange story this week... The father of one of our staff here remembered relatively recently that he had died around the age of 9 after a nasty bout of chicken pox. This sounds a bit strange and unconvincing I know but apparently he went back to the village he remembered living in and recognised the house that he thought he used to live in. He asked the couple there whether they had had a son around that age who died of chicken pox. They replied 'yes'. He could 'remember' many things about the house including where he slept and his mothers birth mark on her side. They have now accepted him as part of their family even though he is only 9 years less their age! The staff member refers to them as his grandparents. What an amazing story and I'm really not sure what to think of it.
On Monday I had dinner and beer with my moto driver, Pheakday. This was quite funny as his English isn't great and my Khmer is really rather limited. We managed though and had fun eating steak (at a roadside restaurant but it was really good - grilled medium rare with a traditional lime and pepper dipping sauce) and drinking Angkor. In real life he is actually more smiley than the picture below but, honestly, it is hard to get him to smile in a picture!
For the second time, some friends and I visited the restaurant that serves deep fried tarantulas - last time they had run out. We managed to taste some (not very good - very chewy) but they had no alive ones to run up and down our arms. One of the volunteers, Lisa, was very glad about this as she was pretty scared of the dead ones - let alone if they were moving!
After the wake type thing on Friday, my colleagues and I went to the ceremony in Phnom Penh for my boss's mother. This was pretty strange as well - it was in the same place we went to on Friday but the ceremony lasted about 10 minutes (chanting with a monk) and then other people just turn up for some food and then leave. People can come whenever so there are constantly new tables getting food and always a lot of people milling around. The food was good though and people were generally very smiley and talkative. I had a good chat with one colleague who told me that because his family lived in Phnom Penh it would be improper to move out of the family home until he got married. When he did get married he would then have to go live with his brides parents. Poor guy! He's thirty now and has been to university in New Zealand for two years so got used to his independence a bit.
In the house of the family there was a huge dolls house that would also be burnt - the idea being that it will then be in heaven with the deceased and they can live in luxury. It was accompanied by two huge cars in the drive and even a helicopter!
My last week at work has been good - I finished my project on Wednesday and it was very well received. I am very glad as it took a long time! 46 pages or something on a topic I wasn't too clear on myself. Hopefully it will be a great help to BCV - it is a manual on leadership which is a new course they hope to run soon so it will be greatly influenced by my work :) With the funeral ceremony and various parties I have been kept well occupied in my last few days though. Yesterday we had a Khmer pancake party which I bought for everybody as a leaving gift. Very tasty. Today, my French colleague, Colin, has made beef bourguignon for everybody which took an awful lot of chopping and peeling. The amount of meat was incredible! $32 for 4kg of fillet though which I think is quite good.
Unfortunately today has kind of been ruined by me being pretty sick! I spent the night being quite ill but had to come in for my last day. It seems like my blood sugar hit rock bottom though and I fainted trying to make it to my office to lay down when I realised all was not right. Embarrassing - especially as everyone thought I must have been out last night! Unfortunately not - I got an early night because I was already feeling unwell. It was very interesting to see how everybody reacted though. I woke up very confused as I didn't remember how I got there with all men crowded round me looking even more confused! The door that I was trying to open is see-through so they had seen me go down but they waited for a woman to touch me. As soon as I figured out what had happened and said 'low blood sugar' the men dashed of very sweetly to find me some drink and food. At that point my female colleague was taking care of me. I was given (my favourite) honey lemon sweet tea and an alpen bar from my American colleague. This made me feel a lot better. By the time I was back to my desk a package had arrived of glucose injection capsules that you can drink. They are made from glass and you just snap the top off and shake it a bit to get it out - pretty cool. This meant that somebody had legged it to a pharmacy though which I felt pretty bad about! Somebody else also drove home to get me a water bottle filled with honey made in Ratanakiri - that I then ate from a spoon! So much sugar that I then did a typical Steph thing and crashed out - luckily I was able to rest on a bench in a quiet office.
Tonight is my last night out with lots of the volunteers here so I will do my best to be sensible and careful considering the day's drama. Tomorrow me and Hollie are leaving at about 1pm to go to Vietnam! Very exciting especially as we have heard about a very cheap spa where you can get all sorts of treatments for next to nothing. I'm really looking forward to travelling with Hol - if only because it means I have to think less about what I want to do and she can just take me around :) I don't think blogging in Vietnam will be great so perhaps you won't hear from me for three weeks - I then am spending my last weekend in Phnom Penh before flying home on the 28th.
Lots of love xxx
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