I’ve now been in Penh Phnom over 24 hours. For all those back home, if you think you’ve experienced humidity in the U.S., you’re mistaken. I have previously joked that my future autobiography will be titled “I Sweat Like A Man” and my time here in Cambodia has solidified that decision.
Anyways, more interestingly, I am staying with a wonderful host family! Chris and I were informed that we would not be hosted in the volunteer guest house, as previously planned, about 20 minutes before arriving at our new address on our way home from the airport. Sauvth and his wife “Mommie” (my mouth cannot comprehend her true Cambodian name) are both incredibly kind and accommodating. When I am feeling particularly white, which did not take long here, or do something odd or clumsy, Mommie just pats me on the back and smiles. Mommie and Sauvth have two grown sons- “Big Son” and “Little Son”- the younger of which, Pset, I met yesterday. Three other volunteers are currently residing in the house as well. I have spoken with my neighbor Chow- a nice girl from China, and a young Spanish man (Mommie calls him “Nana”) who seems to speak fluent Khmer as he is popular with all our Khmer neighbors. The house is relatively far from the central city and complete with Lucky- a tiny white dog about the size of my smallest cat back home.
On our first day in Phnom Penh, Chris and I visited the riverside, a popular tourist strip along the Tonlesap river lined with shops, restaurants, and bars. We drank tea at Blue Pumpkin and mosied about on foot. You can tell the popular tourist locations as my fellow Caucasians all seem to gather at certain points. NOTE ABOUT PHNOM PENH: NO ONE WALKS. Unlike any other city I have visited, pedestrians simply don’t exist in Phnom Penh simply because it is entirely too hot. So, as the good tourists we are, Chris and I turned down about one thousand moto drivers and tuk-tuks as we walked to the central market, where I purchased some excellent Cambodia pants for $3.50, and the Phnom Wat temple which we did not enter in our shorts and tee shirts. Touring the city, I could not decipher whether the many stares I am received from passing drivers were due to the color of my skin, my sweatiness, the fact that I was walking, or a combination of the lot.
This leads me to my second note about the city: DRIVING IN CAMBODIA IS WILD. This is far from the stop and go situation I have experienced countless times in LA. In Cambodia, there are no stoplights (much like Wrightwood) and no stops signs. This means that at intersections, the flow of traffic is determined by the intended direction of the majority. Several times I found myself thinking, “No, he’s not really going to go…” as our driver pulled out into a stream of perpendicularly moving motorists. These drivers are extremely skilled in avoiding collisions (unlike myself- who will not be driving a moto) and are often accompanied by children who sit happily on their parents’ laps. No car seats, no booster seats, no seat belts, and almost always, no helmets. I cannot help juxtapose this with the image of the Wrightwoodian “biker gangs,” all which are over 60 years old and covered from head to toe in protective gear.
I have also met several children in Penh Phnom. The first we heard tapping on the back of our tuk-tuk as we idled in a crowded street. He moved to the side of cart and poked Chris before looking up at us with big beautiful brown eyes, asking for change. The second pair of children, Sauvth and Mommie’s neighbors, were much more giggly. Though we could not communicate, we introduced ourselves as the kids continued repairing their scooter. (Did I even know what a screwdriver was at 4?). Though the girl, probably 7 or 8 and older than her companion, was missing many teeth, she had a gorgeous and lively smile that she dawned as I attempted Khmer.
The rest of the day was spent reading, letting Chris beat me at couple dozen card games, and talking with my family. I am eager to know them better and grateful that they speak English- especially Pset, who currently works with the UN as a human rights advocate in Cambodia. Though he remains continuously frustrated by corruption and the bureaucratic inefficiency, you can tell that he loves this country.
Sorry for the length of this post- promise to try to keep in more concise in the future! Hopefully I’ll find internet soon to actually share this with you all…