The first week of work is under my belt and I feel as though several weeks have gone by. So much has happened and each night I come home expecting to journal and I fall asleep from the exhaustion of the day. So this blog may be a bit sporadic as a for warning.
Some highlights to give you an idea of where this post is going:
– First round of stomach issues? Check
– Still not understanding Khmer? You betcha
– Ready to drive a moto? YESSSS
First week at work was stellar! It seems like a haze now because it felt like 2 weeks crammed into 4 days. Monday I got sick after being in country for only 3 days. Yes, my predictions proved accurate but I didn’t see it coming. All to say, it was the complete opposite of pleasant but alive and ready to try some more Khmer food.
If I were to explain my relationship between myself and raw vegetables, I would say we were like opponents in a boxing match. Raw Veggies won the first round but I’m back in the ring for another go.
When I arrived I knew there were going to be some grand celebrations that were honoring the closing of IJM’s Combatting Sex-Trafficking Program. This is a huge deal because we have been in Cambodia since 2004 fighting this issue and there has been so many victories through partnerships with other NGO’s and Cambodian government. Sex-trafficking is still an issue but with estimates of the prevalence of minors in the sex trade being as high as 15-30% in the early 2000 – with many believed to be ages 15 and under – today, the rate of minors 15 and under is down to only 0.1%
. And that deserves celebrating!
Within 3 days of arrival and one stomach bug down, I put on my “power suit” to attend a gala with honored guests from Cambodian government, fellow NGO partners and staff from IJM headquarters in D.C. including our CEO&Founder, Gary Haugen. So to say I had an unusual arrival/welcome to Cambodia would be slightly understated.
Today is Saturday which meant a) sleeping in and b) time to explore some more of the city! I went to the Russian Market today with 2 of my roommates, who are also working with IJM, and we met some friends for a Khmer noodle breakfast. The Russian Market or Tuol Tom Poung, as the locals know it by, is an outdoor market where. Meandering through the narrow isles, you can find everything from colorful lanterns and handmade silk scarves to moto parts, cooking utensils and DVDs. Hungry, get a some noodles, fresh fruit or awesome iced coffee but fare warning, you may witness some featherless chickens being beheaded… i did this morning. The closest comparison I can think of is if you imagine an outdoor farmers market but add in any amenity you could ever need, under one big “tent” and each vendor has products stacked 8+ ft tall… and the only circulation comes from fans above. It’s wild and wonderful! They have several of these around the city, each with a different “vibe”. Oh, and they tend to give Westerners a different price so if you can go with a local you’ll get a better deal. That’s where learning some Khmer will come in handy. Learning directions and basic greetings so when I’m lost I can be polite.
Resting from a day of exploring because my fair skin has had enough of Mr. Sun today. Hope to get my moto (moped) and my Cambodian license next week, wahoo! So I can do a little more wandering/exploring around the city. There are so many incredible places that I want to check out like old buddhist temples, outlooks over the city, some hiking spots (or so the locals tell me…). But I’m ready for some more independence plus tuk tuks are not cheap when you have to use them to go ANYWHERE… because you really cannot walk around, there are ZERO sidewalks and Cambodians find lane directions optional. For example: it is not uncommon to see a car going the wrong direction for about a half block to then turn around. And at round-a-bouts there are no “yield” or “stop” signs but rather the assumed attitude to get out there (scoot your moto into oncoming traffic) and expect those in cars, motos and luk tuks to yield. It’s expected for anyone in front of you, whether on the road or merging, to have the “right of way”. These little pearls of wisdom will take some getting use to but everyone are such friendly drivers that I feel much less intimidated. With friendliness also comes laughing. One of my roommates gets laughed at when she speaks Khmer, I dont think it’s out of rudeness but more humorous because a Westerner is trying to speak Khmer.
My takeaways from this week:
– Humility is needed (especially while learning Khmer)
– Boldness is helpful (when driving)
– Kindness is required (there is great respect shown to one another and elders especially.)
Oh, and for the pale folks/Westerners (ie, me):
– Sunscreen and deodorant are NOT suggestions
– Imodium and sprite are household staples
– The feeling of sweaty/dampness WILL happen daily… you’ll look like you’ve been in a steam room too long, get over yourself
(From Top Left to Right) IJM staff women at the formal event Tuesday night in local Khmer dress; View from my first Tuk Tuk ride- a 3-wheeled moto with covered bench seating behind- which is used as a taxi; One of the isles of Russian Market- reaaaal easy to get lost; Khmer Iced Coffee with condensed milk; Moto parking lot at Aeon Mall