To the Island! Homestay at Koh P’dao

Well, today took sensory overload on a whole new trajectory.  As if scrambling over the steps at a pagoda and seeing critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong wasn’t enough adventure for one day, we also arrived at the island homestay and had an extraordinary set of encounters that provided plenty of joy-filled memories as well as more sobering food for thought.

So, we were up at cockcrow (it’s noisy everywhere), and I headed off to hotel for breakfast with my room companion for around 7.30.  It isn’t far at all.  ‘Do you want a lift?’  ‘No’.  However, it seems we are prohibited from walking anywhere, our minibus pulled up alongside and we were driven to the guest house for breakfast.  It turned out that the plan we had been told about breakfast at 8.00 had been lost in translation.  We had to have finished breakfast and be ready to leave by 8.00.  Oh well, that was probably never going to happen anyway.  BReakfast was omelettes or muesli.  It came with a choice of hot black coffee or tea, each pot carefully labelled with a yellow post-it note.  Genius.

Back in the minibus (oh good, another person squished in now we have a new local guide) and we were told that today we would ‘climb a mountain’ this seemed improbably, everywhere is pretty flat, but hey ho.  First stop was to see sticky rice cakes made in bamboo.  I’ve seen this before, so that wasn’t such a surprise.  However, more interesting to me were the little shiny triangular bags that adorned the stall. They glistened in the light and looked really appealing.  I thought they were seasoning or salt and chilly, as they looked pale and had a red bit at the end point of each tiny bag.  Turns out it is some sort of fish paste.  Its put into the little bags, tied up and left to dry/cook in the sun.  It is then consumed as a snack food.  I think maybe like pork scratchings?  I was glad to find this out, I wouldn’t have wanted to do so the hard way!

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Next, was the pagoda.  Ah, this is the mountain!  Not a mountain really, but certainly a great many steps to negotiate.  We were greeted by the back view of a statue of a horse that was definitely a stallion portrayed with some appreciative attention to detail!  Having said that, whilst its testicles were unmissable in their scarlet radiance, other anatomical details were not. The horse had two protrusions instead of one on its front leg where a horse would have an ergot at the fetlock joint.  I think cattle and water buffalo must have too. There are very, very few horses around in Cambodia, so I suppose whoever made the statue based the equine anatomy on that.

The pagoda was in a spectacular setting.  Shortly after we arrived, a monkey with a baby clinging to her approached us.  Our guide set about arming himself with a large stick to keep it at bay.  I was at the top of the steps when I saw one of our group throw a baguette to the monkey.  I couldn’t stop myself from crying out ‘please don’t feed it, you will make it so sick!’  (also vicious).  Turns out I’d misread the situation, poor woman was assailed by the monkey and threw the bread as a distraction. I felt bad. She is one of the volunteers who is least vocal and I was basically horrible to her. I did apologise, and she was gracious, but it made me sad.

As always, the pagoda was really a sequence of impressions.  I don’t know really what we were looking at, but it was strange, and glorious and beautiful.  We struggled up stairs in the heat.  Marvelled at graphic portrayals of what would happen to people in future life if they broke the codes of Buddhism (gossiping about others, killing animals).  What I do find bizarre though is that it is ‘of course’ OK to eat meat, just not to actually kill an animal.  Our guide saw no inconsistency here.  Monks have to eat whatever they are given – that makes more sense, but the basic premise of you can buy and cook meat just as long as you don’t kill it yourself is to me really odd.  Plus, there is a sense that nobody (not even a monk or nun according to our guide) could possibly adhere to all the rules, so you might kill animals but you don’t drink beer, so that’s OK.   Kind of…  Lots of picture opportunities though.  Yay!

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So the pagoda would have been grand, but overshadowed by what came next.  We carried on to the jumping off point where you can get a boat and go see the Irrawaddy dolphins.  Here we also picked up bottled water with pictures of the dolphins on it, proclaiming itself to be dolphin water, which, if you’ve seen the colour of the Mekong, is not an altogether massive endorsement to be honest, but you have to take what’s on offer!  We had a mooch about the touristy stalls.  I splashed out (literally and metaphorically) on a trip to the loo (500 reil here I think), and also bought a dolphin key ring.  Not that I particularly wanted it, but I do feel we should spend money at these places as otherwise how are any of the people here supposed to make a living.

It was a pretty bleak spot to be honest.  We gathered under an awning, and our guide told us the story behind the Irrawaddy dolphin.  The fable is that a spirit in the form of a snake married a poor girl, and became a handsome man and they all got rich.  Another family was jealous of their wealth.  They married their own daughter off to a snake, but it was an actual snake and not a spirit at all.  On her wedding night the snake consumed her.  Her father hearing screams ran in, killed the snake and cut it open to save his daughter, but she was so ashamed and humiliated she did not want to live.  One day she went to the river to drown herself, putting a large pot on her head to ensure she would sink.  It is she who became the first Irrawaddy dolphin.  (They do look a bit weird to be fair, the story isn’t as far-fetched as all that).  We were told there are very, very few dolphins left.  The river is polluted, and the pods ever decreasing.  Some illegal fishing goes on using electrocution.   The boatmen say that there used to be two young until a couple of weeks ago, now there is only one.  I have a bad feeling about these dolphins.  I fear it is a case of last chance to see.  What hope for them with pollution and corruption too.  Our fee $7 per person goes to the government.  The boatmen get $4 per trip no matter how many people ride with them (we took this as a heavy hint we should tip here).  People are not happy.

We descended steep steps and got on the shallow bottomed boats that don’t entirely fill me with confidence.  On the way down we saw a largish tree snake, writhing on the bank.  It looked in the wrong place, and was behaving oddly.  Rolling so we could see its underside.  Closer inspection revealed it to be dead!  We had just witnessed the death throes of a snake. Really strange, and poignant.  Also weirdly apt, given the tale of how the Irrawaddy dolphins came to be.

A small motor at the end of a strimmer type contraption fired up, and soon in convoy we were speeding across the Mekong (which is seemingly vast), to the spot where dolphins might be seen.  I felt extreme ambivalence here.  On the one hand, it’s good the dolphins are now seen as a useful asset for tourists or they would undoubtedly all be dead by now.  On the other, it didn’t seem well managed, boats hurtling across the river to hunt them down.  I tried to tell myself fishermen and their boats have always worked these waters, but it seemed a bit intrusive.  On one of the other boats, apparently their boatman smoked throughout, carelessly tossing his finished fag-ends into the water.  It is pretty depressing.  It was still an adventure to be in the boats.  I didn’t really expect to see anything to be honest, so was jut going with the flow.

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The boats gathered in a certain spot, and then it was engines off, and a period of calm.  At first nothing, then periodically a breach of the water and a brief splash.  We saw a fair few dolphins cresting the water, but honestly, whilst it is always amazing to be near such rare creatures, you don’t see much at all. Just muddy water, other boats and the occasional ripples where once a dolphin was.  On the other hand, it’s good to know they are at least still out there, for now.  Amazingly, I did get at least one shot of one surfacing, but you do need to have a creative imagination to appreciate the full glory of this moment!  There was one ‘proper’ splish splashy moment, when a dolphin came high enough out of the water for us to see its fins, but it was short live. Definitely a dolphin though.  A weird-looking dolphin granted, but a dolphin nevertheless!

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So then I think back on the bus to a different jumping off point, and more boats, this time the trip to the island homestay.  It was to be a 25 minute boat trip to the island.  This boat trip was fun.  Being in the midst of the Mekong, watching the banks unfold as you pass is pretty exciting.  You see occasional cattle or water buffalo, unknown birds.  Not a massive amount of wildlife to be fair, and the water is extremely murky, it’s hard to know how anything survives in there with all that silt.

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So, eventually, we arrived at the island.  A child scout was looking out for us from a swing on the bank, and she raced off to tell others we’d arrived.  We disembarked and clambered up a steep slope to the homestay.  We were warmly welcomed, and lunch appeared.  regrettably the vegetarian option appeared to contain shrimp.  There was lots of rice though (yay), one particular member of the group seems hellbent on drawing attention to every such ‘misdemeanour’ which is becoming really embarrassing, it’s so rude..  I don’t buy the defence that it is her culture that dictates she is direct at all times.

AFter a brief introduction, we were walked to our homestay.  We are split between three houses.  I was in the house with the two couples which meant a quirk of fate and good fortune bequeathed me my own room.  A little princess suite with a pink mosquito net.  I didn’t know before this day that I really wanted a pink mosquito net. Heavens, I didn’t even know such a thing existed, but now, well now I do and did!  The room was lined with a sort of plastic sheeting, and there was a thin foam mattress.  All really clean, and a nice little Lucy House really to be honest.

We sat awkwardly on the stilted platform at the front of the house. The grey-haired man who’d let the way had hospitably shown the toilet block and indicated the rooms.  We now endeavoured to communicate, his little girl (grand-daughter perhaps?) looking on. We tried our names, and names of animals, but there was a lot of blinking, looking awkward and elaborate smiling.  It was friendly and welcoming, but the chasm in communication was vast.  Is this what it will be like when we encounter our students?  One of us has had the wisdom to put together some flashcards with e.g. ‘please’ on one side, and the phonetic Khmer on the back to say it in Cambodian.  Mixed success.

There was an opportunity for something of an explore.  The living area is open.  A TV powered by a battery is in the living room. There is a kitchen area upstairs and inside – this struck me as unusual, most I’ve seen are downstairs and in the open.  Proudly displayed was a clock on a cross stitch background – a similar one was at the ‘restaurant’ – the first homestay house way we all went to eat.   Downstairs I was intrigued by the sight of a huge clutch of eggs in a conical nest built of bamboo.  The little girl was there so I took a photo to show her there were so many.  She solemnly took my hand and let me round the corner to where a hen was brooding over a large nest. She looked really comfy, it was wonderful.  What a genius way to provide accommodation for a chicken.  This chicken has it a lot easier than mothers in rural Cambodia who have just given birth, but more of that later.

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Next on the agenda, was a bike ride!  Yay!  I love riding a bike, every time I get on one I wish I did it more.  This was somewhat more challenging than originally expected.  We had simple road bikes, but the terrain was more off-roadish.  Heavily rutted and bumpy, we hared off in a rough convoy, some with more confidence than others, none of us with much in the way of brakes.  I couldn’t help but notice my bike had a label on it that seemed to suggest its use was contraindicated for uneven terrain.  Oh well, obviously our tour guide hadn’t got that memo!  I opted for multi-tasking, trying to take some on the move action shots with mixed success.  We overtook one another, one shot by me only to plummet over a vertical drop.  Go her!  It was a hoot.  The seats weren’t actually all that uncomfortable which was a pleasant surprise, and it was a lot of fun whizzing along.  Periodically children lined the way to see what the commotion was.  Most waved and shouted ‘hellos’ one or two shyly ducked behind posts so as not to be seen, and the bravest amongst them went for high fives.  It was a splendid mini adventure!

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Whilst it was inherently fun exploring the island trails.  We had various stop-offs along the way as there were important things to do!  Specifically, the woman who proudly showed off her carefully constructed chicken house – a CRDT farming initiative.  It is not so much to protect the hens from predators, there are no foxes here.  It is to stop the hens wandering off and laying elsewhere, or being swiped by neighbours as far as I can gather.  We also saw a strange (to me) but ubiquitous, pig tethering system.  This woman’s pigs had shade and stuff to do amongst tree roots, but not really water.  Elsewhere on the island I saw pigs doing less well, one pink pig had raw open wounds on its back that I think were most probably sunburn to start with.  Poor creatures.

The next stop was to the spirit house.  One of my favourite things.  An older man, all smiles and gap-toothed cheer, chanted over offerings various whilst our guide explained that as we were visitors to the island tradition demanded that the spirits were told we were there so they would not be angry.  It’s honestly hard to tell how much of this is fervently believed and how much of it is just gracious tradition.  I asked why this man had been specially chosen for this task.  ‘It’s because he has a lot to say‘ came the reply.  Excellent, my kind of person totally.  We had the opportunity to ask questions, and I asked him if he had spent his whole life on the island.  apparently not.  He moved here aged about 23.  He was a teacher.  Then Pol Pot took over and there was civil war.  He could not leave the island.  He said, ‘I was still a teacher, but a teacher who fertilised the soil‘.  He was smiling as he said it, but his story is heart wrenching really.  He only ever went back home once, and spent the rest of his time here.  He taught up until just a few years ago when he finally retired.  The Khmer Rouge touched everyone we meet.  He lived through that time.  I’d have loved to have the time and courage and really hear his story.  I am constantly brought up short by this history. Every older person we meet lived through that time, and must have witnessed and experienced (maybe even participated in) horrors that are beyond my imagining.  Yet here he was smiling, and welcoming us. The picture makes him look solemn, he was anything but. I  think he really enjoyed the feeling of giving a performance to an appreciative and awe-struck audience as well!

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From the spirit house, on we travelled.  The next stop was just as entertaining in a different sort of way.  We wound our way there negotiating perilously rickety wooden bridges, (little knowing how much our fear factor would be multiplied when we tackled them all again the next day in a tractor).  We were greeted with the sight of a proudly displayed pig pen.   The pigs were in wooden pens, that were clean, and had shade, but no bedding. They were friendly though, and very excited that we were able to offer food and water.  One poor pig’s trough was broken, so no water there.  The guide improvised a repair, and I topped it up, also showering the appreciative porcines with a good old bucket bath.  In fact, what they were really angling for was the powdered swill.   It was fun though.  I do like a nice friendly pig as my regular reader will know.  Warthogs for preference, obviously, but a domestic pig will do as second best.  I know the pens are on the small side, but at least these pigs can interact with one another and watch the world go by and feel the sun and the wind whilst being protected from both.  Many pigs factory farmed in the UK would not get those simple pleasures. Pigs in captivity make me sad.  The blurry photos are for atmospheric purposes, this is what happens when you randomly snap shots with your camera whilst speeding past on a push-bike. Adds to the sense of occasion I like to think.  I have many delusions of this sort, mostly I enjoy them, or if not exactly enjoy them, they act as a shield between me and reality, which is mostly unpleasant, so no need to disabuse me of any such false thoughts.

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So from here, another stop!  This time we were taken to the most important place on the island, to meet the community leader.  I’m not quite sure what his title would translate as, he was definitely the most important person on the island.  Variously described as an elder, leader, various things.  He is the go-to for all decisions I think, and he was most charismatic and welcoming.  We were ushered up steps to what is quite an imposing and solid building in contrast to the timber built stilt houses around – though the ones we were staying in were pretty sturdy, many were not.  I’m not sure who the gathered other people were, but tables were pushed forward and seats found and body language used to get us all seated.  Our guide explained that we were all volunteer teachers who had come to visit. Well, we were welcomed to such an effusive extent it was almost embarrassing.  He was wonderful this guy, he talked at some length and then turned to our guide to interpret.  ‘Erm, he said, well, actually he said quite a lot of things…’  We laughed.  The guide went on to say that the leader was very appreciative that we had come to do such an important and wonderful thing.  He said that he had seen civil war and the damage it could do (another stark reminder of Cambodian history and its devastating impact), they needed teachers.  They needed people to do good things because the world is in trouble, we may be on the brink of world war three.  He spoke of the dangers in the world the rise of Isis (I’m not sure if that was a topical reference to demonstrate a wider perspective, or whether it was a sign that Islamophobia has reached even here).  Irrespective of this, his welcome was gushing and extensive. He wished us well with our important work.  Said he and the whole village would welcome us, and he just looked genuinely delighted.  Chuffed to bits we were there.  I accidentally ended up being sort of group spokesperson, because I spoke first.  It became a sort of bizarre competition of who could give the most effusive thanks and appreciative response, and get the last word in.  Eventually we both lost momentum.  He was then curious to know who everyone was.  I say everyone, but basically he asked all the men what there names were and earnestly thanked them.  One woman in the group was asked her name.  He was most excited to hear it. The name means great things in Khmer, not sure what though, something about being raised high up I think.  It was quite an experience.  I hope we can live up to his somewhat exaggerated expectations of our potential.  If I’m ever having a bad day teaching, I’ll think of him, and his delight we were there, and pick myself up and try again harder and more creatively.

Finally a group shot – preceded by the ‘my isn’t he tall‘ shot, and then we were whisked off again. What a day!

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So, the final stopping off point for the day was rice wine!  Except it wasn’t.  We arrived at the appointed place to be greeted by a trio of excited children.  Our guide went to investigate, then returned to explain, he was sorry, but the woman who makes rice wine had just given birth three days ago, so there was no rice wine.  He actually apologised for the inconvenience this caused us!  (What the?)  However, we were invited to go and see the woman and baby in her house. Urm, this caused us some angst. We felt it was really inappropriate to go and see the poor woman. Surely the last thing she would want is a load of westerners gawping at her.  On the other hand, it might be rude to go away without accepting the invitation, plus, bizarre as it sounds, they did seem to be genuinely worried about us not having promised rice wine, so if we went off without seeing them, that might make it seem as if we had taken offence, when clearly we hadn’t.  Honestly, I’m consumed by social paranoia and angst at the best of times, but transposed to a different cultural context it is even more problematic!  Eventually, we agreed a small group of us would call in to pay our respects.

So what happened next was truly remarkable.  Well, it was to me anyway.  We kicked off our shoes and went up the steep room to see where the mother was confined.  She was sitting on top of a wooden raised bed, her husband was standing by a back window/door so in silhouette as the room was very dark.  The baby, who was tiny, was lying motionless, wrapped up with blankets and a hat.  So very still and tiny. The woman was dressed beautifully, but obviously uncomfortable, shifting her weight about.  The room was sweltering.  I think it was the guide who pointed out that below the bed was a bowl of burning embers to keep the heat.  A penny dropped.  I had heard this mentioned on the bike tour – we were shown a bed and told that ‘people used to put the woman on this after childbirth to stop her being cold – only happens in the rural areas now’.  The journalist at the gym told me that being cold had nothing to do with it, it was to drive out demons.  This woman / guide told us it was necessary for her to make her and the baby strong. She and the infant child have to stay there for one month.  ONE MONTH, atop a fire basically, in tropical heat.  No wonder the child was still and the woman restless.   We were asked if we had any questions.  Again, awkward, we had to engage.  I asked her if she found her bed comfortable.  ‘Of course not‘, she replied ‘but it is necessary, I must do this to make me strong‘.  Oh my god, I felt so stupid, she’s been through this three times before previously.   We were told how when she was in labour she had to take the boat to the mainland and go to a clinic.  There was no pain relief.  We were told of the things she could and couldn’t eat.  Beans in particular were forbidden.  If she ate beans she would have to go to hospital immediately.  These are not so much superstitions as absolutes.   The interesting shift though, was that she then asked if she could pose some questions.  Of course she could.  ‘What happens in your country when a woman has a baby?’  Truthfully, I don’t feel myself ideally qualified to be the spokeswoman on childbirth in the UK.  But, I was the only available option. What to say.  I didn’t want to lie, or appear judgemental, or sow discontent, but the reality is that it is very different.  I said something like ‘in my country, England it is very different.  Most women in labour will go to a hospital for help. They will get an injection to help with pain.   Afterwards, we do not have hot coals.  When a mother has a baby she can choose. If she wants to be warm she can have a fire and blankets, if she wants to be cold she can be cold.   She can eat whatever foods she likes and she can choose the temperature so she is comfortable.’  (I didn’t go into the complexities of not all families are perfect and postcode lotteries re midwife availability, let’s keep it simple).  She looked confused, and a little sad, also intrigued.  ‘What about in rural areas, what do people in the countryside do?’  I said again, that even in the countryside most people are able to get to hospital for help.  ‘No, but in the countryside what do they do?’  She repeated the question.  It was such a clear indication of how distant our frames of reference are.  She was also nonplussed by the eating thing. ‘Are there no forbidden foods at all?’  Perhaps I should have said alcohol, but weirdly I didn’t think of that, which is a shame, because here I think the rice wine is practically mandatory for pregnant women and new mothers (just as well given all they have to cope with).  I gave a lame answer ‘the only forbidden foods are ones where science says it is dangerous.  Some cheeses are not allowed‘.  Cheese?  What will she make of cheese?  It’s not really part of the diet in rural Cambodia.  It was for me a strangely powerful interaction.  Here is this woman living a life so very far removed from mine. She will probably have lots more children and continue to have to sit it out on that hot bed of literal coals multiple times.  Her life is hard.  Imagine being in that boat on the Mekong whilst in labour – I felt vulnerable enough doing it as a pleasure jaunt.  What future for her and her children (40% malnourished).  What must she make of us. She is clearly a woman with a curiosity about the outside world.  Will my answers contribute to her sense of discontent, or is her belief system strong enough that they will seem bewildering but not disruptive.  I suppose I’ll never know.  I did think again though about the journalist I met who had said women will tell their stories because they don’t see them as contentious or political.  It seems she is right. This woman had no sense at all that her experience is to us exceptional and hard.. well not until we started talking anyway.

At this point she started to fidget around again, we felt it was time to go.  I said something about what a gorgeous baby girl, and I hoped she and her infant would be happy and have wonderful lives.  Always good to end on an uplifting cliché.  The interaction has stayed with me though, it had a bit impact.  Her life is just so hard, and it isn’t just her life, it’s the life of everyone else around as well.  I wondered if she’d had other children too who had not survived.  It’s hard to see how any child would survive such a roasting, why don’t they all suffocate?  It troubled me, but I also felt really privileged to have had that glimpse and be faced with the reality that this tradition still goes on.  You wonder what other traditions are out there making a hard life even harder.  I don’t know the origins of the hot coals routine, but it’s hard to see it ever served a practical purpose.

STumbling out into the light, shoes back on, there was a woman selling cooked sweetcorn. I really didn’t want any, but it seemed churlish not to buy some.  It is a way of spreading the money around. I was the only one carrying any so I handed over the 2000 reil or whatever it was, and we all had a munch. It was pretty grim to be honest. It’s slow cooked in its husk I think.  The result is a sort of soggy tasteless and textureless mush. I’m thinking dry cooking over charcoal might have been better.  Oh well, nothing ventured eh?


So back to our respective stilt houses for some downtime before supper.  I made some notes in my paper diary.  Whilst I did so, the little girl in the house opened the curtain that was across the doorway in my room and came to see what I was doing.  She was fascinated by my notes.  So I took a leaf from the book and wrote her a little note.  It said something like ‘hello, my name is Lucy.  I am from England. Thank you for welcoming me to your lovely home. Thank you for showing me the chicken on its nest (I drew a picture of it too).’  I handed her the note and she stared at it appreciatively, then scampered off clutching it, and I could hear excited murmurs of appreciation as she then went about showing it to anyone and everyone in the vicinity. It was very sweet.  She was obviously really chuffed and delighted, despite having no idea what it said.  I wished I’d brought a postcard with me to write on, but then again, maybe that would have been unfair on other children and people in other houses, the note was appropriate.  Not lavish, but heartfelt.  I think she’ll keep it.

Supper was calling to be followed by a ‘party’.  We were warned that in the countryside many people like to go to bed by 7.00 p.m. a prospect that genuinely excited many of us who are feeling the cumulative effect of sleep deprivation and general business fatigue.  As I ventured out, there was a little posse in a circle on the stilt house communal area.  An older boy was sitting with a school book open at a page with neatly written English words alongside the Khmer equivalent.   With him seemed to be the whole household. He had homework, he had access to an English speaker, he wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass him by. Me and two of the others sat for a while, speaking the words out loud and correcting pronunciation. They really do struggle to stress the consonants at the end of words.  I was so impressed though by his opportunism and tenacity.  I think it took courage as well as initiative to ambush us this way. I lingered a little longer, but eventually had to go.  His ‘mother’ no idea if it really was she – was saying they have to go eat (sounds a bit like yum yum so an easy one to pick out).  So I did my best and scampered back to the main house where dinner awaited.  These photos were actually taken earlier in the day, but you get a sense of the layout.  Also, check out those goranges. We don’t know what they are actually called, but they are like bland oranges, only with green skin.  REfreshing on our return from our bike ride, and plucked straight from the tree.  In the background of some shots you can see the large clay water pots that are used to collect rainwater that is then a source for bucket washes or whatever, that take place just standing in the open. There is a toilet block, built to cater for western sensibilities.

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AFter supper, music started booming out.  I have no words for this music.  Our CWF guide said it wasn’t played in Phnom Penh and it certainly wasn’t traditional either. We couldn’t work out if they do listen to such music in rural areas, or if they were playing it because they thought we would like it.  A few of us (usual suspects) got up and threw ourselves into the dancing, but it felt a tad awkward because others didn’t really join in.  One bold Khmer man and two children did. One little boy was throwing some amazing hip hop style moves with downward arm thrusting and much swank.  Where he had learned that I have no idea! They do have television here, but from what I’ve seen back in Phnom Penh it certainly doesn’t include western style hip hop coverage.  He must have picked it up from some other western visitor perhaps.  We got ourselves into a circle and took turns being in the centre re old disco dance days. Meanwhile, a crowd of locals had gathered.  Noticeably, the men sat on one side, the women on the other.  One woman, seeing how we’d formed a circle, got a little girl to drag a chair into our midst and set a vase of flowers on it, which was very sweet if a little strange.  Eventually, with no sign of other dance participants or locals joining in, I asked our CWF minder if we were maybe being too loud and inappropriate and preventing others from feeling comfortable ‘of course‘ he said. What!  Then seeing my horror, clarified.  Of course it was Ok for us to dance, the people were laughing at us.  That’s OK then, happy to be the entertainment.  I’d asked our CRDT guide earlier how many homestays they have.  It’s usually only one a month, and not usually a big group, so I think we are still a novelty.  Our presence is disruptive, but also worth having a late night for as it must break the routine (my supposition there, but people were friendly and welcoming enough I think it’s a fair one).  Later on, there was some gentle attempt to show us Khmer dancing.  It was a gentle collective forward shuffle, accompanied by really quite tricky hand gestures.  I wished we could have spent more time on that.  It was but a glimpse.

Then, at nearly ten o’clock I think, I bailed.  Time for bed.  It was lovely walking back to ‘my’ stilt home.  It was only a couple of hundred yards, but it was pitch black.  I had a chorus of noisy frogs to accompany me on my way. It was a pinch me moment. What an amazing day, and we get to do it all again tomorrow!  So much to think about, so much to remember.  This day was truly a gift indeed.


6 responses to “To the Island! Homestay at Koh P’dao

  1. Dear Lucy, I’m really enjoying your writing, so a,using, so insightful, a lot of reflection, I wish I was half as good,
    I particularly enjoyed your comments on pigs, I like pigs too, we had one when we were children, and we lived in the inner city, kept it in the garden, I suppose it’s akin to keeping coal in the bath (. Not that we did, as we didn’t have an inside bath).
    I also liked reading about the newly delivered mother and your comments on childbirth, it made me think about my experiences as a midwife, I commenced my training in 1976, in those days some of the older midwives talked a about women not going out from home until they’d be ‘churched’, i.e. Visited church for some speaking ceremony, also I’m sure that there were forbidden foods, cream cheeses are a rxecent forbidden, women stayed in hospital for 7 days as a minimum and didn’t get outs of bed for 48 hours, so there are parallels .
    We’re currently experiencing temperatures of 13-15 degrees, it is very warm and rather strange.
    I returned from Budapest on Thursday where the temperature was -2/-4. Brits can’t perceive such low temperatures we rarely dress propoerly for e cold, so day 1 I was incapacitated by the cold and couldn’t buy a thing in the market as I couldn’t take my hands out of my pockets! I was there for the Christmas markets, very nice, but I’d never need to do it again.
    Stayed in a lovely hotel the Grand Budapest Hotel, as was. A popular hotel for actors and we saw someone from Game of thrones ( we were impressed, you may not be)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, thank you so much for your lovely comments and extra stories too. I didn’t know you were a midwife – we could have done with you at the homestay to be honest. I’m glad you like pigs as well, all the best people do in my experience! I’m really pleased you are reading and apparently enjoying my blog. I was having a bit of a ‘why am I keeping this’ period. The original point was so that my mum could follow my travels, but actually she can’t get to grips with the internet. The secondary purpose is obviously to process what I’m seeing and doing, and to help me with my memory (I had a head injury a couple of years back and I worry a lot about my memory and loss of vocabulary. Writing is a good disciplin to keep everything wired so to speak). However, whilst all that is true, I was wondering if it was a bit self-indulgent having it all on a blog. Not that reading it is compulsory, it’s just out there, but perhaps you know what I mean. Anyway, you have no idea how happy it makes me to think you are a traveling companion along the way, and also that my experiences resonate with some of yours – albeit you have done rather more adventurous things than me, but perhaps there are still some parallels. We really must meet up properly to compare tales when I’m back! Hope all is good wtih you, and that you are over the cold – the Grand Budapest Hotel sounds very fine indeed though. Wow. Take care, keep on running (slowly if necessary), Lx


  2. Please keep blogging! It’s fab to be able to keep in touch with you this way…..and to have a real sense of what you’re up to, through all your detailed anecdotes and reflections.
    P.s. love the high-rise chicken nests! 🐔

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you my friend! I’m so glad you like the chicken high-rise, I honestly think they have been my favourite thing so far in Cambodia, and I thought of you immediately. If you get bored of Camper Van Cookies, maybe we can go into partnership making these instead, they are genius! Lx


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