Two weeks from now I’ll be back in the UK. That feels so strange. I feel utterly ill-equipped for my return. I have no idea what I will do, where I will live, or what reality awakes. I know I’ll be cold, but I am unconditionally looking forward to going through a whole day without an insect bite; raw fear at having to cross a road and without being required to sit in a pool of my own sweat. Even so, there are things I will miss. It’s extraordinary what can become familiar and mundane quite quickly. I have been wanting to capture a few street scenes of my daily route on camera before I leave. This has been somewhat thwarted by my camera’s demise. However, yesterday, a friend loaned me an old mobile phone for the day, so I took the opportunity to get a few snaps. Here they are:
The security booth outside my apartment. I walk to and fro past this many times a day. I always exchange greetings with the security guards, but I was too shy to ask them for a photo, it just felt wrong. You’ll have to make do with the booth, and just imagine the occupants. These little booths are pretty much ubiquitous outside larger office buildings or apartment blocks. They open the gates to let you in and out, and presumably stop raging mobs from storming the building? I don’t know. They guards are always friendly though. I don’t know what they make of me, walking everywhere, and getting up at an ungodly hour (for a westerner) to go off who knows where of a morning (Olympic stadium) but that’s OK. I suppose we short-term lets come and go, and are soon forgotten.
Where I live (Street 432 near the Russian Market) there is a high density of shops selling car parts – or more accurately motor bike parts probably, and red building equipment. This particular shop is of special significance, as it’s corner location means I have spent many fearful hours there, hiding with my nose pressed up against various cement mixers/ diggers or whatever, trying to avoid being run over at times when the road is particularly congested. I couldn’t leave Phnom Penh without giving you a glimpse of that daily reality!
Then, as I walk to CWF, there is this extraordinarily tall building with golden dragons on the top of it. Also an enticing looking gateway. I don’t know if it is a private dwelling, or apartments or what, but it is noticeably grand.
Every day as I walk to wall I have also been passing a construction site, which is now shooting up a building. This one seems to have a passing regard for building regulations as they have taken the precaution of putting in foundations. A fellow volunteer posted pictures of a construction she has seen where they have apparently just built straight onto the ground! Terrifying thought. I regret not having charted the progress of this site, but here’s where it was as of yesterday, and the tent is where the site security person (well, let’s be honest, ‘man’) is presumably residing. It is extraordinary where people will live and how. It is clear we could all get by with a lot less than we realise, but it might be very uncomfortable doing so.
Yesterday, I was heading to the school for an outing, our tuk tuk driver was the one used by the school, who says we should call him Mr Lucky, which is not the most obviously Khmer of names. He was the person who picked me up to take me to my accommodation here near CWF and he will probably be the person who takes me back to the airport. His wife works at the school as a cleaner by day, but by night sings at weddings. We often see her of an evening passing in one direction wearing her blue overalls, and then coming back through the teachers room transformed with her hair up and decorated with flowers, and some elaborate dress. It’s quite a stunning makeover every time. I’d love to hear her sing. Anyway, from the vantage point of Mr Lucky’s tuk tuk, I was able to snap the store next door, the one with my toothless elder who is my guardian. He isn’t in the shot, but at least you can perhaps now picture his native habitat. I’ll really miss him. I feel like he looks out for me. It matters little whether that is true or not, because his daily smiles have helped me feel connected in what might otherwise be quite an isolated existence. I want to give him a postcard when I leave too, I anticipate that will also be a somewhat peculiar interaction, but probably one that will generate some sort of anecdote for subsequent use, so that’s obviously the main thing!
Oh and I suppose I should include the school too. Funny to think that I’ve reached the point in my stay where I can count the number of times I’ll be returning there again before I leave. I wonder how the next cohort of volunteers are feeling. I hope they have good experiences, I’m feeling somewhat disenchanted. Not with the students, they are great, but the school, well I have some cynicism about the extent to which there are beneficiaries out there, and I don’t feel especially valued by CWF either. However, the real reward is from my students, and I do feel valued by them. In fact I wish almost they valued me a little less. We have the option to finish classes a couple of days early, but oh no, they don’t want to miss a moment, which is ‘great’ because they must enjoy my sessions and see a value in them too, but I’d love to have a couple of days free of lesson planning before I leave. Still, mustn’t grumble, my fragile disposition is such that if they were wanting to disappear I’d feel crushed and devastated. I can’t have it both ways. So here we are, CWF. Soon to be but a memory…