Today I took a stroll to the Russian markets. The heat was pretty intense, but as the earlier flu has screwed up my chances of becoming acclimated more quickly I decided to push myself a bit. Although I had a tuk tuk stopping me every few minutes to ask if I needed a ride, so I’m guessing I looked pretty bloody hot!
The roads are dirt tracks and there’s cars and motorbikes and things being transported by motorbike – entire household goods by the looks of things. There aren’t pavements and I had to ask someone which side of the road they drive on here, because I couldn’t tell by appearance – there are vehicles everywhere, every direction and crossing roads.
But I didn’t feel unsafe as I wandered along the maze of crazy roads. I knew the various motors on wheels came within inches to me, but in this bedlam of a health and safety officers nightmare, there was a strange sense of people actually knowing what they’re doing. Or maybe I was just too dehydrated to notice how many near death experiences I missed! – I’m convinced less than when I’m walking in a more civilised road system.
The Russian markets were an overwhelming stimuli of everything imaginable – from clothes, accessories, carvings, dead animals, food, fabric, bike parts, my god I could go on for ever. Suffice to say, whatever you might need or not need, or didn’t realise you did/didn’t need, was there. The heat, the narrowness, the noise, and worse of all the smells from the cooking made my time in there more about survival than browsing.
But I did chance across a toy store and instinctively wanted to buy gifts for my kids. But of course, where would I put them? Carry them or even get them back through customs. I felt that familiar pang of emptiness.
After a long walk around I managed to find my way to my hotel and decided to read my ‘Survivor’ book that id bought yesterday from a survivor of the Khmer Rouge militia. I still managed to get teary eyed!
I took a refreshing dip in the pool and then sat alone, as various people from different countries came and left.
I thought a lot about my family. I imagined how much they would delight in seeing Cambodia. My oldest daughter would have lots of questions and my husband would patiently and diligently explain things to her. My next daughter would revel at the motorbikes and demand to go on one. My youngest daughter would love all the attention. My son would be thrilled by the assortment of vehicles.
I thought I would immediately snap into independent lone traveller from the old days. Absorbing and forging my own way. But I find myself thinking about what the kids would/wouldn’t like. My husband’s enthusiasm for Asia and his handy unlimited knowledge.
I find myself happy to be here, excited by the opportunities but a large hole, an emptiness moves around with me.
Tomorrow we leave for Kratie. An early start for the long drive – about 6 hours because of the road.
There were guided activities for the group – all the teachers are going to experience it, but then the majority will return to Phnom Penh where they are based.
I declined the group activities. I’ve never been very good on group tours. I find formats and pre made scripts a bit tedious. And the group are not people I would usually spend time with.
I like to orientate myself. I want to introduce myself to NGOs and form my own rapport – off script. I want to see the local people and engage with them – not move around like tourists at a petting zoo. I like to do things in my own time and my own way. And not worry about someone from the group being allergic to peanut butter, or another that asks questions – just to ask questions, and then eat and drink at specified times. I just want to wander around. Be free.
That is of course what this journey is about, besides when the teaching semester starts.
I intend to embrace this opportunity – as my husband has worked hard to make this happen for me. And it’s an injustice to the kids if I was away and miserable. And I want to make them proud.
I realise my family are my greatest source of inspiration and strength.
I began to see life as a chore, meaningless.
But being here makes me realise that experiences should be shared and then recounted on by the people you care most about with their own perspective.
My passion lies with NGOs and supporting grassroots organisations that the Western world take for granted. But it’s not limited to that. My passion also lies with the nurturing of my children, their dependence on me, and my love and adoration for them.
My husband looked so good on the brief time we exchanged conversation. I think perhaps in retrospect I was slowly destroying him. And now distant from me, he has begun to grow again.
I was destroying myself also. A medley of trauma, uncertainty about my identity, feeling unfulfilled.
In Cambodia, I am one random person. Making choices, having thoughts, making decisions. Seeing the true horrors of the loss of power of basic human rights, of freedom and separation and death of families. And here is the country rebuilding itself. No longer angry, no longer bitter. Just living. Breathing. Growing.
And as the random sunburnt, sweaty woman wanders aimlessly amongst the traffic – she feels an inner calm.