I spent most of yesterday in meetings to brief me on the style of teaching, expectations, schedules and plans. It was enlightening but tiring. It served really to remind me of the importance of this project and the significant role that teachers play here teaching English to enthusiastic, committed students.
As the day went on, plans went on to meet at 6pm with other NGOs for dinner.
I had a little time ready to get showered and changed. I’d been out on my bike in my spare time to buy a few things, so as usual I was dusty and sweaty.
At 6, I met and spoke at length with a Management Consultant here working on rural sustainability and using the environment to save and change things for the better in rural Cambodia. I have often been sceptical of such organisations, banks offer loads to third world countries with their stipulations and interest. The World Bank are the worse for giving money but not ensuring the end result is streamlined so you have cases of people only being to work on projects or get subsequent jobs if they align with a certain political group. This grassroots organisation took varying amounts from money from various places and I was keen to know who the investors were and why. How projects are tailored and the overall outcome of these projects and difficulties. I’ve always been more focussed on the humanitarian issues, so viewing the perspective from someone who looks at the big picture was very interesting and forced me to consider my own narrow mindedness. Cambodians are proud people and have recovered remarkably well from a tortured and recent murky history. It seems as a country they seek empowerment but not the easy hand out. It’s easy to feel the special essence of Cambodia. Of seeing how hard people work, the sense of family and community and a growing economy.
I was then invited by a younger group, Cambodians mostly, an American journalist I had met and quite taken too, she’s extremely interesting, and one support teacher from my group. All speak Khmer and are particularly established here.
I took my bike to carry a passenger, and others took there’s to carry other people. It felt nice to be out riding in a cooler night. Less traffic, peaceful and the excitement of my crew.
We stopped at a bar first that has just opened to show our support
Then they took me on to a ‘rave.’ Essentially some fairy lights strewn across a sandy, incredibly dirty field, with music that was I suppose club music with the unmistakable twang of the Cambodian mix.
My group jouned the Mosh pit to dance away in a sea of local faces.
I immediately went into protection mode, scanning crowds, conscious of my public space, checking the loose wiring – or rather being aware of. Noticing the incoming of more and more people into this brutally chicken wired area. With a small exit and entrance area for both purposes. I noticed young children had gone in to beg, one no older than three carrying a sleeping baby. A tiny figure in amongst a large and jostling crowd.
It was important for me to experience this night life and observe the dancing and taste in music.
But I was acutely aware that I was the tallest there, one of only two Western women, and incredibly and obviously uncomfortable.
I don’t like crowds, my claustrophobia was pushing me to panic levels. I’m not keen on the fact it wasn’t well lit, and of course the shoddy wiring hanging over people was of concern. I felt awkward, silly, Bigfoot being terrified of this crowd and all too aware of things spinning out of control quickly. But my group were happy, the groove.
We left soon after and I felt crappy that I’d made them leave.
But secretly it was a relief. I was beginning to shake from head to toe. I hadn’t brought my torch, my Cambodian phone isn’t very reliable – so had there been a power cut as there most evenings, I would have been plunged into darkness. I was also afraid of my own demons, making me feel vulnerable, causing my senses to be on high alert.
I was frustrated with myself, embarrassed and reminded again of my own vulnerability.
By the time I got back to the hotel, I needed a double dose of Valium and checked the bolts on my doors a few times.
Fortunately exhaustion took over and I fell asleep into vivid dreams about being chased, being beaten, trying to find help but being alone.
This morning I have woken feeling very tired, but I have to push on to see the university this morning and a promised brunch with my journalist friend.
It’s all an experience of course. And I’m glad I saw it.
But for me it also served as a reminder that I’m still feeling vulnerable and not quite fully able to embrace my wild carefree younger version again.