Inspired Words

These are the experiences of our volunteers in Cambodia.

June 1: Our Lives in Cambodia.

Posted in Cambodia on June 1, 2009

Cambodia is amazing. It is such a beautiful country. The first week or so that we were here we took some time to explore Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. In Phnom Penh we got to see the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (which was right across the street from where we were staying), visited the Killing Fields just outside of Phnom Penh and got to tour the Royal Palace and Museum. It is amazing and heart-wrenching to see the horror that went on here only 30 years ago. But I think the most amazing thing is how much Cambodians have bounced back. How after a history of such repression and violence they are some of the happiest and most accommodating people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Everywhere you go you are greeted with a smile. I truly am blown away. The history is there, but this is not a sad place, it is a place of hope.

After we left Phnom Penh we drove out to Sihanoukville for the weekend before heading out to Chamcar Bei to start work. Somehow we all managed to walk out of if with sunburns (no matter how much sunscreen some people used), but were happy to have a day to relax and get to talk to the local children. Of course they were trying to sell you their bracelets, fruit, and lobsters on the beach, but they were entertaining nonetheless.

When we were driving into the village the one thing that came to my mind was "perfect". Here is a place where life is simple, and quiet. It is absolutely beautiful. Our cook in the Red House where we are staying, Pha, is amazing. Her meals have been wonderful and we are learning as much from her as I would like to think she is from us.

Our first few nights in the Red House proved to be a test to our tolerance of creatures we don't usually deal with in Canada. Traveling in a group of seven girls and one guy has got to be tough for Adrian. The poor guy gets called upon anytime there is something that might give us the creeps, but he has been a trooper through it all. Lauren conquered a spider we had named Houdini (he kept on disappearing on us). She let out a very primitive sounding war cry before killing it, and I have to say, I am so glad to be traveling with that girl!

We bike ride to all of our job sites in the village. We love the work and luckily for us we can all find humor in some of the things that happen. So far, Lauren, Michelle and I have all suffered flat tires and at one point the seat on my bike fell off. And through all of this we were all offered helped by numerous Khmer people on our walk into town, one person is getting 2 free new tires because she is "satnah" which means pretty. On one of the rides home Carmen had the chain on her bike break right as she got back to the house, lucky her!

We have already completed one house for a family. Their house had burnt down and with it most of their possessions so they were definitely in need. Our first day there I was impressed at how well they took to us and how patient they were with all of us. For some of us (myself being one of them) it was the first time in a while to swing a hammer and instead of them getting frustrated with our sometimes ineptness they just laughed with us, gave us pointers (we have all become quite good at talking with our hands and motions!) and helped us through it. I think without the patience and understanding of our first family this trip would be a difficult one! They helped us all get our confidence with tools again and miraculously we finished our first house in 3 days. Which I have to say, is quite the feat! The walls on their house consisted of us nailing smaller trees to the frame. This created a bit of an obstacle for us sometimes as there were no ladders and by the end of the three days we were hanging off of the frame and nailing as if we had been doing it our whole lives.

I am so proud of the team, we have all adjusted wonderfully and have been putting our heart and soul into these projects and I would like to think it shows! At the end of our stay in the village we are all planning on going back to visit the family to pass on clothing and other items that will help them. Developing World Connections' host Partner Bridges Across Boarders, has a
Volunteer Assistant named Mr.Theary. He has been wonderful, along with the Family Dream Home Coordinator (I feel terrible but I cannot for the life of me remember how to spell or pronounce his name!). They have been on the work sites with us every day, laughing at us, with us, and helping us to learn some of the local language. "Lop lop" has become a common phrase amongst all of us (meaning crazy). The bike trails are lop lop, we are lop lop, the rain, the sun, pretty much anything. Every time we use Khmer language they smile and laugh and are so proud that they taught us something new!

We started our second house on Thursday afternoon and the bike trek proved to be a bit more of a challenge. We were riding in between rice paddies, along skinny, curvy trails, and through what we like to call a lake (it sounds cooler than a large puddle). This house shouldn't take quite as long as the siding is all thatching and requires to be wired onto the frame instead of nailed on! The first day we spent mixing cement in the rain, which had essentially cemeted my sandals onto my feet.

We are currently in Kampot for the weekend, staying at a Guest House called the Bodhi Villa. Of all things to be grateful for at the moment, it is definitely a shower!

I can't begin to say how thrilled I am that I decided to have this adventure. The people I am traveling with are all amazing, the local people are beyond belief and this country is amazing. I have no doubt in my mind that this will prove to be some of our best experiences we will have in this lifetime. Working alongside with people who truly want to better their lives and their situations is endlessly rewarding and it is easy to go to bed at night with smiles on our faces, feeling as if we have made a difference.
Until next weekend, keep fit and have fun! I know we will be!
- Joelle Risi
Developing World Connections Volunteer Participant

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