Inspired Words

These are the experiences of our volunteers in Cambodia.

July 10: The Weather Breaks!

Posted in Cambodia on July 10, 2014

On what was supposed to be our final work day, we were all a bit on edge because we wanted to work, but the weather had stymied us for two days and we were wondering if we'd have any chance at all.  There was rain overnight and, when I awoke, it looked like it had just stopped raining.  We all met for breakfast and it sprinkled just a bit--as we could see in the swimming pool--but the clouds didn't look as threatening and the wind wasn't so strong as in the last two days.

The forecast was still not good, so we left at 0800 hoping to get a chance.  When we arrived at the work site, our little bridge was totally submerged and we had to take another way around that included zig-zagging on the little levies that separate the rice paddies east of the houses.  As you walk along these, little frogs jump into the paddies and there were ducks enjoying the rains as well.  Cows are everywhere in rural (and urban) Cambodia, so we passed a few of them as well.

As usual, the families were there to great us, shake our hands and thank us for the work.  Jay was using a hatchet to turn a couple of branches and some leftover wood into scaffolding--some seriously impressive innovation--and Mr Song was helping him.  We started mixing mortar right away and went to work finishing the bricklaying.  Winston and I shoveled mud into the gaps around the concrete cylinders, too, while Mr Song leveled the mud/dirt inside the latrine and we distributed the base granite stones evenly and marked on the interior walls where the cistern containment would be.

The work went quickly except for a couple of frustrations with deciding how high to go and the correct slope for the roof.  Just as at the other site the previous week, I would put up bricks, Jay would tell me they were too high or that a vent was going into that spot, then a few minutes later, Mr Song would come over and tell Jay and me that we needed to go higher or that something else had to be fixed.

This touches on the whole translation thing.  With Vy working at the other site, we did seven days of work with no common language.  Jay knew "yes," "no," and "okay" in English, and I knew only "thank you," "hello," "goodbye" and how to count to five in Khmer.  This made for an excellent immersion experience for the cadets (and good patience training for me), but in the end it did cost us time and work.

We finally settled on heights and slopes, though, and soon began stuccoing the exterior of the latrine.  We had some mix issues (too thin) to begin, but those were solved quickly and Dan, Annie, and I got to work--with Tiem helping us, Jay finishing the top of the bricks, and Winston mixing.  The ladies and girls were constantly hauling new buckets of stucco to us when they weren't presenting us with fresh coconuts to drink with a straw or holding out baskets of fresh bananas and rambutan.  The other team didn't have as much support as we did and one less worker, so they were a bit frustrated and behind, but still happy to be moving along.

The weather continued to hold and was overall as pleasant or more so than Monday, with a nice breeze and overcast but light skies.  We worked hard and long, getting as much done as possible before breaking for lunch just after noon.  We drove to the Vines and everyone agreed that this should be our shortest lunch of the trip--we were all anxious to get back to work before the rains came again. Lunch included morning glories deep fried in a light eggy batter as well as another delicious soup and the ever-present rice.  We settled up for the additional drinks quickly and were back to work well before 1330.

From here on, both teams worked almost non-stop until 1730.  We had the usual breaks for iced-coffee and bananas, but those didn't last long.  Even Jay was taking fewer smoke breaks as we all thought that the rain would arrive at any moment--but it didn't.

After getting most of the exterior walls done, Jay and I went to work finishing them--Tiem worked on one wall himself--then Annie and Dan moved inside to start stuccoing there.  Winston kept us in stucco all afternoon and did some of that himself when we was ahead of the game.

And so the afternoon went--smoothing and evening the sides until they were flawless using a wet sponge and a straw broom as the finishing touches.  By 1700, it looked like we were going to finish the outside walls completely and that the basic coats of stucco would be done inside, too.  The other team found a stopping point and came over to see our work--it was also on the way back to the van since we now walked an alternate route.  Jay and Tiem moved inside the latrine to do finished work and I helped for awhile, but it was obvious that we'd hit our stopping point and it was time to go by about 1715.  Mr Song and Vy assured us that the workers would be able to finish everything on Friday and that it was okay to leave, so we began saying out goodbyes to the family (grandma, two of the three sisters, and three granddaughters) who'd been feeding us so well.  We took photos and had our hands shaken about a hundred times.  It was just a superb ending to two weeks of work and everyone clearly appreciated the entire experience.

On the way back to the hotel, we decided that we would, in fact, wade out to the Kep Crab for photos.  I set the camera up for Vy and as we arrived it looked like the tide was going out and that we'd have no trouble getting there from the narrow, but sandy, shoreline.  Winston and I took off our boots and waded in socks because of the many rocks, a couple of the cadets kept their shoes on, and we started the meter wade to the base of the Crab.

Vy took the first set of photos and then we decided (on Dan's urging and demonstration) that we could climb onto the platform.  Luke found a couple of large, strategically place rocks near the platform and we were able to swing ourselves up.  Luke and Hansena climbed farther up the Crab and we took another round of photos.  After that, Dan climbed down and scouted the bottom to find a sandy section not too far away from the platform and I jumped off, seat first, landing easily in the shallow water--rock free.  The others followed suit and we were all wading back in a few seconds.

When we got to the road, we all realized that we didn't want to get into Dee's van and mess it all up, so the cadets decided to run back to the hotel--about a half mile.  So, we made a very interesting picture to the locals as seven fully-clothed but soaking wet people were jogging along the seashore's sidewalk, squishing with every step.

We were back to the hotel by 1830 and decided to go out to one last dinner at Holy Crab that night, leaving at 1915.  On our way over, though, Vy called us to say that Holy Crab wasn't open on Thursdays, so we chose our second favorite restaurant in Kep--La Baraka.

We were seated outside at Lar Baraka on their upper deck and had ordered drinks and were enjoying them.  Everyone was very pleased with their day amazed that the time had gone so fast.  Suddenly, though, our luck ran out and we heard the "plop, plop" of a few big raindrops and then suddenly it was like someone had turned on a shower head directly above us.  We were drenched in a matter of seconds and sent scurrying inside with our drinks.  The staff, though, was very accommodating and found us a table within minutes.  We'd beaten the rain on our final work day and it all felt good.  Everyone was so tired that dessert was ruled out and everyone went straight to their rooms upon return to the hotel. Here's the slide show from today--I'm up to almost 5000 shots for the trip.

All the Best,

Marty France
USAFA Faculty Chaperone & DWC Volunteer
Kep, Cambodia: July 2014

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