Gettin' to know the neighbors
Trip Start Jul 20, 2009
14Trip End Jul 24, 2011
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Where I stayed
Same house, current occupants just went up one: 12 people now
And yet despite those reasons, or maybe even for those reasons, there is a small expat community of about ten people in town, not what I was expecting. I was warned by the previous volunteer that lived here to be wary of working with the expats especially as most are working through religious organizations and that is a grey area for us Peace Corps volunteers
I must admit I was a bit wary of Scott at first. He seemed nice but what was his job exactly working with MCC? Could he be here on the pretense of converting Buddhists to Christianity? What did he think of Buddhists or Atheist Peace Corps volunteers for that matter? As I have gotten to know him over the past week I think I can fairly say that he is one of the most liberal missionaries I've ever met (haven't met many though) and seems to hold no judgment about the Khmer people or myself. As for the others in town though, he described them to me as follows: There's Miles and Ruth, a middle aged conservative married couple with two young boys that work for MCC as well; Sara and Keith, a young Australian couple, Sara works for an orphanage and Keith just recently moved here a month ago to be with her; Catherine, a 26-year-old volunteer that works at the same orphanage as Sara; Rob, a middle aged ex-VSO worker that is a recluse after his English school was closed last year and now “lives” with his young male gardener; two Italians that keep to themselves but their house can be recognized by the giant Catholic church beside it; and lastly a couple of Singaporeans that run the Christian Hope Village Orphanage on the waterfront
I hadn't met any of them before I met Scott though the next day I ran into Ruth at the youth center by my house where I use the internet which apparently MCC helps fund. Ruth rode up on her bike, quickly introduced herself, invited me over for dinner, then rushed off to give one of he biweekly English lessons to the all-Christian staff. She seemed nice and I'm sure I'll know more about her after tonight's dinner.
I was actually more eager to meet the Aussies, especially after hearing from Scott that they all usually hang out on the weekends and share a bottle of wine. I was definitely not expecting to have anything close to a nightlife here let alone people to talk to in English and compare stories with about adapting to Cambodian culture. So Scott arranged a dinner for me to meet them at a restaurant by Sara's house, a place that had a large cauldron in the middle of the table to cook your own bits of steak and veggies with a large pint of cold beer to go with it, fantastic. The Aussies are a pretty laid back bunch though that should not to be mistaken for laziness. They are very passionate about their work at the orphanage which has just under 50 kids and only 2 boys in a swarm of little girls all under the age of 16. They tried to recruit me to help with English lessons or arts and crafts but I didn't need much convincing since I couldn't think of a better way to involve myself in a secondary project or for a better cause
It felt strange to be sitting around a table with a bunch of barangs in Prey Veng of all places, drinking beer and staying out after dark, talking about how we ended up here and trying to figure out what happens after Cambodia. It wasn't until 9:30 that we left to go home, Catherine and I riding our bikes while Scott rode his moto behind us to light the way on the deserted roads. It was the first time I had been out after dark and the town had changed completely. It seemed peaceful yet threatening as restaurants by day turned into karaoke bars (otherwise known as brothels) by night and blared Khmer pop music that resembled Britney Spears or The Backstreet Boys accompanied by drunken singing. Dogs howled and became fiercely territorial, streaming out of front gates and chasing us until we no longer seemed a threat. Mosquito nets and hammocks lined the balconies as whole families slept outside, children poking their heads out to watch us pass.
When we arrived at my house the lights were off and a padlock was on the front gate. I was momentarily baffled as to what to do, I didn't want to call my host mother and wake her up and I definitely didn't want to bang on the gate to wake up the shack-full-of-boys. Scott gave me a leg up over the ten foot gate and I stumbled my way through the dark to the front door. My key wouldn't turn but I could hear my host mother stirring under her mosquito net by the door. She turned on a light, eyes squinting and suddenly I felt like a 16-year-old trying to hide the beer on her breath and explain the boy with the moto, the word mortified doesn't come close. Scott made a few bows and apologies then quickly sped off as she wheeled my bike into the kitchen and I mumbled about another hundred apologies then sheeped off to bed. Not until the next morning did she explain that the electricity had gone out, hence no lights, and the boys must have thought that meant that we were already in bed so they locked the gate. We had a good laugh, some nods and smiles, I'm sure it will happen again.