First week in Cambodia! After what was pretty much a day and a half of flying, I made it into Siem Reap around midnight last Sunday, utterly exhausted, but completely pleased to be here. Immediately the air smelled familiar – at night here a heady mixture of humid foliage, heavy flowers, packed, sandy dust, and the faint tiredness of diesel fumes. I tuk-tukked to my guesthouse in town in the quiet darkness (which, a week later, feels like home) and slept immediately, meaning that the next morning I was up and ready, and jetlag-free (against all odds).
Jesuit Refugee Service and the Cambodia Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Bombs is located at Metta Karuna Reflection Centre, just outside the main town of Siem Reap. The Centre is a beautiful, peaceful space, with large grounds and flowers tumbling off the roofs of the buildings dotting the area – a well-stocked library, an interfaith centre, and dormitories for visitors. My desk is directly on the main office’s front verandah, and usually I have one of the many new puppies laying at my feet while I work during the day. At lunch everyone gathers in the dining area to eat together – usually a sweet and sour soup filled with greens or mint, as well as rice, and either sweet dried fish, a tofu or pork stew, or fried fish with salted soy nuts on top. It’s always delicious, and I’m learning a couple of Khmer words from it – rice, bowl, cup, and thank you!
I hit the ground running – in the first two days laying out workplans for assisting with research for the Cluster Munitions Monitor, preparing posters and other advocacy materials for April 4th – International Day for Mine Awareness, and making plans to venture out into rural Cambodia early next week with Reth and Kosal (ICBL ambassadors) to observe a political meeting on mine action. Not to mention, on my first day, my coworker Sopheak invited me to his wedding next week, and I got to spend an afternoon with the head of Halo Trust’s Cambodia team, one of their doctors, and the Cluster Munitions Monitor researcher, who is also a New York Times journalist. Suffice to say, it was a full and busy few days, and I’m hoping that I’m just absorbing all the conversations I’ve had with this series of really fascinating people.
I’m lucky for this to be my second time in Cambodia, and there is an unexpected easy familiarity being back here again. Siem Reap has changed a bit since my visit 3 years ago – a plethora of tourists visiting Angkor Wat (only 6 km out of town) fill the streets and the many, many cafes and bars. I’m going to try and get a bicycle so that I can explore more, and escape the crowds. But the positive side to that is that there is a lot happening: I was able to join the spectators at “Angkor Arena” for Siem Reap’s inaugural international kickboxing match (fight? I don’t know the correct words for these). It was wild to be part of the mostly-local crowd, who enthusiastically cheered for their favourites. Further, there are fairs in the vicinity that the local staff at my guesthouse go to (they’ve said they’ll take me sometime), and free Khmer language classes on weekends that I can’t wait to start. It’s absolutely sweltering here but only going to get hotter until the weather breaks for the rain in probably June.
Not a bad start, I think!