Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Welcome to my house!

My new home is a very fine house, undoubtedly one of the most desirable in Thmar Pouk village.

Situated mercifully away from the dusty main road (The North Circular), it’s conveniently located for local amenities such as the sprinkling of fruit & bucket stalls (Oxford Street) and the temple by the water (St Paul’s).

Designer wares are a short tube ride to the new market (Regent Street), whilst a gentle stroll along my road (Mayfair) takes you to the village entertainment district / cafe (Soho). Just round the corner is the reason I’m here, the slightly ramshackle health centre / hospital (Imperial College).

My new home is a traditional-style Cambodian ‘house on stilts’, though thankfully the lower floor and outside area are occupied by my hosts, the Da family, not the usual cows, pigs and hens. The matriarch and business-lady is Chhean, supported by her husband Sophal, the commune chief. Their three smiley daughters, Sreyeam, Isean and Inan are already booked in as my future English language students.

Downstairs at the back is my kitchen. Whilst lacking the modern conveniences of a fridge, oven or washing machine, it does boast an ice box, gas ring and tap, plus a metal food cupboard – which comes complete with state of the art anti-ant protection system (the cupboard legs stand in water-filled plastic bottles).

The bathroom is also at ground level, so I descend bleary-eyed each morning to a step, step, crunch soundtrack - there is rarely electricity early on, so sadly various poor creatures are crushed daily by my unseeing feet.

Once there, flushing the toilet with the bucket is good morning exercise, and the cold shower is a bracing start (the water is chilly in the morning, though of course by the time you want cooling at the end of a hot day the sun has warmed it nicely). And I won’t run short of water – the bathroom comes complete with a special mosquito-breeding reserve, which also doubles as a water storage tank.

Upstairs is lovely – off the large wooden-floored lounge is my bedroom, a spare for visiting guests (form an orderly queue), and the best bit of all, my balcony. From here I watch the morning procession of tractors, monks and dogs, safe in my protective breakfast bubble of bread, bananas and BBC World Service. This would also be a great place to watch the sun go down, if it wasn’t for the noise - Thmar Pouk in the evening is super-woofer central, thanks to booming speakers or howling dogs (apparently tolerated as they scare off ghosts; this may explain the music as well).

Tempted? There’s no postal delivery system in Cambodia (any mail for volunteers has to go to VSO’s post office box in Phnom Penh), so there’s little call for detailed addresses – but you’ll find me easily enough at Oly’s house, Thmar Pouk Commune, Thmar PoukVillage, Thmar Pouk District in Banteay Meanchay Province, Cambodia.

Look forward to seeing you soon!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Birthday Tea!

My second day in Thmar Pouk, December 8th, was my birthday.

Looking around my bare-walled house I decided I needed birthday treat – I would make myself... a NICE CUP OF TEA! Shouldn’t be difficult?

a) Tea bags. Hah! Bought them up from Phnom Penh.

b) Milk. Get that already too – this is going to be easy!

c) Water. Hmmm, stuff from the tap is already tea colour.

d) Speak to landlord in stuttering k’mai - he disappears.

e) Buy small bottle of water from stall opposite, but drink it down as thirsty.

f) Landlord reappears with big bottle of water – we’re in business!

g) Pan. The kitchen’s bare – a simple trip to the market?

h) Where’s the market? More faltering khmer. I think I’m being told there’s one round the corner

i) There is fruit and veg nearby, but I can’t seem to find the John Lewis kitchenware stall...

j) Anywhere else? Ask again – ahh, the *new* market is what I need – just a couple of kilometres away

k) How to get there? Has to be a first outing on my ‘new’ moto – please let it work / let there be enough petrol / let me find the way / let it be open

l) How much? Having got there and found an aluminium pan. I guess the Le Creuset’s were all sold out. Is aluminium poisonous? Anyway, I’m desperate to buy – but how much is it? “200”. 200? Eventually work out this is Thai baat – simply multiply by 100 to get 20,000 Cambodian riel, divide by 4,000 to get $5, and tweak a little to give you 3 or 4 quid. Brain aches too much to haggle. Time to go home for tea!

m) Gas. Grrrr. There’s a bottle but it’s empty.

n) Another begging trip to landlord, who disappears again.

o) Eventually someone appears with a new bottle (for a price).

p) Mug. Yep that’s me – why didn’t I think of getting something to drink it out of?

q) Never mind, just needs a little trip to the new market’s Selfridges bone china outlet stall.

r) Return with a couple of slightly grubby half pint glasses, soon polished up.

s) Result. It’s all come together at last: boil the clean water in the shiny pan using the new gas, pour over tea bag in new glass, add milk to taste, and I have a nice cup of birthday


Now, a slice of cake perhaps?