October 29, 2008

Part 4 - Home sweet home - 21/11/2008

I had a trip down to Phnom Penh, mainly to interview applicants for a new project (Maternal Health Rights), and took the chance to shop for household stuff like better quality cookware and glasses that’s hard to find in Ban Lung. The social responsibilities of such a trip are mind boggling - my mate Colin arrived back the same day, and three new volunteers on the Friday, it all adds up to a lot of bar-hours, and not much bed-hours. AVI organised a sunset ‘booze cruise’ on the river to welcome the vols and a visitor from head office, and this segued into a party at a magnificent bar on the waterfront opposite town, then another with a bunch of Australian Youth Ambassadors at a place in town… After a week of this I needed to get home for a holiday.

Small world syndrome struck again .. I was sitting with Col in a restaurant and was distracted by the side/back view of a guy walking past, one of those silly ‘they look familiar moments’, took a while to trace the memory to a guy called Toby from Harare days, but no, trick of the mind. Two days later I came out of my hotel and set off down the street, a voice called “Tony?”. I turned to see a strange woman (no, a normal woman that I didn’t recognise, not a strange .. oh, forget it) who saw my blank look and said “were you in Zimbabwe? .. Peterborough Lodge .. from Canada .. I married Toby .. my hair was red then” .. I do remember her, not well as we only met a couple of times, but the guy I saw was Toby, the vol who took over running the education camp on the Zambezi where I canoed with hippos. Not long after being dragged out of bed at 3am with a gun to his head he decided to move on. We got together for a drink; he’s doing natural resource surveys in the Cardamoms now. Gives you a weird timewarp feeling.

I’ve gone through the tiring process of shopping for household goods and settling into the house, got a gas bottle and water filter, strung up the mozzie net and so on. I installed a new power outlet and light by my bed - if I turned off the power I cut off the landlord as well, so I wired it ‘hot’. I’m getting used to this - in Thailand I completely rewired a house, and putting in the main switch had to be done with live wires, which was a bit tricky as there was some old splices to remove and very heavy cable - there was a little ‘arc welding’, which added excitement to the day. I put the light on the wall low over the bed for reading, and the way it lights the net from inside is actually quite cosy and romantic, like a 4 poster.

The water filter is a large ceramic pot which sits in a bucket, you fill the pot and the water seeps through the clay and collects below. Some of my roof drains into the header tank, but the main water supply is pumped from a well. Most houses have a well, and most have a septic tank; you can see the need for the filter.

I have moved one block, and into a new time zone … in my concrete hotel I was well insulated and continued my usual daily routine, but the house with its thin plank walls and usually open windows is not much soundproof, and daily life kicks off in my neighbourhood around 4:30am, with dogs, roosters, families, vehicles and pots and buckets all joining the cacophony. I am waking (and going to bed) about 2 hours earlier than before, but some sleeps wind up a bit short for my liking. The water ran out one night and the pump was started about 4:45 one morning, it is right next to my bed and sounded like a huge storm hitting, an abrupt end to my z blowing.

The house is pretty luxurious really, apart from the standard of some of the work you really couldn’t ask much more, except for insect proofing and maybe some insulation. I was telling my boss that I had the hot shower working, and his wife got in on the act, sharing with him her thoughts on the fact that theirs doesn’t work. He fled back to the office. But when I told him I can access the internet from home, he got really steamed. He is keen to move himself, largely because of a persistent rat problem. I try to tell him there’s money to be made - see the article at the bottom…

[I’ve added photos of the house to http://tonyhobbs.webs.com/tony/gallery/ratanakiri.htm ]

I didn’t need to find a maid, one found me pretty quick. She is the sister of Sal who has a restaurant in my street. Like my landlords she speaks no English so I have more incentive to practice Khmae. Sal went with me to the market to shop for cleaning stuff, and hopefully now I can go back and get reasonable prices at the same stalls. Tooling along on my moto with a woman sidesaddle on the back gripping 2 buckets, a huge tub, broom, mop, plates, bowls, basket and sundry tools and soaps, I started to feel a bit local.

Of course, the traffic in Cambodia is pretty hectic, with road rules treated as a suggestion only and a lot of pragmatism involved. We used to be impressed by the ‘Holden Precision Driving Team’ doing four car crossovers in an arena, but here the same manoeuvre is a simple daily routine, especially at the “Ugly Monument” in the centre of the main crossroads in town. Like the Thais (and unlike the Viets) people are very tolerant and cooperative, so as long as they can see what you’re up to, you can push in pretty much anywhere, and when you make a mistake you are likely to get off unscathed, others will just dodge you and grin. Crossing main roads on foot is an acquired skill, basically you have to ignore the traffic and move steadily with no sudden stops and starts, and the traffic flows around you. It’s a bit the same when driving. Unfortunately this push and go mentality leads to some nasty gridlock in Phnom Penh.

Ban Lung, like most towns, has a large number of ‘karaoke bars’, which do in fact offer this disgusting pastime, and sell booze, but only as a prelude to the real business of commercial sex. I’ve seen cars pulling up at one of these and collecting girls; I’m not sure if they offer full service on the premises as well as wine and song.

I went down to Sal’s one night, being the only visitor I sat with her under the house rather than going down the back to the new restaurant building. There was a woman lurking behind a pillar in the dark, peeking out occasionally; eventually she emerged and sat down but stayed silent and watchful. Later Sal told me that this woman was offered a job as a housemaid by a man who came to her village, so she came to Ban Lung but found herself expected to work at a karaoke bar. After 2 days she ran away and went down my street asking at various houses if she could sleep for a night .. all sent her packing until Sal let her stay. Hopefully she’s home now.

There are big road and drainage works happening on the main road into town, which is where our office is. Its long overdue and has been in progress for over a year, but they look pretty serious about it at the moment. How far they will go I don’t know - will there be bitumen? That would be really good. Meantime they are using a vibrating roller and each time it passes the whole office bounces around like some frenetic amphetamine driven earthquake has struck, rattling teeth and eyeballs in their sockets.

I’ve been trying to set up a small computer network (without much success) and changing the Windows product key on various pcs running pirate software (with more luck). I need to look at antivirus as we have a few worms in the system. For the moment I’m finished with my recruiting duties, but there’s more vacancies so I may get a Guernsey again.

I’m keeping to the tradition of living in ‘interesting times’. I was happy enough to arrive here a week after the latest elections, so all the ballyhoo was done, but now they’ve picked a fight with Goliath next door. The century of tension over ownership of the Preah Vihear historical site is breaking into firefights with the Thai army. Although this Angkor era temple has been affirmed as Cambodia’s under international law, it has long been much more accessible from the Thai side and many tourists have visited by crossing the border. Upset by Cambodia’s move to register the temple as a World Heritage site, the Thai government decided to occupy the area and our guys bit back. Last time the Thai gov’t upset the locals there were riots in Phnom Penh and the Thai embassy was attacked, so many Thais have fled the country.

The wet season is drawing to a close (with major flooding again in central Vietnam I thought we might see a bit more than the odd sprinkle we’ve had), but there’s still a sting in its tail - lunchtime today a squall came through with (unusually) strong winds and rain. Lightning struck very close to my house, and now there is no power or internet. The office has a generator but not many houses do. The town cable tv is dead but doesn’t matter to me - I unplugged my tv too late and it got fried, its stone dead now.

The roadworks have created an 80 cm drop outside our gate, and now the road is turning to claggy mud - when I walk along I gradually get taller as the clay sticks to my thongs and steadily turns then into platforms .. sort of Fred Flintstone does the 70’s .. but they get very heavy and start to drag.



Poor struggle as rat meat prices soar

Posted Wed Aug 27, 2008

The price of rat meat has quadrupled in Cambodia this year as inflation puts other meat beyond the reach of poor people, officials say.

With consumer price inflation at 37 per cent according to the latest central bank estimate, demand has pushed a kilogram of rat meat up to around 5,000 riel ($1.48).  Spicy field rat dishes with garlic thrown in have become particularly popular at a time when beef costs 20,000 riel a kilogram.

Officials say rats are fleeing to higher ground from flooded areas of the lower Mekong Delta, making it easier for villagers to catch them.

"Many children are happy making some money from selling the animals to the markets, but they keep some for their family," Ly Marong, an agriculture official said.

"Not only are our poor eating it, but there is also demand from Vietnamese living on the border with us." He estimates that Cambodia supplies more than a tonne of live rats a day to Vietnam.Rats are also eaten widely in Thailand, while a state government in eastern India this month encouraged its people to eat rats in an effort to battle soaring food prices and save grain stocks.   - Reuters


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