December 19, 2009

Notes From A Small Kingdom 10 - Cool Season


I am into the home stretch of my contract here, with only 6 weeks to go, and ironically am starting to get really busy as time runs out.  I have been doing much of the work of the Technical Advisor while they seek a replacement for the job, and now for a month I am acting Programme Manager in Ratanakiri.  This was meant to be a bit of a formality as most of the work that needs doing is what I am already coordinating, but it has quickly become apparent that there are plenty of urgent queries from London and the like, as well as routine staff and finance paperwork.

As a trainer I have not been much involved in operational matters, so its a challenge to open a spreadsheet and give sensible explanations for all the variances in spending and budget lines, or to draft revised targets in a project plan.  I have one advantage - I am now the longest serving expat in HU Cambodia!

Cool season has set in properly, with nights cool enough for the duvet, dust starting to fill the house, and a massive increase in the number of tourists around town.  It is a very good time to visit this part of the world.  The dust is much less than last year with the new bitumen road laid right through the town.

I've never really got over the dengue, with an endless run of infections .. the last was a flu which quickly turned my lungs to soup so that I’d wake at 3am every night unable to breathe, and cough for an hour. One night I was nearly over it, but hadn’t felt up to going to the market, so I went out to a restaurant for a feed of fresh vegetables.  The landlady hadn’t put the outside lights on and as I walked back in the front gate .. BANG – a snake latched onto my foot. I never saw what sort but as its fangs were 2cm apart it must have been a decent size.

That night was agony but by morning it was all settled.  A week later though, it swelled up and got all hot and red, probably an infection rather than venom, although its interesting to see that such tiny holes haven’t healed after a month.  I saw on tv that even highly venomous snakes don’t always inject, they prefer to save it for something edible.

Most of the staff have a bit of time-in-lieu or leave and they chose to take this week off, coincidentally its Christmas week, so while last year it was an ordinary working day this year I have no great need to be at work. I am still getting over doing the 2 way trip to Phnom Penh in 3 days last week, and not keen to get back in a bus, but if a looming sore throat doesn’t sap me too much I’ll go off in search of beaches and good food for a few days.

A couple of ‘scenes’ from the past week or so:

- Sitting on a mat in a thinly forested spot, to the right the roar of a waterfall, to the left two elephants trumpeting, in front a bunch of colleagues acting out in mime their project’s work, behind a semicircle of local indigenous people gazing on in baffled wonder.  Staff development Cambodia style.

- Last night, leading a bunch of adults and children in a sort of crazy line dancing to blasting Khmer pop under a stilt house. This was a follow on from drinks at work as a holiday farewell, great fun but can’t do it too often as it comes out of my pocket! (Later I realised the dance one was teaching the others was the Madison, so I went and put on “Nutbush City Limits” – they were unimpressed and put the Khmer dance music back on.)

I won’t put any photos in the post .. you can see some new ones in my gallery at

Well, have a good Christmas and all that, catch you next year,

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