Tuesday was the Queen’s birthday, so we did not have work again. Instead, we planned a trip to Mount Tamao, a region about 40 kilometers away from Phnom Penh that had a zoo. We arrived at CSSD at 6am on Tuesday morning, after a long walk through the flooded streets, and met about half of the staff that would be joining us on that day. The other half, most of the condom promotion team, would meet us a few kilometers away. One of their staff is a tuk tuk driver, so they would be getting driven by him. Hongkry and Vanna, who were on the staff last year, also joined us! After seeing them in pictures and hearing the last team’s stories, I was so excited to meet them!
To get to our destination, it would be an hour and a half ride on the back of a motobike. I was as excited for this ride as I was for the rest of the day! I rode with Vanna, who was an excellent driver. After getting out of Phnom Penh, especially after one particularly bumpy and wet road, we were on our way through the country. Before we got out of the city, Vanna got a call telling him to wait up! As we learned later, some of the other staff members had stopped for breakfast, but we were unaware! We stopped by the side of the road and got to chat. It was nice to have a moment to bond with Vanna before we spent the next hour together on his motobike!
The country side was beautiful and it was nice to get away from the dust and pollution of the city. It didn’t rain at all that day, though we were nervous it would. It is another way to experience Cambodia, driving down the road, waving and talking to your friends on other motobikes, looking up and seeing the open sky before and after you. It was nice to be at peace and with my thoughts for a little bit like that, while enjoying the scenery and the wind in my hair.
Our motobike gang arrived at the zoo a few minutes before the tuk tuk did. After taking some group pictures with a statue, Jackie was brave enough to ask if she could learn to drive a motobike. A feeling of apprehension spread through our Khmer hosts, but after a moment Mr. Chanthan stepped up and bravely allowed Jackie to try his bike. After showing her what to press in order to start and stop, Jackie got the front seat while Mr. Chanthan stayed in the back of the bike, guiding her. After a loop, the tuk tuk arrived and we all got on the backs of the motobikes we came on.
The zoo was in the middle of the forest and we drove between exhibits, ie large cages or fenced off areas. I did touch a monkey’s foot and Mr. Chanthan, who loves monkeys, petted a lot of monkey feet. At one cage, the monkey tried to grab him, but the monkeys at the other cages seemed to enjoy the foot rub.
After going around and seeing some animals I have never seen and some that I have, we stopped to eat lunch. Like in Oudong, there were raised platforms with mats and hammocks. As some of the staff started to prepare lunch, someone suggested the GROW team learn how to ride the motobikes.
Mr. Chanthan sat in the back of his bike as Jackie drove around again and then let her ride on her own! The area we were in had some vendors selling food, drinks, and toys and there was a good amount of dirt roads for us to drive on. It wasn’t so crowded at 9:00am, so there was plenty of room. As we watched and waited for Jackie to finish her turn, I asked another staff member, Geo, to teach me. He was enthusiastic to do so! He speaks only a little bit of English and his main teaching point, referring to both the brake and the gas, was “A little bit, a LITTLE bit, A LITTLE BIT!” After a lap around the lunch area together, his hands on the steering and the brake, it was my turn to go on my own.
I had never driven a motobike before, but I loved driving cars and I loved riding on motobikes, so I knew I would enjoy this experience. You have to flow with the bike, swaying your body the direction of your turn, instead of making hard turns with the handlebars, I quickly learned. Geo’s bike was fun to ride and though I was nervous about the cost of replacing or repairing it if I crashed, my ride went rather smoothly. I made a few laps, experimented with tight and wide turns, and drove happily around the complex. Jackie was soon on Sam’s bike (our nickname for Sam Aun) and Megan and Nabgha took turns riding Mr. Chanthan’s bike. I had so much fun zooming around on that Cambodian summer day.
Then it was time for lunch. We had fried fish, chicken with some ants in the seasoning, rice-field crab, snails, and rice rice rice, among sauces and other additions. Up at 6, we started lunch around 9:30 and I was ravenous, as I hadn’t eaten breakfast. We laid the food out in the middle and sat around it, eating and laughing and toasting and CHEERS! As everyone was getting full, we went around the circle telling jokes (some punchlines got lost in translation, but we all agreed to laugh at each other’s jokes, even if we didn’t get them.) There were about sixteen of us, all sitting around and laughing and translating and gesturing. I felt as though I was at a family dinner, just soaking in the company along with the warm sun.
After lunch, it was suggested we drive on the motobikes again. I used Geo’s again, but there were more school groups, families, and people in the area now, so I had to be careful to go slowly and only use the acceleration A LITTLE BIT. It was a short ride this time and when I parked (successfully) the staff members were in groups, playing cards.
Nabgha, Jackie, and I joined Geo, Ty, Try, and Rhut in their circle. We watched as they played a game which we weren’t familiar with. We started to pick up on the rules and eventually partnered up with the staff members. It was fun to sit and relax and joke and strategize with them, mostly through hand gestures and sounds.
After a long round of card games, we decided to go on a walk. It was the GROW team, Lizzie, Geo, Seab, and Rhut. We walked around, saw more animals, and enjoyed our time together. It was about 3:00pm by now and very hot. After our walk, we hung around the hammock area again with the staff, watching Sophanny’s elephant dance and listening to Khmer banter. Soon, it was time to clean up and go. Geo is a DJ at a nightclub and he invited the whole staff to come out that night. I was excited to go, but ready to take a shower and leave my backpack at home. However, it was decided that the whole staff would just go to the club as is, (it opens at noon!) without going home and changing.
I rode on Rhut’s motobike home, because Vanna would not be joining us at the nightclub. It was another beautiful journey, though dusty. We were one of the three motobikes that stopped at Geo’s home so he could change before his DJ shift. As we waited outside, Lizzie and I wiped a full layer of brown dust off of our faces with facewipes. I was sweating and dust-covered, with a backpack and flip-flops, standing in a Phnom Penh neighborhood waiting for my DJ friend to change so we could all go to the club at 5:00pm on a Tuesday. This was not a place I expected to be a year ago. And I loved every single moment of it. After a few minutes, Geo came out and it was off to the High Club.
Inside, it was dark and the music was already loud and blasting with a respectably-sized crowd of Khmer youth dancing away. We sat on some couches, got some beer, and tried to wrap our minds around the situation. The group went from sitting and moving a bit, to standing and dancing, to getting out on the dance floor and rocking it. When Geo came on, he started off with some slow songs and then switched over to some Snoop Dog-type music. It was fun to see how everyone danced, as most people had their own unique style. It was interesting to see the people I taught English to, who I know from the office, people like my boss, the executive director, goofing off and dancing. Soon it was getting late and Mr. Chanthan asked us if we wanted to go home. Nabgha answered patiently, “Wait a second Mr. Chanthan, first let me drop it like its hot.”
We were driven home by some of the staff members. It was my first time doubling up as a passenger, meaning Nabgha and I were both getting driven home by Sam on his bike. It was nice to get into the cool air, though my ears rang until the next day. After getting dropped off at our hotel, we decided to go get dinner at one of our favorite places to eat, the Laughing Fatman. We ate our burgers (veg!) and fries and Megan and Jackie fell asleep on the tuk tuk ride home. Only Megan and I managed to shower that night, as Jackie and Nabgha laid down and passed out immediately upon arrival.
June 18th will definitely be one of my favorite days in Cambodia. I feel so much closer to the staff, to my GROW team, and I have many, many more fond memories of Phnom Penh and Cambodia. It was a long day, but I enjoyed every moment of it. Thank you thank you thank you!
With much GlobeMed and GROW love,