Staff retreat

Things have been a bit stressful at work for the entire staff due to some pressure from the Government. One of the benefits and downsides of working for a human rights NGO is that things are always interesting. Things have settled down for the time being, and to ease some of the pressure and tension that had built up over the last month, management decided to treat everyone to a staff retreat.

As is often the case, I found out about this at the last minute. I was in a meeting with two of my colleagues and as we finished I proposed meeting again the next day. My manager looked at me with surprise in his eyes and said ‘but we are going on a staff retreat tomorrow’. I felt a little left out and asked in a round about way if this was just the paid staff or were the volunteers included also. He replied, with some confusion in his voice ‘it’s for everyone… Oh that’s right, I forgot to tell you about it!’

So the next morning I arrived at work nice and early at 7am as requested. Of course we didn’t leave for another 40 minutes but we were eventually on our way. I had asked one of my colleagues how long it would take. She told me longer than an hour. Three hours later we arrived at Thmor Rung Natural Resort, not far from Kirirom National Park. A beautiful river with rapids and a number of open wooden structures with grass roofs and plenty of hammocks. I had been uncertain about going. My experience of staff retreats involves team building games and lots of talking, not my idea of fun. But in Cambodia a staff retreat involves doing whatever you like. Most of the men played cards, we girls sat with our feet in the river chatting. I was desperate for a swim, but although I had brought my swimmers, I knew I’d be showing too much skin so I kept my clothes on.

During lunch I tired to explain to a colleague in Khmer that due to Australia’s size and varying climates, mangosteens and rambutans are plentiful and cheap in the north, and otherwise in the south. I was proud that she understood my very broken Khmer, but was not impressed when she repeated the entire thing to me in English. She could have mentioned she spoke English a lot earlier than that. After lunch I lay in a hammock reading.

All in all it was a very relaxing and enjoyable day, and one that made me feel more a part of the organisation than I had previously. The main focus of the organisation is advocacy, however my role is in development, so it’s easy to feel disconnected. My team’s office is very separate to those of the other teams, and although I’ve been there for about four months now, there are still people I’ve never met.

We returned home late in the afternoon. Half an hour into the drive all the men got out of the bus. I thought for a moment we were bogged and they were going to push us out, as it was raining very heavily and we were driving on dirt roads in a heavy bus. But then I registered that the driver had been the first to jump out. I looked behind me out the window and saw a long line of men and steady streams of yellow liquid. Public peeing, one of the many charms of Cambodian men, usually with their shirts pulled up over their bellies (Cambodian men are very proud of their beer bellies).

I arrived home three hours later than the estimated time, another norm here in Cambodia. The next day the mood in the office was notably lighter and jovial. And I now have a few more Facebook friends.

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