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Yesterday I posted on Facebook this photo of myself and the cute one day old kitten in our office in the village.

This morning we walked into the office to be told that his mother had been hit by a car earlier that morning. The staff were feeding him, but the food wasn’t great and we (I say we, but my colleague’s concern was much greater than my own as she had nursed two abandoned kittens before without success) were very worried about him. It wasn’t possible for either of us to take him back to Phnom Penh. So we left the office with heavy hearts and no kitten.

But upon returning to The Vine we were told that the staff here would be able to look after him. So after lunch I jumped in The Vine’s big army green coloured four-wheel drive and we rushed back to the office at breakneck speed (or so it felt to me, it was probably only 60k/h). I ran inside to rescue the little kitty who was still alive and seemed well. The driver had seemed a little confused and unimpressed when he had been told where he was driving me and why, but as soon as I climbed back in the truck with the itty bitty kitten he crooned ‘oooh, toooic’ which means ‘oooh, small’.

We then drove the very short distance to the market where they had no kitty formula (expected) and no baby formula (unexpected). They also had no eye droppers so we settled for a baby bottle, although it would be too big. I was then advised to go to the pharmacy, but upon arrival we found they couldn’t help us either. We decided in the end to get condensed milk and see how we went from there.

It started pouring rain on the drive back and it was an incredibly jumpy ride. I tried to hold the kitten still, but he insisted on trying to climb all over me, his little face with his closed eyes nudging at my neck, presumably trying to find food. He also covered my beautiful kroma (a Khmer scarf pictured below) with yellow poo.

Upon our return the staff rushed into action, one of the men heated water to add to the milk, then cooled it down checking the temperature regularly. We then started feeding, I had the honours, but I could see how interested the boys were, so I handed the task over to them.

It soon became obvious that this wouldn’t work, it was too big. So they resorted to spoon feeding him.

After feeding him we looked for Nisa, The Vine’s resident cat, in the hope that she would clean him and take care of him. I laid him on the ground wrapped in my kroma and stood back to see what would happen. Nisa stared at him warily for some time. I had to run downstairs to get my computer and when I came back Nisa was smelling him, but she ran away when she saw me and hasn’t come back.

A friend on Facebook suggested a syringe, and I happen to have my medical kit on me. What else could the syringe be for but to feed orphaned kittens? He’s being looked after by the staff now. Hopefully he makes it through the night! I’ll let you know.

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I did it the wrong way round. For five months I have been trying to accompany my colleagues as they go out to work on their different projects. My job is to write up the entire project from beginning to end. I have to break it down into a manual so they have it in written form to replicate in another village. To do this I need to have a very deep understanding of the project and how it is implemented.

I decided that the best way to do this was to shadow each of my colleagues and then interview them about their particular project. I thought it would be best this way as they would know me better, and I would understand how their project works before interviewing them.

But it just never worked properly. At first I kept being given documents to edit, then my colleagues would go out, forgetting I was to accompany them. Other times I was told I would be bored, and that I should stay in the office. Sometimes I felt in the way, and sometimes someone would completely forget to pick me up. I was getting fed up, and not a little bit depressed. I had come here to work, to learn, to help in whatever way I can. I was feeling completely useless.

An outside party has shown some interest in a particular project of ours, and I was asked to prioritise this project and write a small manual on it. So I travelled to the village, and spent an afternoon visiting houses with C (see previous post). The next afternoon I sat down with C and another colleage, S*, and interviewed them about the project for three hours. It was unbelievably productive. About ten minutes in, S looked at me in a way that said ‘oh, so this is why you’re here!’

I’d done it all the wrong way around. I had thought that by watching and spending time with my colleagues I would learn about the project in a practical way before examining it in an academic way. But while I built good friendships with my colleagues, I think I left them completely confused as to my role here. They couldn’t understand why I was doing that. To me it was the natural way to approach my work, but it was completely foreign to my Khmer colleagues.

Let’s hope that from now on it all works much better.

*Not his real name

Note: I have spent the last week trying to decide if it should be ‘The Wrong Way Round’ or ‘The Wrong Way Around’. Does it matter? Have I wasted all my mental energy on a trivial matter, or was this anguish warranted?

C* is a very quiet man. I’m not sure if he’s shy, or if it’s due to his lack of confidence in English. He’s younger than me, always smiling, and has a very graceful way of moving. I’ve not spent much time with him as I’ve been concentrating on writing up another part of the project. But outside parties are interested in the work he does, and so I tell him I need to spend some time with him to write some of it up.

I tell him, through T** the volunteer coordinator, that I would like to shadow him for the next few days, see how he works, and learn more about his particular project. He smiles and beckons to me to climb onto the back of his moto. I’ve just arrived from Phnom Penh and so still have my very heavy backpack containing my clothes, toiletries, and computer, but think I’ll survive carrying it around a little longer.

At first he takes me to the CVTC (Community Vocational Training Centre), where the house I sometimes stay in is located. I realise he thinks I want to be dropped there and I try to explain in my very broken Khmer that I want to stay with him to watch and learn, meul neung rien. He understands and we jump back on his moto and spend the next few hours visiting ten different households spread throughout the village, it’s a very large village spread out over a lot of space, and it’s so lush and green.

At the first home we visit I recognise some of the children from the last time I visited the school. They stand with their parents, all staring at me, while C tells them that he would like them to go to the CVTC at 2pm the next day to collect some free school supplies for the children (I was very excited that I understood it!). They quietly nodded, still staring at me. One of the naked children being held by his mother wees onto her clothes. She ignores it, still staring. C turns to me and says I may now ask my questions. I panic a little and say again ‘meul neung rien’. He seems to understand and we get back on the bike.

We visited houses in the middle of rice fields that required balancing between the different fields to walk from the road to the house. I nearly lost my balance a few times, but the worst I suffered was some spikes from a large bush embedded in my thighs and calves. They came out easily enough, but itched for a few days.

Some of the roads were so potholed and precarious that I nearly offered to get off and walk quite a few times, but he always managed to navigate them. At some houses they happily talked with me, or just smiled. Others eyed me nervously and distrustfully.

After five months of traveling between the office, the CVTC, and The vine (the hotel where I now stay when I’m in the village), it was wonderful to get out and see a lot more of the village and the beautiful countryside I live in every second week.

*Not his real name
** Also not his real name

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.

Have I ever mentioned how clumsy and absent minded I can be? How prone to hurting myself I am? Well I can, and I am, and I’ll give you some examples.

A few weeks ago I went to a birthday weekend in Kep. Initially I wasn’t going to go, but as I was in the village during that time anyway I decided to go. And I’m so glad I did. We went swimming in a secret lake, ate ice cream sandwiches, and stuffed ourselves full of crab.

I also spent an entire night dancing. Literally, it was 5am when I went to bed. A night of pool wrestling and dancing. It was wonderful, I never dance. It terrifies me and I always wish I could. That night I said ‘screw it’, and I danced.

Of course, the next day I had to face the consequences. I limped for a week and a half and couldn’t turn my head for a few days. Walking down stairs was nearly impossible.

When I finally recovered on a tuesday morning whilst walking to breakfast I scuffed my toe on a very sharp bit of concrete ripping a good amount of skin off the toe. That took about a week to heal.

Last week I went to the village again. I was staying in a different location than usual which is too far for my colleagues to pick me up on their way to work. So I hired a bicycle. It took me 30 minutes to ride to the office and it was a very enjoyable trip. The majority of the trip was dirt road with some sealed road towards the end. The ride home was quite different. My sit bone (nice way of saying my arse) ached as it had been unaccustomed to sitting on a bicycle seat. I also realised that one of the reasons the trip into work had been so enjoyable was that it was very slightly downhill. Meaning the return trip was very slightly uphill. I am not very fit, and it took me an hour and a half to ride back. At points I had to get off and walk as it hurt too much to sit on the bike (may I add that the trip is about 10km long).

Just as I neared my destination I noticed that it was slightly downhill. Excited I jumped on my bike again. I built up speed very quickly, it was so exhilarating! I turned the corner, slowing down slightly, and then noticed the speed bump. It was too late by the time I saw it and as I hit it I veered off the road and was stopped by a banana tree. A baby one, I broke it.

I wasn’t sure how long I lay there for, I was told later by one person it was about five minutes, another person said two. I felt winded in my head (if that makes any sense). I kept trying to stand but wasn’t sure which way was up. I was soon found and helped up.

The next day I was driven into the office and faced much teasing that I was guilty of killing a baby banana tree.

I suffered some whiplash and bruising to my legs. Now completely recovered. So you see, I am clumsy. And stupid for not wearing a helmet.

This week I fell out of a tuk tuk in Siem Reap and bruised both knees.

(By the way, the photo connected to this post is of secret lake)