Thursday, March 27, 2008


About a year ago, a blog entry on the cartoon blog alerted me to the existence of Kiva, a sort of broker between micro finance organisations and individuals. I lent some money via their website. A few weeks ago, I saw a man in a restaurant wearing a Kiva T-shirt, so I accosted him and today, Rob and I went to his office here in Cambodia to find out more about how it works. He kindly spent 90 minutes answering our questions, and told us that it was nice to spend 90 minutes talking about how cool your job is, instead of spending 90 minutes actually writing reports.

He is a volunteer and is here in Cambodia for about five months, while Kiva set up working with a new partner, an institution called Angkor Mikroheranhvatho (Kampuchea) Co. Ltd. He works out of their offices, inputting data to Kiva, liaising between them and AMK, and doing some auditing and reporting to ensure that all is as transparent as it should be.

Anyway, I'm satisfied with all his answers, and thoroughly recommend that you go and check out, and let them borrow a small amount of money off you.

The electric monk

We struck up a conversation with a monk on Tuesday night. He was travelling from the far side of the Mekong to a temple in Phnom Penh, where he would stay for a few months while studying English and Computing. There was a computer monitor lying on the ground nearby, which he claimed as his when we wondered who had left it there.

His English literature class is studying Romeo and Juliet, Cry Freedom, and, currently, Oliver Twist, so we were able to help him out with his new vocabulary of words such as 'cold' 'damp' 'freezing' 'crossly' 'misery' and 'coffin-maker.'
Good old Dickens. Anyway, we've been invited to go round to the temple for a coconut any time.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Thanks for the varied kind words of support.

I know I shouldn't rant about an individual on this (or any other) blog, but I'd just hit a limit and was, well, tired.

I won't say that things are better: I don't think that they will be "better" until we are back in the UK. However, I know that people out there are praying for us all and frankly, we just need to get through these last five weeks.

PS, sorry for the typos, Blogger has decided to stop me from editing my posts...

Happy Easter to all!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Great news from Dr Mumbles*

Our resident disaster area has officially not got malaria or dengue fever.

At least, the seventy-odd year old doctor who took his blood tests seem confident of this. He may not really be seventy, but he seems to me to be retirement age at least. His consultations usually involve long anecdotes about other patients, or, on this occasion, reading aloud from the textbook on all the awful tropical diseases one can pick up and die of, which is obviously greatly reassuring to a patient with a virus/fever.

Last month I was waiting outside the consultation room when he briskly shambled past me exclaiming "'I need more of the RED pills!'"
It's the way medical care should be. Possibly in your nightmares.**

*NOT his real name.

** Please note that despite his eccentric approach to patient confidentiality, he has always been there for us, even at 4am, and I am actually truly grateful for the availability of an english speaking doctor.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tired, tired, tired.

Team four have arrived, and they are a lovely bunch. Ranging in age from 33 to 72, they are definately all very much up to try anything, includinga handful of spiders, cockroaches and assorted other bugs.

Interestingly, the team contains one more person than we were expecting. Myn and I were surprised to find ourselves greeting nine people at the airport, when we had only been sent the details of six volunteers.

But that's not it.

House four is in a different location from the others, and has less space around it for painting windows, preparing walls, constructing frames etc. Materials are also arriving in a different and unexpected order to what previously happened.

But that's not it either.

I'm tired.

I'm tired of second guessing what is expected of me from our country manager. I am tired of being told that what I had arranged was contrary to what she wanted. I am tired of being told that I am not telling her things, when she repeatedly fails to share very fundamental information with me. Us.

I'm tired of the deep condecention she uses to describe the Cambodian people, and the barely reduced levels of condecention that she reserves for our volunteers. I'm tired of the way she claims good ideas are hers, repeats other people's humerous comments, somehow staking ownership of them. I'm tired of the way that she has always has done more, better, had greater success, been under more severe situations that anyone else. I'm tired of her hastling people for being late or holding everyone up, when she sets arbitrary time deadlines.

I'm tired of the way she says "And that's why you should always...." in an accusatory way to somebody who has not done otherwise. I'm tired of being told that 5:00pm is too early for something, and when I rearrange things for 5:30, to be told that it is way too late.

I'm tired of trying to do my job, but can't because she is contradicting me, pre-empting me, or changing things after me.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How the ferry docks work

This is how our daly commute happens...

Taking a break

Team 3 "the small" has gone home (Hi Bex and Dave: hope you're well) and we are taking a short break and have gone away.

Last time we did this, you may remember that we went to Kratie. This was great, but the seven hour coach journey each way was a bit much. This time, we are staying at Boddhi Tree Del Gusto, which is located in an old colonial era house just South of the central part of town.
There are three of these establishments in the city, and we have now dined in all of them. However, this is the first time that we have stayed in one.
It i very nice, the room is very colonial (French) and the service is friendly. It is just a shame that the only white wine that they have is Chilean chardonnay.
Now, we didn't choose this place because they have Argentinian Torrontes on the winelist, but wine that is actually drinkable (and not chardonnay or merlot) is hard to come by out here, and it certainly influenced us.
Still, it is very nice, and I highly recommnd it as a place to stay, should you find yourself in these parts. Although a mention should be made of the delightful and newly opened Coco Tree, a hundred yards North of Tuol Sleng. Excellent food.


Kreung is the basis for most Khmer dishes. It is a spice mix made of the following:
  • dried chilli
  • galangel
  • lemongress
  • kaffir leaves
  • shallots
  • garlic
  • shrimp paste
This is all pounded into a fine paste, and then mixed with coconut cream (sometimes).
Generally, the food here is not what you might call highly spicy. It has a balance of spice flavours, which comes from the balance of the kreung. And of course the huge lumps of chilli they can add when daft westerners who equate heat with authenticity, ask for it.


There are an assembly of flags running the length of the riverfront here in Phnom Penh.

Last week, I was being quizzed about the identity of them. Seems that I am accepted as being wize beyond all others. Actually, I was also told that I was wrong a few times (so why ask me, huh?) coz they were obviously all alphabetically arranged. Actually, I pointed out, the Belgium flag was next top the Russia flag, so not that alphabetical, then.

However, there was one flag that I don't think I have ever seen before. Any guesses?

White, yellow and red horizontal stripes. It was between Sweden and Turkey, if that helps.

Friday, March 7, 2008


We've just taken Team 3 to the airport, and waved goodbye to them. Now we're taking a bit of a breather before debriefing tomorrow. We were having a drink and a waffle at a cafe, when Rob got a text message from our country manager ordering him to enjoy time with me, so we're now in separate internet cubicles, checking email and taking care of various online things, just to be contrary.

The e-conversation running about Ivor the Engine on the Sanctus1 list is making us very, very homesick.
Although it should be pointed out that during a round of Famous Elephants last week, Rob and I had the crucial edge of knowing that there's an elephant in Ivor the Engine. She's called Alice.
Famous elephants is the game invented on the spur of the moment by our resident jester, and consists of taking turns to name, well, there's a clue there. Any literary, real or well-known elephant is allowed, although I decided against trying to get away with 'one of the thousand elephants that a Cecil B De Mille film famously contained' and stuck to Elmer's friends instead (there wouldn't be much to the story of Elmer the patchwork elephant if there weren't also lots of grey ones.)

This all came about because it turned out one of our team volunteers was mad about elephants. We have therefore taken a ride on Sambo the Wat Phnom elephant (He is 48 years old, and was discovered in Phnom Penh after the Khmer Rouge were driven out in 1980. What he was doing there, we do not know. Now he takes tourists for fifteen minute rides around a small hill.) Pictures will doubtless follow. It is a very strange experience standing on an elephant's neck (in order to get to the howdah) - one feels very unwilling to hurt the elephant. Once riding, the motion is much like being at sea, while having branches slap you in the face. Afterwards we fed him exorbitantly priced bananananas, and having an elephant's trunk come curling round at you scouting for nanas is a truly strange experience that I thoroughly recommend: I never knew before quite how alien the end of an elephant's trunk looked.

Things to do before I die number 34: ride an elephant. Check!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sunset at Angkor Wat

And finally - some pictures

So, the moment you've all been waiting for. Pictures of the house-building.

Team 2, in front of the second house, before we started to dismantle it.

Preparing the timber frames.

The best way to move materials around the site. Note the old house in the background: we picked it up and carried it to this location, to clear the site for construction. It finally collapsed last week.
Also visible, is Sarath, our driver and all round hero.

The frames go up. This is heavy work. Heavy. Very heavy.

The roof tiles are on, and the walls are going up. Not shown, is Myn, who has been responsible for getting the wall panels painted in good time to dry and be put up. And then painting them again, once they are up.

The best "before & after" shot around. This is the Second house that we built, alongside the third house, as it was before we took it down. Actually, we more or less nudged it, and it fell down. We are currently half way through building the new house on its site.
That'll do. I've got hundreds of pictures, and not all of them are completely dull. However, this should give you a taste of how we build a house in two weeks.

'Tis the season

I've jst read a post on the Sanctus-1 blog from Fat Roland, about giving up stuf for Lent.

It's Lent? Oh Bugger.

That's the kind of thing that can pass you by out here: there's no seasonal carpet-bombing of advertising to remind you of the things that you should be buying, wearing, investing in, eating or drinking. What advertising there is, is static, so I know (for example) that drinking Guinness will "reveal the true you", drinking Courvoisier will make young women want to stand around me, while I recline in my smoking jacket, and that smoking some brand or other of cigarettes will make me seem effortlessly European.

But chocolate eggs, heart shaped candy and the like, pass me completely by.
I suppose I have given up my job for Lent. Does that count?