Yesterday I watched as Mason, the Country Director for Cambodia and the only American here besides myself and Sara, walked out of my office door and left Kampong Chhnang. He’s back in the capitol – Phnom Penh – until Friday when he leaves for a 3 week vacation back in the US. So, the only native English speaker that we know in the whole of Cambodia is leaving. It was an overwhelming thought, watching this person that I really don’t know at all but feel remarkably attached to, walk away and leave Sara and I stranded in the middle of rural Cambodia. We don’t speak a word of Khemai (well, I take that back, I’ve learned two words). Some of the staff speak English of varying levels, but between the accent differences and the lack of vocabulary there has been some communication discord. And, unless they are speaking to Sara or me, the staff communicates exclusively in Khemai, which only serves to increase this feeling of isolation and foreignness. This certainly promises to be an adventure!
The IRD sign outside our "office" building
But everyone is friendly and welcoming! Although there are language barriers and cultural divides, the Cambodians we work with have been gracious and hospitable in every way. They answer questions, they return our smiles and they seem to be thoroughly glad that we are interning with them. There is much to do – the Kampong Chhnang office is the hub for Child Survival and Food for Education projects – from project analysis, to field visits, to development and review of new proposal ideas. And, being a native English speaker, my editing skills will be put to good use (and have already been used!) as I look over official documents that are sent out from this office.
Where I work!
We’ll also be spending a rather significant chunk of our time out in the field. We went to a “Model Mothers” celebration yesterday where women who were exemplars in breastfeeding, nutrition and child-rearing were honored and nutrition kits awarded. These celebrations mark a transfer of IRD leadership in these projects to local leadership as IRD’s grant is set to wrap up in September.
Model Mothers and a Model Father
A not-so-model little boy getting ready to make a run for it!
There’s so much to say about this wild and wonderful country. It’s a colorful place of welcoming people. Here there are pagodas and shrines to Buddha doting the road and standing brilliantly painted against the backdrop of a dry, weathered landscape. It’s a place where cars and mopeds zoom alongside ox-drawn wagons. It’s a place where people gather around a color tv in a thatched-roof hovel, drinking rice wine and trying to escape the pervasive heat. It’s a humbling and heart-breaking country with a willingness to give and a great need to receive. I feel very lucky to be here – I still can’t believe this is my life sometimes! At the same time, I’m anxious. This is a big step outside of my comfort zone, and there is something intense and lonely about knowing that you are a stranger in a strange land.
some of the guys I work with