As we slither out of the Year of the Snake and prepare to gallop into the Year of the Horse – 31/01/2014 to 18/02/2015 – it is time for an update.
People subjected to my blogs and such might want to skip this year-in-review as it contains old news. According to my friend Bob/bi in New Zealand, “Darling, I never have to wonder what you are up to as you usually send a couple of hundred photos every week.” True masochists – or those desperate for reading material – can follow the hyper links to the articles for more information on any given topic.
A year ago I enjoyed the most spectacular birthday ever at Victoria Falls.
On the topic of birthdays, remember to mark 24 January 2023 in your diary as my 70th will be at Kampala. I’ve never been to Uganda , the pearl of Africa, – or Rwanda or Burundi – so turning 70 is a good reason to explore the area. As for the stats, only one person showed up for my 50th in Timbuktu, but that rocketed up to six for the 60th. Let’s aim for 10 or 12 for the 70th.
After the birthday festivities I headed for Cambodia, the Kingdom of Wonder. Once in Phnom Penh – the capital which is really just a big small town – I did the initial recognizance work. When The Nurse and Andrew showed up a week or so later I already had it sussed. They were here for almost a month and it was great to spend quality time with them.
After six months in two apartments I didn’t like I found one I did. Now that I’m officially a senior, the Canadian Pension Plan pays my rent. They give me $342.26 a month. The rent for the airy, light infused one-bedroom apartment is $300 and the electricity comes in at about $20. That leaves me with enough for a few meals out.
The terrace – complete with a swing – overlooks the back of Wat Boton. So I get to sit out there with a glass of wine in the evenings and see what the monks really get up to. Some are very adept at crawling over the fence in their street clothes. Others aren’t so fortunate and hit the ground hard. One in the top room loves to prance around naked and then stand in front of the window. But, really, who cares?
In terms of getting around, I’m in training to be the next Mary Poppins. My second-hand bike has a basket and I can pedal practically anywhere I want in very little time. Worth a watch, here is a one minute 18 second YouTube clip to give you an idea of what the traffic is like in the capital.
Since I arrived in the Kingdom I’ve cobbled together a patchwork of teaching and writing that paid the bills. Next year I want to do a lot more writing and no teaching unless they are willing to pay me hideous rates. Students here cannot grasp the concept of singular and plural. So no matter how many times they are corrected it is still three day, five dollar, twenty person.
I developed some local business ideas – like writing advertorials – but haven’t done anything with them, so it is time to get that properly organized. I’m also checking out online work that I can do from anywhere. Another development is that I’ve become a food writer for The Advisor – a local arts and entertainment newspaper – so I dine out at some of the best places in town.
In summary, by local standards I’m a rich woman as a middle-class salary in the Kingdom is $300 to $500 a month. By Canadian ones, a pauper. But do I sound as though I really concerned about my financial status?
Shortly after I arrived I decided I wanted to meet the ajai, the scavengers who go through the garbage to find plastic, metal, cardboard and glass to sell to the recycle places. I posted the photos from the dump at Stung Meanchy; friends and family donated money; Down in the Dumps (DITD) was born.
In the process I got to know Nick – whom I often say is a combination of being my personal chauffeur, a friend and a little brother – and Vichika, my on-the-ground organizer at the dump.
To date, people have donated $2808USD, which is the local currency in the Kingdom. We started off with doing basic supply runs – rice, tins of sardines and soy sauce.
Next we moved on to a photo auction at the International Day of the Girl.
Brad’s11 minute clip is well worth watching because it takes you into the guts of the dump. My only criticism of this otherwise brilliant piece is that there is too much footage of the frumpy red-headed interviewer. The trip to the zoo was a day the dumpsters won’t forget, so we decided to make it an annual event.
Recently we graduated to micro-loans and Vichika set up a breakfast business. She gets up at 01:00 to cook rice, pork and scrambled eggs, opens at 06:00, and works until the rice runs out. For the first time ever she is making money and has a bank account. Len has a drinks cart and she is doing well. Theada uses Vichika’s space in the afternoon to sell cookies, cakes and other unhealthy things. Three families are working their way out of poverty and paying back their loans so the next applicants can get one.
When The Nurse came in December she did clinics at the dump. She brought medicine from Australia, bought some things here and put together a mobile backpack medical kit.
And just in time as Dr. Grant and Nurse Jane came to visit in January and they had the essentials. As I say in the piece, I have no hesitation about exploiting the medical skills of my friends. Most tourists get to the sights of Wat Phnom; they get to peer down into people’s infected ears.
I thought the dump was about the lowest of the low, but then I met the tree people. They literally live under a tree over on Street 110. The family consists of Lin – the mother – Tran – the useless sperm donor – and four kids ranging in age from seven months to seven years. All DITDs can do is give them food, milk, and water from time to time. Tivan and Tivin – the oldest boy and girl – are in a residential situation at Friends. During the week they have a safe place to sleep, day care and food. They spend the weekend with their parents and siblings under the tree.
I have also developed a new function in life, being a pillow. Frequently when I pick up a tree kid s/he promptly falls asleep. Sharon – my social worker friend in Canada – says it is because they feel safe and can let down their guard. The other contending theory is that I’m the most boring person on the face of the earth and the little darlings just can’t keep their eyes open. The last time I went to see Tivin at Friends she went into such a deep sleep at 09:30 that we had to almost shake her awake. The caregivers weren’t sure what to think.
The social scene in Phnom Penh is as much as you want it to be. Openings for art exhibits, restaurants and galleries are happening all the time. One week I went to four, but karked out on the fifth as there is only so much wine and nibbles I can cope with, excessive though I am.
Meta House, just down the street, has more events than one could possibly attend without living on the premises.
In the expat world it is easy to meet people. Consequently my friends range from Princess Soma Norodom – cousin of the King – to Brad Callihoo – the only one-legged Iroquois photographer on the face of the earth – to Lin – who lives under a tree. Really, does it get much more diverse?
The Sundance Inn and Saloon is my local. No matter what time I wander in, there is someone at the bar to talk to. Or not, if I want to conjugate Spanish verbs. Yes, yes I know I’m eccentric or neurotic or a combination of both, but studying Spanish keeps me amused, and that is what counts.
Plans for the Year of the Horse
To sum it up, write more, teach less, do meaningful dump work, and make some money. A perfect case scenario would be to spend March, April and May – when it is hideously hot here – in Madrid to improve my Spanish. The rest of the year I would stay in the Kingdom, with a side trip to Canada in August to visit with kith and kin.
The Nurse and Andrew are back in mid-February so she can do more clinics. Lucky girl, she gets to go to all the fun places.
Neil and Emma from Australia are coming to visit in April. On 1 March they are having an art exhibition to raise money for DITD that I will have a wonderful time spending.
My friend David bought me a ticket to Sydney for my birthday, so I will be there from 15 to 21 April.
Mostly I sort of live in the moment and from day-to-day so that is about it for plans for the upcoming lunar year.
And for those still reading, auspicious wishes for the Year of the Horse and all the best on galloping into it. If in doubt, hold onto the saddle horn and enjoy the ride.