Can People make Places? Finding friends in Battambang
Condo, apartment, flat, whatever you call it, this is Our Sanctuary. Owing to Our Sanctuary, Team Legge have progressed well from that first day back in Battambang. Our Sanctuary is one of a block of twelve one bed apartments equipped with just enough furniture, fridge, TV, wifi, washing machine to lead a relatively luxurious lifestyle here.
Our progression from guest house to condo has made a big impression on us all.
We were pained to have to buy household essentials for the apartment, but needs must. We were not frivolous in the slightest. $200 later the condo now complete with household basics;
4 x plates & bowls
1 x large bowl & plate
4 x glasses
3 x mugs (Zachary never drinks tea)
4 x sets of cutlery
1 x grater
2 x saucepans
1 x frying pan
1 x chopping board
2 x knife (large and small, and blunt already)
1 x wooden spoon & turner (melted already)
1 x mop
1 x dustpan ’n brush
I marvel at how human nature adjusts and accepts a new normal. Team Legge not long ago lived in a large house in the centre of Auckland, New Zealand. This was Our Normal. We had what we thought was adequate, just enough to lead a comfortable lifestyle. Of course it was adequate, live in Cambodia for a couple of months and you realise a lot of what we had was in reality superfluous.
This also works in reverse. Place a family of four in a single room as their home, and by the virtue of human nature, over time we adjust. Add a little bit more, and once again we adjust. This is the next level – a kitchen, a washing machine, space. I can’t stop thinking of the children’s book A Squash and a Squeeze by Julia Donaldson which tells the story of a little old lady who thinks that her house is too small. ‘My house is a squash and a squeeze,’ she complains to a wise old man. He advises her to take various animals into her house – first a hen, then a goat, then a pig and finally a cow, who dances on the table. The old lady is at her wits’ ends until she follows the old man’s next piece of advice: ‘Take them all out.’ Once she has the house all to herself again, it feels enormous!
So this is where it gets interesting. As we reintroduce aspects of our pre-volunteer lifestyle, at what point will it all feel adequate, enough? Certainly for the life we are living in Battambang, what we now have is enough. There is joy in living simply. You can’t fight about the dishwashing when you have so few dishes. Washing clothes can’t be stressful when there is so little to wash. Cleaning, well, quite frankly there isn’t much to clean.
Of course I miss things, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t. But this isn’t forever, and one of the many directions of this journey is to learn how little, or indeed how much, we do need. What belongings do I miss? I miss pictures, photos, knick-knacks, and a few of my clothes. We have made do for now. We have a huge map of South East Asia adorning the wall, photos of family and friends, and recent artwork from the boys. This is adequate for now.
Our Sanctuary has inspired a change particularly in the children that has been remarkable. We have our own oasis of calm in amongst the centre of Battambang’s Cambodian Chaos. It is totally the Comfort Zone. I have a conscience living here in a “western way”, but I imagine many millions that do the same amongst the expat communities of the world. Our Sanctuary gives us the liveliness to get back out in the city with renewed energy, sparkle and interest to make the most of it. No regrets.
Perhaps the single most exciting step-change in the boys has been the purchase of traditional 1950s second-hand bikes from a second-hand bike store on the outskirts of the city. What a total adventure.
We headed off on our friendly Tuktuk to purchase 3 bikes on the premise they buy them back from us at an appropriate value when we leave. This is customer service the way it should be. Select your bike, negotiate on cost, and embellish it for you with whatever saddle, lights, accessories you want in the price.
With only a few words of English and Khmer between us, this was absolutely Sunflower School. The boys to be able to take in their stride that our Tuktuk driver had only one leg and was hopping around the bike store with us. Bikes purchased, now time to attach 3 bikes to the Tuktuk, clamber aboard, and hope to make it home in one piece. As now to be expected, Oscar became agitated, insisting this was far too dangerous, we would all end up dead or in prison. My learning journey. Listen, answer calmly, don’t reason, listen some more.
Quite honestly, a transformation of life in Cambodia for the boys. They are completely and utterly obsessed. They are in love with their bicycles. I am in love with their bicycles. It didn’t take long for the boys to befriend the security guard who willingly joins their games (including being attached on his bike to the back of Oscars!). Neither speaks the others language of course, and this is exactly at the heart of real learning.
We are yet to purchase helmets (no such thing in Battambang) so are unable to progress to road riding until we get these hopefully in Phnom Penh this weekend. We have however made it out and about along the riverside walkways.
They don’t want for anything other than to “be with my bike”. That first night they climbed into (or onto!) their beds claiming it had been their best day EVER in Cambodia. #nextbestdayinbattambang
Isn’t this remarkable? Take everything away. Learn to live without. Reintroduce and voila new found pleasure and delight. I guess you could answer to that – yeah, for how long? How long until this is the new norm and they want more.
People make Places
You all know what its like, you are in the most amazing place in the world yet you feel melancholy, wistful. Most likely you are not sharing the wonder with the people you enjoy to spend time with. I can see this quite literally for us in Battambang during this past week or so. A few chance meetings, and we are able to share our days with kindred spirits.
Number one on that list has to be Sam. Sam responded to our ad for someone to help with the boys whilst I also do volunteer work, and to write my blog. We couldn’t have had a better result. Sam is simply awesome. 18 and from Australia, Sam brought herself to Battambang a few months ago to volunteer, learn Khmer and to live and learn about life in Cambodia. She has become a best friend to the boys within hours and they are almost ushering me out the door for Sam Time. My job description for Sam is to teach the boys what you love and know about Battambang. She surely has opened their eyes, and how special for them to see the city through someone else’s eyes who truly is at one here and happy befriending the locals and embracing its culture. I haven’t been so good at that.
Next up was being stopped in the street by a couple who arrived a few weeks ago with a soon to be 7 and 3 year old, to live for a year volunteering in Battambang. Quite a coincidence, for few Westerners make the choice to bring their children here. Within hours we got the children together and it was magic. Take everything away. Learn to live without. Reintroduce. Appreciate. It didn’t matter his age or interests, he was a boy, a boy speaking English and up for a play. For the first time a playmate in Battambang and love was in the air. #nextbestdayinbattambang
And finally, in the space of a week we meet a couple also living in the condos. Invited in for a quick beer, and 2 and a half hours later we roll back down the stairs a few beer calories heavier. This led to being invited to a yoga group on the roof of the condo. Beer and yoga buddies. #nextbestdayinbattambang
It was time to address the increasing expansion of my midriff. I blame J who insists its worth me switching to beer for the $$ saved on cocktails. Face facts and get moving again. Back to the old routines. Up early, time to get out and about and exercise. I have to exercise early, I’m half asleep and don’t notice the pain. But more than that, sunrise is absolutely the best time of the day, with sundown (and more importantly, sundowners) my close second.
Well for sure there are no other mad westerners out along the river in the morning. Headphones on to press out any shouts of “crazy sister” from the locals, and I achieved my first 15 minute circuit of the river. My fitness peak at Les Mills days long gone, I nearly died. 15 minutes. A drop in the ocean. But I’m proud I got out there. The heat is overpowering at 6am, but it is more than the heat that is overpowering. There are street kids asleep along walkways, folks collecting rubbish in return for a dollar or two, nauseating smells, and it’s a lot to handle. This is the time when I question my how long I will stay here. And yet sunrise always shows a place at its best, it has a magic about it you can’t explain, and can’t ignore.
Back to the old Routines
Isn’t it funny. We think it is the place, the job, the school that dictates family routines, but actually I think routines also are instinctive to the people you are. We unknowingly devise routines that at their best, harmonise with our biorhythm. We have fallen back into a similar routine we had only a few months back in our busy lives in New Zealand. Its fascinating.
We have tried to change our routines to the biorhythm of Cambodia, to be up early, go to bed early, but it is simply not possible. Why? XO Karaoke Bar. Our condo is less than 20 metres from XO and we are subjected to the horrific noise 7 days a week, 6-11pm.
Times of Transition
Our Sanctuary has brought about a transitionary period for me. This is where the learnings from the last couple of months are becoming more meaningful in understanding its impact. I must now face truths about myself. To accept that there are things that are just the way they are. To accept my comfort zone and a reality of how far and how often I am willing to stretch it. From initial culture shock I have a tendency to normalise quickly. The consequence of this is I don’t appreciate how far I’ve come, continually push forward to stretch beyond this new comfort zone. I want to learn to take it slow, but it is not in my DNA to accept the go slow. Here I am in the middle of Cambodia and still with a to-do list as long as my arm. I am happiest being busy, yet easily overwhelmed.
Return to Office
Last Monday saw the Return to Office for J. A shock for us all, gone by 7, home for an hour or two at 12, and back again at 5. J himself is happy, he is back in the accounting driving seat and feeling empowered to apply his skills and knowledge and make a difference. He is happy. He has strength and sparkle. I marvel at how easily he has given this all his normal energy, passion and drive. His commitment is no less as a volunteer as it was in his senior roles over the past few years. He is teaching, and he is learning.
A break in the middle of the day is a must here in the heat of Cambodia. I am a total advocate for this. So many countries around the world work in this way and absolutely there are advantages. This can be a special time as a family. All our fresh and ready to talk and share their day, and communicate in a way we often don’t have the energy for once our day is done.
With J out at work, time to bring structure and routines back into the daily lives of Team Legge. A new and different term at Sunflower School where we don’t have the travel aspect to keep us stimulated. A real need to create stimulation beyond roaming the streets and drinking iced lattes.
To cope emotionally with the responsibility of more seriously focusing on the education of the boys, I have to think of this as my job. This is my job, to avoid anything else taking priority over our schedule and over the work we need to achieve each day. School starts at 8am with journal writing, and we move into the project subject for the week.
Without actually travelling, stimulation is a little less obvious but of course still possible without losing the essence of what we came here to discover. My everlasting addiction to Google eventually landed upon the concept of the Smorgasboard curriculum by a British lady, Julie and her Homeschool Ideas website. This approach gives us both flexibility to continue our Sunflower Journey, and yet some structure in which to teach and guide the children. Each week you focus on a totally different subject and move along to another one the next week. In this way we get some depth in a subject but also cover very different subjects as we go along. Some ideas Julie has used included photography, polar exploration, Albert Einstein, galaxies, chocolate, religions of the world. This is what I needed, structure yet flexibility, and the freedom to choose subjects relevant and interesting to the boys. Week 1 was restaurants. Restaurant design, floor plans, menus, recipes. I guess Oscar’s drinks menu speaks volumes.
This week is bicycles. Everything to do with Bicycles. Just to give you an idea – parts and types of bicycles, history of the bicycle, cycling sports, how bikes work, cycling for health.
Always we break at 0930 for Team Legge Second Breakfast which is essentially our daily cookery lesson. They have each started their own recipe and so far have worked through fried eggs, boiled eggs and bacon omelettes.
The boys have responded to the homeschool more than I could’ve ever imagined. I think it is a mix of being stimulated, but also having undivided attention from me. This is its own journey, and a lot to learn from mistakes during this process. However, I am encouraged at their focus, attention and a sense of calm that normality has returned.
So we have some friendlies to share our time, our thoughts, our days. Yet still we are for sure stretching our comfort zone.