Battambang Fun days, work days
I have been procrastinating about writing a post for last week as I feel drained of creativity. Now I have found myself a quiet place to compose my thoughts. I have to write. I need to write. Family and friends need to know we are well, but also I set myself the challenge of providing an honest recount of our journey, our learning journey, and the ups and downs that learning inevitably entails.
I think feeling drained is a reaction to trying to figure out next steps, what is the next stage of our journey, but also the nagging feeling we have just not achieved enough. Okay, so I realise I am hard on myself, but I always strive to feel effective with each new day. After all, we came here to volunteer, to offer ourselves in whatever capacity was needed for the projects.
We have all had good days and bad days this week. For me there have been bad days when I am just over Battambang – it is hot, smelly and at times so frustrating to be far from everywhere and anywhere that is easy to escape to. And yet Battambang also has this inner beauty, a creative buzz and passion that captures you. There are opportunities for everyone. Vibrant, socially responsible opportunities, learning like you would never have in a place you already know. If we didn’t have children, we would move here tomorrow.
This creative buzz I refer to, that’s the people. After all it is people that make places, build culture. If, just if we had been out most nights we would likely have somewhat of a social circle by now. Only tourists and travellers hang out over ice coffees by day. Cambodians and expats are working, often out in remote rural villages doing what they came here to do. I am a very sociable person and I am so desperate to uncover all that goes on here, why people are here, what they are doing, what difference are they making?
We have been looking at staying here in Battambang longer as there is an opportunity for us that we would be excited to do, but its a tough decision to make. For all the good sides to the place, we haven’t met anyone with children older than 3 or 4, and I haven’t yet found anywhere where we could even take the boys to mingle with other children speaking English but I am still searching. As a family, finding accommodation that is suitable is far from easy. No-one will rent out apartments or houses for less than 6 months. The option is then a longer-term stay in a guesthouse like we have already. Many are pretty grim or if not, they can be expensive when you look to stay long-term with no self-catering facilities.
As far as the boys goes, what is the right decision for them? I have asked them but kids are so straightforward – they want us, they want fun and safety, they want each other and not much more. Maybe some lego said Oscar. In a way I want them to have stronger view either way, then I could take their lead and not blame myself for getting it wrong. I know Oscar may find it difficult “travelling” but then if we were on the road more maybe, just maybe, he would gain confidence in exploring the new and the unknown?
Surely, parenting is the most difficult job in the world. It has to be. It’s 24/7 and the buck stops with you. We influence, and provide direction. We are their stability, security and frame of reference. We acquaint them with experiences that will influence their lives in one way or another forever. That’s the scary bit. We strive for these to be wonderful, but they won’t all be. We are each unique and there will be aspects of our journey in future years our boys may reject and rebel against.
I say people make places. They totally do. We have met some fabulous people, expats and locals alike. The children are so vibrant, so loving and fun, and they have been a delight to teach. To work alongside such committed and caring teachers has also been an inspiration and I will remember this gang for many years to come.
Dining and Reclining
So the struggles of feeling like we are not achieving anything has meant rather a lot of dining and reclining this week. We had a couple of mid-week and weekend visits to the delightful Bambu and Battambang Resort to swim. This is always the best time, when the kids are happy, they are exercising and we are all free from the confines of a cafe or room. Each pool visit were timed perfectly to avoid the heavy rains but I am sure we won’t be so lucky next time.
Saturday night we had dinner at Jaan Bai, which I have been lusting after for several weeks. Jaan Bai, meaning ‘rice bowl’ in Khmer, is a social enterprise run by the Cambodian Children’s Trust (CCT). CCT is working to break the cycle of poverty in Battambang by empowering underprivileged children. It is a popular haunt for local expats and visitors to the city with a superb menu laced with quirky local organic ingredients. We selected some small plates to share – papaya salad with shrimp and long beans, corn fritters with chilli ginger caramel, and the pork belly with slaw peanuts and five spice. Flavorful and delicious, almost as much as the Crocodile Tail rum-based signature cocktail which included chilli, lemongrass, lychee and lime.
We have tagged along with the nursing student group for much of this last week including first aid training sessions for the CAD teachers. Lucky for me as I got to refresh my knowledge of how to deal with stings, gaping wounds, bruises and breaks. Lucky for Zac as he got to be the model for bandaging and the correct placement of splints. Zac is so confident and easily mingles with anyone, adults and children alike. We have had a lot of laughs with this group and never have two teddies been so well attended to by so many medical staff. We were sad to see them leave!
We have another group of students from Sheffield staying in a second volunteer house in the city centre. We have been working with them back up in the Pagoda garden, and also assisting with their English camp back out at the CAD centres. This has meant a week of early starts and out to the football pitch before the heat becomes too oppressive. A variety of activities, singing, dancing and some basic football skills. J was in his element teaching several rounds of headers and adding a competitive edge to the practice. I love to see him out amongst the kids – he comes into his own and has a very natural way of both controlling and having fun. Sadly Oscar and Zac are never interested in joining in these activities. To be fair they find it extremely hot, and still get a little shy of being amongst so many of the local kids who are a few years older.
Back to Nary’s kitchen
It was J’s turn to try out the cooking course at Nary’s kitchen which you may remember I had joined a few weeks back. J decided to take Oscar along which was quite the best decision he could’ve made. Oscar was involved with all aspects of the preparation and cooking and totally inspired including eating the results of his hard work – pork spring rolls, beef loklak and fish amok. He immediately requested spring rolls when we were next out! Oscar had a calmness when he returned from the cooking, I knew he had felt engaged and stimulated and I worry that he doesn’t get enough of time like this. He can be far from easy and it can be draining at times – always the actor, loving the drama of the show. Totally the next Gordon Ramsey.
So. Decisions decisions. Decisions to make. Feelings and emotions to navigate. I need a few happy hour mojitos to see sense. Fortuitously we have to leave Cambodia anyway to renew our visas and we will take off north to Laos, we just need to decide where to return to!
Laos will be an adventure and one we now all need for our intellectual stimulation and excitement. You know I wonder if that is all it is, we have stayed in one place for too long – I mean 8 weeks here with only one trip away from Battambang? I thought we needed to stay put to delve deeper, to acclimatise, but maybe this has instead stifled us and sapped our energy with so little to truly get stuck into? I blame the projects for this, but also ourselves in that we are a family, it was never going to be easy.