Battambang Part 1, it’s a wrap
It’s a wrap. Our 2-month project with Inspire has come to pass. It has been such a journey of discovery each about ourselves, each other, a new country and its way of life, habits and heritage.
This post is a little tardy due to the preparations for our trip to Laos and departure from Battambang. We have concluded our current project work, and it is a natural time to reflect on all our experiences and project work from the previous weeks.
Decisions have been made, helped by the wave of positivity from many of you in response to our post last week. Thank-you. You reminded me of the journey we have already made, and the learnings that will be with us forever. With this in mind, we have decided to give Battambang a second chance to take up an opening with an NGO we have contacted directly, seebeyondborders.org.
Work with See Beyond Borders is a short-term, but full-time finance leadership role for J, and part-time marketing role for me to manage around the boys. The full-time nature of the role for J is not what we intended at this stage of our journey, but that’s the point of all this. To wander, to be carried along by what feels right at the time, for whatever reason. I am sure our decision will have significance, but we won’t know this for a good while yet. This is a good opportunity, and a chance to learn the intricacies of this sector. Despite frustrations, there is some familiarity in Battambang for now and there is plenty more to understand, absorb and enjoy.
Search for Accommodation
Having made the decision to return post Laos in August, we spent the last week hunting for accommodation we could lease on a month by month basis. We visited a whole host of lodgings of which nearly all were a let-down. To be honest, some of the places we saw I would need to be paid to live there. With literally hours to go until our departure from Battambang, we by chance discovered some one-bedroom self catering apartments. We had not come across anything like this previously, and despite being only a single bedroom it is perfectly clean and safe, and a good-size to function more normally as a family.
I’m amazed at how well the boys have coped without toys other than a handful of toy cars these past weeks. Actually, they have never asked for much any much other er than their Kindles. Of course they get bored, but it is interesting that they don’t associate boredom with having no toys. They have watched local children have fun and laughter with a simple set of elastic bands, plastic bottles, sticks and stones.
I am lucky both boys have a wonderful imagination further inspired by all they see and experience. I have seen this at its very best during mealtimes at the volunteer house. Each day the boys initiate their game of PC Parking, moving bikes around, checking them over, pumping tyres and pretending they are bike security. This is more significant than you might think, for Cambodia is all about bikes. Cycles, bikes, mopeds are everywhere, and always parked in an incredibly orderly fashion. We also have a cardboard house and car park they created a few weeks ago which allows them to escape into an imaginary world back in our room. Imaginary worlds are our saviour and it is important for us to continue to encourage them to make use of their environment and become more confident in entertaining themselves.
Talking of making use of the environment, this past week in Battambang has seen the very best monsoon rains, and with it the very best boys rain games. They begged me to see them free into the tropical storm to dance in puddles and be wild in the rain. The owner of the guest house couldn’t resist a hose to add to the fun.
We have really failed in traditional school work these past few weeks having started off so well. Early on in our time in Battambang, the daily structure of some schoolwork provided a focal point and connection for us all in amongst the chaos of the projects. We then seemed to lose momentum and found it increasingly difficult to bring energy and discipline to school work.
There is no one thing at fault here, but certainly this hasn’t been helped by Big O’s demanding nature that can sap our energy. One step forward, two steps back for as we make progress with him, we quickly can sink back into our old ways and frustrations and I feel we fail him in not understanding him. Is he bored? Is he unhappy?
Our timing to be away to Laos is perfect. A time to reflect and widen our horizons still further. We are eager to see how the boys to respond to this, and whether this gives Big O his sparkle back. Our time away will give us all something different, and ultimately a chance for J and I to rethink our approach with the boys for a return to Battambang.
So our projects came to an end last Friday. J did a final check in the garden to see the sprouting cucumbers, beans, spinach, and the completed steps to the water pond to allow safer and easier access for the monks.
Having been a spider infested hovel only 2 months ago, our computer lab is now fully up and running with children attending classes twice a day, and busily working to develop their typing skill. Where there is a will there is a way, and it is amazing how fast things can happen with the T-shirts and craft store now open.
My last teaching English lesson at CAD was a sad day but it was the best lesson yet and left me feeling on a high. We had been up until midnight the night before finishing 50 loom bands to give one each of the children (again thank-you Freddie Collins!). Working with these children and their teachers for several weeks had created close bonds and there were tears and sadness for all of us.
So thinking of what we have achieved on our projects over the 2 month period, it probably hasn’t been very much at all, and certainly hasn’t been enough. Absolutely we have learnt a lot about ourselves, but naively we expected the volunteer work to be our chance to help and offer skill that wasn’t available to the NGO’s otherwise. Yes as native speakers of English we can make a difference, but we have been kept from making any deeper contribution. It is my view that perhaps some volunteer organisations focus more on tourism?
By returning to Battambang direct to an NGO with the skills we have, this is perhaps, our chance to contribute in a deeper, more sustainable way.
Return to Siem Reap
So time to say goodbye to the guesthouse, and to pack our belongings back into their suitcases. TukTuk followed by a bus again from Battambang to Siem Reap, around 4 hours and a fairly simple and cheap journey.
I had kidded the boys that we were staying in a very basic guesthouse having actually negotiated a great deal at a hotel for our 2 nights. Their faces creased with delight as we drove up to the reception, and whooped for joy when they spotted the swimming pool! Apparently I am the best mother in the whole wide world.
It felt good to be somewhere which is in a way more sophisticated in comparison to where we have been living, but only due to the stream of tourists. The boys were thrilled with the buffet breakfast having not seen food quite like it for weeks. Little Z claimed it to be the best breakfast in his whole life which assures me that even just 2 months can instil fundamental change in what children normalise.
It is always nice to return to somewhere one knows, where to find snacks and a good eating spot for dinner. With another full day in Siem Reap, we decided to take it slowly and enjoy the hotel facilities rather than race back to the temples. We did take a short trip out to the Silk Farm which was fascinating. We were guided through the entire process of silk, from the growth of the Mulberry trees, to the silk worm Cocoonerie and dyeing of the raw and fine silks.
On a journey of boys firsts, next up a foot massage. They both collapsed with ticklish squeals and relished the attention from their Cambodian masseurs.
Our next adventure
As I complete this post, we are aboard a plane to Luang Prabang in Northern Laos. It feels absolutely fantastic to be preparing to explore pastures new and to return to Battambang another year older, and obviously plenty wiser.