“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” –Mark Jenkins

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Crikey where do I start? what an amazing day!

Vivak Vong, the Plan Area Manager, and our driver arrived at our hotel at 8am in a posh pickup emblazoned with the Plan logo to take us to the Dambae district and on to Arafin's village.

The drive took an hour and a half during which time Vong talked us through the projects the charity is currently working on.
There are 3 programmes running at the moment which helps them to manage the projects in three age groups; 3 to under 6 which is the largest programme and deals with sanitation, water provision, rice growing and fish farming, then comes the 6 - 16 year old group which is primarily concerned with education and finally the youth group which is 17 to 24 year olds and focusses on reproductive health and parenting. It is typical in Cambodia for people to marry between 16 and 18 years old.
Arafin's mother is 33 years old and has 5 children (3 girls and 2 boys) Arafin is her oldest child at almost 16. So when I asked him if he was soon to be married, his shy shake of the head and coy smile (coupled with the joking jab in the back from his mother) told me he probably had a girlfriend but no plans to marry yet.
He's a good looking lad and could easily be mistaken for a western teenager with his modern emo haircut and skinny jeans, but when you look at his house you see he is far from Western. The house is not the same one as those in the photos Arafin has sent me in the past. They have done well for themselves in recent years and as such have moved to a house which they had built for them. The house is not on stilts as I had imagined, but is a large open rectangular room on the ground with a dirt floor and wooden slatted walls to let air in and out. The roof is made of corrugated concrete and is watertight. There are two raised wooden platforms for sleeping on and numerous wooden carved stools, an area for cooking over a fire and another in the corner for cleaning pans etc. 
There are ten of them living in the house; Arafin's grandparents, parents, siblings and Uncle and so I'm guessing they have quite strong and intimate family relationships as well as zero privacy. They have chickens but no pigs and as a family they farm cashew nuts to make a living.
They are a very beautiful family and you only have to look at their mother to see why, she clearly cares a lot about her appearance and that of her children. They all look healthy and very happy.
Rohanny, the eldest daughter, and probably the shyest of them all, was at school when we arrived. She sneaked in just as gifts were being handed out, but as Mum pointed out, once her muslim head cover was removed (to try out her new hair-clips), her shyness seemed to go along with it and she was soon playing elastic, skipping rope and giggling with the other girls. Another sister, the 4 year old I think, was the bravest of all when she stood alone in front of a room full of people and quietly sang a little song for us complete with all the actions. We later learned it was a song she had been taught at Plan's pre-school all about taking good care of yourself and your health. 
The inflatable globes went down a storm and before long we were surrounded by 20 balls hiding happy faces as they attempted to play a pass-it-on game with Vong... the trouble was they either didn't understand the rules or they were so reluctant to pass on their globes in case they never got them back! All too soon our time together was over and after saying our goodbyes, Vong took us to see Arafin's school. Being lunchtime, it was deserted apart from three teenage girls who have too far to walk home for lunch and so they cook rice for themselves in one of the staff rooms. We gave them a miniature sewing kit each and headed out to the Dambae Plan office to hear more about the local projects from the field manager and to taste a wedding sweet made of rice, coconut and sugar wrapped in some kind of leaf - interesting.
Lunch on the way back was an experience; Vong ordered a selection for himself and the driver, and we agreed to rice and fish. I live by the motto "if you can't tell what it is, don't eat it", and as a result, I ate just the fried rice and vegetables for lunch - either the word 'fish' was lost in translation or they have some strange creatures swimming about in these parts.
As we came back into Kampong Cham, Vong kindly took us to see the only remaining example of one of the traditional style of bridges built annually across the Mekong out of Bamboo. He says the bridge will only be rebuilt for the next 2 or 3 dry seasons as there is a new permanent concrete bridge being built further downstream for the island residents to use, making the annual bamboo bridge completely redundant. Seems a shame to let such a tradition die out, but I'm glad I got to see it when I had the chance. After climbing down the dusty track and back up again to grab this shot, I was approached by a monk who wanted to see the bridge too. Waving his camera at me, he asked me to go with him and I assumed it was to take a photo for him, but after some polite chat, it turned out that for some reason he wanted to have a photo taken of me and him in front of the bridge, so back down I climbed motioning to Vong to help by taking the shot - we took the picture and climbed back out, by now sweating profusely in 38 degree heat, but how do you say 'no' to a monk?
Back at the hotel by 3pm and a quick dip in the pool to cool off before Tuk-tukking it back to the "Mekong Crossing" for Angkor beer and some reflection as the night-life set itself up along the river-front and of course dinner. .... I thought I'd add a little variety this time and go with steamed rice and vegetables.


  1. Enjoy reading your blog, Jo!
    Leny x

  2. Amazing day by the sounds of it, for some reason I thought Arafin was now alot older than 16 but what a day - am so impressed that you remembered everything in so much detail xxx