Time travel

I’m writing this blog from a Travelodge in Slough (living the dream eh!) and I’ll tell you a bit more about it in my next blog, but for now I want to tell you about how my week of time travel began.


At the weekend  I took a trip to Kampong Cham to join the group of 80 new VSO youth volunteers as they began their in country orientation before heading out to their communities in various rural parts of Cambodia.


On arrival I was immediately transported back to a memorable day at the end of August 1998 when I and approximately 100 other wide eyed, eager and well intentioned volunteers arrived, jet lagged and bewildered, in Beijing to take part in our own induction programme.

The mix of overwhelmed westerners not knowing which way was up and self assured locals going about their day to day business was uncanny as was the dague smell of damp that greeted me as I let myself in to my windowless bedroom.

In an annex of the guesthouse a large badly lit and freezing cold conference room played host to the wide eyed (for wide eyed read spaced out) volunteers as they sat listening to a Cambodian teacher as he boomed out Khmer words and phrases over the PA system for them to repeat.


What the hell is going on? 

What on earth is he saying? 

Am I saying this right?

What time can I go to sleep again? 

How come she is getting it and I’m not?

Will there be any edible food for lunch?

Where the hell am I?

Oh flip, what was his name again?

I can’t do this


All questions that I guess were floating through the volunteers’ minds just as they had through mine in that hot and smelly Beijing meeting room all those years ago.


Chatting to people throughout the two days sent me time travelling again.  Tales of being wide awake all night, feeling unconnected to their body, getting annoyed by other people’s behaviour, feeling sick, headachy and not being able to eat the food were all shared with me along with the fears of what was to come next, the unknown quantity that was in their case to be 12 weeks in a  host family based in a rural community abiding by a code of conduct which includes absolutely no alcohol, a 7.30pm curfew and a ban on leaving said community (thankfully not rules that were imposed on my China experience – some of my most ridiculous adventures came about due to late night wanderings and on more than one occasion, excess alcohol!).


People were dropping like flies, heading back to their rooms to puke or sleep, mosquito bites were compared, restaurant meals were snubbed in favour of a more familiar bar of chocolate or packet of biscuits (my first 2 weeks in placement all those years ago were spent living entirely on biscuits – the only recognisable food in the shop next to my school) from the onsite shop and more than one or two tears were shed.


And I listened and I empathised and I sympathised and I reassured, safe in the knowledge that all of these feelings would pass and really flipping happy that I was only experiencing those same feelings vicariously this time.

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