You’re not alone anymore

I am so blessed to have the wonderful Saint Vicky of Urmston & Horwich and her long suffering partner Jumbo with me just now.

Right from the moment I declared my intention to move 6,000 miles across the world back in May of this year, Vicky promised me that I wouldn’t be alone at Christmas because she was coming out to see me and true to her word, here she is.

Just like when mum and Auntie Yvonne were here in November and Alex before that, it’s an absolute joy to see the people I love in what is for now my home.

It’s been fabulous to spend Christmas day laughing at how our cheery Merry Christmases are met with stoney silence and faces that could curdle milk by sour puss foreigners riding the bamboo train.

Great having someone to share stories with, to chat with over breakfast or a brew (and the odd beer or two).

Wonderful to share my knowledge (or make up blatant lies when I don’t have the knowledge) with people who are genuinely interested in the culture and customs here.

Priceless watching Jumbo who was slowly getting his head around Cambodian road rules (or the lack there of) having same head blown wide open by Phnom Penh traffic.

Immense fun being with people who ‘get me’.  Who allow me to be me with all my flaws and foibles and love me in spite of them.

But the ultimate joy of this visit so far has been having the opportunity to sample what must officially be the world’s worst alcoholic beverage – Cambodian red wine – with one of my two ultimate drinking buddies (Susan Baxter you were missed!).  We ultimately settled on a description of the fragrance as being a cross between petrol and boot polish, but when it came to the taste we were flawed.  Even my usual potty mouth couldn’t find an expletive strong enough to describe the shock to the system that occurred as the odd sour, bitter monstrosity slid (or more accurately burnt) down our throats.

However, I’m sure it will come as no surprise to those of you who know me and Vic to hear that in spite of the above we did, of course, down the whole glass.  Well, all alcohol is good alcohol after all!

 

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Stress & Half Formed Stories

Nearly a week has passed since I last wrote.  It’s not that I haven’t wanted to write, yet I haven’t committed fingers to keyboard and done so.

In my defence I’m a bit knackered of late.  The numpties at the Ministry of Fish have suddenly realised what I can do and decided I need to do it pretty damn quick.  And so this has led me into uncharted territory  – I’ve actually been having to work at work!  I’ve also had to do a lot of thinking about that work and a fair bit of procrastinating too.  Especially as I’d also committed to some work for VSO this week too! All of this has turned me into a bit of  a stress head (in fairness this always happens when I have training to prepare) and resulted in bonkers dreams and broken sleep.

I’ve also been struggling to find the story this week.  My blogs usually appear in my head as a result of something I’ve seen, heard or done and by the time I open up my laptop the story is ready to be told.  Despite having the usual sublime to ridiculous rollercoaster of a week that is my life now, no blog thought has fully formed.

Some have half formed:

The one where one trainee declared she wasn’t feeling well due to diarrhoea and her colleague responded by asking “how many times did you shit?”

The one where Phirum and I were listening to Radio 4’s Just a Minute on the bus on the way to Battambang and when asked whether she liked it, Phirum replied that yes she did and the man was funny like me.  Said man was none other than my sarcasm idol, Paul Merton.  No higher compliment has been paid to me before or since.

The one where two of Phirum’s sisters and her gorgeous twin nieces Ching and Jing joined us for dinner in town and my heart skipped a beat as I realised that I was among my very own Cambodian family.

The one where I got over myself and wrote a mature objective email to cockwomble about some work we need to do together.  And in reply got a mature objective response and a merry Christmas to boot.

The one this morning when I decided that I was going to join the Cambodians walking barefoot on the nobbly stone path and after a few steps realised how bloody painful it was but had no alternative to complete the whole loop trying not to wince and whine at every step.

They all started to form but that’s as far as they got.

And so that’s what you get today – half formed thoughts.

Normal service will hopefully be resumed shortly.

 

Midnight Musings

Before going any further I must confess, these musing didn’t take place at midnight, they actually occurred at 4am after a FaceTime chat with my lovely sis Victoria and ex sis in law Melanie to whom this post is dedicated as her words were my inspiration.

During our chat something I said prompted Melanie to declare “I don’t know how you do it Sara” (tbh I think it may have been discussion of Bert the Bat who, in case you were wondering, is still scattering his shite liberally around my balcony every night).

And that got me thinking about how exactly I do “do it” and brought me to this blog.

 

When I was living in Asia first time round, my first true backpacker experience was a month long trip through Vietnam during Chinese New Year.  Having at that point spent a year and a half living in an industrial Chinese city I lapped up every banana pancake filled, mango smoothie soaked minute of it, marvelling at the sights, the sounds, the smells and everything else in between.

During one mango smoothie fuelled discussion with some guys I met I mentioned how amazingly brave I thought they were to be travelling for months on end, living out of a bag, waking up in a new place every few days and visiting far flung spots all over the globe with only a vague ‘what’s next’ agenda somewhere in the back of their mind.

I was shocked therefore to hear that they actually saw me as the brave one, living and working within a Chinese community in China with limited financial means and the accompanying extremely Chinese lifestyle.

And that’s the key isn’t it.  One mans meat is another’s poison.  The stuff that freaks Melanie (and lots of other people) out about my life here in Cambodia is the stuff that gives me the energy to get out of bed in the morning;  It makes me smile on a daily basis;  It gives me stuff to write about which results in positive strokes from my fab readers; it makes me question myself and what I see; it teaches me to get a grip, refocus and work out what really matters in life and so much more.

I feel alive in Asia and as long as I do I’ll continue doing it, putting on those now well worn flip flops and becoming me one crazy adventure at a time.

Blind Panic (and a plea)

I wrote last week about not wanting to acknowledge the year is coming to an end.  But the fact is it is and that means that it’s not long until my contract with VSO comes to an end too.

I’ve known about this since the start, I’ve been thinking about the what next since the start but now that it’s actually just around the corner I’ve gone into one of my favourite modes – blind panic!

This state is a well worn path for me – I’ve been there many times.  When blind panic hits I do a few things:

Firstly, I mull over options incessantly.  From the minute I wake, to the minute I go to sleep (and sometimes in my dreams) the options for the future are circling round and round in my head).

Next, I discount all of the options circling in my head due to the many and varying flaws in my character (laziness, fear of poverty, lack of motivation, inability to work for anyone being just a few that immediately come to mind).

Then, the fear created by the first and second step leads to paralysis.  I literally DO nothing.  I sit (or if I can get away with it – lie) and ruminate, in the process doing no work, no reading, no writing, no creative stuff, no yoga, no meditation – in short non of the stuff that makes me feel good about myself and helps me make good decisions.

Actually, the above is not 100% true.  I do DO somethings.  Firstly, I sleep lots (it stops my brain sometimes and also gives me another stick to beat myself with – lazy cow staying in bed instead of blah blah blah, you get the picture) and I binge watch shite TV.  This week’s shite of choice has been the whole 6 series of Sex and the City courtesy of a new streaming site my hairdresser introduced me to.

Doing the above results in me feeling even more crap about myself and that, coupled with the self loathing talk created by the constant overthinking in step one of the process leads me into a downward spiral of misery.

Thankfully, as I’m now so well practiced in this process (and have experienced a couple of pretty rotten rock bottom periods in my past as a result) I’m becoming more adept at asking for help.

So, yesterday I sent out one such cry for help and the response was a superbly timed  and well articulated virtual kick up the arse along with a mechanism of support to get me moving.

And it’s worked.  I’m writing this blog having actually done some work today that I’ve been stressing about all weekend and procrastinated around in spectacular fashion yesterday.  What’s more, I have a plan in place to do even more of that work later along with doing a couple of other ‘back on track’ tasks in the process (getting this blog written and published is one of such tasks).

Another back on track tasks is a plea (hence the parentheses in the title).  I’m really enjoying writing my blog and from the feedback you lovely readers are giving me you’re enjoying reading what I write.

But I have a problem.  I have an amazing quality readership of my blog, but quantity wise I’m rather lacking.

One of my hopes for the future currently spiralling around my head is to do more writing and maybe even make some money from it (It’s taken me 6 months to put that out there thanks to Norman and his views on my ability (or should we say lack of ability) in this area).   And to do this I need help.

Is there anyone out there who knows about and would like to help me with boosting my blog readership and possibly monetarising it?   I know there’s loads of stuff out there on the web about how to do this and how easy it is but the truth is I would rather not do it alone so am looking for a kind of blog buddy to work with me.

Is there anyone out there that knows about writing and publishing books and wants to help me get started? Or knows someone who does it for a living and would like to put me in touch?

Is there anyone that you think might enjoy reading my blog but maybe doesn’t know it exists? Can you point them in its direction?

Any help you can give me, no matter how small, is so so welcome and appreciated so please don’t be shy.

Now, got to get on – the next step in operation overcoming blind panic calls.

 

 

 

 

Watching a car crash in slow motion

After 5 months of banging my head against a proverbial brick wall the Ministry of Fish have finally decided they will acknowledge my existence and let me do the work I’m here to do.

Today this involves being a part of the 2 day Training the Trainer workshop being delivered to Fisheries staff from the provinces.

In true Cambodian style I finally received the schedule for said workshop yesterday afternoon and to my dismay noted that the day would be begin at 7am.

I made the executive decision to arrive a little ‘late’ at 7.30 on the assumption that a) the first part was administrative in nature and would be of little interest to me and b)some people would be late.

I duly rocked up at 7.30am this morning to discover a group of 6, slightly bewildered, Cambodians hovering uncertainly outside the room and not a colleague of mine in sight.

I greeted the unknowns and sat myself down in the room to wait.  Luckily, I’d had the foresight to grab an iced coffee enroute and so happily slurped on that as I caught up on social media as the clocked ticked on.  Finally, at 8am one of my colleagues arrived (Smiley-jokey Loeng) appearing as bemused as myself and the others at the lack of any form of action taking place.  He asked me where various people were and I in return asked him the same question.  A case of phone call cat and mouse followed as he tried in vain to track down the missing facilitators and delegates.

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Finally, at 8am we had enough delegates and big cheese, Mr Hairy mole on his chin, in attendance and it was therefore deemed appropriate to start (please note that at this point my numpty boss and the main organiser of the whole event, Sophea, had still failed to put in an appearance.

Starting involved me, Mr Hairy mole and Smiley-jokey taking our seats at the head table as the delegates looked on (don’t get me started on the room layout!).  Speeches followed (I have no clue what was said as no one bothered to translate) and I was asked to say a few words (I did my best hello my name is Sara in Khmer and quickly reverted to English to waffle on about how excited I was to help staff at the FiA support learning and development in this way).  We then took group photos (to prove to the EU we were there and thus ensure everyone gets their daily subsistence allowance (DSA)) and finally at 8.30am we were off.

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Fannying about with paperwork

The first 10 minutes of the workshop involved the distribution of lots of pieces of paper by numpty boss who had finally put in an appearance at 8.25am and some general chitchat amongst the group.

And then Smiley-jokey and a bloke named Savun (I have no idea who he is other than he’s from Kampoong Chnang) took to the stage.

A powerpoint presentation was opened and, despite not being able to read Khmer, I was able to quickly decide that it had far too much information on it.

Smiley-jokey and Savun did a great double act, demonstrating the amazingly bad teacher/trainer/facilitator habit of talking the hind legs off a donkey as they went on and on about facilitation, what it is and how to be good at it (I know this because I wrote the syllabus).  I have no idea if anyone in the audience wanted to get a word in edgeways as I couldn’t judge their facial expressions due to them gazing at their phones throughout this section.

And then, finally, the Duologue was broken by a brave soul asking a question.  As the guy fell silent Smiley-Jokey took a deep breathe and went to answer but he was just not quick enough – Mr Question had started up again.  This guy went on for approximately 5 minutes (yep I ended up timing him) before stopping once more.

I made the mistake of looking up at this point to see Smiley-Jokey looking pleadingly in my direction.  He then asked me (in English obviously) if  there is a difference between a facilitator and a leader and if so what was it.

Erm, excuse me? What exactly were you and Savun banging on about for 1/2 an hour or so if it was not this exact question???

Thankfully, that question stayed in my head and didn’t come out of my mouth as I desperately scrambled around for ideas of how to answer this to a group of second language speakers.  In the end I reverted to my old faithful bag of tricks including lots of simple word maps combined with a generous dollop of dramatics and some ridiculous scenarios.

I think we finally got to where we needed to be and so I gratefully returned to my seat to witness what would happen next.

Basically, the next god knows how long went like this – slide over full of squiggly writing, long monologue or duologue with very little interaction with the trainees.  In short, how not to facilitate or train effectively 101.

After the break we finally got the trainees involved.  We looked at the differences between child and adult learners in groups equipped with flipchart paper and pens (and also the answers to this exact question on pages 9 through 11 of the whole course presentation that they were all issued with at the start).  And so I observed the farce that was one member of each group flicking through the handout, finding the answers and reading them for the scribe to transfer to the flipchart whilst other group members dicked about on their phones or went for a pee.

 

We then had feedback from each group.  I don’t know what they fed back, but it was long winded, involved waving around a rolled up piece of flipchart paper and pointing it at the their lists and then being bombarded with what were presumably questions from the rest of the group.  The feedback ended with each group being awarded a round of applause before Savun slipped seemlessly back into death by Powerpoint accompanied by monologue mode (smiley-jokey had disappeared by this point and hairy mole and numpty had been MIA since shortly after the opening shiz).

We finally hit the scheduled lunchtime of 12pm but still Savun droned on. Smiley-jokey was back in the room by this time and chipped in with a few comments that were obviously hilarious judging by the response and eventually at 1215 the morning was wrapped up.

I sit writing this blog in a slight daze.  In the past 5 hours I have witnessed a car crash of bad practice when delivering training, made ridiculously ironic by the fact that the subject is training the trainer.

I am now going to eat and try to regroup in preparation for whatever madness the afternoon brings.

Wish me luck!

 

Batsh*t Crazy

I am currently engaged in a war!

Those of you who follow me on Facebook will recall that a few weeks ago I returned from a few days away to discover that I had acquired a lodger in my outdoor lounge.

My ‘lodger’ announced his presence when I switched on the light.  As the switch clicked I heard a loud bang behind me, avoided the urge to scream and instead pun around to discover a peach stone lying on my glass top table.  It appeared to have fallen from above and in doing so had scattered a number of chocolate brown coloured pellets that were also lying on the table.  A glance upward and the source of the noise and detritus was discovered – a big old fruit bat hanging menacingly from the ceiling.

Figuratively shitting myself I quickly opened the door and ran in to escape – banging said door loudly behind me in the hope that Bert the bat would be as scared by this as I was of him and do a disappearing act.

To further hasten his departure I threw caution to the wind, dismissing my usual frugality in relation to electric consumption and instead switching on every light inside and outside my apartment.  A comprehensive assualt on his senses was to be my line of attack and so I did a bit more banging and clattering before settling on my bed.

 

Having lain on my bed staring anxiously at the window beyond which Bert hung for what seemed like a lifetime I pulled up my big girl pants and went to take a look if my strategy had worked.

Tentatively peering around the door frame my hopes were quickly dashed as Bert continued to hang exactly where I’d left him.  Stubborn bugger! Even the flash on my phone as I gained photographic evidence of the invasion failed to shift him from his post.

Defeated I headed to bed, but not before I’d googled ‘how to get rid of bats in your house’ and discovering that a number of the home remedies I’ve amassed for cockroach elimination would also prove successful with bats.

I woke a couple of times during the night convinced that Bert’s family had somehow got into the apartment and were watching me but next morning I went outside to discover that thankfully Bert had departed.   However, this was not before shitting copiously all over my table, chair and the floor.  Apparently bat shit is called Guano and is a very good, highly prized fertiliser that is also toxic and stinks – Google again – but I decided against chucking it on my landlady’s much prized plant collection, instead sweeping it up and into the bin.

My next weapon in operation Bert the bat elimination was mintifying the area.  I already had a spray bottled filled with a mint oil and water concoction (Cockroach deterrent) and so I went about copiously blasting the walls and ceiling around Bert’s resting place with this.

I returned  home that evening to a partial success – no Bert, but plenty of guano to the side of the table – Bert was playing hardball!

I extended the range and ferocity of my spraying over the next couple of days and gradually the appearance of fresh guano diminished and I relaxed, confident that I had won my battle.

Returning from Kampot last week I discovered what looked like a scattering of soil on my dining table and in various areas on the floor.

Initially dismissing this out of hand, after all it’s been extremely windy for the last couple of weeks so why would dust and dirt be blowing in, I was sitting watching tv later that day when  I glanced something black coming towards me out of the corner of my eye and next thing I know there was a whoosh as Bert flew past my ear, swooping round to exit from whence he came at the front of the terrace.

Yep, I figuratively and almost literally sh*t myself again at this point.

Regaining my composure, I decided to study more closely the ‘dirt’ that had appeared and yes you guessed it it was in fact guano.  Not the big pellets of Bert’s first invasion but definitely guano – the black seeds are the giveaway.

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I sprayed any surface I could with the mint concoction even adding in some teatree oil for good measure and getting a stingy burning arm for my troubles.  But sure enough when I ventured out the following day more guano had appeared along with some odd red and black berry like things (If anyone knows what they are, please feel free to enlighten me).

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And so here’s where we’re currently at.  Every evening as the sun goes down, Bert and his pals make an almighty racket as they come out of hiding and swoop around the rooftops of the lane.  I sit watching tv or reading my book with one eye on lookout duty and my right ear tuned in to the location of their screeching.  At some undefined point Bert appears, on Saturday it was during a Skype chat with mum, last night I was mid Real Housewives brain drain when he flashed before my eyes, swoops around and exits to one side.  I have become a mint nazi – spraying like a lunatic, desperately trying to hit the high ceiling by clambering on bins, chairs and anything else I can find.

The guano and berry appearances are getting less by the day but do not fear, I will not let up in my campaign.  Victory will be mine, even if it means moving to phase two of the bat elimination strategy as defined by Google – the hanging of shiny sparkly Christmas decorations to reflect light and scare Bert away.

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Just need to work out where to buy this tat here in PP

 

So , stay tuned and watch this minty and potentially tacky, sparkly space – I would hate you to miss the *VB Day celebrations ehn they finally arrive!

*VB – Victory over Bats Day.  An event to be held annually to mark the day that the heroic Sara Perry single handedly overcame the invasion by Bert the bat.

Strange times

It’s December!

Just putting that out there.  Not for you to be honest, but for me.  Because  waking up every day to balmy temperatures and sunny skies it’s extremely easy to forget.

That is until I switch on the radio and hear Christmas tunes blasting out, read Facebook with people alternately counting down the days to the big event and complaining about the cold.  Very occasionally here in PP too I stumble upon some christmassy offering too, bringing me sharply to the reality that we’re days away from the end of 2016 and not in the middle of July which is where my head seems to think I reside.

I’ve lived overseas at this time of year before (3 of which were in a relatively hot climate of Southern China) I’ve travelled at this time of year, leaving the cold snowy icy realms of the UK for Caribbean, Australian and South African sunshine, even spending Christmas in the Middle East one year but never before have I felt so discombobulated in relation to  life as it is versus the Gregorian calendar.

It’s just plain odd. The feeling started when mum arrived in November and has grown steadily since and shows no signs of abating.  Vicky is arriving soon – the minute I told her I was coming to live in Cambodia she started planning operation ‘don’t leave Sara alone at Christmas’.  I’m dead excited to see and spend time with Vic – showing her the place I now call home and having adventures (and maybe a glass or two of something fizzy, though to be honest that’ll probably be lime and soda as I now display extreme lightweight tendencies when it comes to alcohol consumption) but I don’t feel even vaguely Christmassy.

This time last year I was Christmas Marketing, carolling and mulled wining like a lunatic, finding any and every excuse to indulge in some Christmas build up activity.  Yet here I find myself snubbing an expat Christmas event on the lane where I had my hair coloured last weekend instead opting to drink iced tea and read my book surrounded by arty Cambodian types in a cafe that I love.

But to be honest with you, this isn’t about Christmas and not feeling Christmassy.  It’s bigger than that.  In the past 12 months my life has changed beyond recognition.  Not only in terms of my geographical location, job and lifestyle but also my mindset, beliefs, goals and desires.

And so I guess I’m just not ready to accept that the end is coming to a year that started with the innocent activity of creating a vision board with Vicky and Laura one wintry December day and has turned into the year that that same vision board became my life.

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