According to Dictionary.com, rites of passage are “Ceremonies that mark important transitional periods in a person’s life, such as birth, puberty, marriage, having children, and death.” The dictionary goes on to explain that they “usually involve ritual activities and teachings designed to strip individuals of their original roles and prepare them for new roles”
Those of you have been following me from the start will recall that early into my time in Phnom Penh I moved into my apartment within walking distance of my office, headed off to work on the first morning bright as a button and promptly skidded around the corner falling ungracefully to my knees.
Well, a recent event here in Kampot has led me to believe that clumsy accidents may infact be a rite of passage for me when it comes to locating to a new place.
Let me explain.
I’d recently met with the founder of the Banteay Srey Project, Freya, and was interested to see where her other project, the Eden Guesthouse was located and so an early morning bike ride a few days ago took me out on an adventure north along the east bank of the river (that’s the town side of the river heading Bokor Night Market way for those of you who’ve been here).
As per usual, the road quickly turned from tarmac to red dust and thus I bounced along steadily, the quantity of traffic decreasing as the quality of the road rapidly deteriorated. I dodged and swerved to avoid the increasingly frequent and progressively deeper potholes, occasionally avoiding these hazards only to find myself confronted by a patch of road which was in fact soft deep sand.
Passed only by the occasional motorbike laden with produce purchased from the market I trundled on. Finally, I reached a junction of sorts, one amongst a plethora of signs announcing that I was on the right track.
The road now narrower and edged with jungle like foliage on both sides I turned a corner to discover a small bridge and heading from under it the small ferry boat that shuttles people and produce from one side of the river to the other.
Post obligatory photo stop, I headed further along the road, which at this point was thankfully decidedly less crater filled, cycling through small Cham Muslim villages to a chorus of smiling hellos from the women and children I passed.
By now I was truly in my happy place and so Eden came and went as I pedalled on, eventually stopping a mile or so further down the track which had again turned to its craters of the moon like state.
Instead of turning around straight away though, I paused to take a picture of a chicken and, when said chicken was startled by my presence I shuffled, bike between legs, further on to catch up with it and get that photo. I honestly don’t know where my head was at this point, after all there are thousands of bloody chickens all over the place here, including a fair few that cluck and crow outside my room all day and night, but I was intent on getting that damn pic.
And then it happened. As I shuffled my bike around the front wheel and handle bars turned heavily, the weight of my bag and water in the basket too much for my ‘I’m too busy capturing an important moment in history to hold on to the bike properly’ grip. Next ,the mid section leaned, I grasped to try to regain control in the process leaning forward and losing my balance and before I could yell ‘crater’ there I was, lying in one with my bike on top of me, attracting the noisy attention of every dog in the neighbourhood.
Embarrassed and also aware that I was in some pain, I managed to extricate my body and bike from the crater and proceeded to inspect the damage. Underneath the thick layer of red dust that clung to my sweat covered body I could see trickles of blood on my right knee, similar to the ones I could also see on the knuckles of my left hand. I tentatively dabbed away at the wounds with my trusty microfiber towel, dousing it with water in a vain attempt to irrigate the wounds, all the while vaguely aware of a throbbing pain just above my right ankle. Inspection of the area uncovered a raised purple bruise already ripening but thankfully no open wound.
I shakily brushed myself down and prepared myself for the long and painful journey back, straddling my bike and wobbling precariously for a few yards until I got back into my stride.
And it was as I was negotiating the slalem of dips on that return journey that I recognised that this ridiculous accident was actually my rite of passage. Just like my slip and trip in Phnom Penh had been a marker of settling into my new home there, the bike tumble marked my settling in here in Kampot.
I had arrived, bruised and battered I may be, but I knew from that moment that I was truly well and truly home.