Medicine

I’ve been doing that thing again.

You know the one I mean.

It’s the one where you know exactly what you need to do to feel better, how to change things up to blow away the cobwebs, what will lift your mood and give you the energy and oomph to make each day a good one.    But you choose not to do any of those things, instead wallowing in a mire of stuckness which in my case involves mindless surfing of social media coupled with gormless tv watching.

Yep, that’s the thing I’ve been doing this past week.

There are valid reasons why I found myself in that gloopy, miserable, stuck space, some physical, others emotional but none of which I’m sharing here.

Because here today isn’t about the whys, it’s about saying a big fat F*CK YOU to that thing I’ve been doing for the last week.

I’ve made small positive steps over the past couple of days taking little sips of ‘medicine’ in the form of meditation and yoga and today I finally took a full on dose of feel good drugs by getting up at sunrise and hopping on my bike to cycle out to the salt fields.

It’s my first time there since i’ve been back in Kampot and within minutes I was asking myself why I’d left it so long.  The peace and calm that washed over me as I turned off the main road and cycled through the empty plains was immense.  I physically felt my shoulders drop, the corners of my mouth turn upwards and a little glint light the corner of my eyes.  Halfway along the road i set my bike down and perched on a rock to sit and be.  A curious skink joined me on my rock for a while as I sat and basked in the expanse of lush emptiness and quiet, the silence only occasionally broken by a motorbike passing by and before I knew it, the sun which was just above the horizon when I entered the fields was now high in the sky.

I hopped back on my bike and cycled wantonly down the centre of the road alternately flinging my feet off the pedals and my hands off the handlebars whilst squealing a load and long ‘woohoo’ followed by a ‘whoop whoop’ much to the disdain of the local dog and bird population but highly amusing to the reinvigorated me myself and I.

And so, I leave you now with a raft of pics from my medicinal adventure this morning and a promise to myself that I won’t leave it so long before taking my medicine next time.

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In hindsight….

I’ll be honest, there have been times in the last year when I have questioned my choice to move my life to Cambodia.

 

As someone who’s not a huge fan of scuttling creepy crawlies, living in a hot, humid climate in a developing country is perhaps not one of my smartest moves.  Sitting at the riverside recently a cockroach the size of a small hamster (yep that is a slight exaggeration – but only slight mind you) scuttled past causing me to reflexively curl myself into a ball where I sat.  As I uncoiled myself whilst checking surreptitiously to make sure I hadn’t been spotted in my ridiculous over reaction I was reminded of that fateful night early on in my time here when a frantic call to Vic was required in order to help me through the trauma of a similar beast deciding to pop in to my bathroom.

 

I glanced to my left whilst seated on the loo yesterday to be greeted by the leggy spectre of a mutant ninja spider descending from his web he had so lovingly woven on the roof of my bathroom.  Mid pee as I was, I had little option other than to stay put whilst laughing hysterically as I attempted in vain to stare the ninja into submission.  Once my business on the throne was complete I adopted my tried and tested toxic chemical spraying approach to bug removal, showing leggy who was boss and actually telling him so as I scooped him into the dustpan before launching him over the balcony.

I adore geckos and lizards but never fail to figuratively shit myself each time one scuttles up a wall or across the path in front of me.  And as for rats – well don’t get me started on my reaction to those, suffice to say discovering that one had been in my room in China via teeth marks in the soap led to me decamping to a hotel for 5 days, refusing to return to the room alone and spending the first three nights back sleeping with the light on and one eye open at all times.

 

Bigger creatures also freak me out here.  I’ve had sleepless nights thanks to demented duck geckos and creepy devil cats and cycling after twilight often sees me engaging in dramatic swerves, flailing kicks and pathetic roars as I do battle with angry dog packs determined to make a meal of my flip flop clad feet.

 

But the thing that’s really got me questioning the sanity of my choice of home has nothing whatsoever to do with insects or animals.

 

The thing that has me pondering my choices actually relates to a weird little phobia of mine – a long held fear of dirty wet floors.

 

Yes, you did read that right – I am a total nut job who has a visceral reaction to having to put her feet on dirty wet floors.  Just looking at such a surface invokes a twinge in my gut, whilst actually setting foot on it induces spasms, bile rising and on occasion physical wretching.  Riding the bus on a rainy day is by far from a pleasant experience for me as I sit, feet hovering a good two inches off the floor in fear of what lies beneath and don’t get me started on changing room floors at public swimming pools (I’m pretty sure swimming baths of my 1970s childhood are the root cause of this phobia).

And yet, I find myself here in Cambodia, a country where approximately 90% of the roads are red dirt, pavements and effective drainage systems don’t exist and the nation boasts only two seasons per year – one six month dry season and the other (the one we’re in the midst of right now) a six month rainy season.

 

Thinking back, I vaguely remember being pretty grossed out every time I was outside my home or office from July to November last year as I paddled through god knows what, cringeing as my flip flop clad feet gathered assorted grit, grime and gunk everywhere I went.  I also remember declaring at a random point during the dry season how joyful it was to be able to look up as I walked rather than gazing down in fear, dread and repulsion at the sludgy mess beneath my feet that was my only route to anywhere for those wet months.

 

But what I hadn’t realised was how sanitised my exposure to the rainy season had been living in Phnom Penh.

 

However, this has been brought into stark relief as I returned to Kampot recently, to live in a house on a red dirt road with a downward sloping drive and an untarmaced path. After as little as 30 minutes of rain all three have turned to an assault course of puddle laden swampy gloop that I have to run the gauntlet of every time I leave or enter the house.

The drive pre rain

By the time I get out of the gate I’m a wreck.  I can’t wait to get on my bike to get my feet off the glue like substance pertaining to be a floor but once on my bike, have to suffer the triple torture of cycling through gloop and swampy water, using feet clad in clay and mud laden flip flops which to my warped mind are infected with flesh eating properties whilst all the while fearing the inevitable point where my bike wheel slips and I fall flat on my face in the swamp.  A fact that’s made all the more likely by the fact that whilst running the gauntlet I’m having to focus really hard on managing my physical convulsions as I wretch and not actually throwing up all over myself.

 

As I cycle out onto the main road I breathe an audible sigh of relief and begin the process of using my pedals to scrape off the toxic substance I imagine to be infecting me through the soles of my flipflops whilst geeing myself up for the next red road not far along the way.

 

So yep, in hindsight not my best choice of location, but at least it’s only a month or so until the dry season arrives.  Bring it on!

Being brave and stopping for 30 seconds to take a pic in the hell swamp of my imagining

To you a bit of mud… to me a gut wrenching vomit inducing cesspit

 

 

Extreme Hammocking

Hammocks are an integral part of life in Cambodia, and since returning to Kampot at the beginning of the month have become a staple of my weekend routine.

 

My first weekend saw a visit to a lovely little riverside guesthouse known as Greenhouse where, as well as drinking coffee, eating great food, swimming in the river and reuniting briefly with VSO colleagues who popped in on route to their annual conference I engaged in a couple of lazy hours of book reading and music listening in a hammock slung in the shade of the guesthouse deck.

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Happy to take time away from my hammock to chat to my lovely ex colleagues from VSO

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just hanging beneath the guesthouse deck at the Greenhouse

Weekend two saw me caught up in a slight hammock catastrophe when, having set down my various accoutrements for relaxation aka my Kindle, water bottle, phone and headphones I precariously lowered myself into the hammock on the terrace (hammock level squats and my uptight hamstrings are not a match made in heaven).  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, one of the brackets securing the hammock frame had worked lose and thus my arse making contact with the hammock induced full on hammock frame splaying and my unceremonious clatter and thud to the floor.  Cue embarrassed laughter followed quickly by an inelegant scrabbling to return myself to upright as quickly as possible.

 

Thankfully, nothing but my pride was damaged in this incident and, having relocked the frame brackets I was able to finally indulge in the relaxation I had initially sought.

 

And so to the weekend just gone and one where extreme hammocking came into play.  Friday afternoon saw the dawning of an extremely weird 36 hours of illness.  Commencing as a headache of gargantuan proportions and accompanying indigestion like pain there followed a restless night of sweats, tossing, turning, very little sleep  and a large dose of general mehness (all augmented by the presence of an unknown creature scratching and scuffling in my chest of drawers (no that isn’t a euphemism) and the hideous screech of appalling karaoke streaming in through the window into the early hours).

 

Saturday dawned to no lessening of the symptoms of the previous day and so I decided there was only one thing for it – I would settle myself into the hammock and chill this one out.

 

Having checked the brackets were secure (not going to make that mistake again in a hurry) and placed the supplies needed for swinging out an illness within reach, I lowered myself into my hammock, adjusted my pillow and there I lay.  For all of five minutes that is, as just as I’d settled myself in my stomach indicated that the indigestion like feeling was in fact a precursor for that staple of South East Asian life – the sh*ts.

 

Hammock abandoned, I spent a few hours treading a well worn path between bed and bathroom as the evacuation commenced.

 

After a while I was satisfied that the bowel boogie had slowed and so once more I settled myself into my hammock to recuperate.

 

Drifting in and out of a sleep peppered with sweats and cramps I had a relatively peaceful few hours of hammock time before it came to my attention that my nose was running and so I scrambled unceremoniously out of the hammock to grab some tissues.

 

Nose blown, tiger balm and box of tissues collected, I returned to my prone position but within 15 minutes had already amassed a mountain of used tissue the size of a large termite hill along with a growing awareness that my ability to breathe was seriously diminished and so I abandoned the hammock in favour of an armchair in a vain attempt to relieve my now totally blocked sinuses.

 

Resigned to the fact that I now had a cold as well as the remainder of the sh*ts and a headache that wouldn’t abate I headed to bed feeling extremely sorry for myself and not looking forward to the days ahead.

 

And then Sunday dawned and the headache was all but gone, as were the raging cramps (a few lingering twinges remained) along with all signs of yesterday evenings full blown cold.  And in honour of this joyful discovery I quickly gathered my things and headed to my lovely hammock to begin a day of unadulterated me time, reading, sipping tea, dunking biscuits, listening to music, watching shite tv and genuinely relishing the opportunity to spend a day indulging in extreme hammocking.

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A life spent taking photos of ones feet in a hammock is a life well spent

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It’s strenuous work this extreme hammocking!

Roll on next weekend and whatever hammock related antics it may bring I say.

Cocks in all their guises

A farewell evening for the lovely Linda who yesterday left Kampot for adventures in teeth repair, bifocal tuning, beach dwelling and an eventual return to her motherland proved entertaining on many levels.

 

We wandered into town around four to eat before imbibing, deciding on the local kebab shop for our dining pleasure, partly a pragmatic decision courtesy of a certain member of our party fearing ‘chub rub’, but mainly because Linda really likes James, the owner, and Lucky his pet cockerel.

 

Yes, you read that right, Lucky the cockerel rules the roost at Aroma Bar and Restaurant, strutting proudly around the outdoor seating area, clucking and crowing to anyone who’ll listen.

 

I greeted Lucky with a cautious ‘hello, you’re a beauty aren’t you’ (ever the charmer moi) before settling to look at my menu and next thing I know I was glancing up to find Lucky perched on Linda’s knee and being petted like a cat.  And boy did he love it.  His clucks turned to rattling purrs of glee as Linda tickled his breast, his head tipping coquettishly to one side as she caressed the area at the back of his neck, earning herself the highly imaginative name of the Cock Whisperer for time immemorial as far as I’m concerned.

Lovely Lucky in close up

The cock whisperer in action

Strutting his stuff

Suitably nourished we headed off to the riverside for farewell part one in The Fishmarket.  A genial affair involving cocks of the alcoholic variety ala cocktails, with various members of Linda’s extended family out here – that woman seriously knows everyone!!!

 

A visit to the comedy club shifted the focus from cocks to vaginas as we guffawed and snorted our way through a set by the very funny British comedienne Jo Jo Smith bemoaning the loss of her sex drive post menopause.  As if this wasn’t funny enough in itself, watching the reactions of the younger clientele as she regaled us with tales of dried up nether regions very nearly resulted in a Tena Lady moment for us two women of a certain age.

 

The after party took us to a late night bar in town and introduced me to a whole new Kampot world I didn’t even know existed (well I kind of did but chose to ignore and now know why)!

 

Alcohol flowed and laughter filled the air as Linda held court over various groups of locals and tourists in the tiny cramped space.  Meanwhile, at a stool at the bar I was being amused by an extremely colourful fugitive from the long arm of the British law, visiting town from Phnom Penh and delighting me with tales of his debauched childhood on the Wirral and even more debauched adulthood in South East Asia.  The conversation involved the use of the word cock on a number of occasions (both the singular and the plural) and during our encounter I experienced a first for me, an offer of a kind never received before (it didn’t involve cocks in case you were wondering but did involve a place where they would normally be in evidence) and one that I think I managed to refuse politely whilst successfully stopping the ‘WT Actual F did you just say’ bubbling away inside from bursting forth from my face.

 

The next cock to feature in was the 5am crowing of the local rooster community as I lay on my bed, sleep deprived and still marvelling at the bizarreness of last night’s proposal.

 

The sun rose, I lounged, Linda cleaned and then we headed out, cycling slowly into town past streams of excited Cambodians off on holiday adventures.  As we passed a side street we were stopped in our tracks by a family of baby chicks being led along by their feather duster impersonator mum.  Looking further down the road we realised that the local cocks had obviously been extremely busy as four more families of chicks with their respective mums pecked in the dirt around them.

Feather duster chuck

Settling down in a local café for breakfast we came across our last cock of the adventure.  This one was of the human variety, prevalent across South East Asia (and most of the rest of the World too) old enough to know better, lover of the sound of his own voice, with absolutely nothing of interest to say.  Yes ladies and gentleman of the flipflop blog reading variety, I was sat opposite none other than the lesser spotted cockwomble.  Quickly realising I had inadvertently applied my make me invisible cream before leaving the house I stopped wasting my time trying to engage, leaving that to rugby loving Linda whilst I tucked into my eggs and bacon and reflected on a fabulous cock filled few hours to mark the departure of my fabulous friend.

Linda and I on one of our recent mad adventures

 

Anticipation

The chanting has commenced, the gates of hell have opened, the spirits of ancestors long past are out & desperate to be fed and the Cambodian community is obliging, rice balls and other food offerings being delivered to the temples by the tiffin tin load for the ghosts to consume before being banished once more to purgatory for their mortal sins.

 

We’re slap bang in the middle of the National Holiday known as Pchum Ben here in Cambodia – a time when Cambodians remember their ancestors and, as I’ve alluded to in the paragraph above, feed those who because of transgressions during life are banished to hell and starved.

 

This time last year I made my first ever visit to my now hometown of Kampot to spend the three day break relaxing and exploring and as a result getting my first taste of how the Cambodians do holidays during a day trip to the local coastal town of Kep which you can read about here if you want.

 

That experience, along with exposure to subsequent holidays including the ultimate that is Khmer New Year has increased my awareness of the rituals (traditional and modern) inherent in Cambodian holiday culture and so, since returning I’ve been watching the anticipation build as those rituals unfold with both interest and amusement.

 

Traditionally, visits to the temple are a massive part of any and all Cambodian holidays and with a 15 day festival like Pchum Ben there’s lots of it to be done.   Families pile onto the back of motorbikes, dressed in their finery (for the women this means a white blouse and traditional Khmer skirt, for the men a shirt and trousers) clinging gingerly to their silver tiffin tins laden with goodies to feed the ghosts and monks alike as they bounce along dirt tracks to their local temple to deliver the offerings and receive blessings.

 

The final three days of Pchum Ben are the national holiday, allowing Cambodians to return home to visit their family and to pay respects at their home temple.  For many this involves a visit in the early hours of the morning on the first day of the three day holiday, and thanks to my friend insomnia I was able to experience the sense of anticipation as motorbike engines hummed to life, gates creaked open, dogs barked and brakes squealed to mark the dark hours procession to the temples prior to the chanting starting at 3.15am and the regular, rhythmic drum banging commencing shortly thereafter. By sunrise it was all over, chanting ceased and 1st day of the holiday proper was in full flow.

 

On the more modern end of the scale, sales of pyjamas go through the roof in the run up to Pchum Ben.  Not in a new PJs for Christmas Eve night way you might experience as a family in the West, but because pyjamas are the outfit de rigueur for day tripping Cambodian women and girls.   Market stalls full of the ridiculously garish, teddy bear emblazoned creations have been appearing on the river road in Kampot and on roads around the country as locals flock to buy their essential holiday garb.

 

And speaking of market stalls, the Thai market has come to town.  This fabulous spectacle visits Kampot periodically on its journey around Southeast Asia, bringing with it a plethora of plastic tat, comedy clothing, electronic gadgets galore and more mattresses than one nation could ever make use of, thus offering Cambodians a holiday opportunity to engage in consumerism on an ever growing scale.

 

The roads become busier as more and more people head home, or off on trips, vehicles bursting at the seams (16 in one car is the record so far this holiday, with a bum hanging out of a minivan window getting the prize for most bonkers vehicular related spot to date– thanks to Linda for both of these insights) as they chug along in convoy to the popular day trip destinations.

 

Sadly for some, anticipation is all they have when it comes to road trips.  This morning when I first got up at 6 I wandered the terrace at home to discover a coach parked up in the lane and a couple of people hanging about.  Assuming it was a day trip about to start I gave it no more thought and went about my day.  A couple of hours later and the coach was still there, more people had arrived and Linda and I were trying to ascertain, in pigeon Khmer, where they were heading.  Another hour passed and still no movement (other than another large coach squeezing past along the lane in the opposite direction) and then that second coach returned and all became clear,  Our ‘resident’ coach had actually broken down on route to who knows where (we failed at the pigeon Khmer Q&A in case you hadn’t already guessed) and for the past 3.5 hours the poor, hapless day trippers had spent their precious holiday time wandering the lane outside our house, snoozing on the dead as a dodo coach and basically doing nothing whilst they waited for a miracle to occur.  On leaving the house at 10 there was still no movement other than arm to mouth action of men who had cracked open the bus beers and were squatting in a sheltered corner behind the bus whilst puzzled drivers gazed at the open engine compartment in despair.

 

For foreigners in town the build up to Pchum Ben is marked by conversations about what and when local amenities will be closed.  The town has slowly been closing down over the last week, food options have become limited and today’s request for lemongrass and mint tea thwarted by the local supplier of lemongrass having forsaken his usual market pitch for the chance to head home and kick back in a hammock over the holidays (don’t worry too much though, I managed to get a lime mint cooler instead and there’s still an abundance of good strong coffee available so it’s not quite the end of the world #phew!).

 

And as Pchum Ben comes to an end I anticipate merriment.  Tomorrow, the final day of the holiday, was unpoetically described as beer drinking day by a local travel agent when explaining the lack of taxi options available on the day.  No doubt copious amounts of alcohol will be consumed on top of that already drunk (that constant day tripping convoy of the past few days has been replete with cases of beer by the dozen) and I therefore anticipate there’ll be more than a few sore heads as people return to the normal hum of daily life over the coming days.

 

 

4am

My occasional visitor Insomnia is back and so 4am has become my new best friend.

 

And my new home means that 4am brings new experiences to uncover as I lie in the relative dark, thinking and not thinking.

 

Apparently, the pond outside my bedroom window was born a swimming pool but indestructible algae soon put paid to that incarnation, relegating it to the status of green, slightly swampy and very square pond and home to a mammoth colony of frogs who spend the whole night chatting vociferously, even more so tonight thanks to torrential rain over the last 24 hours.   I lie listening, pondering what might be being said, marvelling at the melodies intrinsic in their communications.

 

I grab my phone and record the sounds of my insomniac night, eager to capture it for posterity, wondering if one day I’ll want to play it on a loop to bring me back to this place and time once more.

 

Norman intrudes my musical ponderings, pointing out that I should be using the time usefully.  I argue that I am, I’m pondering the language of frogs, the beauty of nature and the memories it’s creating for me and he hops back in his cage and nods off once more.

 

As time slips slowly by, my chorus is enhanced by a rooster, prematurely crowing the dawn break and in the process adding a new beat to the rendition beyond the four walls.

 

Rain begins to fall, steadily at first, drip drip drip, then the clouds open and down it pours, splashing heavily to the ground, running off the roof, pouring into puddles and at the same time adding a crashing percussion to the acapella of the frog chorus, the volume increasing in unison as if in competition to be heard.

 

My mind wanders and I head down avenues that lead to no good – ruminations on ifs and coulds and should and maybes, Norman stirring, sniffing the chance to chastise when the rumbling of a truck thankfully brings me back to the now.

 

And I return to the room just in time to hear the chorus fading, rain slowing, frog chorus diminishing as dawn begins to break and avifauna take over the melody to accompany my insomnia.  I lie listening as bird after bird chimes in with its beautiful notes, tunes in their own-right coming together to form a heavenly avian oratorio.

 

I close my eyes and listen, taking in the beauty of the sounds and slowly, steadily drift back to sleep awakening once more to sunshine at the start of a gorgeous, post rain, sunny Kampot Sunday morning.

 

 

You can check out a few seconds of the frog chorus here if you like

Checking In

From the minute I walked out of the airport just over a week ago it felt right, I was home, I felt good, warmth permeated my bones, sunshine and smiles warmed my soul – I had arrived.

 

The smells, sounds and other sensations experienced on the journey from airport to hotel induced physical responses from within me, from giggle to guffaw, grin to grimace, titter to tear I emoted every moment of the 10km journey to Cambodia’s capital – Phnom Penh.

 

The emotions continued to explode from within as I explored once more the familiar streets of my once home, reconnected with friends local and expatriate and availed myself of the wonder that is Cambodian coffee, food and hospitality.

 

A 3 hour bus journey delivered me home to Kampot where the explosion of sensory experiences has continued.  More reconnecting has occurred, new connections have been made, those random smiles I so missed during my time in the UK are elicited on a daily and hourly basis as I settle back in to my life where wearing flip flops all day, every day not only doesn’t induce a trench foot like condition but actively heals it – scabby England feet be gone!

 

I’ve become acquainted with my new home and the assorted fellow occupants thereof.  From my temporary housemate (and the lady I have to thank for getting me this fabulous place to call home) Linda, who is a fabulous smile and giggle inducer and corrupts me in equal measure to the corruption I inflict on her (Naked Attraction watching is our new late evening guilty pleasure), on to our caretaker come security man Sareth with his wonderful smile, eagerness to engage and Cambodian quirkiness, to the collection of wildlife that pepper my home life here:  The 24 hour frog chorus emanating from the pond/swamp outside my bedroom window; the gecko community that occasionally scare the bejesus out of me as they excitedly chase and devour the mosquito community in my room; the night time hounds howling in the distance and the permanent swarm of little black midges around my head thanks to my very bright and apparently extremely attractive to insects hair colour.

 

Work is gaining a rhythm, I’m back at my beloved Dorsu working with the amazing team here as they create beautiful clothes ethically and from the heart.

The girls at Banteay Srey Spa welcomed me with open arms when I headed across the river to see them last Friday and today marks the start of a new chapter there as eight new trainees embark on a learning journey I feel blessed to be a part of.

 

And I can truly say that life is good.  Yes, there have been moments of sadness, a few long hours in the middle of the night where the combination of jetlag induced insomnia and messy thoughts led down painful paths and I do miss people from my time back in the UK – my three months over the summer were a whirlwind of experiences: some mad, some bad, many bonkers and a whole heap of them filled with joy, love, laughter and learning – but I’ve brought those memories with me and with that a small part the special people connected to them are here with me too.

 

And I’m here and living and loving life by the river in sleepy, old Kampot.  Still discovering and becoming me on a daily basis and loving every mad bonkers, flipflop clad minute of it.