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.
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!