A Story of Water in Cambodia

Water is a huge part of life here in rural Battambang. It often takes precedence in daily conversation. Topics range from hourly weather or road conditions to more serious topics related to crop yields and drinking water. And more sobering is discussing how farmers face to lose their livelihood through flooding or drought–both of which have been increasing in frequency and severity.

But rather than talk about the many ways water is important to current Cambodian economics, culture, and life, I want to focus on a historical piece that I was privileged to hear recently.

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Rain at the office! Rain in the Battambang province is talked about constantly as the province is the hub of agricultural output in the country.

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Footballin’ Fun

I arrive with the sun starting its decent and smoke rising from the pre-game cigarettes. Between puffs, players lace up shoes, strap on shin guards, and slip on their red jerseys. I am tossed a team jersey that seems to cover the majority of my midriff (being tall has its cons at times). My recently acquired bright orange cleats already show signs of wear and tear of a few weeks of practice. Today we are playing against the staff at the local ACLEDA bank. Our teams play often, trading wins and losses every month. It’s a highly anticipated match that draws spectators from town.

I step out onto the field. The stadium lights shine bright on the green turf grass.  Darkness falls on the rice fields surrounding the soccer complex. Players dressed in either red or gold are positioned across the field ready to begin play. Dozens of fans are stationed along the perimeter, already cheering and chanting. I look to my right. My teammates are focused and are finishing up their final pregame routines. Oh man, why am I so nervous? I haven’t been this anxious for a something competitive in long time. Is it because I don’t want to let my team down? Is it because I fear my teammate’s disappointment in my inadequate football skills? Is it because I feel the eyes of the spectators?

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Pictured is the Sten Sor football club. It’s the main venue of games and practice in Bavel. The team warming up above is a 14-and-under team that I occasionally join for practices. Their coach is a fellow teacher and good friend at the Bavel high school. It’s always humbling to practice with and learn from these talented young athletes.

The referee steps onto the field and blows the whistle.The field springs to life as players sprint, kick, and shout. They quickly maneuver the ball up and down the field, passing fluidly to one another with smooth precision. Continue reading

Concrete and ‘Ccompaniment

This post appeared in my January newsletter. If you’re asking yourself, “What newsletter?”, leave a comment below or send me an email and I will gladly add you to the recipient list.

The city atmosphere of Battambang brings an array of new sounds and scenes in comparison to the rural Bavel district. Sounds of accelerating cars, trucks, and the buzzing of motos fill the air while the various city aromas keep my sense of smell stirring.  The sun steadily rises over the canopy of buildings as the wind is unable to provide relief from the increasing heat. The air is hot and stuffy but the shade given by the house manages to ease the temperature. The capital town of the province serves as my home on some weekends. A few coworkers generously take me into their families after a week of work at the office in Bavel, which sits roughly 50km to the northwest.

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A nice view of Battambang city from a high rise building.

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A Reality Far from My ‘Normal’

The December air is cool. Well, at least relatively speaking. The weather peaks around 85 during midday and a constant breeze encourages many to wear heavier clothing. The trees are losing their bright color as the rains have lessened, but the green still dominates nearly every direction. Many rice fields are nearing their second harvest while the canal waters disappear.

Today we are in the Sam Lot district, a large area in southwestern Battambang near the Thai border. My coworkers are teaching fifteen community members how to properly raise and vaccinate chickens in their local areas. This teaching has extended into its third day due to the detailed and extensive information discussed. I’ve found that chicken-raising is quite the undertaking as growing and selling healthy/profitable chickens is a very meticulous process. Much of the curriculum covers optimal nurturing methods and maximizing economic output strategies.  The hope is that each chicken farmer will improve their raising techniques and empower others by passing this new knowledge to his/her neighbors, having cascading livelihood effects across entire communities.

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The group of participants learn about raising chickens in the shade of a community gathering area.

During the training, I sit and listen, understanding bits and pieces of what words and ideas are shared. I also take pictures to help my coworkers document this community-empowerment activity. As I sit, observe, and click with the camera, I write down questions that I’ll be sure to ask my coworkers later for further clarification and understanding. Continue reading

The Shortcomings of a ‘Good Attitude’

I met a fellow foreigner in Bavel today. I was spending some free time at a local shop on a Saturday afternoon when a moto drove up. At first, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. This was the first clearly visible outsider I’d seen in Bavel apart from my work with LWD. I was eager to engage in conversation. After making eye contact, we had no trouble starting friendly dialogue over a cold refreshing beverage.
As words were exchanged, I discovered that this person had been living in Cambodia for over a decade. Our conversation topics eventually deepened and took on the precarious task of discussing Cambodian politics. I listened intently as I thought that this person’s extensive life experience in Cambodia would yield massive insight on the subject. But this person’s words did not provide such an outcome. Instead, what was disclosed was a disregard for politics altogether combined with a life philosophy to alleviate systemic or institutionalized harms—“Anyone can be free. All they need is a good attitude”.  This person went on to say that regardless of the political, economic, social, and/or religious institutions, people always have the ability ‘to be free’. In short, the solution is a positive mindset. Any person is free to live their life without oppression if only they have an optimistic outlook. After a few additional minutes discussion, my new acquaintance left and zoomed out of sight.

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A view of the ‘main drag’ of Bavel. Off to the left lies an entry to the main market while small shops crowd the streets that are filled with motos and cars.

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My First Cambodian Recess

This post appeared in my November newsletter. However, it has a few additions. If you’re asking yourself, “What newsletter?”, leave a comment below or send me an email and I will gladly add you to the recipient list.

The late afternoon sun hangs low in the sky. The heat begins to dissipate. The grass field is still littered with puddles from the earlier rain, creating precarious expanses of mud. The cows stand innocuously while a herd of boisterous school children charges into their once peaceful grazing area. Nearby rice fields sit in silence as the invasion begins. Bicycle ice cream vendors assemble and advance towards the roar of their young patrons. Continue reading

Biking Anew in Cambodia

This post appeared in my October newsletter. However, it has a few additions. If you’re asking yourself, “What newsletter?”, leave a comment below or send me an email and I will gladly add you to the recipient list.

The cool rush of air is such a relief. I accelerate, urging my iron horse onward, feeling more refreshed by each churn of the legs. The sun is already climbing high in the sky, but has yet to begin its primary assault of heat for the day. The road is littered with puddles from last night’s rain—a common occurrence for the wet season in Cambodia. I wind through the bends on the small road, making sure to wave at smiling faces of school children, adults eating breakfast, and the workers en route to a day’s work. My morning bike ride has quickly become a special part of my routine each day. Continue reading