First steps to the Kingdom of combodia

Jessie Brooks ( United Kingdom, AC 2009-2011)

I arrived at 9am on Wednesday morning, and now, coming to the end of Friday, I am beginning to feel at home. On my first day I was met at the airport by Chris, Vera and Gilly (the ex-headmistress who is to be our trainer and house-mum of sorts). We had a rushed breakfast and then, along with Catherine and Ingvill, we went to meet an Ex-UN worker who now works as an adviser for the Cambodian government. He is also the father of one of my Atlantic College first-years, Shimon. He told us all about Cambodia’s history and explained to us the governmental system, which as far as I can understand it, is based upon columns and columns of departments that work almost entirely without cohesion.

We then went to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, which was essentially left exactly as it was found at the end of Pol Pot’s regime. The only differences were that two cells were taken up with photos of the prisoners and soldiers of the regime, another two with paintings of the prison by a survivor, and there were 14 graves outside for the dead found left in the prison when the regime was over. Stood outside the prison, as he has done everyday for a long time, was one of the last of the 7 who survived the prison. His presence made the whole trip more real, and his ability to be at the prison everyday was in part admirable, but also disturbing, because he seemed to have grown an immunity to the history of his surroundings.

We were then taken for a Traditional Khmer Massage, probably the most intense massage I have ever witnessed! We had parts of our bodies stretched that we never knew were stretchable. And we all became very silly, and therefore very ticklish. We managed to enjoy most of the experience, though failed to maintain composure at the very end. The massuers (?) must have sighed inwardly at the silly little western girls, but selective maturity is definitely preferable never laughing at all!

We rode around all day in a Tuk Tuk… best form of transport ever! and we had the same driver all day who looked after us really well, driving us around in search of the perfect cafe, or chasing after us in the rain with waterproof ponchos.

Then, yesterday, we got up at 6am to drive 10 hours, all the way from Phnom Penh to Bunlung, where we will be living now for 6 months. and this morning we finally moved into our home. When me moved in it was filthy, but homely and we have managed to clean a little so the cooker is now white instead of grime-brown and the water in our wash-bucket is clear. I think this will become home very soon. I don’t really know how I’m feeling about it all; partly comfortable now, and partly terrified i think… We’ll see.
-United Words team-

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