Why did I end up in a minivan with a huge metal tin full of protein-rich insects right in front of me?
It’s exam week for all the students (primary schools, high schools and universities) in Cambodia so I took some time off and decided to travel to Phnom Penh to attend a start up pitching event. To get to Phnom Penh from the town I am in, I can take a big bus, a taxi or a minivan which is the cheapest way. To hail a minivan, similar to hitchhiking, all you need to do is to stand on the roadside (in the right direction) and hail one. The driver will stop the minivan, come out of the van and open the door for you. You can then tell him where you want to go to and ask about the price. For instance, if you’re traveling from Kampong Cham to Phnom Penh, it costs KHR10,000 which is around USD2.5. The reason why it’s so cheap compared to other modes of transport is because they take in any passengers along the road who hail them. That means it can be very crowded in the minivan. If you are sitting between two fat people, you can imagine what it’s like. These local people who take the minivan can be vendors like the one sitting on my right in this trip. She sells these insects (and many other things). You can even eat in the minivan. Like this vendor, she ate durians in the minivan. If you have tried durians, you will know how strong the smell is. If you don’t mind the smell, it’s ok. But if you do, you’ll probably want to wear a mask like the passenger sitting on my left did. Patience is required when you’re on this kind of trip.
Last time when I came to Phnom Penh, I met a volunteer from India so I asked her to join me. She has been volunteering in Cambodia for 10 months and will be leaving in two months’ time so I said to her at dinner time, ‘it’s time for you to do some reflections, isn’t it?’ She said, ‘er… reflections, yes… Hm…’
I have recently attended a couple of farewell parties. All of them were to farewell French volunteers and all of these volunteers had stayed here for at least four months.
At one of the farewell parties, the students were playing the song with lyrics like this, ‘see you again’. I looked at the French volunteer who was leaving Cambodia after staying here for four months and said with a wink, ‘hey, see you again’. She responded very quickly, ‘never.’ Ha! She then explained, ‘no money.’ The reason why she was ‘volunteering’ here was purely for her project for her degree at university. Her course requires her to work on a project in any country. She needs to document the objectives of her project, actual results, budget, expenses, etc. and then when she goes back to France, she has to do a presentation. She finished the first part of her project and was ready to start her second part after she went back to France. The objective of being a ‘volunteer’ in her case is different from another French volunteer I met from Enfants du Mekong.
At the farewell party for the French volunteer from Enfants du Mekong who had stayed here for one year, I asked the volunteer how he felt. He said, ‘I didn’t feel much a few days ago but today (he was leaving at 11am the day after the farewell party), I felt… “it’s all over.”’
It sounds like how I felt on my last day of my four-month trip in South America. My last stop was Bolivia. I had to leave my hostel in La Paz before dawn to catch an early morning flight. As I quietly closed the door of my room in the hostel, I took the last peep of my very tidy but empty bed which was the lower level of a bunk bed near the door. Not only was the bed empty, I had a sense of emptiness too – ‘it’s over.’ The trip was over. The dream was over. The whole trip and the experiences that I had along the way was over. It was time to go back to reality. I could have stayed for a longer time but I decided to go back home to attend a funeral as my grandma passed away while I was travelling in the SA continent.
This emotional moment didn’t last long though. Right after I quietly closed the door behind me, a (drunk) backpacker appeared and asked me, ‘where are you going?’ ‘I’m heading to the airport.’ ‘Oh!’ Then he went into a (random?) bedroom.
Welcome back to reality.
After I recalled and shared all these experiences with the volunteer from India, she said, ‘I think when I look back, I will feel proud of myself.’ I was amazed (with admiration) when I heard that. It was her first time to leave her country for that long and it was also her first time to have encountered so many adversities within just a few months (sickness, infections, allergies… all happened within her first three months in Cambodia, together with loneliness) and be able to tackle all of them. Indeed, she should feel very proud of herself. How many of us can say this to ourselves? Not too many I suppose. That’s a big achievement! Imagine if everyone in the world can say this, will our world become a much better place?