January 16, 2014

Day 100 – Back-tracking

It’s been a month since my last blog! One month, gosh and so much has happened in the last month, where to start?

So, let’s start with Bangkok.  Time spent here was very different to Cambodia and Vietnam. Bangkok is more of a city, built-up, good roads, plenty of cars and traffic.  Plenty of rickshaws who try and rip you off! Roads are not chaotic like Saigon though.

Streets of Bangkok by night

Streets of Bangkok by night

Leaving Bangkok, went back to Cambodia to start volunteering in Siem Reap.  I heard about this school through a volunteer I met in Vietnam.  She was due to do a two week work camp so I signed up to volunteer at the same school.  Little did we know that her work camp would be at a different school.  Unlike the project in Saigon, I did very little research for this placement other then ensure the school actually existed!

This project was eye-opener for many reasons.  It was 4km from Siem Reap so ultimately volunteering at this project we were in a village.  Accommodation was a little different to dorms, it was a room, full of mattresses and basically that’s your space. I’ve learnt very early to share not just my belongings but my space.  Personal space and sometimes time doesn’t really exist when volunteering, not for me at least, at this project.  Now, given how fussy I am, you would have thought I checked the bathroom, but no I did not! Yes I was in for bit of a shock! It was a squat toilet and water from a well to shower.   My initial gut feeling was to turn and run. No, honestly that’s what I thought and yes this was purely based on the bathroom! Now, I didn’t run and thank god I didn’t!

Whilst showering is important, again when travelling/volunteering it really isn’t the highlight of your day.  The best part of this project were the children, so friendly, smiley and happy.  They spread their happiness and they have so little compared to what children have at home yet they are rich in so many other ways.  The games they play, their creativity in making gifts for the volunteers and their ability to make the most of their surroundings was remarkable.  They say happiness is contagious and how true that is!

My students at CESHE

My students at CESHE

Showering aside, most of us love a good lie-in or at least a good night’s sleep.  This too was compromised as at this project, living in a village, most locals had roosters, not one but plenty and boy can they make noise!  I initially woke up at 3am most nights from the sound of roosters but then I remembered my ipod! If it wasn’t roosters waking us up it was the dogs!  I did question how locals managed to sleep and I was told that they were used to it – how does one get use to that kind of noise?  This is when napping comes in handy because here like in Vietnam, we had a break for 3 to 4 hours so once you’ve had lunch you nap!

Here, like in Saigon, I met some amazing volunteers from all walks of life.  It always amazes me listening to how people end up in coming to Cambodia and why they chose to volunteer.  I mean it’s one thing, taking a break and going on holiday but packing up your life and living out of a suitcase for 6 months to a year is something else.  We all have friends and family, someone or something that we missed dearly and yet we decide to take this step with no hesitation or element of doubt.

For the most part, us travelers get by, we love it but then yes there are moments when we miss home.  I really missed home on Christmas – not just the lights, atmosphere or spirit but my family, our traditions, our jokes.  Having never spent Christmas aboard, it was interesting to spend in Cambodia so different from home. We had a great Christmas dinner and then danced the night away as none of us were teaching on Christmas day!  I’m not religious and growing up we never really celebrated Christmas like other families but it means something to me because this is the one time of year that we are together as a family and to me that’s special. This was one of the days that I wanted to zap myself home for a few days just so I could spend some time laughing and joking with my family.

Pub street in Siem Reap by day

Pub street in Siem Reap by day

Having avoided fundraising back at home, I agreed to help fundraise for the new school at this project.  Part of the reason is I know I can’t fundraise to save my life.  Yes I’m good at talking but that’s not the same as selling something.  I also know how annoying it is to be stopped or approached by fundraisers so why would I then sign up and do just that?  Part of me agreed at this project because of the cause, I wanted to part of this venture and truly believe that all funds raised with go directly to the project.  Plus, I wanted to attempt fundraising, having avoided it for so long, it was time to give it a go.

Living in a village is all fair and well, you get to experience true village live and appreciate all the things you have back at home.  One of these things, other than the bathroom and sleeping, was wifi.  Most of us travellers venture out with our smart phones or laptops convinced that we will capture the moment and then post it on facebook or send it back home.  This wasn’t possible for me for the most part as I couldn’t get wifi whilst at the project.  It takes some getting used to, not being able to blog or reply to emails.  Yet on the other hand, you end up spending your time doing other things so I continued writing in my journal.  I also managed to read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the nighttime.  Most importantly though, I learnt how to make friendship bracelets, the ones we use to make when we were young.  I made a fair few bracelets which were later sold again to fundraise for the project.

This was also the first time I spent New Year’s Eve aboard.  We all hit the town and Siem Reap was packed with people, reminded me of London, you were pushed and shoved along for the most part but that’s part of the experience right?  We spent the night drinking beer and dancing the night away.  The year was over, we made it, I managed to do the one thing I’ve wanted to do for so long, volunteer aboard!  I had this sense of achievement but also this feeling that I made it, I survived, sometimes the things that seem so great on paper seem more impossible in practice.  Now, of course we all have some kind of fear, I know I do, but coming out here and having lasted 3 months is a big deal for me.

For me, it also didn’t feel it was a new year, more of a continuation of the same year.  I think for me, my new year may start when I head back home, which is something that I’ve thought about.  Before venturing out, my soul aim was to volunteer in Vietnam and I managed to achieve this within the first two months.  But having gone with no plan and meeting other people, ideas started to float around and things that didn’t sound possible suddenly do.  So from Vietnam, my journey continued to Cambodia and it’s been nothing but amazing.

Trouble with amazing things though, is when do you draw the line? When do you stop wanting to explore and discover all parts of the world?  So the idea of home appeals to me, yes of course it does but then that also means the end of travelling around.  It means coming back to real life, finding a real job and living a life that I walked away from.  Of course, there are many things that I look forward to returning home; family, friends, food, my room, my space, my laptop – the list is long.  But at the same time, I know I haven’t found what I’m looking for, what am I looking for?  I’m not sure but I’ll know once I’ve found it.  I have this feeling, this belief and this is what I try and listen to more than anything.