Journal #9: A Khmer Welcome

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA
February 9, 2010

I’ve had dreams, very vivid ones, about an Asian country for several years. Something about Cambodia in its history, people, culture, books, media and location made its way in my night sleep; and in signs of fate in my daily life. Take for instance, in May of 2009 I had ultimately decided to end my placement in Nigeria with Voluntary Services Overseas, I played around with the idea of travelling the world before my sight went. That day I handed in my volunteer term completion form, I had the chance to talk/see my friend Ronise on videophone. She was in Phnom Penh, I in Abuja, Nigeria. Halfway around the world, we exchanged stories of living in places so different from where we grew up. Ronise told me to come to Cambodia, it was a must. Then the next day, on a busy street in Abuja, my taxi stops at the light and I look up, there’s a big sign advertising some international business or bank, and there’s a few global characters. One of them, right in the middle, was a Buddhist wearing orange robe. At that very time, I was just starting Deepak Chopra’s BUDDHA – the novel on Prince Siddhartha’s journey of enlightenment. So, you see, these signs all at once, just told me I had to find a way to make the journey over here.
And I am ever so glad and so right.

The moment I landed at the Phnom Penh airport, I was escorted to the customs desk. I paid the $20 American visa fee, got my almost-full passport stamped, and picked up my baggage. All this with no sign language interpreter or a trained support worker for the Deafblind. All I had to do was wear a button “DEAF & LOW-VISION” and then work its magic.
The escort brought me to the arrivals area. I looked around, and saw a beautiful figure standing in front of me. My good friend of five years, Ronise, ran up to me and gave me a very warm hug.
‘Welcome to Cambodia!’ she signed excitedly.
The next person would be Tashi, an American who has worked in Cambodia for several years, whom I had befriended on Facebook after Ronise moved to Cambodia herself from Seattle.
I was gifted a jasmine flower bracelet, a Khmer yellow scarf, and lots of smiles all around. I was introduced to some of the Deaf Development Program (DDP) staff who were also at the airport to pick up their stakeholders from Hong Kong. My travelling friend from Seattle, Kevin, was in Cambodia as well – after having spun the globe twice in seven months, greeted me warmly as well. I was in Cambodia, the land in my dreams.

Meng pulled up in his nifty tuk-tuk in front of the airport, ready to pick us all up and bring us home. Meng is Ronise’s friendly, upbeat, cute as a button Cambodian boyfriend and his tuk-tuk is, how do I put it this way, a carriage with seating for 6 or 8 people attached to a motorcycle.
We arrived at the Russian Market, where Ronise, Meng and their American housemate, Dan, lived in a cool, open, lofty apartment. Market stalls, food carts, ice-boxes, tuk-tuks, motos, people littered the streets. It was so fascinating already. As soon as we settled, Kevin, Ronise and I went to get some munchies and drinks. A soft rice paper roll with noodles and vegetables, sometimes shrimp, cost 50 cents – it’s the size of your hand and very plump. Cheap! A mug of delicious sugar cane juice – 25c. We gorged on the rolls and devoured the sugar cane juice. It would only be the beginning of my Asian food odyssey.

Exhausted from my lengthy Australia to Malaysia flight and wait time in Kuala Lumpur and flying into Cambodia brimmed with excitement, my body began to crash. I was dog tired and spent the rest of the evening chilling at the loft with a few of us. Dan’s Cambodian girlfriend and her mother brought some great cattle meat, we ate satays off the kerosene burner and had some good palm wine. I was out like a light at 9pm – by then it had already been dark since 6:30pm. It gets dark in Cambodia every day, every month, during the year between 6pm and 7pm. No change, just the same. The country lies on the North/South Hemisphere line.

Every once in a while in recent years, I would dream of sitting in a paddy field of green, lush rice plants, wearing a saffron orange robe, my hair braided long and my body in a lotus position. My face would be silent, my eyes closed, a small smile formed at the mouth. My hands would lie themselves on my bended knees, my fingers jointed at the thumb and middle finger. The feeling was serene, even in my dreams I felt as if I had no worries, burdens, problems weighing on my shoulders.
That first night in Phnom Penh, in a comfortable indoor hammock, I dreamt that dream. Somehow I felt that it was near, that truth, and I would find myself doing the very thing in my dreams. I was a step closer, and already I feel spiritual here. It was like my dream was telling me I had reached at door’s step.

Tactile the world,
Tactile love,
Coco

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