It’s now the middle of the second week we’ve been working with JWOC, but already it seems much longer. This is partly because there’s been so many tasks and different types of work to do (from teaching how to print without a printer with which to demonstrate, to testing well water for arsenic and e-coli), but also because John and the scholarship students we have been working alongside have been so welcoming and helpful.
I feel grateful to Narlar and Sai in particular for always going out of their way and for putting up with my incessant questions about Cambodia. I now know that the reason older Cambodian women are bald (which really puzzled me) is that “they don’t want to look pretty any more” – in other words they have dedicated their lives to religion and shaved their heads.
Our most recent outing to test wells was to Kok Thnot, a village spread along the northern edge of a huge ancient Angkorian resevoir (1.5 by 5 miles!) and down one of the worse roads we’ve come across. At the first well our interviewee grabbed my hand and felt all up my arm, explaining to Sai that she’d never seen a foreigner before. Maybe she was checking if I was real? It seemed unlikely, being so old, that she’d never come across a foreigner, until I realised she was only in her forties – the shaved head really does distort things.
The second well we tested in Kok Thnot is shared by 32 people, pretty much all of whom gathered around while we were working, plus a few others. The interview turned into a sort of mass debate slash Khmer lesson, with all the women attempting to teach me the words for the animals around us, and at one point it got a little out of hand and the tests were kicked over.
I think what has struck me the most from the experience of travelling around the villages has been the openness of the Cambodian people. The immediate reaction of people you pass when they realise you’re a foreigner is to grin – so different from what’s typical in England! It’s HOT at the moment, so again strangely for an English person, I’m wishing it would rain.