My Motorcycle Diary
Posted on 20 September 2015
Now normally, getting on the back of a motorcycle would not be anything to write home about. I mean sure it can be intimidating at first, but many people have at least tried it once in their life. So what makes my story different? When I think back to my first motorcycle experience I think of my brother and his leather jacket. I remember him coming home one day and he had crashed his bike. Luckily he was untouched because he was wearing thick leather gloves and a leather jacket and his helmet of course. So naturally as I climbed on the back of my Cambodian friend Sros’s motorcycle with my sandals, rain jacket and backpack the flash of my brothers protective gear came into my mind. Sros was kind enough to bring me a helmet which I was thankful for, although it looked like it had fallen a few too many times. I hoped it was just from peoples hands and not because the whole bike had fallen. Of course the day we were scheduled to go to the villages it was pouring rain. Now, I had a choice…We were taking a group of 24 kids from Singapore to install filters in a village. They had hired 3 private vans with air conditioning and had invited me to catch a ride with them. I could have taken the easy way and gone in the car with the students, but because me and culture go along way together, I chose the motorcycle. All the staff of Water for Cambodia were taking their motorcycles, and they ride everyday whether it is raining or not, why should take the easy way out? If I really want to experience Cambodian culture, I get wet and muddy like the rest of them. I have this green rain jacket that a girl from Ireland left me while I was in Thailand. She said she used it quite a bit in Cambodia and it turns out it came in really handy. Thanks Maria I have been to many countries where driving is far from safe, but I have to say…Cambodia is coming close to one of the hardest places to drive. Very few traffic lights means you cut in front of cars, tuk tuks and other motorcycles and hope they stop. I would have taken a video with my Gopro, but I was too busy holding on to the metal bars behind my bum. Rain was blowing in every direction and at one point, as we splashed through red muddy puddles I couldn’t help but laugh. I was trying my hardest to have a good center of gravity, knowing my controlling self, I was always looking over my drivers shoulder to see what object we were going to have to dodge next. Cow, person, on coming traffic, trucks that have stopped so people can pee on the side of the road…Sometimes when the rain was so heavy and giant trucks were passing us, I would look into the rice fields and remind myself that these guys drive these roads every day, as long as I’m not an idiot on the back and flail around Sros would get me to the village safely. It took us about 45 minutes until we were finally on a muddy dirt road, which of course, when raining becomes even muddier and even slipperier. As I would squeal on the back Sros marched through the mud with his feet trying to keep the motorcycle balanced. We eventually got to the chief of the villages house, a little wetter, a little muddier, and for me…well I think I was slowly starting to gain the respect of the Cambodian workers. Walking through the villages in Cambodia is a lot like walking through the villages in Malawi. I was surprised to find that they too have Village Head Men that need to be greeted before going to the villagers houses. The village head men have multiple wives who also wear Chitenje’s! Although they call them Sarongs here. There are however some differences, water is a lot more easily accessible here in Cambodia. The only problem is that just because they have more water does not make it cleaner. We visited a house that used to use a borehole until it broke. This borehole was installed in 2007 by a donor that never gave any materials to maintain the pump. It’s a story I have heard time and time again, usually it is only the rubber ring that needs replacing but it is either too expensive for the household to buy or not easily accessible. We walked in knee high rice patties to get to one of the households which had a broken borehole. They were now drinking water from a pond, unfortunately for this family, a city landfill had been built about 30 meters from their home. Not only are they drinking pond water, but I can only imagine the bacteria and viruses that are in there. We provided them with a biosand filter which they were very appreciative to have. I felt better knowing that their 3 year old girl although wore no pants, had no garbage pit and peed on their staircase because they have no bathroom; at least will have clean water. Villagers lead simple lives, but it’s a sort of peaceful living that always makes me intrigued and happy to be there. They are always friendly and curious as to what you are doing. I love all the inventions I see in villages, like one family yesterday who somehow managed to get their TV working, no plugs, only what looked like booster cables and more wires connected to more wires. Many women, to my surprise, were spitting chewing tobacco and making fishing nets by hand. I asked one how long it took to make, she told me 1 month if she works on it every day. One man was making fishing contraptions out of bamboo sticks, this wasn’t something they do for fun, this is their livelihood. I see so many kids around me who should be in school but instead are sitting on the steps watching intently on everything I do. They have big smiles with rotting teeth if any teeth at all. Their clothes are torn and dirty, but that doesn’t stop them from playing in the mud or going to get us another bowl for our installation. The villages are lively places with an amazing sense of community. Kids walk from house to house and are taken care of by whichever woman is there. There is no babysitting, there is no Sunday family dinners because everyday is family. That is what people are living for, to provide for their families. One week left of volunteering and then it’s off to Phnom Pehn for me!