Monday, November 17, 2008

Now you may have noticed that roads are a recurring theme in our news updates and might well ask what is our obsession with roads. But the road is the scene of a lot of Cambodian cultural interactions and continually fascinates us. Not too long ago, before the long overdue and not quite yet 'cessation' of the rainy season. Niam and I (Wendy) were riding home from school on their bicycles. We have been seduced into using the most direct route home because the road has been cemented to about two hundred metres short of our house. However, the final two hundred metres remain a 'challenge', equivalent to an Olympic event, of black sewerage, flood waters and submerged open sewers, but the canny and lucky make it through unscathed. On this particular day, the road was entirely blocked off by a wedding. It is normal practice here to rig up a beautifully decorated canopy across the road and conduct the whole wedding service and reception there throughout the day. The customary users of the road simply find an alternative route. So Niam and I didn't blink an eye seeing our way blocked by happy revelers and swung on to another street. When I say street, I mean pot-holed flooded track, but normally it is not too bad. However, this day the combination of rain and heavy trucks had rendered the surface somewhat 'unchartered' and as I gaily called to Niam to “follow me” I found myself reaching that awful stalling point on a bicycle when you know it's jump off or fall off. I sunk knee deep in mud with Niam trying her best NOT to follow me. I burst out laughing at the absurdity of it all, joined by the nearby labourers while a passing woman helped Niam wrestle her bike around the quagmire and we proceeded home.

Road rage is a concept being schooled out of me. The road is so constantly a place of interruption and obstacle that one doesn't expect anything else, not to mention there is the joy of constant interaction with other users of the road. Public space and private space are somewhat blurry edged and the sense that your wedding might inconvenience complete strangers doesn't seem to feature. In our experience here, there is always someone to help, (usually two or three and as many again who watch).

Speaking of always someone to help... I was riding home from Java on our motorbike two weeks ago and kissed the rear end of an SUV. Of course this was not intentional. I didn't want to kiss the SUV. I don't even really like them - they clog up the road and are so big you can't see what the traffic is like past them - which was precisely the problem as this SUV squealed to an unexpected stop and my last thought was, "I'm not going to be able to stop for this". And I didn't.

With the help of a number of people, (one was a specialist in primary emergency care), I got to ride in an ambulance and learnt that your body is not your own when you have an accident and nobody listens to you anyway. In ER, having had enough of being pricked and prodded, (“I was cold and just wanted a blanket and rest”), I sat up and said, "I'm going now", but didn't get very far. A week later following a colourful face to rival Joseph's multi-coloured coat, people are requesting the business card of the plastic surgeon because my face doesn't look as if anything happened to it....well almost. Steve had the fun job of picking up the motorbike from the cops two days after the crash. Our landlord joined him to add a bit more persuasion and the episode went surprisingly well, only requiring $10 to grease the wheels. Our landlord found out later that for Khmer, the police charge (or bribe) $20 for every night they have the vehicle. That would have been $40 for us so they were being very nice. The main hitch in proceedings occurred as Steve needed a copy of the police report for insurance purposes so they assured him they would photocopy it for him as soon as the power cut ended. It didn't, of course, but they had a relaxed afternoon waiting and Steve got to take some good photos of a large police truck stuck in the mud with lots of police trying to rescue it. To be safe he asked permission to take photos first but was a bit surprised whey they kept on asking him to take more photos, "in case we need them for insurance!".

TASK has been going through a growth spurt recently. A new Project Coordinator for HALO (orphan care project) begins next week and we have just been interviewing candidates for a new position of Business Advisor. This person will be responsible for providing clients with advice and support for small businesses, income generation initiatives and vocational training. We are also looking to hire a new project coordinator for the Teenage Drug User Rehab project (TDUR). Please pray.

Prom Pauv, one of the Co-directors of TASK, and Vuthea, a project assistant from the AIDS homecare project, are heading off to the Netherlands in two weeks to take part in a consultation on management change. They will be sharing about the localization of TASK, from being an ex-patriate lead organization to being one lead by local Cambodian people. Please also pray for that.

Please also pray for the situation in Thailand. Bangkok Airport is a main hub for much of Asia and so it has a large effect on Cambodia also. So far two team members have had their travel rearranged because of its closure and we are hoping to travel through there in less than two weeks also.

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