Climb aboard my sweaty, slum-filled Cambodian ride
My name is Allan and I’m an AYAD.
Photo by Anthony Rae
It stands for Australian Youth Ambassador for Development. Please don’t turn away when you read this. I swear it isn’t a political party or fanatic religious group. Sit down and let me explain.
AYAD is an AusAid funded program that allows young Australians between the ages of 18 and 30 to travel and work in developing countries. It is designed for people with high energy levels and bodies void of arthritis. It is designed to nurture regional relations. It is designed for adventure and learning.
To my utter disbelief I was chosen for such an adventure. I have been shipped to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I am here for a year.
My AYAD assignment is a Web Developer role with Friends International. Friends is an international NGO that works with street children. My main role will be to utilise social media networks to reach supporters and donors around the world. It is a little more involved than that but you get the gist. I’m not going to bore you specifics here. There will be plenty of time for that.
To my amazement Penh is full of excitement, bars, cafes (all with free wifi), rapid development and thousands of expats. It is such a lovely time of year. There is a pleasant breeze sweeping through the city from the north rounding the edge off the languishing heat. The people are warm and friendly. Only a smile is required to get by. Some Khmer would be good but at this early stage my pearly whites and bowing head seem to be working fine.
Compared to Australian men the Khmer are warm in their interactions. On several occasions I’ve noticed men resting against each other whilst engaged in short conversation. They laugh with their shoulders which sends their bodies into a whole range of bizarre movements. They seem relaxed and comfortable. It makes me very envious.
At this early stage of my stay the Khmer women seem quite reserved and on the odd occasion I’ve been able to draw laughter they’ll cover their mouth, tilt their head downwards and look up as if they’ve done something slightly wrong. It is captivating, but probably not as captivating as the tall, sweaty, confused looking westerner standing in front of them.
By the time you read this I’ll be well into the first week of my assignment which will consist of travelling with outreach teams experiencing the nature, trouble and poverty street children face in and around the city. I will be exposed to the gangs along the water front, the slums in the city’s outer regions and known drug effected area. I’ve asked if I can take my camera along but I’ve been warned ‘it is going to be a very intense week’.
It isn’t a zoo, I am aware of this, but I’d love to use some of the shots throughout my assignment. I’ve found myself thinking about my assignment in the smallest tasks I perform since arriving. I guess this means that in the recesses of my mind I’ve really put much more thought into the assignment than originally thought. It already feels ingrained.
Does that make sense? I hope it does.
Last week I was fortunate enough to be shown through the Friends office and introduced to new colleagues. I will be working with a healthy mixture of expats and Khmers. My boss is an older Scotsman with a watered down accent. His name is James. I was hoping for a Simpson’s Willie type accent. I’ll make do.
James has white hair, plays in many bands and worked in the English music industry for 25 years before turning his hand to development four years ago. For now I’m going to look upon him as Phnom Penh’s answer to Molly Meldrum. If James were a woman and younger and had blonde hair and was a little taller and had whiter teeth and didn’t sweat as much and was in her mid to late twenties and found me attractive then I’d ask her to marry me. The passion for music and accent can stay as they are.
I have also been lucky enough to have dinner with a colleague I’ll be working very closely with — Phearun. He is young, intelligent, talkative, excitable and is obsessed with the whole High School Musical franchise.
So, there you have it. A glimpse into the Cambodian life I have only begun to lead. Over the next 12 months I hope to be able to give you a frequent snap shot into my work and experiences.
It’s going to be a sweaty ride.
Al Soultaris worked as a digital producer for Crikey before he abandoned us for his Cambodian adventures. You can see his handiwork in the beautiful Crikey Weekender email. Expect him to become a regular… Got anyone else you know heading overseas? Drop me a line.