Reflections from Rachel Allen, August Sustainable Development Trip Leader
By Rachel Allen
We’ve just finished our cozy August trip, with six of us tromping across wet pavement and muddy roads in search of adventure. We started in Phnom Penh with heart-wrenching visits to S21 and the Killing Fields, but we cheered up with a visit to Tiny Toones, a break-dancing troupe that supports street children. Most of the kids in this group are from the slum neighborhoods of the city, and they come to the Tiny Toones studio every night of the week to practice break-dancing. We went on a Sunday to meet with the kids and the groups’ founders, and after that we all headed to weekly breakdancing competition in the park. Our group judged, Khmer Idol-style, and it was the Tiny Toones clan that mysteriously took the top prize.
From there, we took to the countryside!
We spent most of our time helping out at RDIC, where we painted water filters, did some hoeing (of the garden variety), and met the amazing staff. We’d all heard stories before about the legendary Mickey, and now we’re all mutually in love with him. He’ll start explaining a complex issue, and by the end of it, you understand it so thoroughly that it seems to be common sense. He was a great teacher, but he needs to practice his hopscotching skills.
Andria tried to take one of the RDIC pet pigs, but the Club Evergreen hotel staff wouldn’t let us keep it in the rooms. We showed them the rice-husk pigpen and demonstrated how little it smells, but they wouldn’t listen! No fighting, no weapons, and no pigs at Club Evergreen. We also spent a full day traveling out to a village to test water for arsenic levels, which RDIC will use to make a map of the entire region. Catherine was our #1 field-lab worker.
Back in Phnom Penh, we continued our NGO tour with live Khmer music and dancing on a visit to Cambodian Living Arts, and were able to meet Master Kung Nai, the Khmer Ray Charles. We went to Cambodian Children’s Fund for playtime, as well as seeing a drama class, and leading a discussion about the environment. We took a Love Boat cruise up the Mekong as a farewell to Phnom Penh, and then boarded a bus for a long ride to Siem Reap.
Within hours of our arrival, Claire got her hands on a copy of Harry Potter and proceeded to think the rest of us were living incarnations of either Ron or Hermione for the rest of the trip. The temples were amazing, but our tiny group was constantly in danger from spiders and centipedes and roving gangs of Asian tour groups with headsets. We hiked through the mud and across anthills to the River of a Thousand Lingas, embarrassing our guide by needing several clarifications about what a linga is. (Hint: it doesn’t mean “face.”) We waded in the holy waters and did a speed tour of pink-stone and green-moss Banteay Srey on our way back. DJ and Andria entertained us all with ridiculous stories at dinner every night.
In the intervening spaces between temple tours and damp sunsets, we ate ridiculously good food, taunted monkeys, danced at a Khmer night club, toured the markets, got muddy, fell out of tuk-tuks, and met many amazing people and crocodiles along the way.