Last night the after-party. Gifts and stories and laughter and tears. At my end of the table Mr Serey told us about life as a young man under Pol Pot. In order to hide the fact that he had (just about) finished his education, he had to escape the region in which he was known. Then, after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, amidst ongoing chaos and uncertainly, he elects to become a teacher. I cannot really imagine what that would be like, leaving the exile of the countryside to remake a nation. Millions of pieces, and then start to pick them up, one a time time, and begin to put it back together. All through the retelling, an expression that says I’m here.
One more little adventure.
Sorely tempted to just lie in today but adventure beckons in the form of exploring some of the tracks around Angkor by bike. Ed wants to figure out how the network of tracks connect and how they can be used for a unique and more comprehensive experience of the site.
The first step was an indulgence for me: on the bus to the rural school we passed over a bridge near the north gate of Angkor Thom from which we could see a kind of flooded forest. Ed and I cycled the long way round, from the south gate along the entire length of the wall until it brought us back to the north gate. The path is fairly well beaten until you reach the west gate where it becomes much less well defined. The road less travelled, as Ed said. Damn tree roots, I said. Along the way we met some young lads who chatted to us for a while and who stayed with us for quite a lot of the journey along the west wall. I could hear a couple of them running very close behind my back wheel. Not long after leaving them, turning towards the north gate, I noticed my rear tyre starting to go down. By the time the flooded forest and the north gate came into view, it had completely deflated to the point where the tyre no longer stayed on the rim.
Nevertheless we’d reached the place I wanted to visit. It was worth the effort and the effort to come to get the bold back to town. The photo you see is not how it is but how I imagined it after glimpsing it from the bus. I am not sure why this image came into my head.
Tuk tuk back to the bike rental place, me quite relaxed, clutching the muddy front wheel with a lot of the rest of the bike hanging out the right side. Of all the different sights on the road, this would be a minor distraction at best. Not much could beat the ute full of monks, the two wriggling pigs with trotters in the air on the moped, or the rows of fifty flapping chickens radiating out from a motorbike like demented Wright Brothers experiment.
Our group got together one last time on the balcony of the hotel restaurant. Last photos and last chat. Last hugs and lasting memories.
Then Simone and Jenny climbed about their tuk tuk for the airport. They continue their adventure in Vietnam. Anne, Peter, Karen and I stood against the railing, waving serviettes in farewell. Tomorrow we depart too.
The team has broken up, but only for now. Starting day after tomorrow, we start to filter back together, first Anne and Karen (from the airport to Glenwood!), then me a week later and finally Jenny and Simone in a couple of weeks. Peter of course is his own man now and is welcome always.
All the clichés flood into mind: the two weeks has gone so quickly, can it be a week since we arrived in Siem Reap? Battambang seems like so long ago. The first two days in Phnom Penh seemed like a week. All of that.
I am very sad to be going. The work here has been so deeply rewarding. Anne’s already talked about all of the students we will reach with what we’ve done, but I will remember most strongly the faces of the teachers who did our workshops. In fact it’s more the expressions that will stay with me. They are made doubly important when there’s a language barrier. In the workshops: eagerness, comprehension, curiosity, bewilderment, skepticism, delight, concern, shyness. In the classrooms: energy, hope, joy, enthusiasm and love. All the teachers I saw seem to love their work. I hope they do. I do. Especially over this unforgettable two weeks.
This will be my last substantive blog entry. I am hoping to able to post more images when we have collated everyone’s photos onto a hard drive back in Oz. But there won’t be too many more words. I’m just going to let the images and feelings flood thorough me now. Make it all a part of who I am now.
I would like to take these last few paragraphs to express how grateful I am, how grateful we all are, to the extraordinary (no hyperbole there: quite literal) Ed and Kate who have undertaken this project in the same brave spirit as Mr Serey and as the teachers in the workshops. To start with the smallest of fragments of change and to begin something new and important and lasting. Knowing that the pieces with which you’re working are ill fitting. Knowing that you must work under a set of rules that seem specifically designed to confound your objective. Knowing that you mustn’t give up. But to see beyond all of that to a vision generations in the future. That’s extraordinary.
More thanks: Anne Webb is the principal of Glenwood Public School. She has brought so many exciting ideas and opportunities into our work place.
This was one of them. Thanks, Anne! Keep them coming!
How good is it to be a teacher at a school where we have such fantastic colleagues as the ones who have travelled together over the past two weeks. I am absolutely aware of how lucky I have been to be one of you. I don’t say it enough but here it is in print and googleable: thank you so much. Cheers to the rest of the Glenwood staff too!
I am happy enough to be going back to school, but I am going to miss this, this, and us and our team in here in Cambodia, like you wouldn’t believe.
Glenwood ne kru, lok kru: akun ch’ran!