February 20, 2010

It was I who bought the last six lemons!

Somewhere between the three hours of Skyping and the motorbike adventures in Kandal province yesterday, I have totally lost my voice. Due to perhaps overuse, or something more sinister (I also have a fever, body aches and total exhaustion), I can no longer vibrate my vocal chords in comprehensible ways.

Sweating in my room, forcing down a cup of hot honey and lemon water, I sit voiceless, but full of things to say. Part of me curses the day I decided that Cambodia was the only place I wanted to go. It's a hot, developing country with minimal sanitation. What the hell was I thinking? On the other hand, I knew those things coming in, and yes, they are obnoxious, but the are not insurmountable. The universe has a magical way of taking care of travelers. Take yesterday for example.

In the morning, I treated my classes to American breakfast foods for our end of the semester party. You bet they loved the Fruit Loops and granola bars. On a high from the loving compliments and well-wishes from my students, I was able to ignore the tickle in my throat and the heaviness in my body. After the sugar and warm-fuzzies wore off, so did some of my patience with Cambodia. On Skype, I found myself recounting all the miseries of Cambodia to my mother. I felt a little stupid admitting that perhaps Cambodia was too much for me, the invincible Jena. I told my mother that there are certain things here that I don't want to get used to (being really sick every other week, heavy corruption, and lung-darkening smog).

I also spoke to my boyfriend, an ex-pat in his own right; and I spoke to someone who comes with many an ex- prefix. He's an ex-boyfriend, ex-ex-pat, and one-time best friend. He was one of David's closest friends as well, which is the reason that we were Skyping. Over the past five years, my relationships with these friends have been put away, like the precious things kept in a hutch. I didn't neglect these friends purposefully, but I did neglect them. For the record, discussing this kind of thing over Skype with waning energy is not something I recommend. I didn't know what to say. We have plans to talk again soon.

Skype drama aside, I also had plans with Nouna, my Cambodian friend. She told me we were going somewhere for lunch, but as usual, she could've said anything and I wouldn't have known where or what it was. Helmets on, sun shining, we cruised down Monivong, past the Royal Palace, along the River, then we kept going! We crossed the Japanese friendship bridge, and drove down the dusty roads out of the city. My lingering doubts about the legitimacy of such a strange friendship began to surface as we drove into more desolate areas, but my happiness to escape Phnom Penh was too great. We finally stopped, sweat-soaked and thirsty at a river-front Khmer restaurant. The Khmers really have it figured out—At this place, we climbed into shaded hammocks over-looking the Mekong. Our beef salad and fried fish entrees were excellent, and the cat nap afterward was worth the drive.

By this time, my voice was almost gone, but I was enjoying myself too thoroughly to end the day. Nouna still had ideas for things we could do. Kandal Province, she yelled from the front seat of the motorbike, lifting the shield of her helmet. We drove back over the bridge, through the entirety of rush hour Phnom Penh city, and out the other side to Kandal. Not more than a ten minutes' drive from our destination, we heard the ominous thunk of a flat tire. We pushed the bike through traffic, across the street to a homely little shop with a mechanic and his family waiting to help. Since talking was out of the picture by this time, we both watched intently as he methodically removed the tire and the tire bladder. He then took the patching goo and stuck the tire in a vice, heated by actual flames. In less than 20 minutes and for a price of 2000 riel--$0.50--we were back on the road.

The Chinese church in Kandal was beautiful, but I had little energy left to enjoy. We agreed it was time to go home. My body was starting to rebel against me for taking this kind of adventure on a weak immune system. My throat dry and my glands the size of lycee, I barely managed to hang on to the moto as we sped back to town. I would have felt more distraught if the scenes were not so magnificent. With the Asian red sun melting into the darkness, the squiggles of Khmer script on the old sign would've made the perfect post card. It feels so satisfying to go on mini-adventures, to experience normal things in a very strange context. The bad things are balanced out by the good.