Which is sad, because my little navy-and-white troopers have made it through many years of travel. I can still see a smudge of paint on the strap of the right shoe left from a volunteer project in Belize. They're broken in at all the right places. So why do I need to send them to flip flop heaven? Read on...
Last week started off pretty innocuously. Bridgette, Leah, and I went to meet the landlady of the apartment Bridgette and I will be renting starting in July. I LOVE my landlady; she's so hilarious with her delivery, and had us all cracking up the entire night. She's Cambodian, but was raised and attended school mostly in the U.S. She's back in Cambodia now, helping with the administration side of the next Khmer Rouge trial that starts up at the end of June. There's a total of four trials for the top KR leaders scheduled, and we're now on the second trial. The trials are happening at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), which is a hybrid tribunal made up of a mixture of international and Cambodian judges and lawyers. I'll post more information about the trials in a separate post.
We ended up talking to her for a long time, because she's worked for the UN for the last 30 years in various departments, so she had some amazing stories to tell (my favorite of which were her stories about the alternative energy and environmental protection branch). We didn't get to see the apartment because someone else is living there right now and it was late at night, but we discussed the details of the lease and other bits of business. She also told us a little about the place:
Landlady: I had a French designer from Paris do the planning, and he had a very modern concept of the building. Very strict lines, all white. His idea was that life energy is supposed to flow from room-to-room, so there originally weren't any doors in the apartment.
Us: No doors? Like, the bedroom...or the bathroom? All open?
Landlady: Yes. I'm not sure, I think he thought everyone should walk around French and glamourous and naked all the time. The girl who's living there now couldn't stand it, so we put swinging wooden doors up on the bathroom. But it kind of ruins the image, so if you guys don't mind we can take them back down.
Us: WE NEED BATHROOM DOORS.
The next morning, Leah and I met with the Land Law division to discuss a funding proposal to the EU that we'll be working on over the summer. They suggested that we would better understand what was going on with the land disputes if we took a trip out to the provinces. Sure, of course, why not? So the next day at 6:30 a.m., I found myself sitting in the back of a Toyota Camry with Leah and Bridgette, driving off to the Battambang province with one of the attorneys and administrative managers.
The only thing I knew about Battambang before embarking on this trip was that Maddox Jolie-Pitt of Brangelina fame hails from there. It's about a 5-hour drive from Phnom Penh; normally not a big deal for me (especially after the plane trip to eternity and back), but on this particular morning I was suffering from what the interns have now come to lovingly call Doxy Belly. Battambang being a safe haven for my winged arch-nemesis and the fever-inducing parasites they carry (see previous post), I decided to play it safe and try to follow my anti-malarial medication instructions perfectly. Unlike the previous weeks where I've just been popping the pills whenever I happened to remember, on the Battambang morning I poured carefully over the instructions in a way that would make any pharmacist proud. The bottle told me to take it on an empty stomach and not eat anything for an hour, which is exactly what I did.
The dry-heaving took about, and this is a generous estimate, 23 seconds to start. My anti-malarial, Doxycycline, has a lovely upset stomach side effect that apparently, and I learned this the hard way, is much worse if you take it on a COMPLETELY empty stomach versus just waiting a couple of hours after breakfast. I sat swaying in the back seat, mumbling something about my melting stomach lining, aching for some food to make the nausea go away. We finally stopped, and had a breakfast of warm noodles and broth with green tea. I instantly felt better.
On the road again, we drove for several uneventful hours, passing huge rice fields, lakes, and now and then a small town. As we made our way out of one of the towns, a police barricade was set up, for, what we later found, was for absolutely no other reason but to hassle random cars for bribes to pass. Unfortunately, our car caught the attention of the police, so we were asked to pull to the side of the road while our driver's license and registration was checked. There we sat, watching car after car fly by, as the cop tried to hassle him about the documents. The administrative assistant, not overly bothered by this situation, used this as an opportunity to slide out of the passenger's side door, saunter over to a nearby bush, and relieve himself. By the time he made it back to the car, the driver had handed over some cash to the officer, causing the "document check" to instantly cease and our road trip to resume.
At this point, I realized that I also needed to go to the bathroom. I knew that this was going to be an issue, since there really wasn't anywhere to stop until we reached Battambang, but I was reaching an emergency state (all that damn green tea at breakfast...). We searched and searched for a gas station, but none could be found. Finally, we pulled over at a small local restaurant. I knew two things when I saw this: 1) that there would be no toilet paper, and 2) that it would be an eastern toilet, and I had stupidly worn trousers. I was right on both counts. I half limped, half ran into the bathroom.
I stared at the toilet.
It stared at me.
Or rather, it stared UP at me, from it's very, very low position on the ground.
In Malawi, I had no trouble with these. But now I'm old, and my muscles have atrophied. There's no motivation to do more leg exercises than to know that the only thing standing between you and the puddles of poor aim on the floor are your very weak, flabby legs that keep shaking in an untrustworthy manner. My poor flip flops slid around a few times, but luckily I made it out alive.
We arrived safely in Battambang, the second-biggest city in Cambodia, and checked into our hotel. Our work would really begin the next day, with our client visits.
Until the next post!