It’s 6am and I have just finished washing my clothes. The cockerel and the traffic noises started over an hour ago but it’s hard to tell if that’s what woke me or simply the fact that I’ve been in bed from 9 o’clock. I’ve been on the bed that is, since I have no cover and rely on the fan to keep me cool and ward off the stray mosquitos. These miniature twin engined fighters are not allowed to exercise in my room but as soon as I turn the fan off there is one buzzing around my head. I don’t sound the air raid siren for fear of waking the household although I think Mr Kanal is already up, I leap off the bed and reach for the ‘Raid’ – my can of fly spray which I acquired yesterday but haven’t used as yet. A few bursts in the general direction and though I can’t see it crash and burn, I’m pretty confident the mosquito bought it.
Last night I made an appeal to the chef. Please give me less rice and I am happy with just one meat dish and the other can be vegetables. I’m going to be no lighter when I return to UK than when I left. The fresh fruit is just fine. I could eat mango every meal. It’s mango season all over Cambodia and especially here in Swae, Mango District.
You may think I am lonely here. Not so. Aside from the occasional mosquito I have other company. Like the jumping cockroach which walked my wall just above my bed head and spent the night imprisoned under my water glass. He had settled down by the morning and after posing for a photograph he was granted his freedom outside the kitchen door on condition he does not re-enter the house. Some creatures are destined always to be indoors however. The miniature ants which sometimes run across my touch pad or over the computer screen are here to stay I’m afraid. I discovered that DEET, the insect repellant that protects from mosquito bites seems to dissolve plastic and it’s best not to use the keyboard or the mouse after spraying it on the arms until it dries completely. Otherwise the mouse gets sticky with melting plastic and I dread to think of the sticky keys. So the ants are allowed to climb into my laptop – I have little choice, but I squash them gently when I can catch them and it is amusing to watch the cursor wriggle it’s way across the screen even though I’m doing nothing. I think an ant is inside my mouse…
The geckos are curious beasts. They appear in the evening and spend all night clinging to the walls and ceiling. I suppose they have to eat but I’m not sure what their diet is. Perhaps they eat flies – they can run very fast if startled as well as move silently to catch their prey. Every evening they gathered on the ceiling of the VSO Program Office in Phnom Penh to discuss the events of the day and to evaluate the progress of the new recruits beneath them. In Sisophon they were pale blue in colour, mimicking their background just like an iguana does. I haven’t seen one in my Mongkul Borei bedroom yet but they do live in the hospital keeping watch over the patients at night.
Some creatures are welcome however. Gorilla sits on my desk next to orange man watching me work in the early morning. He used to keep my mosquito net tidy but now he is redundant since I have none here. Orange man used to stick to the walls when I threw him but now he bounces off and I think he’s drying out. I am under orders to return him safe because both these companions are members of Rock Solid, our Youth Club in Eglwys Crist back home.
And in this house I have Mowgli. I haven’t caught his Khmer name yet although I know his older brother is Daeman. Mowgli is Jonah’s age and is a little charmer. He ran to greet me when I came home after a long day and hugged my knees. “Where have you been?” he asks in Kmai. “Khnyom tow montipèt!” I’ve been to the hospital. A few minutes of reading his picture book – which has both English and Kmai words under the huge selection of animals, fruits, vehicles and other assorted objects most of which are not seen within our shores – a few minutes of reading with him are enough. He scampers off to his grandpa and I have had my grandchild boost for the day.
Around 6.30am Mr Kanal has finished his ablutions and has driven the car out of the house in to the garden. The Lexus lives in the lounge after dark and under a sun shade by day. He starts to sing quietly and tunefully and then out comes the guitar and he plays beautifully. Ethereal songs which are so unlike our music but so musical and evocative drift through the house and welcome the day.
It will soon be time for work …