I arranged my own farewell lunch at Red Chairs the day before I left for Phnom Penh. Ten VSO friends came, some of whom are teachers and had already eaten at school on the grand occasion of planting a vegetable garden to celebrate Environment Day. Any excuse for a celebration will do, even the departure of a short-term volunteer!
Earlier in the day an impromptu expedition consisting of a car load of midwives and me had travelled for several km southward on the highway to Phnom Penh to buy a fish trap, of all things. I had tried to buy one a few days earlier and my failed attempt must have been observed and they decided between themselves that my need to trap fish was paramount and they resolved to obtain one for me before I leave. No matter that the hospital was bereft of staff during the jaunt – the driver efficiently dictated her instructions on the mobile phone to a junior as we travelled sedately (happily) along.
The roadside shop had basketry of every description and purpose including traps designed for any variety, shape and size of fish you could imagine. At their insistence I chose my trap and accepted as graciously as I could several other items which were pressed upon me, mentally fitting each one somewhere in my luggage and refusing what would not comply. I received instruction on the use of crushed water snail as bait and a tuft of grass to block the exit and cannot wait to ply the Tryweryn for eels and whitebait.
A small detour on the way back saw us buying ducklings at a hatchery where tray upon tray of covered eggs were incubating and hundreds of little beaks and heads were moving under the sacking and peeping out at the corners looking for a mother duck to follow. The box of baby Sunday dinners cheeped noisily all the way home on the floor of the car competing with the jolly chatting and laughter of the successful shoppers.
My farewell from the medical staff was a less elaborate affair. A ‘thank you’ in the ‘Report de Garde’ and my brief comments mainly to the effect that the time had flown for me but dragged for my wife and family, and although I have enjoyed my time considerably despite the emotional highs and lows, I cannot promise to return without some time for reflection on the whole experience. My review with the Director was brief as he juggled with the various duties of the morning, the mobile phone, report and requisition signing, visitors and computer but he ticked all the right boxes and wrote some comment in Khmai to be translated later.
Next – the police station for a letter of good conduct, the customary practice for workers in Cambodia, equivalent to a CRB check in the UK except that it is possible to buy one here, I’m told. Everything in triplicate, the careful rubber stamp in red, the $10 donation to the policeman and we are through painlessly in 30 mins. Then all the goodbyes – the food stall lady, my moto driver, the cycle repair man, my regular tuk tuk, the little family in Sisophon that seem to have taken me into their hearts, the closing of the bank account, the repeated warnings from my friend Mono not to fall asleep on the bus with a pocket full of money, phone calls to and from people I can’t see face to face, the monk in Phnom Penh – he’s teaching a class of students right now, my landlord and landlady, the list goes on and on …
So here I am eating my last ice cream in Blue Pumpkin, Phnom Penh, my last banana Danish pastry, my last coffee mocha before pedalling the last time through the mad, mad traffic – that exhilarating feeling of flying along as fast as the cars and motos, weaving in and out and crossing when the lights are red like everyone else – back to the Program Office and my tuk tuk ride to the airport.
I’m coming home. It seems like no time, it’s been so busy here but how long a time for those who wait. So goodbye for now Cambodia, thank you for everything, maybe we’ll see each other again some day, who knows?