A Trip to the Countryside

Last week, Andrew asked me as we were eating breakfast if I wanted to go with him to a village in a neighboring province to visit a school. I spontaneously said, Why not? and we left about half an hour later.

We drove out with one of the staff in what ended up being a day-long lesson in patience. But along the way, we saw some of the stark beauty of Cambodia. We drove for miles on roads cutting through rocky fields barren of any life except for lone farmers, bending over bags of cut cassava root and piles of straw. Poipet is quite flat, but this area had rolling hills, separated by fields that once must have been large swaths of forest. Solitary trees still stand, but the rest have been cut away.

We thought we knew which village we were going to. Along the way, we stopped and asked directions as we saw villagers near the road, which soon turned from the flat easy gravel in the photos above to a deeply rutted, narrow path that wound its way through clusters of houses and small shops. After nearly two hours in the car, we finally approached the village to which we'd been directed. Andrew had photos of the school we were looking for. But when we pulled up to the school, he said - "That is not the right school."

Just one of the scary bridges we drove across...

After about a half hour discussion with the village leader, we discovered that there were two villages, about 5km apart, that had the same name, and we had been directed to the wrong one. So we turned back around, crawling across the potholes at a painfully slow speed, and made our way back to the "crossroads" - really just an intersection of two nameless dirt paths near open fields. Our staff member offered to call the school principal at the school we were looking for. Yes, nearly 3 hours after leaving Poipet, we decide to call someone to come find us and take us to the school. Now, how do you explain where you are, when you are on a dirt path with no name and nowhere near any other village? But somehow our staff explained it well enough that, 20 minutes later, two men appeared on a moto, smiling and waving at us to follow them.

Ta-da...the school.

I will never stop being amazed at how much Cambodian kids love going to school, and how many of them can cram into a one-teacher classroom. The above school, along with a nearby building, serves around 200 children every day - half in the morning, half in the evening. 

The school's chalkboard

While Andrew spoke with the school and village leaders, I wandered around taking photos and trying to speak Khmer with the kids - it may have been the first time for any of them to hear Khmer spoken in a foreign accent! Then I decided I would do an impromptu English lesson - how many native English speakers made it all the way out to this village?

Andrew snagged a photo while I wasn't looking...

Finally, the meeting ended, and we left a crowd of smiling, waving villagers and children and made our way back to the provincial town, then back to the bustling metro of Poipet, which now seemed quite modern compared the villages we had left behind. And we also had a lunch of delicious grilled chicken and sticky rice, which tasted all the better for being grilled on the dusty road on the way to the countryside.