Sunday, 21 February 2010

Minerva Fellows spotlight: Ned in Cambodia

via CAAI News Media

Ned Lincoln
Issue date: 2/18/10
Section: Limelight on U

Media Credit: Ned Lincoln

Hello Union,

I am in the very interesting and mildly absurd kingdom of Cambodia, which isn't really a kingdom as far as I can tell, although there is a King and Crown Prince, so you never know. Politics might be a mess in the U.S. but they reach another level here. Recently the Prime Minister (I think that's his title) Hun Sen told a bunch of his military buddies that they should stop illegally foresting wood and using soldiers to maintain and improve their homes. His explanation as to why they should stop was they already had big houses and nice cars, so what was the point? This was sort of odd, because he seemed to be suggesting that doing morally ambiguous/wrong things wasn't bad, as long as you stopped once you have a material standard of living far above the average Cambodian, but lower than his.

Media Credit: Ned Lincoln
Also, the police force seems to function as a suggestion of law rather than its physical manifestation. Let me tell you how I know - I've evaded them several times on my dirt bike. I got pulled over once for no reason and paid them a cash "fine". I wasn't really angry at the police, as they have horrifically bad salaries, but I have declined to donate to their cause since then. Hence, traffic laws are quite difficult to enforce, and people just do what they want. It sounds nuts, and can be kind of terrifying, but if I could bring one thing back to the US from Cambodia, It would probably be the flexible traffic laws.

Media Credit: Ned Lincoln

Anyway, I've gotten away from myself here. Let me attempt to explain what I have been doing for the past seven-ish months, and what it's been like. I may try and delve into what I've learned, but that's a whole other barrel of apples, and isn't totally clear yet either.

So let's see. I'll try and break it up by notable occurrences. Arriving was pretty terrifying. As I was approaching the airport and getting closer and closer to Cambodia, like close enough to see rice paddies with cows and stuff, I was giddy with a mix of anxiety and excitement. The first three days or so it was an achievement to go buy food and water and walk in a two or three block radius of my hotel. As I got over that and moved into a friend of a friend's apartment for two weeks, things were briefly exciting. I was meeting cool people and learning a lot about what I was going to do.

Media Credit: Ned Lincoln

After the hotel and friend's apartment I moved into my own place, and started going to a motorbike repair school that only taught in Khmer. I got to tear apart engines and put them back together which was cool, but they are super simple one cylinder deals, so it got old fairly quickly. I was at school for two months, during which time I also bought a dirt bike (something I have wanted since approximately age 5), and got to know the city and Khmer culture a bit better. The dirt bike was a massive pain though, and I got tired of school, since it was all in Khmer. I also knew people but didn't have their phone numbers and/or felt really awkward about hanging out with them which made being in the city pretty lonely. Being alone in a very strange place is odd, when you are so used to the social dynamic of college and boarding school. So…..

Then I moved to Sala Lekh Prahm, a town in Kampong Chnang province, affectionately known as "the boonies". I have a cool translator, an 18 year old dude named Sai Ha, who is quite helpful and has a similar sense of humor to me, which helps make living up there easier. Although he recently has started asking me how he can get to the U.S. and what jobs he could have if he came. I don't know how to tell him that I'm uncomfortable with the idea of being responsible for his welfare if he came to the States, as I would probably end up being.

Back to life in SLP though: It can be difficult because it's fairly isolating, and the whole starting a shop thing is easily the most difficult thing I have ever attempted/done in my life. Being responsible for people and the success of a business is very hard. Sometimes you just want a shower, a non squat toilet, and a sink to wash your damn hands in. But instead you take a dipper bath and carry on your merry way.

So I've been in SLP for roughly 4-5 months, and have had the world's biggest party trying to start a business to employ a bunch of dudes from Tramoung Chrum, which is a very small village about an hour outside of SLP. It's all Cham people, who are a religious/ethnic minority. After moving out to SLP, I sent two guys from Tramoung Chrum to the moto-repair school I had attended in PP, began preparing the space and buying equipment with my translator, and briefly tried to teach a group of young men from Tramoung Chrum how to repair motos before the guys who went to school were finished. When the guys going to vocational school finished, we transferred to having a running shop, which is essentially where I am at now, trying to figure out how to keep the business running after I leave. If I was being polite and reserved, I would say it was tricky.

I'm not really in the mood to be strictly polite though, and feel quite comfortable revealing what an astonishingly difficult time this has been for me. I have been really confused about life while being here. I'm trying to figure out what motivates me, what I'm interested in, how I define my 'self', blah existential angst, blah blah. Trying to start this shop while dealing with all this emotional/psychological brou-ha-ha has been a challenge, to say the least. Hopefully in the long run it will be for the best though.

I guess I won't labor the issue, although I would encourage everyone to give more thought to their lives, what they are looking for, what makes them happy, etc. Really, that's mostly what I wanted to write about for this piece. I would implore you to really consider yourself and your life. Why do you drink, what is it about the release of getting wasted that college students deem so necessary to enjoy themselves? Why do you want a job? If you are in a job you hate, are you going to have the strength to get out? Is security more important to you than following some ideal path? Is the concept that people have ideal paths a bunch of nonsense?

I don't know. I don't have any answers, and I'm struggling pretty hard to figure out this stuff out for myself. But I encourage you to get extremely far out of your comfort zone, see what happens, and go from there. In the long run….. well maybe it won't help, but if you don't try then what's the point?


Anonymous said...

Was researching NED (National Endowment for Democracy) and 'fell'into here. Made me laugh about HS (u shouldn't write his name - the only thing they do really well here is to trawl the local net for buzz words, his especially). U got of topic in the end with a very typical US mindset. I live Sihanoukville one day at a time, never thinking "who/what/why am I?" happiness is not searched for, it is given etc etc. Was hoping to hear what kind of shop u have and why there.

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