Updated: Mar 3, 2019
By Mary Katherine Burke
Hello from Cambodia! We have been here for almost three weeks, and it feels like no time has passed at all! Sterling and I have been settling in to Phnom Penh, and learning how to live together as a newly married couple in a third-world country. This is my first blog, and it will be filled with fun, new experiences, things I’m learning, and a look into my daily life here in Cambodia.
First off, the 26 hour travel to Cambodia was an exciting, fun, and exhausting experience. Sterling is the best travel buddy and got us around the airports, customs, and visa stops like a boss. We arrived to our apartment in Phnom Penh and did not have any running water for the first night and next morning, so I was quickly thrown into life here and how you just have to roll with it and flow. Since that first night, I have been adjusting to life here, adjusting to the time change (12 hours), settling into our apartment, and experiencing lots of crazy, new, fun adventures. Oh, don’t worry, we did get running water again. (I could feel some of you worrying about that.)
To start off with some new things I have experienced, I need you to have a vivid imagination. Try to come with me to Cambodia and see and smell the things that I experience on a daily basis. Alright, to take you to my world, we have to start with where I live. I live in a very nice apartment with Sterling and a 15 year old boy named Makara who has come to live with us. If you walk down our street, you will see clothes hanging out on a line to dry, kids playing, lots of potted plants, and get passed by dozens of people going about their way on their motos. Are you seeing it?
Do you see the clay pots and rocky road? Do you smell the firewood burning in the neighbors concrete trash pit? Do you feel the early morning 90 degree breeze? Are you dusty from walking the street? Well, good, make sure you take off your shoes before you come inside. Inside the apartment, you will probably find me in the kitchen, chopping some type of vegetable, cooking rice and chicken (all the while sweating for lack of air conditioning), and ducking as the boys kill mosquitoes with our “zapper” (an electrified tennis racket). It’s a little crazy here, but don’t worry, it’s fun. As you see the scene, you must take in our four household beta fish on my kitchen windowsill; two blue and two red. We feed them dead mosquitoes and they love them. Do you see all the drawings, lists, and scripture on our walls? Yeah, we can draw on them because they’re tile! Also, take in the big water filter by the stairs that we must remain vigilant to keep re-filled because any drinking or cooking water must go through the filter. We have lots of tropical plants inside and also on our “back porch” which is a very happy spot that lets in gorgeous afternoon light to my kitchen.
So, are you seeing Sterling and Makara and I in the kitchen? Well, you might also see two more awesome kids, Deborah and Ro, with us during the week. They are Makara’s younger siblings. They come over to our apartment three nights a week for dinner and playing Phase Ten. We all cook and clean up together. You may hear the kids teaching me Khmer words and us all laughing as I probably say it wrong, but it’s a great connecting thing I get to do with the kids. They will teach me a Khmer word while I’m cooking, such as, “chicken, egg, rice, bowl, fish,” and then I will teach them words in English like “spatula, teapot, oatmeal.” We have a grand time and I am slowly building a base of Khmer sounds as I get to listen to the kids and Sterling all talk and joke in Khmer.
Are you hearing the kids laugh as we burn all the popcorn on the gas stove? Are you hearing the strange Khmer sounds that I’m learning to imitate? Good. Well, I think it’s about time we leave the apartment and go out for a moto ride across town. You will find your helmet by the door, and see the motos parked in our living room so they won’t be stolen. We will moto to the market early in the morning to get fresh produce and eggs.
In the market, you pass many many Cambodians out and about for their morning. As you walk through the market with me, notice all the vegetables sitting out! Notice the open tub of wriggling, live fish that are for sale to your left. Also, notice the big hunks of fly infested meat strung up right in front of your face that’s waiting to be cut and sold. Will you hold my huge bag of vegetables that I just bought? (and don’t forget to step over the open sewer) Awesome. The bag is full of spinach, tomatoes, onions, peppers, cucumber, carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli. Vegetables are marvelously cheap here, so we eat GOOD! Now, let’s go and buy some mango which tastes like liquid gold. Mango is my favorite food here. We once went through 6 kilo of mango in two days. That’s roughly around 13.2 lbs mangos in 2 days. Oh here, taste one. Yep, you’re on board too. We go to other grocery stores for our meat, bread, peanut butter and other things like that. My friend, Sichan, brought me to the market to teach me where to go and who to buy from. She is unbelievably helpful. I come to the market almost every week, and it’s one of my favorite things to do.
You’re out in the “cool” morning temperatures, in the middle of all the hustle and bustle, so many people, so many sights, so many smells, so many sounds-so fun! We will now moto to one of my favorite stops- my dish lady. Sterling brought me to pick out dishes at a little shop on the side of the road and it was a happy for me! Picking out little eclectic bowls and plates and mix matching them together was so fun! As we are moto-ing around, you must take in the sights of crazy traffic all the time. The small streets congested with motorcycles, mopeds, trucks, cars, kids on bicycles, and tuk-tuks. You see street vendors, men pushing carts selling dog meat on the street, pass plant shops, gas stations, lots of construction, lots of trash heaps, and lots of people. Being on the back of a moto with Sterling with my hair flying in the wind (under my helmet, of course) is one of my favorite things.
Well, thanks for hanging in there and spending the day with me in the city of Phnom Penh! Hope you enjoyed it! I’m getting ready to take a trip into the province and get out of the busy, loud city. Make sure to grab your helmet, and in a couple of weeks, I’ll take you to an island in the Mekong River called Silk Island to show you more of Cambodia!