The Meanderthals

All in a Day’s Work

Little did I know how much I’d learn in my first two weeks at work in Phnom Penh.

In just a few days, I took part in a training session about mining, wrote captions for photos illustrating animal slaughter for a traditional indigenous wedding ceremony, edited reports dealing with cow banks and resin tapping and wrote a press release about the involvement of the extractive industries at the Indigenous People Day.

Oh, and I also discovered some interesting new dishes since my colleagues had a caterer for the training session so I found myself digging into steaming plates of unidentifiable stuff, most of which was pretty tasty.

Working in Phnom Penh is like nothing I’ve ever done before. For starters, my day begins when Som On, my tuktuk driver, pulls up outside our apartment at 7:45am for the 15-minute blast across town, weaving past motos carrying produce, cyclists (such as Skip) dodging the larger vehicles and market stalls selling eggs, bread and lots more unidentifiable stuff.

My workplace is in a nice little building outside the Russian Market which is a mighty temptation since that’s my favourite market in town — stuffed to the beams with brilliant silk fabrics, ornate sculptures, tailors who’ll make you an outfit in less than a week, books, bags, clothes and anything else your heart desires. DPA occupies the entire three floors and my office is on the ground floor, right across from Sambath, my boss, where I share with the space with Soratha, the communications assistant and Kith, the  advocacy officer, who likes the airconditioner blasting all day, proving to me there was a reason for bringing a sweater to Phnom Penh.

It has been an interesting fortnight and I’m getting used to suddenly receiving a report which is due in 24 hours and having to edit 50 or more pages of documentation on programs being conducted around the country (while I’m still in the process of editing another 30 page report). And now I actually know what it means to decommission a  mine or to do upland versus lowland rice planting. I’m getting an insight into gender differences in the provinces and the challenges of people who need to prove ownership of their land without having an official land title. I can see the struggles of farmers who are at jeopardy of having their field or sacred site taken away by mining companies and have decided I never want to be invited to an indigenous wedding.

I also know that I don’t much care for hot coffee and condensed milk (although I’m more than happy with a can of the stuff and a spoon) and that I’m quite content to sit in the back of a tuktuk, observing the world around me as Skip battles with the traffic as he tries to negotiate a path for his bicycle across town.

As I’ve said before, one can never expect anything to be the way you expect it to be in this part of the world.

So who knows what next week will bring.


  • fbk

    Gabi — like being sprung into the world as a reborn, eh? sounds like you’ve got a lapful of work every day, and that the learning is at peak level! Marvelous, and WE are learning along with you! (But try another indigenous wedding — perhaps in another province the customs are different??)xo fbk

  • Leela

    Good lord! Sounds like you are learning an ocelot (groan). Can’t believe Skip is biking – what a thrillseeker. I’d be with you in the back of the tuktuk – those are perilous enough!

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