18 Sept 2010
I’ve been wondering why this so-called rainy season hadn’t been so rainy, and why I’d only needed a rain coat two or three times. Tonight nature decided to teach me a lesson: never assume anything. I was teaching an English class at my university in Phnom Penn (I got a paying part-time job to support the volunteering.) and earlier in the night thought how much I’d saved by buying a $40 bicycle. At $4 a day in tuk tuk money, the bicycle had paid for itself in two weeks. Since it had really only rained for an hour or so each afternoon, and most of the rain occurred overnight, I hadn’t really been much affected by this so-called “rainy season”.
At about 6.30 I noticed it was raining early tonight, and shut barred windows on our seventh floor classroom. (Why do they need bars on the seventh floor? Who knows. And what happens when there’s a fire and people want to jump out the window? Who knows.) By the time class ended at 7, I went down to the basement to collect my bicycle, and when I emerged, I didn’t like what I saw. The drains weren’t coping and in places the water was up to mid calf height.
The streets of Phnom Penh are littered with uncollected trash. Most of these piles only grow to a couple of feet high, before the recycle scavengers or the municipal trash collection deals with them, but residents of some streets – not all, I stress – like to dump their stuff in side streets, near the edge an intersection with a bigger roadway, so that traffic sometimes has to drive around the rubbish mound when entering or leaving the side streets. This is fine if you’re in a car (maybe five precent of the vehicle population here) or a motorcycle (eighty to ninety per cent) but if you’re on a bicycle, you have a problem. Well, two problems, realy: one, you’re mid calf deep in water, and two, all that filth and trash and it’s associated E-coli is now part of the water you’re wading through, and three, you can’t see where the trash piles are.
If I’d had my wits about me I’d have taken off my shoes and socks, rolled up my trouser cuffs as far as a I could, and just accepted I was going to get wet feet and lower legs for the 20 minutes it takes me to get home. I instead I did the stupid thing and thought: “well it won’t be like this all the way home, will it?” A large part of it was. So it’s another trip to the cleaners for one pair of pants. . From now on I ‘m taking my leather sandals with me.