So, we have officially been in Cambodia for a day! You may remember that I wrote a compare and contrast of China and Nicaragua (I actually wrote that in September or October but then forgot to publish it until January. Oops.) That ended up being more of a contrast, but today I just want to start the Cambodia chronicles with a quick compare and contrast between Cambodia and Nicaragua.
Pretty much immediately upon arriving in Phnom Penh, I felt a sense of familiarity. Before we even got out of the taxi, it felt so similar to Nicaragua, and it made me miss Nicaragua even more than usual.
In training, we got around mostly by moto taxi (or walking). You may remember all of Niquinohomo piled into one tiny moto taxi, really testing the limits multiple times per week. Anyway, there are moto taxis here, but in Cambodia they’re called tuk tuks. When we got to the airport, a weird series of events led to us getting a regular taxi. The driver wasn’t totally sure where our house was, and as we wound through the streets, I looked out the window and saw so many familiar things.
- People driving motorcycles, often with a small child in their lap
- Dusty roads (it’s the dry season)
- Lots of little shops that we referred to as ventas and pulperías in Nicaragua
The similarities really went on and on. The buildings looked similar. There are animals wandering the streets (I only saw cats and dogs when we first arrived. We may have to get more out in the campo to see the chickens and horses wandering the streets like we had in Matiguás).
In the day that we’ve been here, I’ve reacquainted myself with my friend the mosquitero (mosquito net) and because there’s no air conditioning, I’m a big fan of the fans. In my room in Nicaragua, I had a fan pointed at me all day long, year-round. My daily routine included getting home and immediately shedding whatever clothing was required for the workday, because one simply cannot survive the Nica heat in jeans and a polo for more than a few hours a day. (I mean, Nicaraguans do it no problem, but I cannot tolerate jeans in a tropical climate.
I remember now how dirty and sticky I felt after even the smallest venture out into the heat. I often walked in Nicaragua, and by the time I got to my destination I was full of sweat. When I took a taxi, I was slightly less full of sweat. I’d often put some facial cleanser on a cotton ball and clean the gunk out of my pores at the end of the day. The first cotton ball was always a dark-brown/black. The second one was similarly gross. Only by the third or fourth did I feel like I’d gotten somewhat clean. I feel the same way here. It was 90 degrees and humid, and I could just feel the dust mixing with sweat and sticking on me all day.
Of course, I don’t want to compare my time in the Peace Corps too closely with this vacation. We’re staying in a very nice Airbnb, and we had our own personal tuk tuk driver today. We’re living a pretty sweet lifestyle, one that we absolutely never would have splurged for as volunteers. (Thomas and I always got INDIGNANT when a taxista in Nicaragua would try to charge us one or two dollars for a taxi ride across the city. “We live here! We know it’s only 50 cents!” we’d exclaim anytime we were in a tourist spot.)
God forbid the time when someone tried charging us to go look at the laguna. First they said that foreigners had to pay 20 cords (less than a dollar) and after we explained that we’d been coming here for months and we lived right over there, one town over and nobody had ever asked us to pay, he offered to let us pay the price that locals pay: 2 córdobas, or about 6 cents. We turned around and left.
The point of that story is that we have slightly released the tight hold we had on our wallets now that we actually HAVE money. Cambodia and Nicaragua are two very different countries, but I can’t help but lie in bed under this mosquitero and think back on my time in Nicaragua with a new level of nostalgia. I’ve appreciated a lot about China–hot showers, air conditioning, flushing toilets, food delivery, the metro–but I’d go back to sticky heat and cold showers in a heartbeat. I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to explain the impact that Nicaragua had on me, but it still feels like home in a way that other places never will.
Anyway, it’s been nice to live temporarily in a place that reminds me of the home I had to leave. I’ll keep you posted on our travels (though probably not until the trip is over in a couple weeks, because typing posts on my phone is not ideal.
We should have internet in most of the places we’re staying, so feel free to shoot me a question and I’ll try to get back to you!