… the loneliness of the long distance volunteer….

Phonm Penh once more…

I have not enjoyed my return to Phonm Penh.  It is partly just the inevitably human emotional feeling of being alone.   I am now living on my own for the first time since Falkirk 1977.. and that was only a couple of months ….. and I’m not sure that I like it (‘well you think he could have worked that one out’, I hear you saying).    It’s combined with the feeling of being new and strange to everything…. as a visitor who is living here, you can’t just do the tourist thing.  Nor, as a volunteer, do you want (even if you could afford it) to do the contract ‘ex pat’ thing, eating in the supercool restaurants and bars around PP at three or four times local prices.  On the other hand things as basic as buying food can be a real hassle without language to cope.   On the plus side, I did manage on Sunday to equip my place with some fairly basic items so I have been able to cook a meal, make a cup of tea etc.  I also, on Monday, managed to cycle around Phonm Penh.  This I count as a major achievement and my success gave me the confidence to cycle to work on Tuesday, although I am a bit worried about having to cycle in the rain as the cheap raincoat I bought in Kg Cham has disintegrated.  If you get the impression that my life has descended into a series of mini-crises about extremely small matters, you would be right!  The emotional is enjoying being in the dominant over the intellectual!!   Cycling down one of the main boulevards felt like a major achievement.   It could be a while before I feel confident enough to post a little blog of that particular journey!   My emotional life has now taken over almost completely!!

Forget about my first two days in the job I came to do (more of that later!) – I am having enough problems just coping with the strain of setting up a home in a place where I know no-one, can speak very little of the language and find even the most basic everyday things such as getting from A to B a real challenge.  I think I’m maybe just too used to having a buddy alongside, which is hardly surprising given that Joan and I have been married for almost 34 years!  However I know that I will build routines doing things I like doing and find suitably agreeable company to chat/socialise.  Behind all this though is the work thing…  I will need to feel that whatever I do is helping in some small way, but the volunteer experience on this is not a uniform one, and I am still in the very early days.   I think that is a bit destabilising deep in some part of me.

There are many ‘laugh at yourself’ minutes in my days here.  My second day at work, for example, was not helped by going to the wrong meeting.  I was trying to find the correct room to meet up with a particular member of staff.  When I knocked on a door which might have been it (directions had been unclear).. I was greeted as a long lost friend and the people there got out a number of documents to go over with me and invited me to assist them with a variety of tasks involving national tests (!).. however I had expected the gentleman I was supposed to meet to appear.  He never did.  I went into the wrong room and ended up in the wrong meeting.   Not a great start.  Can anyone I know imagine me doing that at home??

It’s all good for the soul!


5 thoughts on “… the loneliness of the long distance volunteer….

  1. Leaving the security of a lifetime career and a loving family all in one go….you are entitled to feel a bit wobbly….just don’t get wobbly on that bike!! We are all thinking of you and know you will make the very best of whatever can be achieved. Go Danny!!

  2. Hi Danny –

    I sent a comment on your last blog to keep you up to speed with Lornshill events – and perhaps it was because I felt it was inevitable that at this stage, in a foreign country, with a foreign language- and without so many of life`s familiar reference points -you`re bound to be past the honeymoon stage of your VSO experience and having to confront the practicalities of your situation. You know the saying “When the going gets tough” :I`m sure this will just add further layers of strength to your life.
    When we chatted idly about VSO a few years ago, I never imagined going on my own, and I think it`s really courageous of you to have done that. Maybe it`s just that I`m getting old and too locked into my comfort zones!
    Keep the blog going! I`m enjoying being reminded that there`s a big world out there!
    Hope your health stays good!!


  3. Oh dear! That’s not like you at all 🙂 Strange that they welcomed you in – maybe they were expecting someone else but figured “one barang’s the same as the other…” I hope that the sense of contributing something worthwhile emerges before too long, but I wonder if maybe the experience of not being useful could also be something worthwhile for you to wrestle with… Certainly it must be novel! As Milton says “They also serve who only stand and waite.” (On his Blindness)

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