Going to another country is always an interesting experience, but going to Cambodia is a whole different idea, especially when you were going to stay on a floating village. It was a scary but exciting prospect but I could not turn down this once in a lifetime chance! We were supposed to go as a group to teach students about recycling and the problems of pollution, as well as test a prototype low cost water filter to introduce to the community.
Plastic pollution is a major problem in the Tonle Sap region because of the influx of processed foods which come in plastic packaging. There is also no reliable waste disposal methods of which to clear trash on the floating villages.
We were greeted by two motor boats from which we were going to embark on journey into the lake. I honestly had no idea what to expect! But the boat ride into the lake was exhilarating. I had never felt anything like this before. The wide expanse of water on either side and the vast sky above hinted at freedom and adventure.
The first stop we made was to the chief of the village’s home to pay our respects. Then we headed off to our separate homestays. We were split into 2 different groups and with our Cambodian buddies we went to visit our respective families. My group was staying with Cham Village Chief’s family for the next 3 nights. They were very welcoming, although we did not speak the same language, smiles and exaggerated hand gestures immediately broke the ice.
The family we stayed with had 7 children and the youngest, Satni warmed up to us quickly. His sister, Marie, soon followed and though the Cambodian students we were with, we had really funny conversations and much laughter. Marie also helped us get around on her motorboat which she drove around.
Living on water took some getting used to. Water was drawn straight from the river using a water filter we brought over. It was interesting to see how the community was so trusting toward each other. All the houses did not have doors or gates and people could visit each other whenever they wanted. Life there was a lot slower and time seemed to take on a gentler path. The lives of the community members were simple but happy and it sounds cliche but a simple life, free of the trappings of technology has its own joys.
Our time on the Tonle Sap was mainly to share the problems about improper waste disposal with the students. We also delivered stationery supplies to the the students in the local schools. These materials were bought from the local Cambodian markets (using donations from friends and family) to support the local stall owners. In total, we visited 3 different schools to teach them about recycling, and conducted upcycling workshops!
Going back to nature was a refreshing experience and I realised how caught up I had been with modern life, especially the internet and social media. Watching the sunset from the house we were staying in was amazing. With no tall buildings to hamper the view, the sky shone with a blaze of colours and the clouds seemed to glow under the evening light. Life felt so light and easy as our house rocked in rhythm with the gentle waves.
This trip is one that I would not likely forget. The friendships formed with our host family and the beautiful scenery has been forever etched in my heart. Life truly begins at the end of your comfort zone.