Heavens! Leaving Kratie was a joke. I bought a minibus ticket from the same man who organised the motorbike excursion. Or so I thought. It was meant to pick me up from the hotel at 7 am but it didn't. I thought that man was dodgy as he had unfeasibly long fingernails and went by the name "Mr Lucky". At 7.20 he turned up and said the bus was at the station so he put me and all my luggage onto his friend's moto and I was rapidly taken to meet it. Then I was told to get onto one of those share taxi things along with half the population of Kratie (in their pajamas) and 45 minutes later we pulled out of the bus station. This 'bus' was ultimately headed for Phnom Penh and as no one on the bus spoke any English I was concerned about actually being dropped off in the right city! I kept pointing to Kompong Cham on the map to the girl next to me and she kept pointing to the road ahead so I just had to keep my fingers crossed and look out for signposts written in English. She was very nice and shared her quails eggs with me. Luckily she hadn't opted for the duck embryo eggs which many people favour for a snack. Just as I feared we went zooming through Kompong Cham and my helpful travel partner started yelling to the driver to let me off!! They don't have many bus stops in Cambodia - people just yell when they want to disembark. And if the driver doesn't stop immediately the whole bus joins in with the yelling. Then they squeeze their way out along with their sacks of rice, their chickens and their babies because no one thinks to move out of the way. I checked into the Mekong Hotel and a lovely room with river view. One piece of advice - if you have a balcony overlooking the Mekong river do not leave the door open and lights on after sunset unless you wish to share your room with 3 million flying vistors. Make that 4 million.
I had a meeting at 5 with Veth who is responsible for child sponsorship with Actionaid. I sponsor a young girl called Sreymom who I recently learned had left her village (which I planned to visit) and gone to live with her sister in Phnom Penh. Actionaid and their Cambodian partner organisation Samaky had organised a day showing me around the area where they work and seeing the projects. We set off the next morning after breakfast (dry baguette for me, rice porridge with fish for Veth) by bus to the Samaky office. All the people there were so welcoming and spoke varying degrees of English. They told me about their work and took photos of me throughout I felt like Princess Di! Next thing I knew I was on the back of a moto bumping along on extremely rough tracks which are clearly mud baths in the rainy season. This time I was actually given a helmet to wear which is just as well as I felt I could go flying into the air at any moment and land in a field of rice or mud. Our first stop was at Sreymom's village where all the sponsored children were on the floor busy drawing pictures to send their sponsors. This was lovely to see but there was another group outside who were still awaitiing sponsors but were drawing pictures anyway. They do this a couple of times a year and are quality controlled otherwise people complain that the pictures are always of flowers or whatever! Incidently Sreymom usually draws me pictures of glamourous ladies with bouffants and large breasts, I'm not sure I'd bother to complain though. I went to Sreymom's hous which is traditional wood and bamboo on stilts. It's hard to imagine the rainy season when the village is flooded, people go everywhere by boat and children have to play indoors. I met Sreymom's mother, her blind grandmother and her 10 month old nephew who was absolutely gorgeous and wanted to steal my camera! They explained that Sreymom had gone to look after her sister's newborn baby in Phnom Penh for a few months (she's 13!). Apparently she stopped going to school last year when her father was ill. He's fine now and back fishing for a living.
We left the village by boat and visited the dam project. The dam was built during the Pol Pot regime and is currently under repair in order to help the villagers use the lake and the land better. They are also encouraging people to grow more vegetables and we went on to visit another village where they do this. I was offered a lovely fresh cucumber to eat before my customery rice and chewy meat in polystyrene. I had fun playing with the kids there and taking photos and videos which they thought were hysterical. Last stop was the library funded by actionaid that seemed to be well used. Lots of children and adults go there to practise reading and writing. While I was there some smaller kids were chanting the Khymer alphabet - very sweet! And that was the end of my visit really although I did go back to the office to look at some photos and eat some jackfruit.
On my second day in Kompong Cham I hired a bicycle and went in search of the post office. This took about an hour as the bike was rickity and gearless and none of the streets were signed. Then when I did find it there was no Poste Restante facility and I was expecting a letter! I couldnt believe the woman next to me at the counter who was parcelling up blister packs of pills and then just throwing the boxes on the floor. The pollution here is dreadful. Then I took the bike over to an island. I really just did this because they hadn't quite finished building the bamboo bridge and the ferry was irrisistable, just a raft with a motor loaded up with numerous motorbikes, the drivers ready to rev up and shoot up the bank as soon as it docked. Madness. The other side was a different world. Beautifully rural, palm tree lined paths with houses set back from the road, rice paddies, ponies and carts, kids yelling "Hello! What your name"?!" And people cycling along at a very leisurely pace. I went with a young girl student who was on her way home (which doubled up as a beauty parlour) as she wanted to show me her pagoda. I left her to explore some more and stopped at another temple where a young monk wanted me to meet his English teacher. Many of the local teenagers go to the temple for extra English tuition and they are really keen - there were loads of them turning up! And then the teacher gave me the marker pens and told me to take the class and he'd be back in twenty minutes! I didn't know where to start but I laughed as all the girls sat at the front, the boys at the back just like everywhere! I had some postcards of London in my bag so the kids asked about the pictures and I drew a picture of Big Ben and the Queen on the board. When the monk teacher returned he must have thought we were having a game of Pictionary. I left them with the postcards in rather a hurry as the last ferry left at 6 and I had a bus to catch the next morning,