“This is Cambodia. It’s like the freakin’ Wild West sometimes.”
This from the mouth of Carley, a PCV about 6 months into her service in Cambodia.
She goes on about one of the many factors that back up her Wild West statment: the government dismantling entire political parties, sub-par transportation that often contains animals, the fact that she sometimes washes her hair in a reservoir near her home. We talked about a lot of things that night. I can’t remember which, specifically, sparked the Wild West comment.
To me, they all apply, and I most likely looked like some sort of frenetic bobblehead doll there in front of her, my head going in a non-stop nod of agreement and ‘yeah, I get that,’ as she described her service.
After our 36 hours with Carley I drew one big conclusion: her service is pretty much the ‘same, same but different’ to my own. In fact, when I said this phrase aloud she excitedly noted, “Yeah! We see shirts all over Cambodia with that phrase on them.” I, too, saw shirts all over my Peace Corps country with that phrase on them. I thought it came from South Africa. She wasn’t sure where she thought it came from. See where I’m going with this?
So, how else was our glimpse into Peace Corps Cambodia the same, same but different to our service in Peace Corps Mozambique?
Same, same: Carley frequently talked about being hot and sweaty. We, too, often talked about being hot and sweaty.
Different: I think it even gets hotter in Carley’s site- God help her- but she does have a beautiful reservoir nearby for all of her swimming, and hair-washing, needs.
Same, same: Learning a second language (read: spending at least 6 months speaking at the level of a primary school child and embarrassing yourself with later-hilarious errors) is hard.
Different: Carley is learning Khmer. What looks like beautiful and indecipherable doodles on all the signs is now Carley’s alphabet, although I noticed she uses the Latin alphabet in her own writing of Khmer. What sounds like beautiful and indecipherable words is now Carley’s language. I may have never been more quick to call Portuguese easy than after hearing Carley put her Khmer to use and arrange a Tuk Tuk trip for us.
Same, same: Living in a country torn up by recent civil war, not that far past independence and with many of the effects of colonialism still starkly present. We talked about goverment and corruption, about people living in fear, about why children look at the ground so much and why adults rarely express dissent.
Different: Of course, no two wars are ever the same, and every war is incredibly complex. Let me direct you to better sources if you’d like to learn more about these 2 wars. To learn more about Mozambique’s civil war, go here. To learn more about Cambodia’s war, go here.
Same, same: Many of the sights and sounds of daily life: women calling out in greeting, kids walking to school without adults, red dirt roads, a small and minimal health center, small and minimal schools, soccer fields, dirty criancas, coconuts and their trees, fresh fruit, having a bread lady and knowing she’s probably run out of bread by 2pm., bags of charcoal for cooking, ridiculously large speakers outside of people’s modest homes, the absence of visible knees, and also of privacy.
Different: Many of the sights and sounds of daily life: houses made of wood and cement and raised on stilts, motos buzzing about, many many children riding bicycles, volleyball courts, raw meat hanging in the market, living two years with a host family and all that brings to daily life, using a high-quality Peace Corps-issued mountain bike to get from here to there much to the chagrin of us PC Moz RPCV’s who received nothing more than an ill-fitting helmet and enough money to buy a bike that used up more of our time in repairs than rides.
Five weeks after leaving Mapinhane, our Peace Corps site for two years, a visit to another Peace Corps site, albeit half a world away, brought a strange sort of comfort: a taste of Peace Corps life again, saudades for our daily life in Moz, and a new type of reminder of what a strangely unique but universal experience Peace Corps service is. Perhaps the same, same, but different wherever a PCV roams.