First 2 Weeks at Work

Trip Start Oct 14, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

First 2 Week At Work

We have now spent our 2 first weeks at work. Certainly a very different experience to working in the UK! However, it is probably fair to say that we have both experienced more positives than negatives, which is more than we could have hoped for.

Moving to Kompong Thom was very straightforward, if a little daunting. You can see a removal van, Cambodian style, on the attached photograph!

Bram's Work

There has generally been very few people in my office or the adjoining office, which is the main Department of Environment office for Kompong Thom Provice. My office is a dedicated team for the Tonle Sap Environmental Management Project (TSEMP). By my reckoning there should be about 30 people working in the two offices, but probably the most at one time I have seen is 7. This is probably due to the terribly low government wages, which means that many people have second jobs and the fact that staff get generous per deum payments for being out in the field (e.g. a 2 hour meeting 20 minutes away seems to constitute a day in the field).

All of the staff in the two offices seem friendly and I have already spent many hours practicing Khmer with them and helping them with English. Making friends and building relationships with colleagues is particularly important in Cambodia, and I think this is going well so far. I have met 4 members of my team (there are 3 others): the overall Director who is friendly but very rarely in the office. My boss who actually runs the office and seems to be a good chap. The office administrator and finance person who is very nice and seems keen to work with me. Finally a chap who is working mainly in environmental education and who speaks quite good English, but who is not confident at listening to English. He can read and write English well and this is great and I am slowly getting more information about the work of the team. Everything is very slow though -the pace of work is much slower that at home! Oh, and they are all men in my office, which is different to what I am used to and probably accounts for the fact that it isn't all that clean...

Two main events happened during the week at work. On Wednesday, Rachel, Alison (the other VSO person in Kompong Thom) met the state governor with my boss. The governor seemed like quite an impressive man and we all made grand but empty speeches, but I do think that he will look out for us. On Friday I attended an environmental education event at a nearby village. This was held in a Wat and was attended by about 60 men, women, children and monks. I gave a short speech in English (translated by my colleague) and then he spoke for about an hour. I'm sure everyone was bored, but they were all given free biscuits so most stayed. A DVD was then shown about the Tonle Sap lake. All in all it was well run and I think got the message across (basically don't throw rubbish into the river, don't destroy habitat). I will probably get quite involved with this work and have a few ideas to make the events more interesting.

I was ill for the first couple of days of the second week, but didn't miss much. I spent most of the next 3 days sitting...quite literally just sitting and chatting. Some of the chatting was about work but most wasn't. This is all part of the VSO approach - getting to know colleagues and building trust. Information does come out slowly and by the end of the week there was a preliminary work plan for January to March. My name is against all of the activities, which is great as I need to find out what on earth is going on. It looks like the work consists mainly of environmental education and protection of 2 core zones on the lake - these are the areas that have the most importance for biodiversity.

Rachel's Work

Well I went into my new job to replace a volunteer who had been there before me but had "issues" and then left to work in PP. My expectations were low...but it was ok! My first day was in a workshop (saka-sa-la in Khmer). Alison and I went. It was a 20 min truck ride away and was in a local commune hall. We had the meeting outside and after standing up for the national anthem played on a feedback loving PA system, we started. The workshop was basically a chance for the community fishermen to learn about new fisheries legislation.

The meeting was all in Khmer then at the end my boss asked me to stand up and introduce myself. I started off in Khmer then said that I didn't know enough and started in English. I told them about things I knew about, like my name and my work experience. Then it got a little bit tricky. I was told to give my opinion on the Cambodian Fishery Sub-Decree which had just been discussed in Khmer. I smiled a lot and said it would be great for everyone. I have since learnt the legislation is flawed, but what else could I say?

Most of the rest of the week I sat and chatted with the few staff that are around. They seem friendly and they are willing to help me with my Khmer. The one other female employee in the office took me to the market to get some vegetables for Khmer prices not foreign prices. It was good fun but I was very scared at the fish stalls and said no to the dried flattened black fish with flies on. Am I fussy? I also said no to the pungent crickets she offered me the next day. I am just not an insect eating type of vegetarian.

The second week was not really so productive. Most people were on a training course and those that weren't didn't really turn up. It was very confusing for me as I spent several mornings or afternoons waiting for the office door to be opened. There is one person with a key who gave it to her 10yrd old nephew when she is away so I had to wait for a kid to come and let me in. The next week, my mission is to get a key and get a vague idea about what I should be doing.

I have been for the first meeting in PP which was fun as I was able to go to a supermarket that sold turmeric, cheese, pasta and other such luxury goods. Kompong Thom (town we live in) is small and really only specialises in oily food and dried fish. Which is nice. Mind you, we have found a shop that sells a half decent merlot (when chilled) for $4.5 which okay is half our daily allowance, but it is worth it.
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