There’s nothing like getting out of the capital and doing a bit of rural running.
I spent last week in the province, in Pursat to be precise. Its provincial capital is a three hour drive out of Phnom Penh, heading northwest towards the Thai border. Pursat is a peaceful, functional market town, as well as an administrative hub for government and aid agency workers alike.
The first morning I failed to wake up at 5.30am for my morning run. The ceiling fan was whirring so loudly to beat the heat that it drowned out my alarm clock’s sounds. The next day, I turned down the fan a notch and turned up my alarm a few settings to make sure I was up at the crack of dawn.
5.30am might sound early. But not for rural Cambodians. People were already up, ploughing fields, repairing roads, cycling to school, and selling breakfast noodles. I ran out towards the paddy fields, where locals were already stuck up to their knees transplanting rice seedlings for the harvest in November.
It was nice to be on a relaxed rural road after the buzz of Phnom Penh’s hectic morning traffic. It was also good to get a bit of a run in before heading to the villages. I spent the next few days visiting homes where they were busy making their living, raising chickens, building canals, planting maize, weaving baskets, and making sugar palm and banana chips. I saw the work that was being done, asked questions on how to make it better. The Cambodians in turn were welcoming. I always find them so peaceful and polite, making the whole Kymer Rouge and 1970s civil war so hard to comprehend.
Fortunately, we are also finding that slowly but surely Cambodia is emerging from the decades of poverty it is well known for. Though still lagging behind many of its south-east Asia neighbours, poverty rates are slowly decreasing, as the garment industries, better agricultural production, and tourism provide incomes to its citizens. May it long continue so that I am eventually done out of a job.