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Day 59 – Through the Water (A Night in Flooded Phnom Penh)

May 1, 2010

Dateline: Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Saturday, May 1, 2010

I trudged my way through floodwater and God knows what else. My shoes and socks in one hand. My pants rolled as high as I could get them. My passport, cell phone, and mp3 player jammed as high in my pocket as I could manage. The water was mid-thigh and threatened to get deeper– I was walking on the raised sidewalk, after all, and would at some point have to step off it to cross the street. Garbage, food remnants, and unidentified sludge floated past in the thinly falling rain. This is not how I planned on spending my last night in Phnom Penh.

This morning, I got up early and boarded a bus from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh. It was pretty much the same as the bus ride to Sihanoukville. No karaoke blaring on the TV though. For some reason most buses insist on this “entertainment.” I was happy to do without.

I slept my way through much of the trip. When we disembarked, I had the moto driver take me to a centrally located guesthouse instead of the one on the lake that I’d stayed at before. It was a bit pricier ($7 v. $3) but then I wouldn’t have to rent a motorbike to get to food or to find an internet café that I trust.

I planned to spend the day writing in my room. There was even a desk and chair with an outlet nearby; a genuine find, really. Most places I feel lucky if I have a sink.

When I went to boot my netbook, though, I couldn’t get it to work. Of all the rotten luck. The perfect spot to write and a lot of time on my hands and I can’t get my writing machine to boot.

I spent the afternoon researching my problem, trying to get it to work. I walked back and forth the few blocks between the guesthouse and internet café trying out different solutions. Nothing.

Now, it may seem silly to walk blocks away to an internet café when there were a few in my neighborhood, but finding a place that I know is virus free is actually kind of tough. Sticking a USB drive into infected computers is just begging for trouble. I should know, since I caught a bug a couple weeks back and spent two days purging it from my machine. I would gladly walk for a non-infected machine.

I must have walked back and forth between the café a million times. As darkness fell, I resigned myself to my fate: my device was a brick.

I decided to skip out on Ho Chi Minh for one day. Instead of leaving tomorrow, I decided to spend an extra night in Phnom Penh to try and fix the thing. I know this place pretty well. I know my way around to the guesthouse and the safe internet cafes. No sense in stressing myself out in a new city while trying to find a fix for my comp.

Settled on my new reality, I sat down for dinner at a local joint for the cheapest meal in the area. The noodles were adequate. Much improved, though, by the vinegar sauce the helpful server girl plopped in front of me and gestured that I should use with my dish. The drink, on the other hand, was great.

I’m not sure why I waited so long to try sugar cane juice, but I wish I hadn’t. I’d seen it made on the street. Sugar cane fed through two rollers that squeezed the juice out into a trough that led to a customer’s cup. When the juice was squeezed out, the proprietor would fold the cane in half and feed it through again. He or she would repeat this process until the cane was dry.

The juice looks like cloudy yellow water. Dirty. Like there might be algae or worse in it. It tastes like heaven though. It’s not that sweet even though it’s made of sugar and has a bit of sour to it. It goes down smooth without a hint of viscosity or sediment. It’s very refreshing when served over ice. I can see why it’s a local favorite. And it only cost 1000 riel (25 cents). One of the best ways to spend a quarter. If I come across it again, I’ll be having another glass, maybe two.

As I sat eating my meal, it started to drizzle. By the time I was through, it was raining. I decided to sit it out. I figured it was your typical tropical storm and that it would blow through in 45 minutes or so. No point in walking the three blocks to my place and getting soaked.

I figured correctly. It stormed and rained, then finally stopped. What I didn’t figure was the flood. During the torrent the water in the street rose. Unlike the rain, it never receded. Motorbikes stalled in the water. Cars got flooded as they tried to plow through the waist deep street river. The only things that consistently made it through were pedi-cabs and lifted trucks, two vehicles at the extremes of the transportation technology spectrum. When a lifted truck plowed through the street it would cause a wave to barrel towards the shop door. It was making a mess of the place, washing trash and debris to the restaurant’s door step.

When the rain stopped, there was nowhere to go but through the water. I pulled off my shoes and socks, rolled up my pants, and waded through. Barefoot in Phnom Penh. Barefoot in Phnom Penh in a flood. Barefoot in Phnom Penh floodwaters in a questionable sewage situation. I was pretty sure I didn’t have any open wounds on my feet. Guess I’d find out soon enough.

I immediately turned off my brain to cope. I ignored the trash. I ignored the fact that I wouldn’t have walked barefooted through the streets just two hours before. I ignored the idea of sewer water. I ignored everything but one foot in front of the other.

I did allow myself to notice the little kids splashing through the water and the other stranded citizens trying to slosh their way home. If they could do it, so could I.

I picked my way over the uneven sidewalk. I tripped over curbs. I stumbled around stranded tuk tuks. I felt my way through gutters. I just wanted to get home and get a shower.

I made it. I don’t think I got tetanus. Nothing seemed infected. My computer, though, was still a brick. Ah, life on the road. If it ain’t one thing, it’s another.

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