I didn’t actually swim, so the title is but a crude way to share my admiration for Spalding Gray with you, one of the great story tellers of all time.
But I did visit, again, and felt very much at home. I’ve got this pet theory that it takes a certain period of time before a place gets under your skin, a certain number of times of going through the seasons. It may be different for each of us but I spent seven years and that certainly did it for me.
When I returned in spring 2010, a year after my departure, for a three week consultancy job, I was amazed by the changes. This time round I noticed changes too but basically nothing dramatic, all very incremental: streets cleaner, many shop fronts a bit classier, hummers giving way to other status symbols. But streets are still dominated by motor bikes, speed is still in the snail range, and development issues haven’t changed a bit.
However, friends who stayed in Cambodia do see change, so from the inside it looks different. They told me repression has increased, corruption is worse. That may be the case, but the following anecdote illustrates that the basics of how Cambodia’s elite and the so-called international community continue to co-create those realities, a perspective on things that I learned from Caroline Hughes, are still the same.
Apparently Cambodian ministries, some explicitly, others less so, have adopted a policy to sideline their foreign donor funded advisors. That results in stories from those advisors, shared over beer, about having nothing to do. My immediate question was don’t they report that to their funding agency?‘ but that is obviously a naive question. One doesn’t disclose oneself out of a job. I can totally understand that, kids in school, a mortgage at home…considerations at least partially similar to the ones their Cambodian counterparts have when relieving projects of a substantial percentage of their budgets to fund their own lifestyle and that of their “lineage”.
The human condition in my hands is always a sad subject so let me remind you that it also can be the basis of beauty.