Stories from Samloem

Six weeks. Six weeks in one place – one bed. The last time I spent six weeks in one place is a foggy memory. At the end of this time life is distilled to waking, working, and waiting. I feel stationary as the days stroll past at their own leisurely pace. Time stops. Waves. Beach. Sun. Work. Then…
While mixing clay and sand one day, I hear crunching of dried leaves under feet. Too slow for a lizard, I think, and too big for a dog. A monkey? I stand and turn to face – a grinning blonde Israeli! My friend Alon came to visit! We met over two months ago at a three-day party in the riverside town of Kampot, traveled together for a week or so (awesome ricewineokay times) and stayed in touch trading stories of our travels and book suggestions. He decided to return to Cambodia for his final Asia week before jet setting for Aukland, and surprised me with a visit. What a guy.

Knowing I was on the island somewhere and getting a weird feeling from the ‘other’ side, he hiked through the jungle with his backpack and guitar and followed every path until he found the one with a goofy building (and me) at the end. He stayed and helped with work and the days strolled faster and I didn’t to count them while he was there.

The day before Alon arrived the jungle spewed forth a lovesick French traveler. Also disillusioned by the bustling other side, Nico asked the big boss man for permission to camp for one week. The big boss said no first, it being a private beach and hammocks oh-so unsightly, then he said $3 a night, and finally offered a work-trade. If Nico wanted, he could sleep in his hammock and eat staff food in exchange for working with me. Great!

So for a few happy days I had help, good natured help, and let me tell you: we made progress! We finished pounding the tires and laid the first row of earthbags. We learned to count in Hebrew, French, and English (but only to 18 because that’s how many scoops in each bag). We listened to music and traded travel tales and speculated on all types of topics. It felt good to think again and to have company with whom to converse. Pascha (that’s the dog) was the only one who didn’t contribute verbally, but his company is always appreciated.

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We worked from 8:00 am to 3:00, at which time I jumped into the ocean for a quick bath, threw on my one clean dress, and sluffed down the beach to Robinson, the restaurant. Since Manu and Emily left for their travels the new managers have succumbed to exhaustion. Every day is the same, every bungalow must be cleaned, every order filled, and every trash can emptied. It’s tiring for them. I watch the restaurant from 3:00-6:00 to give them a break and absolutely love every second. Mostly I fill drink orders, but sometimes I get awesome bizarre requests:

“Do you have graham crackers or snickers?” no. but I can make a fruit salad? “No, I’m hungry. How about a Margarita?” I’m sorry, our ice is in a 20 kilo block and we don’t have electricity, so I can’t run the blender. How about a Gin Tonic? “That’s perfect! you’re so helpful!”

OR

“Do you have a broom?” Of course. Would you like me to ask somebody to sweep your bungalow? “No, we have an unwelcome guest in our bedroom and I’ll just take care of it” Um, okay. What kind of guest? “A HUGE LIZARD! WITH PINK SPOTS!” Oh! That’s a gecko! He keeps away mosquitoes! He’s good luck, as long as he doesn’t say his name three times. Then it’s bad luck. “Really! In that case, can I have some water to give him? He looks a bit green…”

I while away the three hours with a book or with Alon. We chat over coffee. Real coffee. The day he came to visit the restaurant ran out of glasses. I searched high, low, and in unexpected places, and in one of those hidden nooks I found a shiny silver moldy coffee perk. Jackpot! Enough of the weak watery “coffee”!  I cleaned out the crusty coffee grounds and the blue fuzz and make the strongest, most pungent coffee since Vietnam. De-Li-Cious!

Each time I set the little perk on the flickering flame I get a flash of Emma’s sleepy eyes, slowly pouring blackness into two small cups. Sunshine filters through the backyard windows, just illuminating our bicycles in her little garden. I’m cold and out of breath from the bike ride over, but I know her coffee and our ride to school together is worth it. I stir in a drop of agave. We sip slowly. Then, the flight to school! We time the lights perfectly, pounding the pedals to make the first one and then coasting, no hands, until that 13th & Patterson light which is just a bit off, howling early morning songs and silly nonsense words and animal noises to the still drunk and slightly dizzy kids walking to campus. Here, I take the perk off just before the last bit spits out the spigot, just like she taught me, fill our two cups, and stir in  a bit of white sugar.

I sit looking over the restaurant and into the setting sun, the light shining purple and pink off the endless ocean, and sip slowly.

Life is simple, good, and sometimes it takes just a bit of time in the same place to realize it.

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