My life in Cambodia is a lot like my bike ride to the school every morning: it’s a hot and dusty road filled with potholes and strange smells, crowded with motos carrying kids and parcels twice as big as the baby; tuk-tuks with school girls in their prim school uniforms, old Mais in flowery pajamas and scruffy dogs nonchalantly decamped atop any pile of dirt in the midst of it all.
The road is my perilous journey into this confounding Khmer language, which sounds one moment like soft bells and gongs, the next like a catfight. The pungent smells are my missed cultural cues, mistaking one thing for another. What I thought was a bouquet of flowers turns up as soup for lunch. The schoolgirls in uniform and grandmothers in PJs represent my lost fashion identity, as I am informed that professional dress always means a pointy collar. And the mangy dogs sleeping through it all? well, that’s our old Bo, the grandpa who occupies the hammock in the courtyard, muttering commentary and correcting my bad Khmer with a chuckle.
The main thing I am learning on this road is not to yield, but to merge. No one looks behind them, they blast their horn and barrel on ahead. The law abiding Peace Corps bicyclists ride in a single line on the right side of the road. They signal their intentions. This is culturally incorrect here. The Cambodian trick is to look for an opening and take it. This is true as a pedestrian, as well. Don’t stop, don’t hesitate. Keep moving. The traffic will flow around you. Do not yield. Merge.