A little more than a year ago, the K-9 PCVs landed in Phnom Penh late in the evening; by the time we pushed our way through customs and were on the tarmac it was after midnight. It had rained, you could tell by the puddles, but that did little to cool the temperature. We had arrived in the middle of monsoon season—rain became part of our daily routine. I looked forward to it, except when biking home from school at rush hour. Rain pushed the garbage down the streets and put a biker’s mud stripe along my back. The rain wasn’t exactly clean, but it was refreshing. The way a bucket shower is not the same as running hot water, but still rinses off the first layer of dust.
It continued to rain on and off through August and September into October. Then the weather shifted. In November the Water Festival was cancelled in Phnom Penh again, so Siem Reap prepared to receive revelers for Bon Om Tuk. Water from the slow ditch near my family’s house suddenly dropped, diverted to fill the banks of the Siem Reap River for the three-day festival. The town filled to the brim with strangers. After Bon Om Tuk, I figured the water would be sent back to the village, but no. The dry season began with the end of the Water Festival. The rice fields were harvested, then dried up. Ponds shrunk. The poor people had to walk further to fill their buckets.
It took awhile for the dryness of dry season to take hold. After a month of no rain, I missed it badly. After three months of heat with no rain I mourned. By April I could not remember why I came to Cambodia. Relentless heat. Stupefying. Late evening and early morning there was a glimmer of consciousness, but by noon it was lost again. At school no students came in the afternoon. In fact, by 11 a.m. there seemed no point in continuing. Anything.
The first rain returned in late May, despite dire predictions from my co-teachers that there might be no rain until August. Then news came, a storm predicted, originating in the north of China. My counterpart Chetra said, “Cambodia can’t even make her own weather. She has to import rain from China.” I was at home late afternoon when the sky darkened, puckered up and had a good cry. The pubescent chickens who had never seen or felt rain ran around squawking like the sky was falling—which it was. One clever fellow stuck his silly head in a hedge, his feathered behind spanked by the downpour. Newly formed puddles appeared to the ducks delight. (Before the rain they had to pretend with dust puddles.) The ducks and I rejoiced. The large light-grey cows freckled and turned dark-grey as months of dirt rolled off their lean flanks. They seemed to enjoy going through a cow-wash. Thunder boom-boomed, lightening cracked, and the electricity went out. The glorious smell of mud filled the air. After the rain came frog song. I bought a bright blue umbrella in anticipation of more precipitation.
Now, in October it still rains every couple of days. Sometimes a mere sprinkle, sometimes a great gush. If it comes late morning, after the sun has heated the tin roof, the runoff is a hot shower. The great mango tree between the two family houses in our compound savors the rain, holds on to it past the cloud burst, then lets it go gently, like a child who takes her time with dessert. But even if it rains for a good half-hour and the road is a running river, as soon as it ceases the streets dry quickly. An hour later the dimpled dirt is the only evidence that the monsoon marched by our town on its way to the coast.