Some Khmer call this the Cold Season, but I submit, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, there is nothing cold in Cambodia. Even a cold bucket shower is not that cold. The Rainy Season is supposed to be finished, but clouds still pucker up and have a good cry most evenings. Hot Season, thankfully, is a still a couple of months away. Yet, there is something about this in between season that makes me notice what I’m noticing.
Lately my senses are acutely heightened, sound is turned up, colors more vibrant. Cars and motorcycles blast through my village, funeral dirges broadcast from a truck’s loud speakers, shrill wedding songs rise over the rice fields, bass buzzing. All amplified, playing one after the other. A riot of jungle green from emerald to chartreuse grows outside my window. Sometimes I feel like I am the eye of a kaleidoscope in a mad swirl of splendor. Other times I just feel mad, caught in a cacophony of infinite pattern and color, with a crazy Khmer jukebox soundtrack—and that’s just at the local market over a bowl of noodles for lunch.
This constant barrage of sound assaults the body, but the smells oh the smells reach into the core of one’s being and lodge there. Over-ripe durian blooms in concert with smells of wood smoke and cooking oil and incense. Something is forever spoiling in the heat. Red meat hangs in strips at the market. Unconcerned by its dank reek, the shopkeeper sways in her hammock flanked by crimson curtains of flesh. Along the road a perpetual cheesy smell of dead animals follows me home. At least I hope it’s only dead animals.
I used to care about clothes, but now as long as I don’t smell like another dead thing, I hardly think about my appearance. It’s easy to forget what used to matter. This climate carves away at memory. It’s always too hot, too muggy, too muddy or too dry to remember what you want to do. My host family and counterparts appear indifferent. They move at the same even pace whatever the season. Likewise, they are not concerned with western notions of ambition. Whereas I am continually reassessing, recalibrating, measuring the marigolds, trying to figure out how to be effective. How to make a difference—or maybe I am just hoping to be noticed.
Most mornings I go to the village high school to wait for my counterpart to teach tenth graders basic English. Afternoons I write and make plans with other Peace Corps Volunteers for workshops and camps. I want to engage more than ever. Yet, even though I have been here over a year I still feel outside, still trying to translate my experience. There is so much I don’t understand about this strange land that calls itself The Kingdom of Wonder. My wonder is formed into questions: I wonder Why? Why this first? Why not that? Why continue this way? Why suffer? Why complain? Why laugh?
Pondering this while watching my step as I pick my way along the road of mud puddles, rocks, and trash back to my home, I see a dog who looks part coyote, part Egyptian god-dog Anubis. He is sitting on a mound of gravel, surrounded by his own mud moat. He meets my eye, like he heard my questions, gives me a sly wink, as if to say, “Why not?”