by CAP7 Candidate Fabian, fellow at our learning center in Tani, Cambodia
Admittedly, if you would have asked me at the beginning of last year to picture the Kingdom of Cambodia, I would have struggled. My knowledge of the former French colony was limited to the reports I had seen in the media: the infamous border dispute in the north of the country, the well known cultural heritage sights in its centre, and the famous mass grave in the south. This may also have been the case if you’d asked many other Europeans. Yet, reducing the Southeast Asian country to such images doesn’t do it justice at all.
I was to be proven wrong. In fact, from the moment I left the airplane a further feature of the country burned itself onto my memory. It’s hot – unbelievably hot. Of course, absolutely every European should know that, but just knowing something doesn’t mean you are prepared for it. I’m sweating. The traffic jams on the streets of Phnom Penh lets the prospect of a hotel shower recede far into the distance. I’ve only just arrived but already feel exhausted.
The joy of being reunited with the team helps me to forget the trials of the journey. After the bumpy ride through the south of the country we can hardly wait to get off the bus. We have arrived, and finally we are able to reap the rewards of six months’ hard work! The doors open and the heat, which we have banned from our memory, slowly makes it back into the cool bus. I look at the building in front of me and can hardly believe my eyes. Only a few weeks before, this very same place was a sorry sight to behold, dilapidated and decaying – and today it stands shining in new splendor! It feels as though all the pent-up stress I have been carrying with me over the last months has been lifted like a weight from my shoulders.
But this sense of inner peace wasn’t to last long. In the middle of the night I suddenly wake up by the sound of piglets screaming for their lives. I had forgotten about the slaughterhouse next door, and it seems as though the man who operates it is doing everything to prevent that from happening. He has been going about his work with the relentless punctuality of a machine – and indeed, he may well have become a machine by now due to the repetitive, gruesome nature of his task.
My early enthusiasm soon gives way to disillusionment. Now the downside of the speed at which this place has been built reveals itself: defective workmanship. I should have known as much and yet hope again pulled the wool over my eyes. Pressure is mounting. Idleness is a luxury and we can’t afford it any more. From now on I’m putting my words into action! Frustration is just as motivating as joy: right now, this seems to be the fate of an entrepreneur.
We’ve done it! The Learning Center is open, and the opening ceremony was a great success. For the second time in a week I feel the weight lifting from my shoulders. I am completely convinced that this won’t happen again. I am now making the most of the relaxed atmosphere and enjoying the last days with the other members of the team – bound together as we are by a six-month rollercoaster ride of emotions.
I was wrong – it has happened again. The work has only just begun. It may be a matter of course in Europe, but it is completely incomprehensible in Cambodia: accounting. To my own surprise I feel more relaxed and confident after the great electricity crisis that I will overcome this hurdle too. But I am yet unaware of the fact that folders are nowhere to be found in Tani. I take this in my stride and decide to combine the shopping trip for office supplies with a weekend trip to the capital. A relaxed state of tension may well be the second phase in the life of an entrepreneur.
Another silver lining – I couldn’t have asked for a better host family. They put tremendous effort into communicating that the sister, who is approximately my age, is unmarried. I grin and respectfully reject the offer, pleased to have been welcomed into the family’s intimate circle so early on. The bathroom here is even more rustic than the one in the previous week’s hotel. There is no sink, no hand-held shower, no toilet paper. How do people finish their business around here? I decide I don’t need to know the answer to that question and instead vow to be more prepared from now on. The heat is still unbearable making itself visible in the enormous pile of sweaty clothes in my laundry pile. Thus, when I glance over to my host family, I begin to warm to the idea of a beautiful Cambodian wife.
It is as though European priorities have become blurred. Not quite half Cambodian, but yet at the same time not quite a true European any more. Caught between the two. Understanding both worlds but nevertheless being unable to mediate between them. Work is more relaxed, and there is more laughter, even though the hasty reconstruction measures are starting to come back to bite us. It began with those first cracks in the suspended ceiling and now the plaster is starting to loosen. Not a problem – we will not fall at this hurdle, not after coming so far, after achieving so much. May I introduce: uncertain certainty.