This blog will be documenting my experiences taking off from the corporate world to combine my passion for travel with volunteer work over the next 12+ months... My trip will bring me to South-America, South-East-Asia, Australia, the Fijis and Alaska before heading home over New York and London.
This blog is mainly geared towards my family and friends so they can keep up-to-date. Enjoy reading!
after several serious entries I think it is time for just a regular update of what actually is going on here. The last 3 weeks in Cambodia have started and somehow this stay is coming way to quick to an end. Whilst at times this place can be lonely, it has been more than great to live here. I can not mention this often enough, how much the people here make the difference.
The last weeks have been a bit of a roller coaster - while the "well-project" hit the ground full speed and I was busy with trying to find help for one of my students - my marathon project had to be put on break as I got a vocal-cord infection from the teaching. So I wasn't able to run for the last 3 weeks which is a major set-back in my training-plan and certainly annoyed me. But finger crossed - I will start running tomorrow morning again.
Well, there are 2 weeks left and still a lot to do, before I will move on to Vietnam where I will be traveling with a friend of mine, Chris, who just quit his job and got 3 months "off". We will travel for a month before I will embark on the big marathon-project in Singapore.
Enclosed some snapshots I took over the past couple of weeks. Cambodian Moto driving "art" (even though those are not the extreme cases, as those always pass you when you don't have your camera ready) and a picture of mine documenting how desperately Cambodians want to be "white" while we want to have a sun-tan....
P.S.: A big thank you to my grandmothers neighbors Franziska and Genovefa who were moved by Rosicas story and gave money to help her re-financing her hearing aid.
A good 15 years ago I had a geography secondary school teacher called Mr. Neumann - who had traveled/lived in Papua New Guinea for some time. He taught us a lot about the effects of deforestation: global warming, flooding or expropriation of indigenous people. Based on that he taught us to be conscious how we use paper and wood. Back in those days, that was all good in theory but being 15 years old I guess I couldn't really relate... nor could I relate over the past 15 years until I came here.
Traveling over the past 8 months through South-America I have seen a vast and lush continent mainly covered by jungle with stunning sights, amazing wildlife and eaten fruits in a variety I couldn't imagine before. Coming to Cambodia, I was expecting a similar environment, based on the similar climate. Living here in Banlung now since 2 months, talking to people who grew up here and having taken trips out in the deep country have shocked me properly.
According to locals, Ratanakiri (approx. the same size like the German state "Schleswig Holstein") has been a province completely covered by jungle, but within the last 5 years the logging in this area has been so massive that all jungle is gone by now, completely clear-cutted by big corporations. There is not even anything anymore to rescue as you seem to not be able to find any jungle anymore. Ratanakiri has only one big national park left which supposingly is protected and a home to endangered animal species - but the Cambodian government just recently has sold 1/3 of the national park to a Chinese Investor Group to "invest". Even though logging is officially banned by the Cambodian government, in foresight of this event the Chinese corporation has already invested in heavy duty logging machinery and infrastructure (bridges and streets) so it will be easier to get to and from the new area. It is just sad and I guess I am not telling anybody any news, but it is shocking to personally experiencing it. Experiences like the following:
- Wherever in Ratanakiri you drive, it really does not matter if you stay on the main road or travel 3 hours into the complete wilderness, all you see is Rubber-Tree-Plantations or Cashew-Nut-Plantations. If you drive through this armada of 2 types of trees it is completely silent - which feels weird being in a "forest". There are no birds anymore around nor any other animals - therefore no noises - all gone.
- At every corner you see land burning. Logging is only going after the valuable trees in the jungle (for example Mahagoni - one tree of decent size is worth several hundred dollars) - all mid-sized trees are not interesting and left behind... but then building the plantations people are burning down the left-overs of the jungle as it is the easiest and most cost efficient way to get rid of the remainders of the jungle, as well as the ashes are actually a good fertilizer.
- If you talk to indigenous people, they actually are facing a difficult time as they are mainly illiterate and all they learned growing up is handcraft as well as living in a forest. Means hunting, farming on a small scale and fishing. Now with the forest gone - there is no hunting anymore and farming only on big scale. There are actually indigenous people around 30 years old which were still hunting Tigers in their young years. - Young children here in the school I am teaching are choosing to talk about "deforestation" in public speaking contests as they realize that it is changing their environment and they want to stop it.
I don't write this blog-entry trying to change anything, cause I certainly know it won't. But having this matter "in your face" makes you think about the effects of Globalization - driving through the country side here feels a bit like "earth is bleeding" and we are causing it. I know this sounds very melodramatic and naive. And I don't claim that I am not part of the cause for this by traveling around the world and having grown up in a industrialized nation.
A friend of mine told me 6 months ago "Earth is Paradise, we people are just not realizing it". Since then this sentence comes to my mind every-time I see a magnificent natural sight - but unfortunately also when I witness how we carelessly destroy it.
About a month ago I reached out to my friends trying to find support (3000 US$) to have 3 wells in indigenous communities build (see one of the former blog-entries for more details) and the response was overwhelming. With the support of the donation-matching-program of my former employer Deutsche Bank we now got a staggering 13,000 US$ together. This will enable us to build 7 wells in indigenous communities providing over 4,200 people with direct access to water. Furthermore we will be able to ensure the maintenance of the wells and support a school-building project from UWS (more to that in the future).
With the donations coming in we started building the first 2 wells in the 'Tien' and 'Jong' communities last week with finishing both of them on Friday. I have visited the 'Tien' site and impressive what work has been achieved there. The well has been dug 23 meters deep, by handcraft in a claustrophobic 1,5 meter radius hole. The air down their apparently is super thin and the constant fear
of being buried alive is present, certainly nothing for people with weak
nerves. Seeing though the people using the well once it was finished is
certainly worth it. The build of an additional 2 wells will be started this Monday and the remainder being done in May when the donations through the DB matching program are coming through.
It is hard to explain how this response made me feel and I guess 'humbling' is the only word that comes to my mind. Therefore I want to say
a true and big THANK YOU to everybody who supported this
effort and offered their help. To be able to witness on the behalf of
all the donors the impact of providing people with something so basic
and essential as water is simply moving.
I will provide more updates as this little "project" continues but enclosed some pictures to get an impression:
After 2 months being here in Banlung I took a break for the last 1.5 weeks of this remote city to see more of Cambodia, visit two friends weddings and go to Thailand to meet my dear friend Tim. I will spare you the details of the Cambodian weddings number 7 and 8 (it seems like I will be able to attend more weddings within the 3 months I am here than in the whole 30 years before that :-)) but attached some pictures so you can get an impression.
The wedding ceremony is traditionally hold in the living room of the brides parents house so the set-up is quite small... and yes in one of the pictures it was time for me to get dressed up as a groom - but no worries I didn't get married :-). A good experience but after 8 Cambodian weddings I think I am through with the topic as all of them are exactly the same scheme, same food and even the groom and bride outfits seem to be standardized throughout Cambodia... which makes the weddings quite monoton :-)
I then visited my directors family and the number 1 attraction in Cambodia - Angkor Wat... a truly amazing sight this is and the temple complex is huge so that you can easily spend 2 days just wondering around seeing all temples... at the same time I experienced great Cambodian hospitality from my directors family who were just amazing.
After Siem Reap I took a bus to Bangkok to meet up with
my friend Tim and enjoy some days off back in "civilization". That
sounds more drastic than it is - but it was nice to be able to sit down,
have a coffee, read a newspaper, going out partying etc.