I am at a place where it is almost unlikely for me to write or to even think about Cambodia:: I am waiting for the service of our car. The clerk told me it may take 2.5 hours, so here I am waiting all by myself. No Heather and Lilias around, but yes I have my bible. No house chores waiting, but yes I have my journal. No errands I need to run, but yes I have my utter solitude. I enjoy driving alone, sometimes with music, sometimes without. Sitting on the driver’s seat always bring me back to Cambodia. Though the outside scenery is different yet the motion of the car, the sound of the engine, the bumps or potholes that throw the car with a shake always bring back the familiarity.
It was our first Monday in Cambodia (January 24, 2011). The entire team returned from a day of visiting Daughters Cambodia, emotionally pumped!! We went back to the hotel freshening up before going out to have dinner. The day before, I emailed Cathy de la Cruz, the OMF missionary in Cambodia who now works at World Hope International Assessment Center, (an emergency room of care and counselling offered to young girls who are recently rescued from brothels). I was emailing her back and forth a few times so that I could pass her a care package from her friends in Canada. I didn’t expect that I would have a chance to sit down with her over dinner, nor sitting in her 1996 Honda Rav4, and only finding out the minute I was in her car that she just recently learnt how to drive. It was a funny experience. As soon as I sat down, the red panic button got wonky, and it went off a few times. Beep Beep Beep Beep Beep, for the longest time!!!!! The tuk tuk drivers on the road kept starring at us with a even funnier look. They must have thought, “what are these two Asian women doing here with the car?” Finally she turned it off successfully, and she was steering ourselves out of the narrow alley way where my hotel was. This very road on Street 278 Sangket Beng Keng Kang was a 2 way street but with a width of an one way street, whilst there was a line up of tuk tuk driver standing outside with their tuktuks. It only made the road narrower.
There we were finally out to Pastuer (the “NGO-land”), then out to the famous Sihanouk Blvd, driving further east towards the Independence Monument roundabouts. Wham!! The traffic was simply hilarious in sight. Troops and troops of motorcycles were dashing from ALL directions to ALL directions. Armies and armies of tuk tuks were also joining in from ALL directions heading to ALL directions. The traffic lights were barely manifesting their directives with an order. I was thinking out loud to Cathy, “Are you okay? Do you feel safe driving here?” She replied without looking at me, of course, “Yes, I feel much safer driving than sitting on a motorcycle. At least I am surrounded by a gigantic metal car and I am only driving like 20 or 30km/h” Well, I guess I could only imagine. It was only a 5 minute drive, I was already feeling that there was more than 10 times that a moto or any moving vehicle would have ended up jamming into my side. I was clutching my seat beat tightly.
Finally we arrived at the front door of Foregin Correspondent Club , here came a challenge, where should we park? Again, troops and troops of tuktuk were already lining up on this narrow alley way. Cathy spotted a “space” and said, “we could park here.” I went, “are you sure?” She went, “Let’s try!” Let US Try? I thought, “I am not going to try to park here. I am not even allowed to drive in Cambodia.”
There she was trying to turn the steering wheel to the left but not hard enough that her car was barely fitting its tail to the so called “parking space”. She turned the steering wheel again and wedged her car almost diagonally from one side of the street to the other side of the street. Again, tuk tuk drivers outside were starring and even crowding around us, watching a “show”. My face was red and starting to get really warm, actually I was sweating with thousands of nerves dancing on my skin.
She attempted a few times and the car was still wedging right in the middle of the street. A thought jumped in my head, that very thought turned into a suggestion , “Do you want me to try?”. Cathy immediately replied “YES, Please!” with her door already half way opened to get herself out. I walked to her side, sat down on the driver’s seat. My left leg automatically was looking for the clutch. Wham!! It’s not a stick shift. It is an automatic. No clutch was there! Okay, it’s an automatic, I should be able to drive and get this car parked for the both of us.
I tried to figure out how to move it from “P” to “D”, or should I go to D3 or D2 first, a thought jumped at me. “No, I am not going to run into people. I dont’ have a licence to drive. No, I may get into trouble by driving. So, No!” I stepped out and said to Cathy, “No, I don’t think it is a good idea. I am just going to give you instructions by standing outside, so you know how much you could turn and won’t hit the parked tuk tuk.”
“Left, left, left, more left. Okay, stop. Now, make a very hard right turn. More, more, more, more… Okay, stop, right there. Let me push this tuk tuk a little bit further away. Oh man, this thing is heavy!! Hang on .. wait, just another push. Wait, Cathy, don’t step on the gas yet. Wait until I said so. Okay, you can turn a little bit more now. Okay, S-T-O-P! Okay, there you go. Parked!! Phew, Praise God!”
That’s 10 minutes later, finally the car was beautifully parked!! Phew, Praise God!!
We sat and talked for 2 hours straight. I hardly touched my dinner as I was just thrilled to sit next to her and listened to her story. I was floored to the ground coming out of that dinner. (That would be another post for another time!)