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My Brothers' Keeper

By: Peta Thomas Posted: May-28-2008 in
Peta Thomas

Strangely shortly after I received the phone call earlier this week saying that Steve was coming, the usual stifling hot April weather was replaced by much cooler almost autumnal temperatures, the parties that have plagued my street ever since I moved to the village were surprisingly silent, and the local generator that gives us three hours of power every night and which broke down the week before was working again. Funny that!

We caught a taxi to the boatport from the airport and the largest of the ferry companies' four boats, (such a steel giant that when it was constructed on the river bank last year one of the children asked me if we would call it an 'ark') was getting ready to leave, and I think it was to my brother's relief. There's nothing wrong with the other old timber ferries, but well it's safe to say that they're nothing like the Manly Ferry or the Parramatta Rivercat! The main deck was quickly filling with small dump trucks driven by young khmer guys who had no idea how to reverse park, but once they were given a stern lesson from the old wise ferry blokes it wasn't long until we were on our way.

I called home and made arrangements for a few of the young guys from the Training Centre to meet us on motorbikes to help with the suitcase and maybe get us home over the slippery, muddy road…possibly without getting Steve's new white sneakers too dirty. When we disembarked from the 'ark' and walked up the muddy track to the top of the bank (the river rises and falls up to 12mtrs each year, it's at the lowest point now) we found the two guys that had been sent to taxi us home. Tonet was on a Honda Supercub moto the same as mine (which was tucked away at home) and his brother Jenla rode the charley moto.

The best option to get Steve's suitcase home was for the boys to take it on the Cub, balancing it between them with Jenla almost hanging off the back of the bike. That then left Steve and I with the charley to get home on. Now, a charley I must explain, has wheels the size of an all terrain baby stroller – maybe a bit smaller. It's handle bar dips in the middle (much like the girly bike I got for Christmas when I was six) and it's engine wouldn't come close to the power of my dad's old ride-on lawn mower. So, much to the amusement of all the Khmers around about the place in the busy market, I jumped on the bike and Steve hopped on the back, rather precariously.

After a couple of false starts the engine putted and splattered into gear and we wobbled down the road. There was no place for the passenger's feet to rest, probably because it's not really expected for the bike to carry passengers, so Steve's feet hung in the air to the side like a trapeze artists balancing beam, while I leaned forward to counter the weight. All that was missing was the goggles and a scarf around our necks, nonetheless we must've looked like a couple of complete nutters: two big white foreigners bouncing down the village road as the sun set over the Mekong River behind us. It was rather a fun introduction for Steve's first visit to Cambodia!

The next couple of days we spent exploring various Phnom Penh landmarks, the killing fields, the russian markets, the independance monument and lunch at the FCC, where all good tourists must visit. The motorbike adventures continued, slipping and sliding across a muddy plain one day and skirting around a police roadblock the next. We talked a lot, ate well and caught up on life in each other's worlds, relating as mature adults. Once upon a time we wouldn't have spent an hour together without me crying out to mum to save me from my brother's headlock, but now, I'm happy that things are different.

It was really good to hang out with my bro for a few days in my territory and it was my turn to play a few jokes on him, there was certainly opportunity to in a culture so very different to our own! Although the Khmers had a bit of fun with this stranger as well. Coming home again on the ferry from a day in Phnom Penh an old guy walked up to Steve and started feeling his arms and his legs. I joked in Khmer with the guy that he's not very strong (this old dude was all muscle) but he didn't pay much attention and kept feeling him, until we realised it was going to be some kind of an impromptu massage. A few snickers from the young guys hanging out in the cabin of the ferry with the driver and I caught on that they all thought he was some rich foreigner and here was a chance to make a buck or two. A couple of minutes later, a few strange looks from Steve and the guy finished his job. With a couple of bucks in his pocket he walked away laughing, 'a rich guy and only two dollars, how about two hundred hey?'.

After spending three nights in my paradise, Steve was well and truly ready to get home. Back to the normality of his running water shower and flushing toilets, and I'll look forward for my next visit to his house: a luxurious holiday in civilisation!

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