W is for Wary

What had the latest higher up in some office, far away from reality, dreamed up this time?

Wary, I took a look at the freshly arrived load off the boat from the Mekong.

Radios, used radios from God knows what era. As I sifted through them, I found one reminiscent from my teen years, a yellow banana shaped radio that you could carry on your wrist on the way to the beach. I had used it for a summer or two and then discarded it along the way. Still useful but no longer cool, it met its demise. Or so I had thought.

Where had the United Nations found all these old radios? Had they gone from thrift store to thrift store or put out some UN announcement that Cambodia was in desperate need for radios?

Wary, but not worried, I told the workers to store them in my house until we decided what we were going to do with them. Swamped with our work as we prepared the local population for the imminent election, we returned to our office. The radios, out of sight, out of mind, or so we mistakenly thought.

Later that evening, resting at home sweet home, I heard loud pounding at my door. No way to check who it was, I opened it up to find two men in military gear (very common in my Cambodian district – soldiers? police? renegades?) with AK-47s. Sensibly, I let them in. As an objective party in the midst of an election, this wasn’t too unusual. However, I was alone and unable to communicate with them. And then it began…

Whipping their guns around and yelling at me in Khmer, I went to get my cook who looked terrified. Through sign and gun language, I deciphered that they wanted the radios in my living room. Now the fun starts. In Khmer, I try to get my point across (please leave and come back later…much later) but they see this as a sign to start opening boxes and check out the radios. I call for back up on my radio and thankfully, one of my interpreters comes.

Deciding that correct protocol is not worth our lives, I cave and hand over 2 radios. Within minutes, I have a hoard of anxious radio protesters on our porch. Word is out and we are being bombarded. My interpreter tries to negotiate but fails. The porch frenzy quickly turns into a living room frenzy and officially, Radio Hell, has begun. Radios are flying as people push and shove to get into the boxes. More back up arrives, this time armed, and we finally succeed in quashing the thirst for radios… temporarily.

A quick solution is needed. In a Buddhist country such as Cambodia, monks are revered so off to the Wat we go. Radios in hand (well… actually under cover) we happily pass them over for them to decide their fate. Seeing the prized merchandise, the monks decide to keep all the radios for themselves. We then knew that the monks would be well-informed of the upcoming election and our district would, at least, have a good monk/voter turn out rate!

NO, it wasn’t the Khmer Rouge death threat letters, NO, it wasn’t malaria, it was those frigging old radios that almost killed me!

Cheryl from the Family C travelling from A to Z.

Have you ever felt fearful when you were living or travelling somewhere?

Sony Walkman, Flak Jacket, Helmet … All Dressed Up and Ready for Work

All ready for an ambush on the Mekong River, as I listen to Roxette on my Walkman and prepare for Cambodia’s first election since the years (1975 – 1979) of the Killing Fields.

Fortunately there was no ambush as I had been told that my flak jacket would only work if I was a certain distance away (oh hold on… I need to get a few more feet ahead of you before you take aim) and my helmet, as you might be able to tell, was way bigger than my head and would tilt from side to side.

Oh well, I had a lot of other good UN stuff like a telephone installed in my jungle office that didn’t work alongside the photocopier that was never used because it used electricity and well.. we didn’t have electricity. Oh well… the photocopier made a good table and the helmet kept the sun off my head!