Back Home Again in Phnom Penh

All 19 Cambodia SSTers arrived back home in Phnom Penh sometime Friday, checking in at the Graber Miller home before returning to their host families. Everyone was healthy and happy to be back, though some were melancholy about leaving their villages, where they had developed close friendships over the last six weeks.

The first returnees were the folks from only several hours away: Kelly and Phil from Mesang District in Prey Veng Province; Stephanie from Prey Veng town; Allison and Trisha from Kampot Province; and Annie from Svay Rieng. They all were back between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and welcomed Jake and Charlie back from Kampong Cham in mid-afternoon. After hanging out at the Graber Miller apartment for several hours, the group took walks and bike rides in the city, exploring their old stomping grounds.

Most of that initial group returned to the house by 5 or 6 p.m. to welcome back the latecomers, who didn’t arrive until about 7:30 p.m., and then all came in a huge batch. Julian and Annalisa had left on a 12:30 p.m. bus, and their return journey was relatively painless. Kat and Rachel’s trip from Banteay Meanchey was extended dramatically by a driver who stopped every half hour to smoke, and then meandered around Phnom Penh for two hours before stopping at the station to let them off. The Ratanakiri crowd (Chloe, Sarah, Seth, Bailey, Corinne, Austin, and Mikey) had a 13-hour sojourn on a non-airconditioned bus, in our 100-plus heat, and arrived back sweaty and filthy, covered in head-to-toe red dust.

The latecomers arrived just after our huge batch of Indian food arrived, and they ate ravenously, consuming the meal and then woofing down bread with nutella and salsa and chips to boot. They were a little too stimulated to even sit down during the meal, so we stood to eat and tell stories.

This morning (Saturday) we’ll all be back at the Royal University of Phnom Penh for language testing and then we will start our reorientation this afternoon with project presentations and individual interviews. Tonight is our final regular P’teah Goshen night, with pizza and ice cream — two food groups not readily available out in the provinces.

Today the Graber Millers also say goodbye to their household helper, Sokhorn, who worked with them in 2007 as well as this year. Mia made up a “thank you” poster for Sokhorn, which we will give to her this afternoon.

It’s good to have everyone back in the city and we look forward to these last several days together.