By Prue Allen & Michela Magni, WhyDev Fellows
WhyDev’s two inaugural fellows have settled into the Cambodian lifestyle and started their positions with SHE Investments in Phnom Penh. Check out what they have to say about their experiences so far.
Somehow, it’s already February (say what?!), and Michela and I are two weeks into our fellowship with SHE Investments in Cambodia.
It’s been quite the ride getting settled into Phnom Penh city life, but I think we’re finding our feet, getting used to being constantly sweaty and starting to make some good progress in our respective roles at SHE.
Not just for professional development, this experience has already given me some great life skills. For instance, just a few days into 2016, I successfully entered the Cambodian real-estate market, becoming a renter for the first time.
After locating a rental agency (via Facebook, because literally everything is done via Facebook here), I arranged to view some places. I’d agreed to meet the agent at the Russian Market, but when I got there, I couldn’t see anyone who fit my preconceived idea of what said agent would look like–mainly because when I did locate him, he looked not a day over 16.
I hadn’t anticipated motorbike travel that day, so it took me awhile to arrange myself onto the back of his bike so I could get a lift to the first apartment to view–literally 50 meters away (thank goodness we avoided that arduous trek, right?)
After viewing a couple more apartments, I settled on the one I liked best, which is right near the SHE offices (#convenient). Next step: I started the (Facebook messenger) negotiation process, leveraged a few well-considered emojis into a very reasonable price, went back the next day to pay the bond and sign the contract and that was it–I was a renter.
Once Michela arrived, we got a plant, and a neighbourhood cat adopted us as his sometimes mothers. Safe to say, we feel pretty at home now (by the way–sorry mum and dad, but I’m never coming back!).
Just as I was settling into the Phnom Penh lifestyle, I started at SHE; three days in, I found myself in a tuk-tuk, headed to the countryside. I was on edge to begin the interview process given the responsibility attached, and I felt grateful for having Lida (one of the Khmer women working at the office) by my side.
The whole trip has definitely been a rite of initiation, marking for me a new level of awareness, on both personal and professional levels.
That day, we left the city at 9.00am to visit Thyna, one of SHE pilot program’s participants. In order to get to Thyna’s village, we had to cross the Tonle Sap River; so, after a quick ride in a Cambodian traffic jam, we got on a ferry. Things escalated when I realised that our fellow travellers consisted of about 20 rumbling motorbikes, a few tuk-tuks and an old van carrying huge white cows. Needless to say, I was the only foreigner on the boat.
Once we (finally!) arrived on the other side of the river, a pretty challenging hour and a half drive along dusty bumpy roads was waiting for us.
We passed through lots of villages. A group of people was setting up the stage for a wedding; a few families were in the shade, getting some relief from the harsh weather.
The red of the dust mixed with the colours of the bikes and the uniforms of kids going to school made me feel at peace. And it hit me in that moment that I was in Cambodia.
Prue Allen is a WhyDev Fellow in Marketing and Communications, having previously taught English in Phnom Penh. She holds a Masters Degree in International Relations. Michela Magni is a Program Support Fellow, and recently worked with the Oaktree Foundation and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. She is also completing her Masters Degree in International Development Practice.
Featured image shows an aerial view of Phnom Penh. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
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