Each week my team, consisting of four or five Cambodian “enumerators” (people who conduct surveys) go out to a different province (largest area below country) with the goal of surveying 400 farmers.
A driver picks me up from my hotel on Monday morning, and the three-row SUV is packed with people and backpacks.
We arrive at the first village after picking up a village chief who used to work for CEDAC (the agriculture NGO that I am working with) who has connections throughout the province. He leads us to the village chief of the village we would like to survey.
The village chief takes a motorcycle ride out to *somewhere* and comes back with a list of the farmers in his or her village.
I scroll through the few sheets of paper, or small notebook, that lists the households, and randomly select twelve to survey. As we select farmers, the village chief tells us if they have moved away, or have no land, so we can pick a different farmer.
The farmers are grouped into clusters that are close together, and the four enumerators go out with a pack of surveys. They approach a farmer, and ask if the main farmer (usually the eldest male) is available for the survey. If possible, both the husband and wife are present for the interview.
Questions are asked about the farmers’ contact information, level of schooling, household assets, rice production and sales for the past year, their main pests, and their pest management practices, including detailed information about the type of pesticides they use and why.
While the surveys are being conducted, I hang back and review the completed surveys from the previous days. I basically do quality assurance to make sure that all questions were answered and are not contradictory. The first week the enumerators are still learning the survey, so it’s important to point out mistakes so that the future surveys will be completed properly.
After finding a place to eat lunch (rice and chicken, rice and seafood, or rice and beef :)), we go to the next village and complete the process.
From the guest house in the middle of town to one village, it takes thirty minutes to an hour to arrive. It seems that there is one main road in Takeo province, from which we cross underneath a gateway with a BUMPY dirt road that leads us further and further in to the village. Right after entering the village bounds, we pass fields and fields of rice paddies, many of which have cows sporadically roped up to graze.
Then there are more trees and foliage and there begin to be houses. Along the way, we pass children and adults and elderly people riding bicycles, cows being led to or from the field, people traveling on carts pulled by cows, motorcycles, and other kinds of transportation.
In the car, I ride in the front seat next to the driver, neither of us can speak the other’s language, so we are both mostly silent. The driver exhales loudly or sucks through his teeth, depending on whether or not he has just eaten, every five and a half seconds. I find this extremely annoying but there is nothing I can do about it. The driver insists on being in front of every vehicle that is currently in front of him, and consistently makes risky maneuvers in order to pass. No matter what, he honks his horn to let the other drivers – or people standing by or children or dogs or cows or chickens – know he is coming. He also honks when coming to an intersection, or going around a curve. Just to let everyone know there is a car just around the bend. You know the sad puppy incident already, so you know how much I pray to not hit people or animals as we ride.
In the middle seat, four Cambodians squish together on each other’s laps and hold loud conversation in Khmer. I understand none of it, except that it is all very loud and directly in my ears. One guy sits in the backseat next to all kinds of luggage, and keeps mostly quiet.
We stop without warning every so often for the driver or some of the riders to buy a drink from the side of the road.
In the front, I notice every few car rides that my seatback is tilted up further, or the whole chair is scooted forward, and thus my back and/or legs feel cramped. I try to make do, because I know the people behind me are much less comfortable than I am. I read for a little while, or look out the window before inevitably falling asleep due to the hot sun, loud conversation, or bumpy car ride.
Groggily I wake up in the village and marvel at the sights and sounds of the new location.
Each house is different, but they all have a few things in common: a shady patio level where life happens (especially cooking and sitting around), a very large slatted wooden table for eating, sitting, or sleeping, one or more hammocks, somewhere between 2 and 14 chickens and chicklets squawking about, at least two guard dogs (who are nice after the initial barking, but skiddish), and probably other animals such as cows, puppies, cats, or pigs. It’s all very exciting.
Usually there is a baby, sometimes being rocked to sleep in the hammock or otherwise held, and there are always children. The children are unsure of me, until I smile at them and say hello in their own language. Then they grin sheepishly and stand around to watch me. Sometimes there are boys who pay little attention to me, directing their attention to harassing their neighbor’s chickens, and sometimes there are girls who do not break their concentration staring at me until they stand in front of me and think of all the questions they can in English. There is almost always a woman who is preparing the next meal over a fire in a large iron bowl.
When all the surveys are finished for the day, we go back to the guest house. Last week I ended up eating by myself at the guest house each night due to failed communication the first time. It was great of course, being the tired introvert I am. Each of my meals was less than $5, the cheapest being $2, which was clean, yummy, more than filling, and came with a coke.
Then I either meet with the enumerators to go over questions from the day, or head back to my room to chat with my husband and family, take a shower, and watch a little Animal Planet, or read.
It’s been very exciting so far, but it’s already gotten a little tiring, going to SO many new places. It would maybe be nice to stay more than a morning or afternoon in one location, in order to get a better feel for the place, settle in a bit, and get to know the people more. The hot noonday sun sucks the energy out of me unless I am very focused on exploring or checking surveys. I like the villages with lots and lots of plants and trees best, not only because they are shady, but because I love places with a more tropical, jungle-y feel. My favorite is when something interesting is going on, like a strange passerby, people cooking something with a traditional method, or puppies are running around.
The hardest part is not being able to speak very much throughout the day, or understand what others are saying. It’s fairly isolating. I thought I felt isolated and quiet in Venezuela, where I was too embarrassed to practice speaking. But at least there I could understand a lot of Spanish words, and would know basically what a conversation was about. Here, I only know a few words in Khmer, so unless I have a question or something important is happening, I don’t get to talk to people.
One of the girls on our team speaks pretty good English so she helps me a lot, and another guy is pretty good also. The other two are harder to communicate with. There are a couple of other people who may join our team later who have better English, and I am hoping they end up coming along at some point so that there are more people to speak with. I am learning to try to just talk, even if no one fully understands me. I tend not to like to be that foreigner rambling on in her own language, but it’s better than keeping my mouth closed all the time!
When starting to a new location or a new thing, I usually feel a great wave of excitement come over me and feel completely happy. I love exploring, and am reminding myself that during this great adventure, it’s okay to feel anything and everything, even at the same time. I can be lonely and intrigued by the culture, I can miss home and American food and speaking English, and enjoy getting to know new Cambodian friends. I can be excited for the day while wishing my husband was with me. I am thankful for this adventure!