My first year in Cambodia was summer 2009 to summer 2010. This is Cambodia’s hot season, and Cambodia is in the grip of a heat wave. It should be raining, a heavy downpour for a couple of hours each afternoon, but the rain is late. Since I’ve been here, the sky has gone blank a few afternoons, and a swirl of raindrops will blow down over the awnings. The only rainstorm was yesterday evening and night, and it was fitful, not the paralyzing thrash of water that drums on the roofs and foams in the gutters.
So it’s too hot.
The first time I was here, the heat was enraging. When I left the airport for my first trip through the city, the sun didn’t seem so torturous as long as I was seated on the tuk tuk carriage, with the breeze on my shoulders. As soon as I arrived at my boss’s house, the heat sank down my neck and into my hands. I couldn’t get free of it – I remember pacing because it was too hot to sit still.
And I remember several nights during that first summer when I would lose control of my fingers while I was trying to unhook the metal latch on the window, when sweat would run off my forehead onto the pillow. The heat was suffocating, and now it’s only wearisome. I’m sitting in a classroom now, under shade, mounted fans wavering at each corner of the room so there’s a breeze, and sweat is still sliding down my cheeks. But it doesn’t feel so horrible.
(When I was here before, the roof of my classroom was tin instead of wood, and when it rained we sat under a snare drum. Water would race in through the open corners of the room. Now there’s an upper story, and a fourth wall where before there was an open patio and a shallow lip of cement to the sand covering the recess yard. When it rained, the yard would turn into a shallow mud pond, and twice my students found bullfrogs squatting in the water.)
Today I visited my NGO – the place where I used to teach English, and where now I teach art to one student and weekend lessons to one class. We’re painting flowers to practice brush strokes and texture. The littlest kids from my first year are teenagers now, so I see familiar faces on children who are much too tall.