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17 Sep 2011

Jumping, Jar Wine & the Bumps

Those who know me well will be aware that I love jumping and diving off things into water.  Holidays in France were full of this type of action, and I was back at it again on a recent visit to the Yeak Loam lake in the Northeastern province of Ratanakiri. (Keen readers will remember that this is where we took a holiday in November last year, and where Gilly was recently in August.)

The lake is of huge importance to the indigenous Tampoon tribespeople who live in the villages around its perimeter.  They hold various ceremonies at the lake and its spirits are featured in many of the stories within their belief system.  A VSO volunteer in Ratanakiri called Tania is working with these communities to protect the area against aggressive attempts to deforest the land and initiate construction projects.  It really is a magical place and might be my favourite spot in all of Cambodia that I've seen so far.  Later in this post you can meet some of the Tampoon people, but first some more jumping and diving...

 The Cannonball, defined by a head first (no hands) entry into the water.  (If trying this for yourself, ensure that you have deep water, and nothing close to the edge to bang your head on, as the movement upon entry in head first and circular back in the direction you came from.)

 Straight dive, looks like those lessons back in 2006 did improve my technique.  The judges scored this one a 9.46.

 And the classic Double Leg Grab, refined over many years of practise.

 All these photos were captured by another VSO volunteer, Saahiel, and he invented this new move, coined La Grenouille which is French for The Frog. What can I say, I thought I'd seen them all but this one took the biscuit.

 Saahiel's camera had a nifty feature which allowed underwater photography and video.  A massive thumbs up from me for that...sound too!


Just in case you thought that it was looking a bit too much like a holiday, it's worth explaining that we were in Ratanakiri for the Livelihoods Sector Workshop, taking to the lake in our lunch breaks.  This was an opportunity for volunteers across Cambodia to get together, share experiences and learn from each other.

I led a session (see above) called 'Walk the Line' which explored the tension between helping to develop skills among local staff and actually causing harm by performing work that should be done by those we are working with.  Our objective is always to leave our organisations stronger than when we arrived, and not leaving holes in areas of responsibility that we have deliberately or inadvertently taken on during our time here.  It's a thin line and we had some great discussions.  (And yes, we did have some Johnny Cash playing to accompany parts of the session.)

I'll soon be posting a bit more about what I'm doing in my placement and how I am helping to develop new skills among the team that I'm working with at CRDT.  But now back to Ratanakiri.

 One of the sessions moved me into a state of deep thought, probably contemplating the many problems faced by this community and Cambodia in general...

On the final day of the workshop Tania invited about 40 of the Tampoon community along to share some of their activities, including details of their arts group and some of their weaving and basket-making skills.  Perhaps most memorable was this guy, 86 years old, who arrived chugging on his pipe, and continued to do so for the next four hours, stopping occasionally to repack it.  He has been a basket weaver since he was 20 and he learned his skill through necessity.  When he was young you couldn't get a wife unless you had mastered basket-weaving!

After meeting the community we indulged in a traditional bout of eating and drinking which is part of us all becoming one family.  This involved piles of tasty beef and drinking this jar (rice) wine.  It comes in these vases as a sort of dried cereal or grain.  Water is added and then, as demonstrated above and below, the wine is sucked through straws fashioned cleverly out of bamboo to allow the intake of liquid but avoiding blockages caused by the grains.  It is quite tasty, and you just add more water when it starts running low.  Before the drinking starts everyone uses a small green twig to stir the wine, while voicing a wish for the future.  It was strange to hear everyone talk at once, I wished for a good future for the Tampoon and their lake.

Not too tipsy to squat, note the beef on a bed of lettuce too.

 Due to us sharing the same name, I hit it off with Sam on the left of this picture.  And, on the right, it's Mr Basket-Weaver himself, the pipe was taking a rest to allow him to enjoy the jar wine drinking. 

The final night was the day before my birthday so the volunteers all gave me a card and some lucky nuts from the rubber tree.  Pizza and beer was just the ticket before moving on for more beer.  (The scarf I'm wearing was bought from the Tampoon community as a birthday present to myself.)

It hit midnight and I succumbed to demands to give me the birthday bumps.

They only managed 10 out of the required 33, shame on them!

All in all it was an educational and fun experience.  I love the lake and its surroundings and truly hope that the Tampoon people can maintain its beauty and role in their lives.  I also hope that they see more of the benefits of tourism in the area and that they are involved more in political decision making that affects them and their lives.

Considering the role of development work in the context of indigenous and tribal people is a complex subject and this picture book gave me real food for thought when I read it again after visiting the Tampoon.  Some of the ideas can be more widely applied when thinking about whose agenda is being served by our efforts to 'develop' some parts of the world.

1 comment:

  1. Danny was provoked by the link to the Survival International book, see more here.