Volunteering in Cambodia – Pick the Weeds

Posted by: Laura

Having booked my flight, been dropped off at the airport, said my last goodbyes and now soaring through the skies, I found myself back in my motherland of Cambodia. However, this time not with friends, not with family, but on a week long volunteer trip for Temple Preservation. Before even stepping foot on the plane, my family and friends made sure to spook me and shed all their worries, “What do you expect out of this?” I read one should leave all expectations aside and I made sure to do just that.

The plane ride was among the easiest and smoothest I have ever experienced. I rubbed my tired eyes and I woke up in Siem Reap airport at 10:00 A.M. on Sunday. Within minutes of stepping out into the thick, hot and humid air, I walked straight into a gentleman holding a sign for me  Immediately I greeted him in Khmer and he was surprised he was picking up a Cambodian girl. He was thrilled as his time spent with me would be a whole lot easier. He assisted me into his Tuk Tuk and off we went to the guesthouse about ten minutes away.

At the guesthouse my driver immediately introduced me to one other volunteer sitting at one of the many tables outside enjoying a noodle soup and tea, which were complimentary by the way.

The ball started rolling as the driver took a total of four volunteers to Banteay Meanchey in his Toyota Camry. We got to Banteay Meanchey and I was told to sit outside the rooms because a separate taxi would be taking me to the temple preservation site, in a rural town about an hour away.
“Laura, your taxi is here.” “Oh, do I go now?” I curiously questioned. I came face to face with my new partner in crime, Benjamin, an eighteen year old from Belgium, the only other volunteer doing the Temple Preservation project. He quickly filled me in on what to expect each day working at the site as he had been in Cambodia for three weeks already. We got to our home stay and I briefly was greeted by my home stay parents and hastily lead to my upstairs bedroom.  I finally looked around and took it all in. The schedule was as follows for the next five days: 7:30a.m. marked breakfast, 12:30p.m. signaled lunch, and 7:30p.m. was dinner time.

Monday was my first day at the work site. I got dropped off by motorbike to pick up my future transportation, a cute pink bicycle. I followed Ben to the site and was greeted by the boss whom Ben nicknamed “Boss in the red hat.” I literally was told to just start cutting down the weeds, and so I cut weeds for three days straight in the heat. With plenty of breaks and fruits shared in between, surrounded by the peace of the temple ruins, I am at my most tranquil state.

The workers really enjoyed that I was helping because I am Cambodian and was able to converse with them playfully. The day I was looking forward to the most was the second shift of work on Wednesday. It marked the last day that all the workers would be there so they decided to throw a party. We were told to just supply the beer. On our bikes we peddled across town with two cases of beer in our baskets and bonded one last time with the group.

Thursday was an easy work day, just picking up trash. After returning from work on Thursday we went around the town and explored the surrounding smaller temples on bike. I was all for it. So Friday we actually got a history lesson up close and personal with smaller, hidden temples. Friday then marked the day Ben and I headed back to Siem Reap, as we were departing Saturday.

The trip came and went, but each day was well spent so the length of my stay there felt exactly right. I managed to FaceTime my cousin when I gained access to WiFi again and she asked me, “So what did you learn from all this?” I simply responded with, “If you don’t cut the weeds you cannot see the beautiful temple.” That statement meant to me that only when you get rid of all the impure, damaging things around you, can you reveal the beautiful temple within.