like a gift sent from up on high, i received an email from a friend two days ago asking if i wouldn't mind house-sitting for an acquaintance of hers. "it's a nice place," she assured me, "you should check it out."
as it turns out, nice doesn't begin to descibe it. behind a private gate, monitored by a 24-hour guard, lies the 4-story villa of a spanish u.n. employee and her family. beautifully designed and tastefully appointed, this is the kind of house you imagine a proper high-end expat occupying. so what am i doing there? and where did i even come from?
i didn't take the time to explain earlier, but in my first weekend in phnom penh, i secured a sweet little apartment for myself in a neighborhood endearingly referred to as "ngo-land." the area consists primarily of development organizations and the homes of the people who run them, but it is still dotted with khmer enclaves. i happened to find just such a building: a slightly run-down three-story structure with a top-floor apartment available for rent. none of that frilly expat business for me, i thought. i was gonna live the way khmers in my neighborhood did. the apartment had no air conditioning, only basic furnishings and was on a block with no other foreigners in sight. i was comfortable enough there, but a few of the bonus features started slowly to wear at my resolve.
first there was my neighbor's prize-winning cock-fighting rooster, who was given free run of the grounds. all day and all night (NO EXAGGERATION), the lil pest would strut about proclaiming his champion status to all. even when miles away, out with friends or busy at work, his prideful crow would still be ringing in my ears.
then, there were the noodles. on the corner, right at the bottom of the building, was a popular moto driver hangout that started frying up khmer eats at 6 in the morning and continued til all hours. the first week or two, it was kind of nice waking up to the aroma of noodles crisping in a pan. but once the novelty wore off, all i was left with was a closetful of clothing that smelled like week-old chinese take-out.
worst of all, though, were the ants. oh, the ants. tiny in size but impressive in number, they marched all about the apartment in constant search of any thoughtlessly discarded crumb. everything with even a hint of edibility was kept in the fridge and the after-dinner sweep became a necessary ritual. the back-breaking straw came three days ago during my morning face wash. i had just rinsed off and, with eyes half-shut, groped for my washcloth and gave my mug a good wipe. leaning into the mirror to survey the results, i noticed a single teeny ant smushed on my cheek. confused, i looked down at my once-blue washcloth only to find that it was now a mottled brown--swarming with ants! if a girl can't even complete a simple skin ritual in peace, then you know it's time to go.
but who am i to complain? that apartment provided me shelter from the rain, plenty of room to store my things and a safe(ish) place to rest my head at night (albeit on a bed with craters so big you could sit in them). compared to most, i was sitting pretty. oh by the way, did i mention that to counteract the heat, i had to open the windows, which let in mosquitoes that made a ghazaleh buffet out of me every night? yeah, there was that too. but i digress...
point being, when i got the offer to housesit for someone in a much better position, i jumped at the chance. within ten minutes of the email, i was making copies of the housekeys and running off to pack my things. i moved in yesterday and have wasted no time in making myself at home. the great thing is that the owners will be returning on my last night in town, so i won't ever have to go back to my old place.
despite my obvious glee, there is a tinge of sadness to this story. i'll miss the two little girls next door that hung around practicing their english with me, i'll miss the simplicty of the place (that went rather well with the "development chic" style that i'm sporting these days) and i'll even miss the stupid rooster and his incessant cawing (um, maybe). but i'll do my best to be strong and not cry myself to sleep in my new huge, comfy bed.