“You know what they say,’When it rains, it pours.” I can hear my mom saying those exact words when more than one thing has gone wrong. So for me, it was always a cliche to use when I felt that bad things were all happening at once, that was until I came to Cambodia, and found that here when it rains, it really does pour every, single time.
It was my third night in Phnom Penh, two months ago, when I awoke to a loud sound reverberating through our guesthouse room. I sat straight up in bed wondering if the door was broken down, or what would cause such a disruption at 3:00 AM. It was the rain. It beat against the walls, and pounded onto our windows. It was raining harder and more violently than I had ever heard in my life. This was not the soothing pitter-patter of raindrops on a window pane. I am used to the thunder and wind creating the stormy noises at home, that night it was the rain alone that sounded like it could break the stone. Molly appeared to be sleeping peacefully in her bed, so I tried to slow my heartbeat and go back to sleep. Eventually the rhythm of the water on glass lulled me back to sleep, but in the morning it was my first question for Molly, “Did you hear the rain last night? It was incredible.”
Some of the most memorable moments I have had during the downpours here are on my way to or from Angkor Thom. Ratanak is always early on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, and invariably I am always late. Without fail, the routine at Siem Reap Riverside at 1:33pm has become this: me running into the parking lot with plastic bags full of copies, food, and miscellaneous items flying and hair a mess to see Ratanak patiently waiting at an outdoor table ready to go, he stands and I tell him “one minute, I need one minute.” Then flustered and sweaty I rush up to my room to change my purse for a backpack, skirt for already dirty shorts, and grab my helmet. As I race back downstairs Khamara yells, “There you are Kitty, he wait for you outside.” It is now 1:40 pm, and I do not have time to do anything but shake my head yes and slide back on my flip-flops. We are off.
The first time it rained on our way to Angkor Thom (by the way the village I teach in is actually called Peak Sneng but I cannot pronounce this properly and no one in Cambodia ever knows what I am saying so I just call it Angkor Thom, which is the name of a temple area so that confuses them just as much), I reveled in the coolness the falling water brought to the forest. Once we were through the Temples and racing out toward the dirt road, the temperature dropped significantly as the drops of water fell onto the pavement. Ratanak tried to make me wear his heavy, hot poncho but I flat out refused. First, I was the one not smart enough to remember a rain jacket during the rainy season, I mean come on they couldn’t have spelled it out any better for me about what to expect May – August. But also, there was bliss in the rain hitting my skin, and for the first time in a long time the temperature in Cambodia was comfortable. And I was comfortable in it, as all around me gathered the familiar smell of a summer rain in Ohio. Here in Cambodia, every rain is like a summer rain at home; quick and forceful, it is almost as if the atmosphere becomes too hot that there is nothing left to do but pour down rain to cool off. The rain began to fall harder and harder and I pointed my face towards the sky to feel it hit my eyes, nose, and mouth. Eventually on that first day Ratanak pulled over to throw his poncho at me and make sure I put it on. He said that as the teacher I needed to stay dry and look nicer than him, he seemed to ignore the outrageous helmet hair I have every day I am there, as that ruins my appearance enough that it is shocking a single student takes me seriously in the front of the classroom. I begrudgingly pulled the poncho over my head and with that the sky opened up and dumped bucket, after bucket, after bucket of water directly on my helmet. Ratanak and I fled from the moto to the underside of a wooden house on the side of the road, the family welcomed us with a mango. I watched as the rain turned the road into dark red soup, and then disappeared as quickly as the downpour began. Carefully, Ratanak and I made our way through the small ponds of water that had formed in the potholes in the road and to the school; the kids were not impressed by my adventure out in the elements, in fact they all seemed to find it pretty blase. I would quickly discover, that this type of torrential downpour could happen daily or weekly in Cambodia, and during the rainy season I should always have my poncho.
The other evening I was out running, when I felt a few light raindrops land on my arms. I looked out over the river and saw the steady fall of water on the surface, creating ripples every few inches apart. As I continued along the river path, it began to rain harder. With the first clap of thunder I began to get nervous, and wrapped up my iPod in a plastic bag. I emerged from under the protection of the many trees planted along the river to cross the white stone bridge (my half-way point), and the sky opened up. People cleared the streets in groups and sprinted for the shelter of a store front, large tree, or friend’s tuk-tuk. It began to pour. Soon my t-shirt was soaked through, my shoes were squeaking with held water, and the pockets of my shorts were collecting small puddles. It was glorious to go from unbelievably hot and sweating immensely under the Cambodian sun, to drenched and cool. I ran faster and faster, as the rain fell harder and harder. I even gave up on trying to avoid puddles as the entire road turned into a stream. When it rains in the cities here, the streets turn to rivers. The sidewalks have been purposely built up a few inches above the road to avoid the same flooding, but this thoughtful construction didn’t save me from having to wade ankle deep across a street within a matter of moments. I ran the two miles to home not being able to see my hands if I stretched my arms out in front of me, the rain was falling in torrents. It was like a facet had been turned on above all of Siem Reap. I reached Siem Reap Riverside to find the owner’s son-in-law wrapped in a sarong and showering on the front patio. He looked at me and said, “I haven’t showered in the rain in a long time.” I stood in the pouring rain and laughed as he flung soap suds in all directions. A few minutes later the lightening and thunder began in earnest. The storm was in full force. The lightening here flashes bright and low. Often I catch sight of a bolt that heads directly toward the earth. The sky seems closer here. When Molly finally made it home from the student house hours later, she said, “I made the students close the doors and windows because it felt like the lightening was coming into the room.”
It loves to rain in Siem Reap when the EGBOK Mission volunteers need to visit our newest site Self-Help Community Center. Molly has been there three times, and it has rained during all three visits. The past two evening we have spent there giving English Assessment tests and interviewing the students one-on-one, the rain on the tin roof has been deafening. Molly, Christine, and I stand in the front of the classroom looking out over thirty silent students, and still have to scream above the noise.
Finally there was the storm that literally knocked me down, as in the middle of a night downpour I ran into another biker and cut my foot bad enough to receive five stitches.
I have watched storms from my bedroom window, stared in wonder as the rolled in while I ran, and waited out countless of them in a modestly covered cafe cowering around my laptop and cup of coffee, and yet the rain here is never deafening or defeating but refreshing. I never find the clouds to hold the same gloom that they do when they preside over a day in Ohio, but as the rain begins to darken the blacktop and send shop owners scurrying to pack up their wares into the interior of stores, I think of how green the fields have become, how much cooler the air suddenly feels, and how the rain is a relief from the sun. I do not have the same appreciation for the increased number of mosquitoes that have come around since the rain has begun.