Two Christmases ago Kansas City was blanketed with snow. We set out cautiously from our home at the Red Bridge Church of Christ Parsonage for a Christmas morning with the Raymore Trotters. Less than a mile into our journey we watched a car spinning in the snow, unable to drive onto Wornall from the side road. A man was pushing the car, to no avail, so Jonathan stopped and pushed with him and helped them onto the main road.
Just this week Nathaniel remembered that experience. Jonathan confidently replied that a car would never get stuck in snow here in Cambodia.
It is precisely because we never get snow in Cambodia that we can go swimming any time we want. Our favorite pool is at the Kingdom Resort 20 minutes out of Phnom Penh – where the street signs aren’t in English anymore. We’ve been planning to take the kids swimming for a couple weeks now, and they were excited to wake up this morning and get on the road. After applying copious amounts of sunscreen (Moms and Grandmas, I know you care about this detail!) we buckle up and start out, keeping a close eye on the temperature gauge. On our last Resort excursion, the radiator overheated, and Jonathan was forced to wait by the side of the road for 2 hours while a providentially placed mechanic “fixed” it. I took the kids ahead of him to the pool via tuk-tuk, but Jonathan missed out on the water fun.
So naturally, we watch the temperature gauge with appropriate levels of fear.
After an uneventful drive TO the pool, we enjoy ourselves for a few hours. When we are homeward bound again, I think to myself, in 20 short minutes we will be home for lunch and nap time. What a wonderful world!
My hopes are shattered 5 minutes down the road when we find ourselves trapped in Cambodian Gridlock. Cambodian Gridlock is not the same as American Gridlock. Cambodian Rules of the Road do not require distinct lanes (although lines are painted on the roads). Whoever is bigger, more expensive, honks his horn first, or flashes his lights first, has the right of way, even if it means he is driving into oncoming traffic. Whoever is smaller, less expensive, or slower to honk horn or flash lights, MUST yield, even if he is in his own lane of traffic. Motos seem to be able to fit anywhere. They fill in the cracks of traffic and keep moving even when all other vehicles are stopped. Like water molecules in a jar of rocks.
Here is a picture of traffic, the “normal, natural, right, and good” way – the American Way. See how the 2 lanes go in opposite directions but don’t interfere with each other? It’s so pretty.
Here is a picture of traffic the Cambodian Way. It is Cambodian Free-For-All, Every-Driver-For-Himself, as each lane expands to cover all lanes, in all directions. See how it would be nearly impossible to break up? Of course you do.
We saw construction on our way to the pool, and by now it has totally blocked the flow of traffic as cars on both sides try to barge past the block. We’re on a national highway, which means we are often driving through or avoiding pot holes that have the dimensions of car tires. The road isn’t very wide, and the “shoulders” are mud. But these muddy shoulders are exactly where the cars are heading in an attempt to push through Cambodian Gridlock. You know it’s bad when even the motos can’t move or when the Cambodian drivers turn off their engines, get out of their cars, and look around as if to say someone should fix this mess.
Our kids are tired, hot, and thirsty. I’m tired, hot, and hungry. Fellow drivers and passengers like to stare at my 4 white kids — we’re always a comical sight here. For a while we turn off our engine to avoid overheating (we’re still scared of that radiator, because it still leaks every single night), but the heat and engine exhaust suffocate us. We turn the engine back on. We’re all a bit bored. We start to sing. Old favorites like “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord,” “There is, Beyond the Azure Blue,” and “Jesus, You’re My Firm Foundation.”
A big truck is pushing us out of his way, so we scoot over. Remember, he’s bigger, so he has the right of way. A Lexus or two (emblazoned with the letters LEXUS) passes by us. Remember, they’re expensive so they can do whatever they want. I get this funny churning feeling in my stomach that says I’m surrounded by too many cars. Claustrophobia is closing in. Then we hear some whistles. We see several uniformed men directing traffic. Slowly, the car in front of us moves. We follow it. Thank you Mr. Police Men! I realize it’s the first time I’ve had a positive thought about police officers in 4 solid months.
After a bit of zippering from 3 city-ward lanes to 2, we find ourselves behind Gourd Man. He drives a moto and pulls a wagon brimming with gourds. Enough to overflow the bed of a pickup truck.
It’s a lot of gourds. A lot of big, green gourds. Gourd Man gets stuck in the mud. Directly in front of us. He eyes Jonathan. Jonathan puts the car in park and gets out. Straight from the pool, he is wearing Old Navy floral swim trunks and University of Missouri Tiger flip flops. (Hey! No judging please. They were the only flip flops on sale in the middle of December when we were packing to move to Asia.) He wades into the mud and pushes the gourd-wagon while Gourd Man pulls with his moto. Triumph! He is unstuck. But wait, that’s a lot of mud up ahead of us. He will get stuck in the mud again, we just know it. We follow Gourd Man until he does get stuck again, but this time there’s enough “shoulder” to drive around him. Bumpy, muddy shoulder. At this point we’re desperate to get home. Every-Driver-for-Himself, right?? We leave Gourd Man in the dust, er, mud, as it were.
Thank you, Cambodian Gridlock, for eating an hour and a half out of my precious Saturday afternoon. You will not be easily forgiven.
As it turns out, that Christmas morning with the car stuck in the snow is not unrelated to this story. It was not the last time Jonathan had to push a stuck vehicle. The only thing that has changed is the material in which the vehicle gets stuck.