It’s late March of 2011 and it’s my first day at the office. After introducing myself to everyone and trying my best to remember names, I was able to sit down and check my e-mails and read the news online. Soon a woman is trying to tell me something in Thai. I don’t understand. She goes to Google translate, types what she’s trying to say in Thai and then copies the translation to a piece of paper. It reads:
Tomorrow evacuation practice.
Welcome to the Cambodian border I thought. Cambodia had been having minor border battles with Thailand in recent weeks with a few people dying from gunshot wounds. I am about 30 kilometers from that border. Peace Corps kept tabs on me but told me I had nothing to worry about. No one in the community seemed worried, so I wasn’t.
So why the evacuation practice?
The next day I got in a truck with a bunch of others from the office and we checked numerous community shelters to make sure the villagers were following evacuation protocol. They were, but they were more excited about the tall white guy walking with the office workers. Everyone wanted to talk to me and have their picture taken by my side.
We eventually found our way to a soccer field of a school where they were serving lunch. Occasionally people would ask me if I was afraid and then make cartoonish bombing sounds. I’d laugh and say no. I wasn’t. How can you be afraid of the Cambodian Air Force while surrounded by smiling, laughing Thais?
That was my second day on the job. It’s only gotten crazier.