Christmas in Kampot

Posted on by Stan Kahn


Every time I arrive in Kampot after my week of drinking, debauchery (not really, but you know what I mean) and intensely disliking the noise, traffic and crowded feeling of Phnom Penh, I breathe a tremendous sigh of relief. What a gift to have such an idyllic – slow, quiet, verdant and picturesque – little berg to hang out in.
Every time I go to my little piece of Cambodia to gauge the progress of the fruit trees, ornamental plants and veggies I’ve planted there, not to mention the grassy areas, clumps of old trees and general country feel, I’m happy I have it to enjoy. However, it certainly isn’t that simple actually taking care of it or making something of it; that is, the planning and execution of necessary improvements.

A couple trips back I noticed someone had cut the barbed wire in my fence in one spot so they could bring their cows in to graze – ‘cheeky bastards’ was a friend’s comment. I wouldn’t even mind having some cows around to trim the grass and leave some manure but I sure don’t appreciate the invasion of my space or the potential damage that might be caused. I stuck some coconut fronds in front of the breach to signal that I was up to their game and the culprit haphazardly replaced the barbed wire.

All of this made clear the need to have someone around on a regular basis, since I seem incapable, in the near future at least, of living there permanently, or even living full time in Kampot and being able to visit every day. As a result, I set about trying to find a caretaker. The fellow who found the place for me found a young guy who seemed ideal; he could even climb my coconut trees. I bought some tools for him to use to cut brush etc., and returned next day to Phnom Penh. I told him I would provide the materials to build a small shack for him to stay in.

He lasted about three days but did quite a bit of work cutting weeds and brush before splitting. He also left the tools with the Khmer next door neighbor, which under normal circumstances would’ve been good of him. The neighbor, however, seems to have forgotten that they’re my tools, and my language skills aren’t quite good enough to remind him. It wasn’t a great investment, only $20, but just another indicator of the difficulty of my position.

I also discovered the neighbor’s chickens had been munching on my veggies. Barbed wire obviously does nothing to keep small animals out but it was easily the cheapest fence to build. I had kind of thought I’d need a garden fence so that’s my next task. I temporarily surrounded the tomatoes and peppers with brush to keep the chickens out but the other stuff was chomped to the bit.

Meanwhile the water hole in my friend’s next door property has nearly dried up, there being only the scantiest bit of rain for the last month or so. The nearby natural ponds are still nearly full but a dug water hole is not a pond. When I dig my own pond I’ll need to pump water into it to keep the fish I plan to stock it with happy.

No water means I need to get a well dug soon to keep the plants alive. To put it where I think it should go will require building a driveway at the edge of the rice paddy which is at the front of the property.
That requires help in making contacts and translation and is another frustrating reminder of what I have to do to get things done here.

Now I need to decide whether to have a simple small 8 cm pipe which I could put a hand pump on or a 1 meter wide traditional well that would be encased in concrete pipe. I’ll eventually want a sizable tank setup on a tower which would require an electric pump. Electricity is nearby so getting hooked up is not a problem except I’d be afraid to get plugged in without being there to guard against theft. I was subject to paying for stolen juice in my Phnom Penh apartment when I first moved in so that’s a common problem.

I love having the place, doing the planting and thinking about the little Eden I’ll be able to create but there’s also a lot of fatigue just imagining the all the effort and mental energy it’ll take to make it happen. And I haven’t even been describing the building of a house. Fortunately, on that score building materials have halved in price since last year when I first made plans and got bids so it was good I didn’t start then.
But do I really want all the headaches the land is certain to bring; the challenges that I have to face to develop it and then later to properly maintain it? What about my lazy retired existence? There’s something to be said for leaving all those hassles to someone else and just renting a place.

Meanwhile the tomatoes and peppers are looking healthy and beautiful; the flowers and foliage plants are taking root and many of the fruit trees have started to grow with promises of a bountiful future so I’ve got to take care of my babies, haven’t t I?

Stan Kahn

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