Thursday, 19 November 2015

Cambodia/Laos Day 15 - Rob Overtoom at FCC (Foreigbn Correspondant's Club)

Day 15. Met a Dutchman at the FCC (Foreign Correspondant's Club). We were having an Ankor beer on the rooftop terrace of this dishevelled old colonial building. The view was impressive. A panorama of the junction of the Mekong and one of its major tributaries, one which flows backwards in the monsoon season as the floodwaters push upstream into the largest lake in the country. A giant expanse of water 150 km north.  For the first time in memory the backflow failed this year. The locals put it down to the new dams the Chinese are building upstream along the Mekong. It could kill the lake - the livelihood for thousands of fishing families surrounding its shores (and living on the lake in floating villages).

'Are you local?' I asked. He looked it. Dark tanned skin, a face that had seen a lot of life and an easy manner. 'I've been in Cambodia since 1991' he told me. 'I came here by accident. A medical colleague called me in Holland and said "we need you out here." He was in a Thai border refugee camp where thousands of Cambodians were stuck fleeing the war being waged by the National Liberation Army against the Vietnamese.' I learnt that the Vietnamese, hot on the heels of their success against the Americans had, in 1979, driven Pol Pot and his regime from the country at the same time installing their own clique in power. Ironically Pol Pot's forces then reinvented themselves as the Liberation Army and were again waging a war for the independence of the country.

Rob was 66, had worked as a medico in Cambodia for the ensuing 25 years and had recently retired - not to a quiet life but to begin a new life as a father ((1 year old twins and a 3 year old). He had married a Cambodian woman twenty years ago and hard as they tried had never been able to conceive. And now she, at 47, and he at 66, were beginning a family. He was meeting a few old mates from the Development Community (doctors, engineers, project managers) for a reunion, some of whom he hadn't seen for ten  years. Later I googled him and found he was also a fine photographer having been the man behind the camera of a publication documenting, for the first time, the exhaustive pictorial representation of Cambodian bird life.

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