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Cambodia diary 18: Six-month reality check – and what keeps me going

Sea forest © Mark Wright / WWF-CambodiaSea forest © Mark Wright / WWF-Cambodia

It’s been a little while since I last wrote anything. I tend to have an urge to write when I’m happy and upbeat or have seen something and want to share the excitement I’m feeling. For the past week or so that hasn’t been the case.

I knew these times would come, and that they will pass – it’s been the same every time I’ve lived abroad, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

I’ve been in Cambodia for almost six months, so all those things that were new and unexpected and exotic are now my everyday, my norm. I still enjoy going to the market to buy my vegetables and chatting in broken Khmer with the stall-holders. I like the way they laugh unashamedly and gently correct me. I relish walking in the forest when I get the opportunity and I still love sitting on our verandah at the weekends and watching the world go by.

But my relationship with Cambodia has changed – it feels like the honeymoon is over. The adventure is still real but, more than anything else, this is now simply the place where I live and work.

The work is challenging. Progress is slow and sometimes hard to see and there are regular setbacks.

Blocks of biologically rich forest are sold off to be cleared and replaced with biologically destitute rubber plantations laid out with military, and entirely unnatural, precision over huge areas. The forests are being robbed of their luxury timber, cut illegally for the lucrative Vietnamese market.

And perhaps most sapping is that, at times, the support we would expect to get from partners is simply not there or worse, they can conspire to make our work harder.

Cambodian flora © Mark Wright / WWF-CambodiaCambodian flora © Mark Wright / WWF-Cambodia

I miss my two daughters. I still think of them as my young girls even though they are both in their very early twenties. Over these past six months I have sometimes questioned whether I made the right decision in coming here. Without a doubt this was a selfish choice – this was something that I wanted to do, for me, and I don’t regret it. I knew there would be costs – personal costs – but can easily justify that to myself if I know the work I’m involved in is important and making a positive difference.

The truth is that some days it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the scale of the threats, and become despondent at the meagre resources we have available to try and combat them.

It’s hard to see the small successes and victories for what they are – small but significant steps towards ensuring the survival of these stately forests. These modest results are also what continue to fire me – and they are the reason why, despite everything, I still want to be here.

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