I arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia late last night as I embarked on my first teaching experience and first job with the ICRC outside Afghanistan. I’m here for two weeks and am thrilled to be bringing the teaching model I’ve been honing with the Afghan players to a new country and culture.

I’ll be working with two newly formed women’s teams here – the first wheelchair basketball teams in the country, male or female – that are being organized and run by a partner organization to the ICRC that has previously established a successful disabled volleyball league. It’s going to be a lot of fun starting from scratch again and I have no doubt it will bring me back to my first days working with the team from Maimana in the fall of 2009. One of the teams, based in Battambang, has had some training from an Australian player already, so I’m curious to see how far along they are.

During the two weeks I’ll be spending here, I’ll be moving around the country a bit. Today, my ICRC colleague, Didier Cooreman, and I will drive about five hours from Phnom Penh to Battambang, where we’ll stay for the next five days. Both women’s teams will join us in Battambang for two-a-day training sessions (plus classroom sessions for those appointed to double as coaches and referees).

On the 26th, we’ll return to Phnom Penh while the players take the day to vote in the big national election for Prime Minister. The current PM, who has been in power for 28 years, is being challenged by a man who was imprisoned for 11 years (many postulate for political reasons) and has spent the last four years in exile. He returned to Cambodia for the first time on Friday and drew a massive throng of supporters in a parade through Phnom Penh. I really know how to time these first coaching visits – my first trip to Afghanistan was during that country’s last presidential election, which was surrounded by public protests, Taliban attacks on election workers and rampant allegations of fraud. From what I’ve gathered since arriving, the process here is expected to be much more peaceful in spite of the politically passionate citizenry.

Following the election, Didier and I will go to Kampong Speu, a small town about an hour from Phnom Penh, where the second – and newer – team is based, so I can spend a few days giving them additional instruction.

This is going to be a whirlwind trip – I’m used to spending two months at a time in Afghanistan, so two weeks is going to fly by. That said, I’ll do my best to capture the highlights of experiencing this beautiful country and getting to know its people for the first time.

cambodia-map

Phnom Penh (red), Battambang (blue) and Kampong Speu (light green) are the locations I’ll visit during my stay

As a sidenote, I got a quick impression of how different Cambodian culture is from that of Afghanistan when I pulled up to my hotel last night and had one of my colleagues point out a drag queen karaoke bar two doors down the block with disco blaring out its open-to-the-street facade. Welcome to Cambodia!