CAM CAM CAMBODIA!
My first trip to Cambodia was an eye-opening moment and one of many proverbial light bulbs which lead to the formation of 15 Fathoms. We were in a small beach town with a peaceful political climate and a sad past. We were free to roam about, and I had my first experience dining in a restaurant with my feet in the sand, facing the pacific. It was exquisite.
We had an interpreter who was from India but learned English while in Australia. He had the most incredible blend of accents that was impossible to mimic. He was extremely friendly and got along great with everyone. We met up with the dive team we were going to train. Previously, we were told that the group we were meeting had a range of skill levels from advanced to novice, the latter being an understatement. We started the training with a basic medical class. One of the Cambodian divers asked why his ears hurt every time he went diving. It took some patience, but finally, with the help of our interpreter, it was understood that this guy was never taught to use the Valsalva maneuver. We knew then that we had work to do.
We started fresh the next day and broke it down from step one, beginning with buddy breathing with a snorkel, and mask clearing. We spent the week training these guys. The interpreter was needed less and less, and we were communicating through diving. Even the most nervous and untrained guys were getting it. My heart had never been so warm witnessing the hard work and progress these guys were making, all while communicating without saying a word. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever been a part of.
The training came to an apex at the beginning of the second week. We were going to inspect the hulls of some of their boats running gear and bow thrusters. Each team consisted of one of us with two of them. I have to be honest, I was nervous as hell. We had to literally empty our dive bags and lend stuff out to outfit these guys, but we eventually got them all squared away. I remember saying to myself, “What am I going to do if one of these dudes bolts and I’m down there?” Fortunately, that didn’t happen. We trained them well. The two men I was with were a little all over the place, but they understood what was going on and did a fantastic job! Our training was a great success.Afterwards, we were invited to play a game of volleyball with them. This game occurred the morning after a tour of their brewery, which I don’t think was a coincidence. We thought we were playing their dive team, but it was their national volleyball team. They were good, and obviously played all the time. The only thing we really had going for us was the fact that we all stood at least 6 inches to a foot taller than their team. I can’t remember for certain, but I think it was a close game. It was an honor to be there and experience not only the culture as a tourist, but as an ambassador and a teacher. I can only hope to tell this story to my children one day, when we are at the same restaurant, eating dinner with our toes in the sand, facing the Pacific.