Friday, February 28, 2014

February in Words

I just, literally just tonight, got back from 5 days at the forest with Ben.  Although by the time all these photos are posted up with our very slow internet it maybe days later.  But I did get these photos selected immediately with good intentions.  This time, I tried to take photos – and took a lot. Sorry about the fragment here – I have written as if you can see the pictures, so you’ll just have to imagine for now.
We had our second willing helper from Australia, Jamie.  He was stuck out with Ben for a good 2 weeks or so.  Managed to show Ben up at the pull up bar so Ben respected him!  Helped a great deal with the various odd jobs Ben was working on at the time – we were very grateful that he gave up his holiday to help us out in the bush.
One picture shows our Sarus Crane (“The Kreal”) in the back of the pickup.  We moved him and two peacocks out, the first for our relocation program we need to start.  We put the Kreal in the large pen (1 hectare!) we built for the deer.  He hated it.  Missed the company and didn’t like the forest there.  He escaped one day and Ben found him the next day about a kilometre away after hearing him trumpet.  He got put in the aviary with the peacocks and instantly calmed down.
A lot of the month has been spent chasing loggers and listening to chainsaws.  I think I have mentioned that there is a very large bounty (not sure if “bounty” is the right word) out for Tnong wood which is a type of rosewood.  The previous year or two, it was Gry-nuon – which is now pretty much extinct in Cambodia and Neang Nuong, nearing extinction.  So now, down the list is Tnong which they have now removed probably about 1,000m3 of wood from our little corner of Cambodia’s forest – and it is happening all around the country.  Sad Sad Sad.  The Community Forest Committee have caught a few chainsaws, a motorbike and a Ko Eun (mechanical cow) this month.  So you will see a picture of cut tree, a Ko Eun, and a logger sitting on his felled tree. 
There is a picture of a visitor dog to the Office.  The Office is the name of the first building that Ben is building.  It is officially the office of the Community Forest – we will move in there temporarily till our house is rebuilt. Back to the visitor dog – that means his owner is somewhere abouts.  Usually hunters, trappers or people collecting Non-timber forest products (NTFPs), resin, roots, something.  Ben doesn’t like these dogs as they are expert hunters.  Also, their owners like to start fires (to concentrate the animals for easier catching).  The fires have been another problem, one we’ll have to be fighting every dry season.  These are grass fires and not huge like we get at home, but they do damage trees and property if we aren’t careful.  Ben has been back burning and trying to rake leaves but the deciduous nature of this forest makes for many many leaves which he can’t keep up with. 
A picture taken in the village with lots of people is from the Community Forest Committee election day which they had this month to elect some more members who will hopefully be a bit more active to enable better sharing of patrolling duties.  Soon after this, a bunch of them came one night to catch a bunch of loggers – that is the picture of people sleeping everywhere around a fire.  Naturally the loggers got wind of this mass movement of troops and made sure they were silent that night. 
The floor of the building has taken forever (for me at least, waiting at home.  I told Ben I just needed a floor on that building to move out there (I have been single parenting for way too long and am getting sick of it).  I told him I didn’t need  a toilet or a kitchen – just a floor on the building.  Well, mid-February he had more than half the floor on. And he had about a quarter to go when we decided to pay a visit last Monday. 
Here I wanted to add details as to our timber “policy.”  We are building with timber.  I have mentioned our approach to gathering wood somewhere maybe but it won’t hurt to wire again.  It may seem somewhat hypocritical that we are involved in catching timber at the same time building with timber.  Our policy has been to only used wood that has died, has been left (tops, stumps, wood that loggers left due to imperfections) and wood that others have cut down for other reasons but are just leaving.  Lately, near the village, they cleared a lot of forest just for claiming (a paradox here that you must clear to claim land, even if you can’t work the land).  They are burning this wood (p-jek, a  great hardwood) to clear the land or it just burns up with the annual fires.  So it is all being wasted.  So sad.  It is making everything much longer to collect all this wood – the chainsaw men much prefer just to cut a new tree.  But slowly we are getting what we need.
The picture of the orange flowers is one we took on the trip out on Monday.  Brilliant orange blossoms on these forest trees.  Lots of trees are just starting to flower at the moment.  Things are dry – really dry but the flowers are coming and so it is starting to get beautiful.  We saw a pair of woolly necked storks in their usual mud hole (Ben sees them almost every trip in or out). And we arrived.  The last quarter of the floor was not finished.  He had managed to plane a surface of a table top – he does this just to see the grain of the wood.  But the floor was not done.  Let down. We survived though.  Kids were in the tent and we got the hut which Ben has been living in for the last 8 months or so. 
One big improvement was the new cooking facilities.  I had taken my extra stove out there months ago.  But we didn’t want to buy an extra gas can.  At home we have been using one can for our hot showers and another for cooking.  Well it has finally got hot enough to shelve the hot showers and free up the extra can for cooking at the forest.  It was quite a chore cooking over a fire for every meal out there so the stove has been a massive improvement.   I even have a counter!  That was there before but I didn’t really use it.  We ate vegetable curry, spaghetti, macaroni, fried rice, bread (from Rovieng) with egg, tomato and fish curry, some black eyed beans.  We ran out of food the last day since we were originally planning on going home on Thursday.  We ran out of salt.  Did still have Ben’s beans, rice, some cans of fish and onions, garlic, tomatoes and 3 packets of noodles.  Really lots to eat, just nothing I wanted to eat.  Again, we survived.
We were able to see progress in the garden and at our house site.  One exciting job which has been mostly finished has been the gravity flow water system.  Not quite reaching The Office, but all the way to our house site, the garden and the site for the lodge.  When he first finished it, it shot out the top of 12 metres of pipe placed vertically – meaning lots of head to spare.  There was amazing pressure.  This week, it had gone down for some reason yet to be identified but still some water flowing non stop into a ring at the house site and enough to water the garden.  Ben has planted bananas, mangoes, guava, limes, papayas, chillies, eggplant, and some other bits and pieces I can’t remember.  He had found this blow down spot covered with vines.  We hired some ladies to clear it.  Yes, ladies – they worked steadily to clear up the roots and growths.  And the ground is lovely.  It is right on the creek – hopefully won’t flood or flood too bad.  Forgot to ask Ben about that problem.  I might just have to start to learn how to garden. 
And then, there is the house site.  A ring.  A pile of sand.  A pile of gravel.  A guy from the village poured our house footings this week.  Jarrah and Amelie enjoyed playing in the ring of water.  We’ll have to plan a little pond and swimming pool with this water at the house.  Ben here is digging the first hole for the centre post.  An occasion to memorialise. 
Finally, on Thursday at about 5pm I got my floor.  The sawdust to sweep was some, but we got to use the new floor.  1.5 walls left to go, but I hate walls anyway.  We did a quarter of the building with full wall, and the rest just half wall.  But I’m quite happy with the open for now – especially for the ventilation required for the upcoming hot season.
Other odd pictures:  Jarrah and her found treasures; polar bear at the creek (yes, we have polar bears); trees in new leaf; and Jarrah and our new – first, table in our temporary house, maybe our study table – maybe our dining table.
And that has been our February – or mostly Ben’s February at the Forest.  Thanks for reading to the end here!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

What's Happening

It has been awhile and things are moving so slowly here I feel there is not too much to report on.  Ben has been working hard.  The most difficult issue at the moment has been the constant influx of loggers from all over.  Chainsaws operate in the night time (and sometimes in the day) and so if he has some of the village Community Forest (CF) committee willing to do a night time patrol, they head out to look for these guys.  The wood is being sold to big trucks that export to the a country on the east of Cambodia.  There is lots in the Phnom Penh Post  if you do a search on "logging, Preah Vihear" about this issue and it is somewhat "annoying" to put it mildly.  Yesterday, they were out hiking and they came across a "ko eu-uan" with wood.  No one around.  They confiscated (hid it in the bushes really) a chain block that they had and in the process, Ben lost his camera.  So today they return, looking for the camera.  They passed 5 ox-carts and 2 drivers so about 3 others off somewhere else.  They said that they had bought resin trees (Diptocarp) from another village and were I guess going to cut them and take them (back to Siem Reap province).  However, they later came across the other men with axes and other implements.  The latest method is to use the old fashioned way with axes, then squaring up the logs with this implement called a "duong" and hauling them with oxcarts.  Slow, but silent.  Less chance of being caught.
The camera was found by the way!

Below are some pictures from December of what the problem is.  This is Pterocarpus macrocarpus Kurz wood (otherwise knows as Thnong in Khmer or a type of rosewood).  These three "ko eu-uans" were surprised coming around the corner.

Enough about logging.  Well actually, a problem with all the logging has been that the people that Ben would otherwise be hiring to saw up his wood have been busy.  He has asked them to make boards out of this timber which people cut earlier in the year for their land claiming activities.  They must cut the trees in order to claim the land after which they sell the land or just hang onto it.  The particular land is not really any good for agriculture but cut they must.  And so as we drive into the village, and to the north of Ta Bos, we see swaths of felled timber, soon to be burned - because, that is what they do.  This timber is good hardwood.  Not beautiful like the rosewood that is being exported but it is a good, durable hardwood.  And since it is just laying wasted, waiting for the fires, Ben has asked the chainsaw people to cut it for him.  But they are so busy.  In the last couple of weeks, he managed to have some finished and transported - almost enough to floor the building that we are supposed to be moving into.  Almost, but not quite.

So, in waiting for the wood, Ben finished off the water system.  This is quite impressive.  Over one kilometer of pipe has been laid - some buried, and some not, due to the very, very hard and rocky ground.  It starts just below the spring on the side of the mountain.  I'm not the best to explain this but at the head (as I understand!), they put in a ring (or two) with sand around and the pipe coming from the centre of the ring. This means that the sand filters the water before entering the pipe.  This is in a sort of waterhole made by the spring.  At the end of the pipe, water is flowing non stop.  He put three lengths of pipe up in the air to see how high it would push, and it was still bursting out the top.  Great pressure and maybe still a lot of head left. This is exciting as the garden has also been started and now there is running non stop water for our irrigation needs.. and household needs... and our swimming pool (another story there).
Yes, the garden.  We hired some women from the village to help clear a patch of land which is all overgrown vine from a blowdown tree.  It is a lovely sunny patch with really good (relatively good I should say).  These ladies worked really hard slowly whittling away the vines and brush for burning.  We have planted a few fruit trees and hopefully soon a vege patch so there will be more food to eat.

Our volunteer, Alex from Brisbane, via Avondale College, has left!  He toughed it out and survived on Ben's diet of beans and rice, somehow.  He took a lot of time to memorise about 1000+ words in khmer, an amazing feat and hopefully he can remember then when he comes back next.  Thank you Alex!

And, about a week after Alex left, another enthusiastic helper arrived from Sydney.  Jamie is currently out in the forest with Ben also living on beans and rice.  He can show Ben up in pull ups, so Ben is trying to out-hike him I think!