“Family” knows no borders

A wonderful era came to an end some weeks ago. “My” drivers left the construction side Elevate. It was time since the first building phase was finished. And since the rain season has come closer and it started to be difficult to drive due to the mud.

Together we got up early and worked until late. We sweated. We partied and danced. Played football with empty water bottles – also called recycling. Went swimming. Laughed, joked, enjoyed our community. Celebrated one’s birthday. Together we suffered when a truck got stuck or a machine broke. We sought shelter from the strong wind or the rain. They taught me to drive the big excavator (- not easy!). To speak and understand more Khmer. And they taught me about their life, their family, their culture. However, my attempts to teach them English or Swiss German failed miserably.

They are more than people working for us. Rather like friends – or even like BROTHERS to me.


Their age is between 21 and 35 – some are singles, some have a family. One brought his sons to Elevate because he thinks that they should learn how to drive a truck. Themselves, they stopped studying early and learned to handle big machines instead. For five months, they invested their entire life in our construction side. They cooked & ate, washed & showered, slept on the floor or in hammocks & partied in our Elevate desert.
24 hours a day.
7 days a week.
I’m having big RESPECT for these guys.

A wonderful era.

Every now and then, I bought some drinks and celebrated with them. Celebrated their hard work, their endurance, their willingness to renounce. For Khmer New Year I brought them Ice Cream. I was baffled by their reaction. In Switzerland, people would say “Really, Ice Cream?!? And where is the chocolate cake?!”. Not in Cambodia: They were almost dancing around, screaming “Mien carem! Vivi deng carem chignang nas!!!” (“There’s Ice Cream! Vivi bought delicious Ice Cream!!!”). Some guys from the same company, working on another construction side, came a bit later. Every time somebody new arrived, they repeated it. Again and again. Priceless. That’s what makes me happy. To see them happy.


If I had the choice between buying some Ice Cream for these guys or winning a lottery, I would take the first one. Or maybe take the money and buy tons of Ice Cream for them. 😉

It was not always fun. Whenever one of their very old – not to say ancient – vehicles was broken, we suffered together. Usually, it took “muy maung theat” (“one hour more”) to fix anything. They don’t put such an importance on time as Western people do. Not. At. All. No surprise, that this “one hour” could mean three hours, one day, … .
Once, the small excavator got stuck in the mud. I always thought, the exca’s would be invincible…! With the big one we pulled him out which brought kinda romantic feelings up… 😉

Moreover, I tried to teach them honesty especially about their working hours. That was once or twice the reason for minor troubles which we – fortunately – solved quickly.
I admire their flexibility, even though we had lots of plan changes and quite complex claims which not always made them feel extremely enthusiastic, they were mostly smiling and motivated. Not rarely, they were challenged to believe in their ability and to show themselves that they CAN.

I guess, I should also not miss out that we had misunderstandings. Some were funny. Some were frustrating. All were making us grow closer as a team or family. And they made us find new creative ways to explain something: using hands, feet, drawings, etc. Once, I wanted them to bring three truckloads of earth to a specific place. I said “Som lahn bye theat dinu”. We had a short discussion in which I tried to make the point clear, but he kept asking me if I want three trucks including or in addition to the two we had already. I was confused about his questions off the topic. Finally, I had to find Bora who helped me out. He taught me with the biggest smile ever that I should’ve said “Som bye lahn theat dinu”. The other one would’ve been correct if I wanted to get 3 more trucks instead of truckloads. Ooops. Word order matters! 🙂

There is dozens of other funny stories. We have experienced a loooot together.

On the day they left the Elevate desert, they all drove directly to their company’s garage for maintenance. Needless to say, I visited them every now and then. The memory from the first visit I will surely never ever forget: Bulldozer didn’t look so healthy, trucks were without tires, tools, engine parts, filters, etc. were scattered all round the vehicles. Their stock is full of rusty, dusty components and half-dead machines. The big excavator needs a lot of attention, both “legs” were taken apart and other stuff was also lying around. I wonder, if they just messing around or actually know what is to do 😉
Now, maybe a month after they left Elevate, everybody is on the road again, only sometimes going back to the garage due to minor troubles. Except for the big excavator which needs more time to get ready for work again. Since one month they keep saying, they needed only one month, but it looks like it’ll take a lot more than that…

I will stay in touch with them. As much as possible. I visit them. They visit me. No matter what.
And I hope, we will get the same drivers again next year in dry season. Already now, I’m very looking forward to a continuation of that wonderful era!!

some of my extended family...