Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Santa Claus is coming to Battambang

Hello family and friends! I hope that everyone had a really great holiday season! I am posting this on Christmas Eve, after teaching my 11D class. So, Merry Christmas to those back home! This is going to be a loooong entry, to brace yourselves!

Tomorrow, for Christmas, I will be celebrating in a rather unorthodox way. I only teach one class on Friday, which is 11B from 7-9. Those students are really great, so I decided to have a one hour Christmas party from 7-8 and then let them go an hour early. We will eat candy and listen to Christmas songs then I will then rush across the street to get wireless to call Maura on skype and talk to my whole family at the Annual Christmas Eve party at the Waldron’s. There are so many new babies, I cannot wait to meet them!!! It will be really great to talk to everyone. Although I am not homesick, I wish that I could magically appear at the house for the party then head back here. But, clearly that is impossible, so I will do the next best thing, which is to call and talk to everyone. Thanks goodness for technology!

I was able to go to my first wedding on Friday, December 18. Wedding season takes place during the dry season, usually. Cambodians are, generally, very superstitious and many of the traditions within the Buddhist religion here in Cambodia are dependent on the lunar calendar. A perfect example is weddings- the time of year you get married in depends on the year that you are born. I have heard my host brother Manlee talk about his star sign a lot- he is a rat and his son is a pig. The first time he mentioned it I was really confused as to why he kept calling Chun Lai a pig. So, therefore, someone who may have to get married during the rainy season or the hot season because of the year they were born in. So, the wedding that I went to was the daughter of one of the teachers at my school. Now, you are probably confused as to why I was even invited, but weddings are very open, so therefore the bride’s father invited literally every teacher at the school. The first time I talked to him was when he handed me the invitation. It’s also a really big deal to have foreigners at weddings, and that was very clear when I walked in with two other teachers and the former school director. Traditional Khmer wedding clothes for women are really extravagant and colorful, but I haven’t really had time to get any clothes made for the occasion. My host mother makes wedding clothes, but she has been so busy lately, I didn’t want to ask her to take time out of her busy day to make some clothes for me, but at the same time, it would probably be insulting if I went to another tailor. As for the invitations, in America, it is pretty much standard to send a save the date a few months in advance, but engagements here last only a few months on average, so there is not much notice. I got the invitation maybe on December 9th and the wedding was on the 18th. I knew that it was going to be weird, but there are few encounters these days that aren’t. The wedding started at 11 and we arrived around 11:15. I noticed right away that the room was divided into males on one half and females on the other half. I walked in with three middle aged men and didn’t know what else to do, so I sat with about 9 middle aged men. It became very obvious that not only was I one of about 5 females on the wrong side, but I was the only westerner. I also was one of the only women without wedding clothes. It’s important to note that wedding clothes for men are pretty standard. My coteacher wore the same thing he wears to school. Formal occasions for women here seem to be so stressful. They have these beautiful, elaborate dresses with updoes that must take hours and loads of make-up. Like most Asian countries, most people usually apply skin-whitening lotion daily. I often talk to my family about how my view of skin is just the opposite of theirs- I want to have their skin and they want to have mine. It’s funny how at first I didn’t understand how they can want so badly to change their complexion, then I realized that I am the same, it’s just that I pay of lot of money and spend a lot of time to make my skin dark. I was accidentally using a whitening face wash and my face looked really weird. So, the makeup that the women wear makes their skin look very light. I have a picture in my most recent facebook album of a girl about my age going to a dinner dance party. It is a prefect example of what dress up looks like here. Besides the clothing, there really weren’t that many differences in weddings. Granted I did not attend the actual ceremony but rather the reception. The reception is much the same in Cambodia as it is in America. They cut the cake, throw the bouquet, everyone eats a lot and drinks even more. There was a band and a DJ. Cambodians know how to have fun. While it was really awkward during the meal, the men did not waste much time drinking. Because of my Irish heritage, I can appreciate the rush to drink as much as possible, I have been there myself a few times. It is a very strange position to be put in because it was a Friday afternoon and I had a private lesson with a student at 2, so clearly I didn’t want to drink before that. In addition to that, half of the boys from my 11B class were working the reception, filling up ice and handing out drinks and beer. I drank Coke through the meal and it was obvious that the people I knew there (the teachers) did their fair share of drinking and man, they were so much fun. I haven’t really been able to get to know them personally because it has been at a school setting, but we were able to put our guards down and have some fun. Three of the teachers got on stage and sang karaoke and one even did a duet with the singer of the band. Cambodians love music and love to sing. So, once the meal was over and everyone was mingling, most of the teachers came over to talk. I was rather taken aback when I realized that many of the teachers who aren’t English teachers can actually speak English. As is the custom in Cambodia, you always do a little cheers before you drink and clink glasses with everyone you are with. All of the teacher who came over to say hi and chit chat were cheersing my Coke, then one teacher took an ABC beer and filled me glass. It’s tough to strike a balance between not really wanting to take part in the festivity of drinking without coming across as condescending or awkward. So, I though that one beer would be ok. So I drank my one beer and had a good time with the teachers. A few of them have students that I teach and it was really great to get to know them. We left around 1:30 and I was dropped off at home. I went to the basically deserted school and met with the student that I have been working with. A few teachers were at the school when I finished tutoring Elvis. I don’t think they taught- I think that they came to school just to continue hanging out. I talked with them for about ten minutes and they asked a lot of questions about me. Here is verbatim the conversation I had with a teacher:

Teacher: Are you married?
Kealan: No.
T:Why not?
K: I don’t know, I haven’t met anyone that I want to marry.
T: How old are you?
K: 22.
T: Well I have a son who is 25 years old and he came back from Malaysia to marry you. He is very tall and very handsome.
K: Oh really? Well, he probably doesn’t want to marry me, I don’t think.
T: Are you drunk?
K: No, I only had a half of a beer.
T: I think you had 5.
K: Nope, only one.
T: How long will you stay in Cambodia?
K: 2 years. But I must go home now.

This teacher is a Khmer Lit teacher and is a really nice teacher and was one of the first to talk to me and try to make me feel comfortable. The previous conversation was all in jest, not putting pressure on me in any way. He has a really contagious laugh and seems like the life of the party. I am really starting to pick up on the fact that many of the teachers, as well as the students, are starting to get used to me being here. In addition, they are realizing that I will stay here for a while. There was another Peace Corps volunteer who worked at my school maybe 2 years ago, but he was never at the school and kept to himself. He left after one year and it seems like he didn’t really have much to do with the school. They really don’t talk about him ever, so I take that as a sign that they must have been disappointed in his distance from the school. At first I was sort of upset that the teachers weren’t really trying to talk to me more, because Cambodians are so friendly and they want you to feel comfortable. I realized that it could have something to do with the previous volunteer and the way that he interacted with his colleagues. It makes me happy though that they are starting to go out of their way to talk. I have definitely noticed that there are a few teachers who always laugh and joke around with me. I think that it’s really important to have a relationship with the other teachers because one of the goals of PC is to teacher the other teachers student- centered learning strategies. There is no reason why I can’t be friends with the teachers too. I spend most of my time at the school, as do they, so the personal questions about me, my family and background make me happy.

I have two more weddings coming up. I have one on the 26th for a teacher’s daughter and then my host cousin, Makara, is getting married on the 27th. I told my host brother Huck that I feel so strange at those events because I don’t know anyone and I don’t know what to do. He told me that people get so happy when they are able to share a holiday with a foreigner. About two months ago, I went to a festival with my host mother at her brother-in-law’s house. I was pretty miserable, but the man who held the festival told my host mother that he was so happy that a “barang”, as we are called, came to his ceremony. It reflects really well on the family if a barang (which is the Khmer word for French, but Cambodians use this word to describe anything from the west) tries to take part in the service and is respectful. So, this is probably why people want me to come to their parties and events. It’s fine with me, they are super fun.

Life at home is going really well. My host brother and I get along really well and he is learning so much English. My room is really great and I have my daily and weekly schedule pretty much set. I am really independent and come and go without guilt or a barrage of questions (unlike at my training host family). But at the same time, I feel very integrated here. I spend a lot of time with my host niece and nephew, Chun Liap and Chun Lai. I always sit outside at the table and write in my journal every other day. Chun Lai, my 3 year old host nephew, usually sits with me and shares my iPod. Last week, he asked Huck for an old notebook that he now uses as his journal and we sit together and journal. Clearly he does not know how to write, but I think he sees me doing it and he wants to write, too. While we are writing, he usually pauses once in a while and asks (in Khmer, but I have translated…) “Sister Kealan, what are you doing?” I responded “I am writing in my book. What are you doing?” to which he responds “I am writing in my book, just like Kealan.” The first time he did it, it broke my heart. We usually chill together before dinner then for an hour after dinner. We have been playing this one game a lot recently. I like to call it the “wear a bag on your head while the other person tries to knock it off with a balled- up bag”. He loves that game. At 8:00 on the dot I retire to my room and usually go to bed shortly after. Am I embarrassed that my three year old host nephew stays up later than I do and wakes up earlier than I do? Maybe a little. We have a good time, though. The girl, Chun Liap, has downs syndrome and is very attached to her mother and father, but there have been a few times lately when we are playing and her parents try to take her away, she cries. She cannot really speak, but she does say “ba”, “be” and “by”. She always makes a point to say “ba bye” when I go into my room or go anywhere near my bike. Even when her mom takes her to bathe, she says ba bye. She is so cute and I really like to have kids around because it takes the stress away from not really being able to communicate. Chun Lai talks to me a lot and sometimes I understand, sometimes I don’t. But I listen to him talk and usually we just play. It’s a good stress reliever and it’s really great to come home and be greeted by smiling Cambodian faces.

I talked to my school director on Tuesday about starting an English Club for more advanced students. He was all for it and gave me total support. The plan of action is to have a test on January 9th for grades 12, 11 and 10. Of those grades, I will most likely take the top ten and start a club of about 30 kids. While I feel horrible that I will be turning some kids away, it is simply impossible to have a club with all of the students who are interested; there are about 1,000 kids in each grade. I am going to continue my office hours and work with any students who ask for help. My Wednesday sessions with Elvis Presley now include James Earl Jones and Horace Mann now. I think that more kids will ask for more help once they realize what I mean by having free time and wanting to work with them. The club will most likely meet 3 times a work during lunch and we will do more hands on activities such as student run discussion, writing assignments, peer revision, public speaking, etc. It is impossible to do some of these activities in class because either the students don’t understand what I am talking about or there is just not enough. For instance, in my 11D class, we read a little one page passage about education in Cambodia and I spent about 45 minutes explaining words from the passage that the students didn’t understand. It will be fun to be able to work with students who are able to do more accelerated activities. I have also been in contact with the University of Management and Economics (UME) about working there. I decided that I didn’t really want to teach and because Eddie and Darlene (two other volunteers who live in Battambang) are doing workshops, I agreed to work with their English Club. Working with them at the UME will be different than at the high school because the UME English Club is totally student run. I have to completely create this club from scratch at my school, but the club at the university has already been created the club. I will just offering some assistance in the way of correcting the students. The way that the club is set up at the university is the club consists of about 30 students, but because they can’t all meet at the same time (Khmer students are SOOOO busy), they broke the club into 9 groups of 3-4 students. I agreed to meet with each group once a month and hold one open hour a week for any of them to ask questions. That way I will be working with the club for 13 hours a month, which is reasonable, and I will be able to work with them all. This will all start after the new year. Between the two clubs and teaching, I will have my work cut out for me. This will keep me very busy for a few months, until I have that under control and then I will start something different, probably apart from teaching, maybe a sports team? Who knows. Weekends will most likely be my only free time, but I will probably find something really quickly to fill up that time.

The other day, I came across a blog and the person who wrote it was basically making fun of Khmer students trying to speak English. I want to make one thing clear: the only person that I intend to make fun on this blog is myself. I understand that I came into another country- they have their own culture, values and traditions, who am I to undermine them? I have a few skills that I am trying to carry over into this country to help further the development that is just starting here. There are some things that I are very different that I want to share with you, but I think it’s really important to keep in mind that I am not here to change their culture, rather I am here to embrace it and share mine. When I get back to America, I will want to share what I learned about Cambodian people, traditions and culture with you. The goal is to create friendships by realizing how similar we actually are instead of identifying differences and exploiting them. On the surface, we may seem different, but after five months, I can honestly say that people are people wherever you go. Likewise, on the subject of the students- it is so difficult to learn English when Khmer is your language. Khmer people are very laid back and have simplifying down to an art. While English is very complicated with tenses, subject-verb agreement and so on, Khmer language makes everything so simple. What I mean by simple is that in English we tend to throw in a bunch of extra words, but in Khmer, you get right to the point. For instance, in English, a common questions is “Do you have any water?” but in Khmer you ask, “Mein tuk at?” which very directly means, “Have water not” or as we would say, “Do you have water or not?” And the response is either “Mein” which is “have” or “at” which is “not”. The fact that the students have any sort of skill at speaking a language as complex as ours is a testament to their determination and hard work. I was really upset by this post because I know how much I struggle with learning Khmer. The mistakes that the students make are ones that in the end are really difficult to grasp. Instead of ridiculing the students for their mistakes, I think we should be praising them for their progress (which was a vocab word for grade 11 this week).

Have a great (and safe) New Year! I will be heading down to the beaches of Kampot with my friends to bring in 2010! Miss you all!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Teaching, teaching and more teaching

As you have noticed, I did a little updating on my blog because I realized that this is probably the main form of communication for a lot of people, so I think that you deserve a more personal blog.

So, things are in full swing with the school. I am teaching classes and private lessons. I went to the university to see when the English club was meeting, but they told me that they are having elections for officers, so I should check back in soon. I was really happy to hear that because I am not sure that I would be able to offer the time and effort right now that would be needed to start an English club. Peace Corps put us in touch with a place that donates books in PP, so I have been working to get some books in the library. I will probably start an English club at my school soon, too. My classes are going really well and I can tell that the students are starting to get used to me being there and especially the way that I talk. Cheating is still a huge issue (I will go into more detail later in this post) but I can see the progress the students are making in their English. My 11B and 11D classes are doing really well and are starting to get really into the classes. My 11B class was annoyed that we were playing a “boring” game, so we have been doing a lot more stuff with individuals in front of the class. When we played two weeks ago this one girl stood up and was really upset and was saying something in Khmer about the other team cheating. I made a class rule that I didn’t care if they protest and trash talk each other, but do it in English. We yesterday when the class played Slap the board, the whole class was SOO into it. Kids who have never participated before were all about it. I was so happy when the same girl stood up and was saying how the other team was cheating again, but this time in English. And the other students told her to sit down and be quiet in English. It may not seem like a big deal, but when you see your students so invested in the class, it makes class that much more enjoyable. 11D does not have nearly the level of English, or confidence that 11B has, but they have the determination. They are really enjoyable class and I can tell that they are improving. 10Q is really tough because it is a remedial class, but I can see huge improvements already in their ability and confidence. There are some kids who really don’t care about the class and don’t do anything in class, but that’s ok, I can’t let that overshadow the great progress some of the driven students are making. 11C is my problem class. They don’t really come to class that consistently and they are always talking and no one really pays attention. I have started the dread the class because the other classes are doing so well. On Tuesday, which is my really busy day, I was contemplating just not going to class. It’s really tempting because it is not a big deal at all, teachers do it all the time here. I decided against it, especially after my friend Keiko pointed out that class gets cancelled so often that it’s not fair to the students. So, I went to class and there were not a lot of students there at all. I was having a pretty good day, so I decided that I wanted to start fresh with this class. The first half of the class was actually pretty good, and then I learned during the break that every class is like that: all of the teachers don’t like teaching them because they are so noisy; one teacher flat out refuses to teach them. Is class cancelled all the time? Maybe, I don’t know. A lot of students didn’t come back for the second half of class, but the ones who stayed are the ones that are actually into the class. There is one student, Susan B. Anthony, who is really good at English, but she is always with a group of girls that just want to talk during class. Well her cronies weren’t there and she was all about the exercises. We played Win, Lose or Draw at the end of class. I acted out commonly used verbs such as listen to music, ride a moto, take a shower, etc. They really liked it and it was genuinely a really enjoyable class. There is a group of boys that never really participate and have no idea how to speak English. Every time I call on them, they say in Khmer that they don’t know or they can’t answer. One boy actually spoke up during class and tried to guess the verb, he was wrong, but it made me happy that he tried. He always takes notes and has been to every single class and while I get really annoyed with most of the class, I realized that there are about 10-20 students in that class out of 70 that work really hard and want to learn. As tough as it is, I can’t let those students overshadow the ones with good intentions. I also learned that while some students appear to be lazy or disinterested, they sometimes they are just really lost.

On Mondays, I only teach one class, 11C and it’s at 9. Sopheap (my Cambodian coteacher) and I are pretty much used to each other. Although we lesson plan together, I basically come up with it (he has zero experience with it) and I do the bulk of the lesson and grammar is his forte. The way that grading works in Cambodia is that for every subject, there is a monthly test. This is where the cheating comes in. These tests have a lot of weight on the grade, so they do anything they can to get a good grade, except study that is. I told Sopheap that I wanted to come up with the monthly test with him after I saw one test that had nothing to do with the class at all. So, on Monday, during the break, Sopheap hands out a take home monthly test to the students. Now, I had no part in this, so I was a little annoyed (I was already annoyed because it was 11C and they were being obnoxious). I read the test and it had nothing to with the anything we have been talking about, and the essay was about air pollution and most of the students had to ask what air pollution was, even the best ones. I tried to just let it go, but then I saw Sopheap circle all of the answers for a student, which clearly means that she will give it to the rest of the class. I tried to teach the second half of class, but everyone was working on their tests (some students were even doing other students’ tests). I was about the announce to the class that the next test I saw was going to be ripped up when I saw Sopheap tell a student the answer to a question. I had to maintain my composure for the rest of class, all the while contemplating how I was going to handle this one. My decision, essentially, is that I want no part of the grading. I assign homework and correct it, but there are no grades for homework, so I will continue to correct the homework that the students want to do. I realized that I am probably on my own with fighting cheating. Why did I come to Cambodia? Not to take on cheating, that's for sure. My main assignment is to teach Cambodian students English and Cambodian teachers strategies to teach student centered learning. I did not come here to remodel the entire school system or the ideals that are so ingrained within them. Anyway, who am I to declare that cheating is so immoral? It would be a blatant lie to say that I never cheated. My goal is to have my students be the best at English that they can. While I would really like the students to do their own tests, this is a battle that I will lose every time. Homework is something that will help them and the truly dedicated students do it. I have added incentive into doing homework, saying that no homework= no games and I usually put stickers or stamps on the homework- they LOVE anything shiny or colorful. I want to curb cheating by doing essays instead, but they have never been taught to write an essay. This is something we will have to work up to. I decided then and there that I wanted nothing to do with the grading system. I will continue to teach the way that I have been and maybe Sopheap and I can come up with another way to test the students instead, but Sopheap will handle the grades. I will correct the homework and work with the students as hard as I can, but when the students take a test, they cheat. On the homework assignments they don’t, for the most part, but they are starting to understand that the homework is there to reinforce. The tests are not really helping. I would rather write essays or have the students talk. It may sound like a defeatist attitude, but it’s so exhausting to fight something that is a part of the classroom. I decided that for the sake of my mental health and the fact that maybe it’s not my place, I decided that is a battle that I do not want to fight, because I will lose every time. I don’t think that my coteachers agree with me, so I won’t force the issue. I am still new here and I don't want to burn any bridges or get on anyone's bad side. Those of you who know me well will know that it is really tough for me to disagree with something, but not take a stand on it. I will just try to come up with different ways to test the students instead of the typical tests that they are used to.

As for the weather, it is supposed to be winter, but it’s so hot still. The temperature today is 88 degrees, but feels like 91, according to We had like 2 weeks of weather that was not really warm (like 50s or 60s at the lowest, I never wore more than a long sleeved shirt) but now it is so hot again. Everyone says that it will be cold again in January and maybe February, but I’m not so sure. March and April are the two hottest months, so I will be going to Vietnam with my friend Jacqueline for about 2 weeks during Khmer New Year. Right now is the height of wedding season. I have one tomorrow (a teacher’s daughter at my school) and then two more coming up on the 26th and 28th for another teacher’s daughter and my host cousin Markara. I haven’t been to one yet, but they are supposed to be a lot of fun. They usually last about 2 days. There will be a lot of people there and it will be fun to get to know the other teachers a little better and to see my host family.

When I don’t teach, I try to get out into the community as much as possible. I spent a lot of time in my room when I first came to site, and I realized that I needed to get over the awkwardness and put myself out there. I have a few places where I consider myself friends with the families, so I try to maintain contact with them. There are so many people here, it’s tough to remind people that you are here to say. They are pretty spread out throughout the city, so it’s good that I have a friend close by when I am running errands. I try to mix it up and go to different places, but I have really developed a schedule and I am really happy with it. The time is literally flying though, it’s weird that it’s almost Christmas. It still feels like summer to me. We laugh about how weird it is when you are away, how time stands still. Well, it really stands still when the seasons don’t change. The seasons here are hot and dry, hot and rainy and not as hot and dry. The rain is the difference. Don’t think it will be a white Christmas for me…..

This blog does not represent the Peace Corps or the US government.  The thoughts and opinions expressed on this blog are mine and mine alone. 

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Happy Human Rights Day!

Hello everyone!!

The weeks are simply flying by now and I really love it. I have been so busy recently and I love it. My schedule is really filling up because I have obligations to the school (which is basically teaching 16 hours a week), tutoring during free periods and in the mean time, I try to make as many connections as possible.

The students are slowly starting to get used me and are starting to become less afraid of me. Many students are starting to approach me to practice English and one boy has asked me for extra help. We have been meeting in the library. It breaks my heart to hear this kids back story (he is from Kampong Cham, a province VERY far away) and he lives at the wat. Now, Khmer people don’t really read for pleasure, so it made me so happy when, during our first lesson, he asked me to pick out a book for him so we could read together. We read a story that was probably at a second grade level, but there aren’t many books and the levels literally vary from beginner to College physics. So, we have met twice already and will meet again tomorrow. I told the students that I am in the library during my free periods and they are more than welcome to come for extra help but it is a concept that is so foreign to them that they don’t really understand. Hopefully word gets around really soon and more students come to learn during their free periods. In the meantime, this student, his American name is Elvis Presley, has really made an effort to learn English because I think that he knows that is his way out of poverty. That is truly how it is over here, some things are just so depressing, but it makes me happy that he is taking his future into his own hands and is doing everything he can to be the best student he can be. The next battle is finding and applying for scholarships.

Darlene, Eddie (a K2) and I met with the University of Management and Economics during this week. They have been asking us for a while to get involved. The issue with having meetings is that usually people are really pushy to get you started on a project. My question is what’s the rush? I have only been in Battambang for about a month and a half, so I don’t see the point in just diving into any and every project that comes my way. So, we met and Darlene and Eddie both agreed to have workshops coming up, which I will help them with. I decided to become involved with the English club. I want to spread out our tasks and what the club is doing is really great. The students are really involved with the process and they do things such as public speaking practice once a month. So, I will spending my time with those students while helping Darlene and Eddie with their workshops.

Today was Human Rights Day and school was cancelled. Darlene and I spent the day around Battambang. We started at “the spot” which is the Khmer run breakfast that serves Western food and we have become friends with the family. Next, we set out to find coffee. After asking around and getting lost, we were able to find Vietnamese coffee!! That’s so huge because I have been drinking instant coffee, yuck. We went around BB and took pictures to send home. Next, we went to an orphanage about 5k from town. One of my students lives there and she met us near the New Market and took us there. It’s always really tough to tell who is doing something legit and who is doing something shady. The children were so polite and Sothea, my student, showed us around. There is a Canadian man who is working on a new project at the orphanage. Basically, they are building a hotel in the back and the children will run the hotel. They will be paid and are currently being paid to build it. They all seem so happy there and it is a really great way for them to make money. Many either don’t have parents or have parents that cannot afford to raise their children. The children who live there have a much better chance at success because the orphanage has a big role in getting these kids to college. It really was a great place to be and I cannot wait to start doing stuff there. Simply playing with the kids and maybe teaching them English. It is outside of BB, but it is so beautiful. Cambodia kids really find a way into your heart. It makes me happy that I found something that I will be doing in my spare time.

I have to go with Darlene to see our friends dress, she is going to a party tonight and her brother has been working on the dress for weeks. They are a Khmer family that opened up a shop in town that sells western goods. Darlene and I go there to chill with the family and practice speaking. They are a lot of fun. Hope all is well and I miss you all!!!


This blog does not represent the thoughts or opinions of the US government or the Peace Corps. This blog represents my thoughts and opinions alone.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

PP and Thanksgiving

Happy belated Thanksgiving everyone. As it is my favorite holiday, I was a little bummed that I missed it, but I was able to celebrate, so it was a good day.

First, I didn’t really have class last week for a few reasons. I went to Phnom Penh last week to pick up my friend from the airport. Sadly, her dad died and she had to go home. I was able to go with two other friends (we got special permission from Peace Corps because we aren’t allowed to leave our provinces for another month) but they thought that it was a good idea. All four of us live in different provinces, so it was really great that we could all be there for our friend. She had no idea that we were coming and we made signs and I bought silly string. When she came out of the airport, we weren’t really paying attention because she was the first person to come out, so we held up our sings and yelled her name and she was so surprised. We looked like typical obnoxious Americans, but we were so happy to see her that it didn’t matter. We spent the night in the guest house, doing what we always do when we are in Phnom Penh, eating all the western food we can get our hands on. We bought a fudge cake in the shape of a pig (pretty perfect) and nearly finished it, as well as eating two huge bags of Cheetos and Ruffles. I woke up at 6 am and got sick because my stomach just is not used to eating that much anymore, especially eating that much western food. We really went over the top and I was happy to get back to my diet of rice and vegetables.

When I got back to Battambang, I napped at my house, showered and headed out to the guest house Peace Corps arranged for us. The reason was for language training, but it was also a great chance for all of us to be together on Thanksgiving. We didn’t do anything special on Thursday, but we had a feast at a restaurant in town. We were able to get a turkey (not easy in Cambodia) and pies. We watched football (reruns that Darlene had of UTexas games), ate a lot and hung out. A bunch of K2s came and we had a really respectable crowd. We also invited the Khmer staff to come- all four had never eaten turkey before and loved the food (mashed potatoes and sweet potato casserole were also served). They were really happy to be there and it was really nice to share it with them. They were really confused by football and we tried our best to explain it, but all sports sound really weird when you try to explain them. We also learned the word for turkey, which is “moan barang”. Barang literally means French, but Khmer people use barang to describe any western and moan is chicken. So the word “moan barang” means western chicken, pretty funny. Thanksgiving was overall a really great day. It really made me miss home, but since it is a day to reflect on all you are thankful for, I realized that I am most thankful for this opportunity. I mean, not many people can say that Thanksgiving was spent studying Khmer with a great group of people in an amazing country, working with some of the most motivated students in the world. I miss American definitely, but being here and loving what I am doing trumps that. Plus, America, my family and friends will always be there, but this chance won’t.

Language classes were really a lot of fun. The group was all of the volunteers (K3) from Battambang, Pursat, Beantay Meanchay and Kampong Chnang. We sat around together, asked the LCFs for translations of things we heard all the time but didn’t know what it meant, but it was really great to be able to learn from each other. One volunteer, Lisa, has really excelled at site with Khmer. She was so helpful explaining when to use many things, not just how to say them. We also learned a few things to use in class, which will be fun. It was really useful overall. Language during training was more along the lines of learning what they thought was useful, but now we have a much larger interest and impact on the lessons because we have personal experience with the language.

For the next month, I will continue teaching, trying to make connections and maybe starting some other projects. Christmas Eve marks the end of what we call “lock down”. Lock down is essentially the restriction all Peace Corps volunteers face of not being able to travel freely outside of their province. So, on Christmas Eve, exactly 3 months after swear in, I will be traveling to PP to celebrate Christmas with my friends. The truth is that it really won’t feel like Christmas. It is still really hot here (I have my fan on right now) and it doesn’t feel like the holiday season. I think that these two years are really going to feel more like a really long summer break, which is ok. Teaching is really great, although my 11C class is not really behaving. The other three classes are amazing. I am trying to stray a little from the book and do more student centered activities. With my 10Q class, we are going to do a little project on planning a trip to another country instead of doing the lesson that’s in the book entitled “A trip to England.” It’s pretty awful and is so restricting. I would rather have the students do something more productive than listen to a stupid dialogue about Mr Kim Neak’s trip to England. They aren’t used to thinking outside of the book, but they are really liking it. The students show up fairly regularly and I can see that they are getting braver. Their comprehension has already improved and they are having fun. They LOVED when I taught them “what’s up?” I compared it to what they say in Cambodia and they were laughing at my Khmer, which is ok, because I want them to see that I don’t get embarrassed when I sound stupid speaking Khmer. I try to do one activity per class that requires them to think outside the box, but sometimes it’s like pulling teeth. They still cheat a lot and some students come to class and just sit there and don’t do anything, but I think that will change. I have already noticed some students who NEVER said anything before are loving participating. There is one boy in 11C who was always really shy and just sat there, now he is always the spokesperson for his group and is always trying to speak in class. I don’t know what the reason is and his English needs to improve a lot, but I am really happy to see this kid work so hard and actually enjoy the class now. I can’t wait until I get visitors and they see class, it’s just so different. Every aspect of class is just so different. The kids are so much fun though. One girl drew this little picture at the bottom of her homework that had some flowers and mice and it said “Teacher (heart) me”. In America this would be very strange, but Cambodians are so affectionate that it isn’t. I am going to use that as my bookmark.

I had a break through with Chun Lai, my host nephew. I knew that this was going to happen sooner or later, but I am very happy that it is happening, finally. His sister, Chun Liap (confusing, I know) has downs syndrome and is afraid of men, but is always laughing at my when I am really silly. She is really afraid of Huck, my host brother. I know that Chun Lai sees that Chun Liap likes me when I do silly stuff to her, but it wasn’t enough. When I was gone, Chun Lai asked Huck where I was and then last night the break through finally happened. I was outside writing in my journal when Chun Lai was playing with his mom and sister by throwing his toys in a box. I clapped when he made one and he loved the attention. So his mom went inside and every time we have been alone together, he literally runs for the hills, but not this time. He kept throwing his toys and I kept clapping and we would laugh, then he handed me a toy to play. We played for probably 5 minutes until we were called inside to “nyum bye”, eat rice. I went inside and Chun Lai started crying. I haven’t really seen him that much today, but maybe tonight we will play again. It makes me so happy that when I stopped trying to be his friend I actually became his friend. I have been buying him cakes and stuff, but it never worked. I tried to color with him, he wasn’t interested. Even when I gave him peanut butter, he thought that he was going to choke and was scared he was going to die. But I think the break through finally happened. It is a pretty huge weight lifted off of my shoulders knowing that he isn’t petrified of me anymore. It seems really minor, probably, but being viewed as this tall, scary, weird girl who can’t really speak living in your house isn’t fun for anyone involved, specially for me and Chun Lai, but I think we conquered that issue.

I hope that everyone is doing well and I miss you all!! Have a great holiday season and think of me sweating my butt off in front of 70 Khmer students when you complain about the cold! If it is below 70 here, people wear winter coats and I think I am starting to get that way too…..

This blog represents my opinions and thoughts only. This blog does not represent the opinions or thoughts of the Peace Corps or the US government.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hello Cher!

I think that the hardest part of Peace Corps is simply the emotional rollercoaster. Last week was rather dull, and that is entirely my fault. But this week was absolutely. I feel like I didn’t do anything as all last week and this week I feel like I haven’t had a second to relax. I don’t mind being busy, it means that I am doing something and hopefully making a difference. I didn’t really go out and do much. Because being at site is simply discovering everything for yourself, by yourself, its tough to know where to start or what to do. On Sunday, I looked back on my week and was pretty bummed to see that I hadn’t really done much. While I was sick for a few days, I really didn’t do anything to help myself. I swore to myself that I would make weekly goals within the school and community to avoid that happening. It’s just pretty crazy when you get into a rut how quickly things can become stagnant. I started the week off my getting sick and that just threw me for a loop. Lesson learned and I moved on. Overall is was probably the worst week I have had here (which shouldn’t even classify as bad, but it’s all relative, I suppose.) My ipod died, which really stinks because it is such a great escape. Those you who are looking to send things over, CDs would be awesome! I still have my laptop (knock on wood) and I will be able to listen to music on that.

Having said that, this has been a crazy week! I taught my first class last week and it has been a whirlwind since then. I can honestly say that I am obsessed with teaching. I am exhausted by the end of the day, but it’s so worth it. I taught my first class as a Net Yong teacher last Wednesday. It was 10Q and I was so nervous. But, it went really well, considering they can’t really understand me. Teachers in Cambodia don’t lesson plan (whether they are too busy because they all have more than one job or whatever the reason) so the students aren’t used to playing games and doing activities that we take for granted in America. It’s really tough because there are very few resources. In America, you can print off an article in the office and hand it out to the students and have an exercise out of that. Well, in Cambodia, if you want to do something like that, you need to go to a copy shop and either pay for the copies yourself (4 classes with 70 students in each can be expensive) or charge the students for their copies. So, I have to think of activities that we did in America that we fun and useful, but I also need to make sure that I can do it for free. It can be tricky, but so far so good.

So, Wednesday was my first day and I have been teaching everyday since then. I have been finishing up interviews for the 11th graders and while it has been a total headache and pain in the butt at times, I am so happy that I did it. I feel like I know the students better and I hope that they feel more comfortable around me. On Wednesday night, I got a text from this girl in my 10Q class. Her name is Sray Ban and she is probably one of my favorites at the school. She sometimes texts me to ask me what I am doing and how I am doing. Well, her text that night was something along the lines of how much she loves learning with me and wants to study English forever with me. It’s really hard to tell if the students understand or took anything from the lesson, so it made me happy that she sent me that text. The 11th grade class is the one where I am testing out some new things (ie American names, groups, interviews, etc.) But with my 10Q class, I decided against all the complication and dove in head first to try to get them to understand what the hell I am even saying before I get all fancy with them. They took their first test with me as a teacher and it is just painful to watch. The cheating is outrageous. I have to admit that I am impressed with some of their strategies, but I hate that they do it. I decided to turn a blind eye in that class because I am not sure that the students will be able to complete the tests on their own. It’s really defeatist, but maybe we will work up to that later. I couldn’t help myself when I saw the two smartest girls in the class opening their books when we said that we they weren’t allowed. They found other ways to cheat, but it just pained me to see the two girls who are always volunteering and talking and essentially lead the class cheat. They were really embarrassed and I wanted to talk to them about how I took their books because I know that they are smart and they don’t need the books. Maybe the other students do, but I wanted to show them that I expect more out of them. I will have to pull them aside next week to talk to them about it. Hopefully they understand what I am saying. But regardless, we are having a lot of fun in class and they are getting used to doing things that they aren’t used to, such as getting out of their seats and talking to each other. We usually end class with a game and although getting someone to come up to answer a question is like pulling teeth, they always freak out when someone gets it right. They clap when someone gets it right, even on the other team. I feel so exhausted by the end of the lesson, but it’s totally worth it. Plus, everyone in Cambodia naps anyway, so I have started taking a siesta.

My 11th grade classes have been pretty crazy. I divided them up into groups based on their level of English from the interviews. There are 8 groups with 7 students each. It is really cool to see the kids thrive sitting next to kids who are their same ability. The first grade 11 class I taught was 11C and it was somewhat of a disaster. I overloaded them with changes and it really backfired. But I was happy to see that the students in the highest group were with the kids in the lowest group and they were helping them with the exercises. It sort of naturally happened. I also gave that class Western names. Some students weren’t crazy about it, but that’s ok because some are so happy. I came up with a bunch names and wrote descriptions of each to give them a better idea of who they are. You should have seen the look on Bill Gates’ face, this kid was ecstatic. There are a few kids in the class that I really like and I am really happy that they now have a name I can remember. For instance, Walt Disney is really attentive in class and Andy Roddick is really smart but really shy. I totally overloaded the class with new stuff and it went a little haywire, so I adjusted the lesson for 11D, which I taught on Thursday. If 11C was a bomb, 11D was a text book lesson. The students were all about it. We went over the groups and when we broke into the groups, they naturally formed circles and when the assignment was to come up with 5 classroom rules, they all took is really serious and came up with some really awesome lists. One good thing about the groups is that I told the highest level to go to the back of the room and had the weaker students come to the front, so they have to pay attention since they are front and center. We played a game at the end of the class, boys vs. girls. We would have one volunteer come to the front of the room and when that brave soul would walk up, the ENTIRE class would cheer that student on. The ones that came up and got it right were applauded and some students become braver as class went on. The boys won, but they all had a great time. One student was even banging on the desk, which is really unlike the students in Cambodia to let down their guard and have a good time like that. It’s really fun to watch them open up. I don’t really do much when we play games, I just read the word or definition or whatever. The students are the best part. They love slap stick comedy over here, so over-the-top silliness is really well received. I am thankful for that because making the kids laugh is easier since I can’t really speak their language and they may not understand what I say. So fake tripping in class will bust the kids out laughing when a pun won’t. It makes lesson planning easier because silliness is their favorite.

As you can tell, I am really happy teaching. I spend my free periods in the library. I told the school director that I want to clean up the library and when I went in there, it was cleaned up, which was great. I have to organize the English books, but there aren’t many, so it won’t take too long. I want the students to come in for help during my free periods. There have been a lot more students who ask me to practice English around the school, which makes me feel like I have found my place here and that the students aren’t as scared. I helped a French teacher today. He is learning English and didn’t understand some words, so I tried to explain them to him. I’m not sure where he got the sheet of paper he was reading off of, but I was trying to explain to a man who speaks as much English as I speak Khmer what “looking down on someone” was. He just laughed when I did my impression of a rich person looking down on a poor person. He is close to retiring but was really excited to understand this story that he had about a woman, her stove and her daughter entering high school.

As for community goes, I plan on seeing an orphanage this weekend and visiting an Ngo. Language IST will be from Friday to Sunday of next week. The K3s from Pursat, Banteay Meanchay and Kampong Chnang are all coming to Battambang. We will all be staying at a hotel and during the day we will be working on Khmer. Not coincidentally, Thanksgiving is on Friday, so we will all be celebrating together at a restaurant in town. We tracked down a turkey and I asked my baker friend to make apple and pumpkin pies, so we will be having as close to a regular Thanksgiving as possible. It’s my favorite holiday (actually tied with Easter), so it will be great to be able to celebrate with friends.

Those curious about the weather, it has been cold by Cambodian standards. I won’t admit it to my students or my family, but it’s pretty cold. I am used to sweating through every shirt I put on, so this change in temperature is very nice. I don’t even need to use my fan at night. The morning showers have been rather chilly and I have made my coffee hot, instead of diluting it with warm water. Sometimes it is just too hot to drink hot coffee in the morning. I may have to go out and buy myself a sweater of some sort if this keeps up. By American standards, this is nothing. My body must be adapting to the hot weather though because I think that I am right there with the Khmer people who think it’s cold.

I have also been trying to figure out how to describe the fashion for the boys at my school and I finally figured it out- it’s Jersey. I feel like I am back at Seton Hall when I see boys with pierced ears, rocking bling. Battambang is really progressive compared to the rest of Cambodia, so it’s common to see boys with their ears pierced and more girls with multiple piercings. The boys also have started gelling their hear and many have faux-hawks. Some even shave little designs into their hair. They also wear tight little pants real low and everyone has a belt. Many have Gucci belts and backpacks. Most wear gold jewelery and necklaces. For those people from Jersey reading this- don’t be offended, it makes me really happy to see. It makes me feel at home when I look at these Cambodian boys who could very well fit in at Seton Hall.

This blog represents my thoughts and opinions alone and do not represent the US government or the Peace Corps.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

It's already November?!

Hi everyone!

Sorry it has been a week since my last post, but nothing has really changed since my last post.

At school, I have been conducting the interviews and I am just so happy that I am. It’s rather frustrating when the students can’t answer either because they are too nervous or they just aren’t as good at English as some of the other kids. But I have learned a lot about the students. A few kids are really motivated and have established goals. For instance, one student told me that he wants to be a director and move to Hollywood and direct movies. I was impressed that he could actually say that in English (I don’t know how to say that in Khmer!) and that he has his goals in place. Many responses include “I want to be a doctor because I want to help poor people and support my parents when they get older and sick.” The questions are really straight forward- what is your name? how old are you? How many brothers and sisters do you have? What did you eat for breakfast today? (the response is ALWAYS rice, I don’t know why I even ask it anymore) Do you want to study at university? Where do you want to study? What do you want to be in the future? Why? So, I am able to learn about them as people and more importantly, I am figuring out how I can help these kids mold their future. How do you become a doctor here? I have no idea, but I need to find out, because half of the students want to be doctors.

At home, I think I am growing on my family. I still am really bad at Khmer, but my host brother Huck, who is 23, is probably my best friend. He is getting a lot better at English and we talk and hang out. We watched game 6 of the World Series when the Yankees won it all (Sorry Winn!) and I have never seen someone so confused. When it was over, Huck asked me what was happening. How do you explain baseball and the World Series to a person who has only seen one inning? Well, I tried but after my explanation, he said, “I am confused. I do not understand.” I chalked it up as a loss, but I will try to explain in later, when his English improves. The other night we were sitting outside, like we do every night before dinner and he told me that I need to be really careful about gangsters here because they are almost always drunk and love to cause problems around Battambang. He said this because the last night of water festival, my host family took me to the wat to watch the festivities. It basically is a lot of people, fireworks, food stalls and performers. It was really cool, but it took a long time to actually get into the wat. From the second we left the car, I felt really self-conscious because people always say hi to me. It’s really embarrassing at times because I feel like a celebrity. Sometimes people make fun of me, I don’t really care, but I know my family feels protective. Well, as we were leaving, someonbe said hello to me, and it’s kind of a double edge sword because if I ignore the people who say hello, am I being a jerk? But if I say hello, I feel like a celebrity or something. So, this person said hello and I said hello back, and I realized right after I said hello that he was drunk. He said something to me in Khmer and the only thing I caught was “how many people” and the way the his friends reacted, I could tell that he made a gross comment. I was mortified because he said it, and for those who know me well, I would have said something back to him if I wasn’t horrible at the language. So, my host sister turned and said something to him and it shut him up. I was really embarrassed, but I was so glad that my sister stood up for me when I simply couldn’t. So, Huck brought this up because he was a “gangster” and I need to steer clear of those people.

For those who keep asking what I need, I have something that I need, desperately. My ipod broke last week and I had to restore it, but I lost all 4,500 songs that I had been collecting after the past 2 years. I was pretty upset about it, but those of you who can and want to, I have my laptop, so, I can take CDs and put them on my laptop and then on my ipod. I would greatly appreciate it, because I am lost without my ipod. I never realized how depended I am on it.

I decided that I will start teaching a pronunciation class at the university soon just because I feel like I will never start teaching at Net Yong. I decided that I have to finish the interviews before I start teaching (because grouping the students is really the only way to get anything accomplished in a class of 60-70 students...) But when class gets canceled all the time, it's really hard to get anywhere with the interviews. I only had one class last week because of the water festival during the week and then my class on Friday morning was canceled because the students had to participate in a funeral. Class is canceled again tomorrow because it is Independence day. There are so many holidays here. I think by teaching at the University, I will have a little more control over my schedule. The inconsistency is the killer. It's strange to think that I am a teacher, but teaching at a university? Crazy. Just call me professor from now on, thanks....

Hope all is well with everyone from home! Miss you all!

The thoughts and opinions expressed in this blog are mine alone and do not reflect the thoughts and opinions of the Peace Corps or the US government.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A long-winded post!

Hello family and friends!

I have officially been in Battambang for one month and Thursday marks the 100th day since I left the U.S. The time is really flying here!

This is going to be a long one because I haven’t really updated everyone in a while, so just bear with me. The first part will be all about school and then my family/community. So for those of you that think I am “long winded” (Jenna Best), feel free to skip any part of this that gets boring. I know that some enjoy the details, so I will go into detail.

School- I have been observing for about 4 weeks now. I came up with my schedule last week and I decided to teach three 11th grade classes (B,C and D) and one 10th grade class (Q). The way that it works here is students are placed into classes of about 60-70 students A-S based on their test scores from the previous year. So, the 11th grade classes would be our idea of “honors” class and my 10th grade class would be remedial level. I wanted to work with the older, more accelerated students so that we can do more advanced projects and assignments. The 10th grade class is going to be tough because they don’t have that great of a foundation, but it will be a challenge and they deserve the chance. There are three periods a day, 7:00-9:00, 9:00-11:00 and then 2:00-4:00. They will have English twice a week. My classes have upwards of 65 students, and the largest class has 70 students. Here is my schedule:

Monday- 9:00-11:00 with 11C
Tuesday- 7:00-9:00 with 10Q, 9:00-11:00 with 11D, 2:00-4:00 with 11C
Wednesday- 9:00-11:00 with 10Q, 2:00-4:00 with 11B
Thursday- 9:00-11:00 with 11D
Friday- 7:00-9:00 with 11B

I tried to avoid the classes starting at 7:00 because the flag ceremony starts every morning at 7:00 and lasts for about 30 minutes. I didn’t want that to cut into my classes, so I only have two 7:00 classes. We also get 3 hours for lunch, which is too long. I usually just nap.

I will be coteaching with two Khmer teachers. My 11th grade classes will be taught with a man called Sem Sopheap (Sopheap being our idea of a first name, since they put the surname first.) So, Sopheap was delegated by the school director to look out for me and show me the ropes. He is pretty good at English as is super stoked about teaching with me. The other teacher is called Prajenda for 10Q. She is in her 30’s and has three children, one goes to the high school and the youngest is 3 years old. She is very strict and will be great to teach with.

I began interviewing each student individually this week. The interview will be very important for a few reasons. First, I want to meet each student that I will be teaching individually and have a chance to get to know them better. There are a few students that I have been able to talk to previously, but I’m really glad that I have the chance to meet them personally. The students come out with some really personal stuff and it really helps me get a feel for what I am up against. For instance, I was able to find out that a few of my students live at the Buddhist temple with the monks while their parents live in different provinces. It’s really heartbreaking to hear, but they are very determined to continue their studies and to change the course of their lives and help their families out. There was another student, who speaks very, very well, who told me that he wants to be a doctor but his family is so poor that he won’t be able to become a doctor. This is where I will come in soon enough because there are a lot of opportunities for this boy, he just doesn’t know it yet. One really big reason why I am doing these interviews is to see their level of English. With a class of 70 students, it’s not difficult to see that there are some students that are really advanced and some that need more help. My plan is to place them into 8-10 groups in the class so we can work to each of the groups’ needs. Those students that are shy or aren’t as good at English, we can help them in many ways. We just wouldn’t get anything done with a class of 70 students that work all together. I also want to learn about the school from this sample group of students. I will talk to well over 200 students and I think that what they say will be pretty indicative of the students at the school. I will be starting secondary projects in a few months, and I want to work with all of the students, not just the ones in my class. So, if I am able to learn what the majority of students like to do here (soccer is pretty common), I will have a better idea of what a good secondary project will be.

My first project is to clean up the library. I will be taking before and after pictures because there is a lot of work to be done there. I want to establish “office hours” in the library, so all of the students know where I will be if they want to come and learn, talk or just hang out. I will be in the library every class that I’m not teaching. There is a lot of potential in there. There are not a lot of books at all, but everything is really unorganized and cramped, so I will be spending a lot of time in there organizing the books and making it much more welcoming to the students. There are two rooms- one is basically storage and the other is a actually used as a study hall. When I asked the vice director, she said that someone can get in there to clean up and get rid of the books that haven’t been in use for a long time. I was able to get a book from Peace Corps about the proper management and maintenance of a library. We will definitely need some donations later, but right now, I want to figure what we actually have and what we need.

I met with the vice director last week and then this week I had a meeting with Peace Corps staff and my director and everything seems to be good. It was great to have the staff come in to make sure that there wasn’t any miscommunication about anything. They understand that there are new techniques that I will use in the classroom that Khmer teachers don’t use, but my coteachers and school director seem to trust me. It’s really fun to have those meetings and be really professional and proper. The Embassy came to visit, just to see how Peace Corps Volunteers are doing and to learn about schools in Cambodia. It was cool to see the students look at me a little different after that.

Next week is the water festival and school will be cancelled all week, so that means I won’t be able to start teaching until the week after, or the one after that, depending on the interviews. I want to make sure that I have all of the interviews completed before I start teaching because the structure will be different. I will start lesson planning with my coteachers after the water festival. We need to come with rules and establish a routine. I have a master plan and it is going really well so far. During my meeting with the vice director, I told her that I really want to emphasize that my students do their own work because it only hurts them to cheat. She asked me if I was going to hit them if I caught them cheating. I said, “No, I won’t. They will just get zeroes.” Let’s just hope that they don’t test the rule, because I will have no problem making an example of the students that test it.

The students are so cool. The more that I am here, I really grow to like them more and more, and I haven’t even started teaching. They are so respectful and eager to learn. It’s really fun to walk around the school and hear the students say “Hello, cher”. In Cambodia, everyone refers to someone by their title. So, for me, I am “net crew”, which is what the woman who make my lunch everyday call me. But for the English teachers, it’s teacher and the students cut it down to “cher” (not said like Cher, the singer…)

I wrestled with the idea for a while, but I decided that one of the new things that we will do is to give the class American names. I know that I need to come up with a lot, but I already have a pretty solid list. I realized that many of my students want to work for western companies or Ngos, so if they get used to saying American names and have an American name themselves, it will be better for them. Plus, it’s just really fun to have Shirley Temple in the class. I met a boy yesterday who is studying at the teacher trainer college and he introduced himself as James Bond. It was the deal maker because he clearly is used to referring to himself as James Bond, so I think it will be good for my students as well. Plus, learning 260 Khmer names is going to be really tough on me. Like I said, I have already made a pretty good list, but it’s tough to not repeat first names, because I don’t want to confuse them, so I can only have 4 Johns (one for each of the classes I am teaching). So, if anyone has any recommendations for names, PLEASE leave them in the comments section. Just to clear the air early on, none of my students will be Dick Cheney or Joe Biden (especially Dick Cheney…). I am trying to keep it as non-political as possible.

Family/Community- My family is so cool. It’s really great because in Takeo, my family was always so concerned about me and every time I got onto my bike, I was bombarded with a bunch of questions in Khmer- where are you going? When will you be home? Who are you going with? And a few times when I came home past 5:00, my host parents called my LCF to see where I was. Of course my family now gets concerned, but I have my own life. They are really busy with their tailoring shop, so I try to stay out of their way. I just found out that my mom is internationally known for her work. Sweet! She is in the process of making me teaching shirts, but her expertise is in wedding clothes. Some of the outfits that they make are unreal; they are so beautiful and detailed. It is common for brides to change as many as 10 times at their weddings. Speaking of which, wedding season is coming up soon, so hopefully I will be able to go to some!

It’s really fun to feel like you are integrating a little more. I am beginning to feel very comfortable here and I have established a routine. I have a lot of fun with my family too. My host nephew, Chun Lai is still scared to death of me, but I think that he is coming around. I may start buying stuff for him to buy his love.

I went to my host aunt’s 71st birthday party. Of my 4 host grandparents, 3 were Chinese, so my family is very in touch with their Chinese roots. At this birthday party, we ate vegetarian Chinese food- spring rolls with peanut dipping sauce and grilled mushrooms and kebab sticks with jackfruit and carrots. It was unreal, I ate so much. I was able to meet a lot of host cousins, who are around my age and most study English. They made me feel so comfortable. Four out of my 6 host siblings are married with kids, so they are pretty busy, but they always go out of their way to make sure that I feel comfortable because I feel like a total moron about 90% of the time here, and it shows. Everyone gets a good laugh and since I don’t really get embarrassed, I don’t get upset. There are just little things that don’t come natural. Like, how was I supposed to know that you use the little stick that the mushrooms came on to pick up the jackfruit and carrot combination? Well, I didn’t, but they all showed me how to do it and when I was struggling, they appreciated my attempts, but laughed none the less.

After dinner we sane “Happy Birsday” which was much different here. Right before we started, the birthday girl called me to stand next to her while everyone clapped and sang. She blew out the candles and then everyone commented on how I am so much taller than she is. We went outside and talked and hung out. It really hit me how no matter where you are in the world, whatever the local language is, whatever the local customs are, family gatherings are so universal. You eat, laugh and hang out. It made me miss my family, but I felt at home. I also was so proud of my family (my real-life, American family) because everyone always made the foreign exchange students or various friends feel so welcome and at home. I think that it’s a cycle- my family was always so welcoming to guests, and now I find a family that is so welcoming to me. It really means a lot and you don’t realize until you are the weird person from another country who always sweats, can’t really speak and has trouble eating, although my 3 year old host nephew has it down….

Last night I was talking to my host brother Huck (who is a life saver) while we were watching TV and he was talking about his family, because it’s really confusing to figure out who is married, etc. I found out that my host aunt who had just turned 71 lives with her niece and her family. Huck told me that during the Pol Pot regime (which is how many Khmer people refer to the Khmer Rogue) she lost all 5 of her children and her husband. She carries around such a heavy burden that I will never, ever understand. Stories like hers are common, but everyone that was born before 1979 has s tory. My host brother Manlee was telling me about how durin Pol Pot, there was no rice, so he would trap rats, kill them and eat them and he was seven. A lot of that was probably lost in translation, but you don’t have to be fluent to get the gist sometimes.

Sorry for the horrible stories, but there are sometimes that I get really frustrated with the state of this country but when I hear these stories, it’s a miracle that the country isn’t in worse shape. It’s the horribly tragic truth of living here and it’s something that I will never understand, although I try.

Well, I miss everyone so much! I will be posting some pictures soon of my room, house, family, and city. I am getting an expensive dinner paid for by Peace Corps! I am so excited!

This blog does not reflect the U.S. government or the Peace Corps. This entry reflects my thoughts, beliefs and opinions alone.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

From Sister Kea!

This morning class was canceled again, so I thought that I would take the time to update everyone on what has been happening….

I have been in Battambang for almost three weeks and I can feel myself falling into a schedule, which I am very thankful for. After swear in, we sort of venture off on our own and have to figure stuff out, which has been very exciting, but also very awkward. Here is what my daily schedule looks like: (sorry for the disorganization, but I am just typing whatever comes to my mind…)

I wake up at 6, shower and eat oatmeal in my room. I bought some brown sugar and cinnamon at the drink shop that has a lot of western food, so I add that to my oatmeal. I usually throw in some bananas, which are 25 cents for about 12, so it’s a cheap and healthy breakfast. I leave my house at 6:45 and get to school at about 6:50. The flag ceremony starts at 7:00, but because of the amount of rain water at the school, we have been skipping that. Whenever it rains, there is an enormous amount of rain water that collects around the school, it’s actually really gross. Some classes were canceled on Monday because the first floor of most of the buildings (there are 5 main buildings and a few more in the back) were flooded. The class that I was observing was on the third floor, so I was still able to observe. There are three periods at my school, from 7:00-9:00, 9:00-11:00 and then 2:00-4:00. So I rotate observing the three English teachers. I am hoping to figure out my schedule next week and start teaching the week after that, but I am taking my time. There is no rush and I want to make sure that I do this right. It looks like I will be teaching two 10th grade classes and two 11th grade classes. Of the classes that I have observed, many of the students have asked me some awesome questions when I introduced myself to them, such as “what are your goals while you are in Cambodia?” and “what is the best way to learn a language?” It makes me really excited when the students take an interest into learning English and I can’t wait to start teaching them. In between the morning and afternoon classes, I eat lunch at the school canteen. I chose my spot to eat at everyday. There is an older woman and her two daughters who run the stand. I usually get noodles and eggs and have become a regular. Part of the difficulty in moving into a new place as an American, especially in such a big place like Battambang, people try to rip you off (I would too if roles were reversed). I am also trying really hard to make a few really great connections, so I decided to eat lunch there everyday. I also have my usual fruit lady, the guy I go to refill the credit on my phone, an electronics store I buy things from and take other volunteers too as well as two women in the market- one sells fabrics and the other is a tailor. I stop by to see them as much as I can. If they become familiar with me, it will help me integrate into the community. So, back to the schedule, I eat lunch with those women and then head back to my house to wash some clothes, shower, read or pick up my laptop to head to the University to get internet. After observing the 2:00-4:00 class, I head back home and write in my journal and write a letter to Maura in the journal and hang out with my family. We usually eat dinner around 7:00 and watch tv together (either popular Khmer shows, the news, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, the Amazing race or last night we watched some competition from the U.S. from 2001 where huge men smash cinder blocks, it’s pretty funny to see my family react to that….) I head to bed around 8 and take my third shower of the day, read and then head to bed. It sounds like a really boring schedule, but it is the schedule that I decided would fit me the best. There are many curveballs that are thrown into the schedule though. Such as the fact that there is some sort of exam for the teachers today and tomorrow, so classes were canceled today. So, I did a little laundry and got internet. I will probably go to the market a little later and some little stuff to add to my room, or just walk around and try to meet people or talk to those few people that I know. Instead of getting upset about these curveballs, I think the best way to handle it is simply roll with the punches and make the best of the situation. I will try to get as many errands done today as I can.

I have had many “Peace Corps moments” in the past two and a half weeks. For instance, I was having one of those days where I was second-guessing my presence here, in the sense of “do I have what it takes to make a difference?” because I felt like I haven’t done anything. I was sitting in a tenth grade class that I won’t be able to teach, but went anyways to try to meet the students. I was sitting there contemplating this when a boy named Thon turns around and strikes up a conversation. Most of the students at the school are either super confused why I am even there or too shy to say anything, so this kid strikes up a conversation. After talking for a few minutes, I find out that he has 5 siblings and is from Svay Rieng and lives in the pagoda with his siblings and has been there for 8 years. He also said that he works on English with one of the monks. He told me that I observed one of his friend’s classes and he said that he was so excited that I came to his class because he thinks speaking with foreigners is really important. He has a friend that as able to talk to a foreigner and his pronunciation improved so much, and that’s what he wants. When I asked him what he wanted to do for a living, he told me that he wants to work for an NGO, which I didn’t expect. When I asked him which one, he said that he wants to work for one that helps women and children who are victims of domestic abuse. He really brought me back to reality and I remembered why I am here.

In addition, I have been upset at how little Khmer I have been using. I had an epiphany the other night when my cousin (who calls me sister Kea, it’s really cute) was trying to speak Khmer with my and I was too shy. Well, when I tell my students that they shouldn’t be shy about speaking English, I am a huge hypocrite because I am shy about my Khmer. So, I decided to become shameless about using Khmer and it has been great. Darlene and I went to the market to buy some fruit, but then we realized that we don’t know how much we should be paying, so we went to visit our tailor friends (the two women who work next to each other, one is a tailor and one sells the fabric). We talked for about 5 minutes about how much we should be spending. They don’t speak any English and loved that we came to them for advice. We went back and talked to the fruit lady (“our fruit lady” as we call her now). Also, my host mom is really scared that I am unhappy and that I don’t like the food. While I was journaling last night, I had a 20 minute conversation with her last night about my family and America. We also talked about how happy I am here. I think that she feels a lot better because she has been stressed out about it.

Yesterday was a really great day at school. I went to my usual ladies to eat lunch (the spot had to be moved up near the buildings because the back of the school is literally underwater). When I walked up, they told me (in Khmer, of course) that I am going to be so unhappy because she didn’t have noodles today! Would rice be ok? I go there not because she is the world’s greatest cook, although the food is good, but I go there because I want it to be part of my schedule. I guess I have become a regular, with a usual, which is really fun. They call me “net crew” which is Khmer for female teacher. It’s very respectful and I think that she loves the fact that the American eats there. Whenever kids walk by that she knows, she says, come eat here, sit by the American teacher. It’s really fun.

When I observed the 2:00-4:00 class, which is grade 11, one of my favorite classes that I have seen, my coteacher could only teach for an hour because he had to go to the Provincial Office of Education for a meeting. So, I stayed with the students and just talked to them. We talked about a varied of things- how old people are in America when they get married/drive, all about my family, seasons in America, what I do in my free time, why I came to Cambodia, food, the fact that I am not married and don’t have a boyfriend- they told me that they didn’t believe me that I didn’t have a boyfriend. It was really fun to informally be able to talk with these kids. We just hung out for a while and headed home. I decided that is a class that I really want to teach because I really like the students. Their English is amazing, but their desire to learn the language is what really makes me want to teach them

Keiko sent me a text today that every time we take a step forward, we take two steps back. When class was canceled today, I was pretty annoyed because I didn’t understand that today was canceled too, I thought that it was tomorrow. So, after thinking about it for a while, I decided that this is the way things are- I will never get a schedule letting me know when class will be in session. I can either get upset at everyone and be unhappy with it, or come to terms with it. I am not going to change the education system here in Cambodia and that’s not why I am here. The things that I can control are my interactions with the people here and what happens in my class, so that is where I plan on making my mark. I can set a good example, which is what I am doing, but I realized early on my limitations, and I am very glad that I did.

Sorry that the last post was really bad, but I tried to make up for it with this one. I was sad when I saw that there were no comments (that was a shocker Mom!) but I realized that when I make a really bad post, people aren’t going to comment. I hope that I made up for it on this one!

This post does not reflect the thoughts or opinions of the Peace Corps or of the United States government. It reflects my thoughts and opinions alone.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

One week down....

I have officially been in Battambang for one week and I love it here so far.

First, family life: I live with a widow and she has six children, the youngest is 23 years old and studies at the University near my house. Four of her children live with us- the oldest son, his wife and their son who is two and scared of me, two daughters and another son. The other two live near our house and are married with children. They are all very nice and don’t speak much English, which will really help me with my Khmer. My house is about one kilometer from the school, but I have to ride in the really busy and scary round-about right when you get into town. At first, I took a much longer way to get to school just to avoid that round-about, but since it was infringing on my sleeping time, I just decided to tough it out and take that way. I haven’t been hit so far, so hopefully I can keep that streak alive… just kidding, don’t start freaking out Mom… But this family is very different from my last family. Since I had three tounger sisters and a billions nieghborhood kids, I literally couldn’t leave the house without a bunch of questions- where are you going? What time will you be home? Did you eat rice yet? Now when I leave, they let me go- it’s nice to have my independence again. I also have a really nice set-up and I just can’t really wait to get into a routine.

School: This could be one of the more frustrating parts of my day. I am not a patient person by nature, but I am learning very quickly just how important it is. I will be observing for about a month before teaching. Since there are 5 teachers in my school, I spend my days observing their classes and trying to figure out which classes I want to teach. It is time consuming because it’s tricky to make the schedule that I want. I will be teaching grades 10 and 11. I am just learning to sit back and watch and let the chips fall where they may. The classes are very enjoyable though. Many Khmer students are very shy and timid, but the students at my school are much less shy then the ones in Tramkak, which is a huge relief. Also, the classes were divided between boys and girls in Tramkak, but these classes aren’t really as segregated between the genders.

I am still trying to set up my room and my host brother Huk is going to take me to buy some more stuff today. The vendors like to jack up the price when they see that I am not Khmer, so having someone from here is a huge help. I printed out a lot of pictures and hung them up on my wall, which is a fun decoration and a great reminder of home.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Quick Post

I don't have too much to report, so I will wait a few more days for another update. I wanted to let you all know my mailing address:

PCV Kealan Waldron
P.O. Box 328

My new email address is Now that I am not in training, I will have much more time to send personalized emails (I already have gotten a few!) and of course, facebook!

Thanks everyone!

This blog represents my own thoughts, views and opinions and does not reflect on the thoughts of the U.S. government or Peace Corps.

Monday, September 28, 2009

End of Tramkak, the start of BB

Well, it had been a really crazy week to say the least. But first, my laptop (yes, I found a wireless internet connection) but the letter that follows f in the alphabet is currently broken, so I will use q in it’s place, they sort of look alike anyway. I am currently in Battambanq riqht now (see how that q thinq works? Haha) but I will pick up from my last post….

My last few days in Tramkak consisted of studying and packinq. We had an oral exam for Khmer and if we didn’t pass (Novice Hiqh) we were required to take it aqain, as many times as needed. Well, I passed the test and placed on step above, in Intermediate low, which I was really proud of considerinq how poor my performance was durinq the oral exam and also that we have only been studying Khmer for 2 months, less actually, more like 7 weeks. With the weiqht of passinq the test off of my shoulders, the last two days were spent hanqinq with my family and qettinq ready to leave. Peace Corps picked up our trunks and bikes a few days before we left, so we were all sleepinq on straw mats with maybe one sheet and no pillows, it was really Peace Corps….

My last day went somethinq like this: I woke up, showered and walked to JaNise’s house, which was our typical daily activity and we walked into town and had breakfast with two of our LCFs and the lanquaqe coordinator, Dara. It was a really fun time to relax and enjoy each others company without the stress of learninq the lanquaqe or leavinq or packinq. I walked home and spent the last few hours hanqinq out with my sisters. About two weeks aqo, they all started to qet sad and would say thinqs to my in Khmer like, “Sister Kealan qoes to Battambanq, I am sad” or “I will miss sister Kealan when she lives far…” When I left, my host mom and all of my sisters were cryinq. My dad and I stayed stronq, but I was extremely sad. We took a tuk tuk into Takeo and that was that. It was a very weird feelinq, livinq with a family for 2 months that you don’t know. I still don’t really know them that well, but they took me in and dealt with my weird American activities. I will really miss them.

We had our last seminar day, which was centered around qettinq ready for swear-in and qoinq to site. We went to Phnom Penh for 2 days after that. We had a conference with our school directors, but my school flooded because of all of the rain last week, so he couldn’t come, which was a bummer. But I was able to talk to the representative from the Provincial Office of Education, which will help me in the lonq run because the POE is really important. So, I was very happy that I was able to talk to him for a few hours, since I will be in the provincial town and I plan on makinq a connection there.

After the conference, we had swear-in. The Ambassador was there to swear us in and the Minister of Education was there. They both made speeches and it was really touchinq. The Ambassador talked about the type of Americans that are sent over and she is so happy to have us in the country. She also plans to visit and see what we are doinq, which is nerve-rackinq. The Minister talked about how thankful he was that we are there. It was a special day because the day before marked the 30th anniversary of the schools reopeninq after the Khmer Rouque, which is a really important landmark for Cambodia. It was pretty symbolic, since we are all there to teach.

We were then sworn in and that was that. There was a small reception with everyone and we all went our separate ways, well until we all met up that niqht at a bar. We went and qot pizza for the 2nd niqht in a row and we all met up as a qroup. It was a really fun niqht. We all stayed in Phnom Penh an extra to qive ourselves a break and buy thinqs that may not be outside of PP. It is rare that BB doesn’t have anything, so I didn’t buy much.

Peace Corps three of us volunteers up the next morninq to take us to site. Everyone else had to take buses, but since none of us had met our new host families, they took us up to make sure that everythinq was ok. When I qot to my new house, I was really nervous, naturally. But my family is qreat. I have 6 host siblinqs and I am the younqest, which is much different from my last family. Three are married and three aren’t. My host mother is a widow and she is a tailor with two of my sisters and they work out of the house. My room is so sick; it almost doesn’t feel Peace Corps. My room is all tile and I have my own bathroom, equipped with a showerhead and western toilet. My bed is wood and absolutely beautiful. I am really close to the school, which is a total plus.

The downside of havinq a biq site is the traffic. It is nuts everywhere, but it is downriqht scary in the cities. I had to make a left turn into school yesterday and almost qot hit by a moto- I’m sure it qave the students a qreat first impression. I avoided the main road on the way home and ended up in a mud pit. This morning, I found the route I am qoinq to take. Althouqh it is twice as lonq, I would rather not fear for my life every morninq.

Life in the BB so far is sorta lonely. There isn’t much to do since school doesn’t start until Thursday. I also don’t want to do too much at one time. I went for a really lonq bike ride yesterday to qet to know the city a little better and met some really nice people by my house. The city is so larqe and the setup is not typically what we are used to, so I am qoinq to try to qet a map to learn easier and faster.

I’m sure I will have plenty of stories cominq your way from the BB real soon, but I forqot to mention somethinq that has been on my mind for a while now. When I first qot to Tramkak, I had a lot of difficulty fiqurinq out who was who in the family. In Cambodia, they use brother and sister very freely, so I was introduced to many cousins (whether they were first, second or third) and my sister would always say “my dad’s brother” when I know he wasn’t. About a month into traininq, I was eatinq dinner with my family and wonderinq why their cousin Perom was so much older than his brother and sister, he is 12 and the others are 4 and 2. Liney told me that they aren’t actually cousins, but Perom is from another province, called Kamponq Cham. His parents sent him to live with my host uncle so that he could qo to school in exchanqe for workinq in the rice patties. I was shocked at first, but then I sort of let it qo because I was qlad that he at least had a chance to qo to school, as touqh as it may be. A few weeks aqo, the country celebrated Phcum Ben, which I bloqqed about. The ENTIRE country qoes back to their hometowns, so travel is nuts. But, I was pretty shocked when Perom didn’t leave to qo home. Worse yet, when it came time for celebratinq, we qot showered and went to my cousin/uncle’s house while Perom worked in the fields. He is such a happy boy, but I could tell how sad he was. It made me really upset because there was nothinq that I could do for this kid. He was homesick but his family made a decision and he now takes on the responsibilities of a man. It just made me feel bad about all the times I complained about workinq or qoinq to school because he has sacrificed a lot to qo to school, somethinq I never really thouqht about. Sure, I know people who made a lot of sacrifices for colleqe or even hiqh school, but not qrade school. I quess it was one of the first wake up calls for me and sort of ended the honeymoon phase and forced me to realize that realities of this country and the world. It may not seem that drastic, but this kid was so happy and hard workinq that it broke my heart to see him alone on such an important holiday.

Best wishes to all and I hope everyone is doinq well!!

This bloq represents my opinions alone and does not express the opinions or beliefs of the United States Qovernment or the Peace Corps.

Friday, September 18, 2009

My last training post!

Well, training is winding down, so I thought that I would take the time to fill everyone in on what is happening here…. Oh, and sorry for the obnoxiously large text in my last post, I don’t know how that happened….

The past week has consisted of training as usual, but Keiko, JaNise and I did a community project. We went to the health center in town and got abate, which is a chemical that you put into standing water to kill mosquitoes. We bagged the abate and made a handout in Khmer with information on mosquito borne-illness, how to prevent getting bit and mosquito reproduction and how to use abate. We walked around the market and handed out the abate and the handout. It was a lot of fun to do something that was actually Peace Corps because so much of what we do so far consists of being together in a room and talking about how to do community activities, if that even makes sense. We were able to meet a lot of people at the market, which was such a great time. Since most people do not have refrigeration, they make multiple trips to the market everyday, so going to the market is the best place to meet people.

Right now, Cambodia is celebrating Pchum Ben, which is like a 15 day Thanksgiving festival. All of the LCFs (our language instructors) went home to their hometowns to be with family. JaNise and I went to the pagoda last week to celebrate with my host grandma and host sister. We walked into the pagoda and offered food to the monks, who sit in two lines and eat together. We lit some incense (which symbolized Buddha, health and family) and gave about 25 cents to the emcee of the day for a blessing, I am assume it was for us and our families. Pchum Ben’s last two days are a really big deal, so traffic, which is already nuts here, is even more nuts. People are travelling all over the country to be with family. There will be a feast tomorrow night with my host family. I am pretty excited about it.

As for the traffic, my friend Terry did his community project on traffic in Cambodia, and I wanted to fill you in on some stats he told me:
-Cambodia has the highest percent of accidents in all of Asia
-5 people die everyday in Cambodia from traffic accidents
-1 person dies every month in the town that we are living in (this month has been much higher, since 5 were killed last week alone and one outside my house this morning)
It is a really big issue here because the country is so poor. Sorry if this is a sad one, but I wanted this to be a segway into the next topic, which is basically how the novelty has worn off and I am now an actual volunteer and my focus is shifting to preparing myself to actually doing work to improve this country. Some of the things that we will be tackling are pretty huge issues and it is going to be a tough two years, because our work is cut out for us. I know what I want to work on, it is just going to be tough to do it. For instance, we will all be doing work with HIV/AIDS prevention, since 1% of Cambodians are living with AIDS, which is the highest in South East Asia. Having said that, there are some really positive factors of being here. For instance, when I came into my room the other day and my host sister Liney was reaching through my window to borrow some baby powder and I straight up caught her red handed. I was annoyed because we here in sessions all the time that Khmer people always share and it is difficult to draw the line between mine and yours. Then, my other sister wanted to use my hair brush, when her brush was right there. I was really annoyed and left the house and met up with Keiko at the gas station. I came to the realization about an hour later that I shouldn’t be so quick to jump to get mad about stuff like that. I was a younger sister and I pulled acts like that all the time growing up. I would steal my sister Katie’s stuff ALL THE TIME. Why did I steal it and not just ask? I honestly don’t know the reason for stealing her things, but I do know that I thought her stuff was cooler and I wanted it. I also knew that no matter how many times I would do it, she would always forgive me and we would move on. So, maybe it was a good thing that my sisters feel comfortable enough with me to talk my stuff, because if they didn’t, and they stole from the American and got caught, it would be a big deal. This probably doesn’t make sense to anyone, but I am just trying to fill you in on some of the weird things that happen when you are an American living in a developing country.

I still don’t have a host family in Battambang, but there are two really good options and Peace Corps will sort it out soon. I take my final language exam on Tuesday, move out of my host family’s house on Wednesday and swear in on Friday and leave for Battambang on Saturday. It is pretty crazy, but I am excited to get to site and start being an actual volunteer