Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I am officially with my host family! I am in the town of Tramkok in the province of Takeo, about 10 km from the hub site where we were all week. We had a day of training which consisted of getting more shots, getting supplies from the market (including teaching skirts and shirts), a language lesson and a bike lesson. We were taught the day before about things that weren’t too appealing- doing laundry (which is all done by hand) and going to the bathroom in a whole in the ground without toilet paper. I will leave it at that. But yesterday, as we were walking up to training, one of the other volunteers, who is one of the first people that I became friends with, needed to go home because his father passed away. It was incredibly sad and we were trying to be as supportive as we could have been, but he handled himself very well. We headed back to Phnom Penh and in in transition back to Georgia right now. He will be back in about 2 weeks, but please keep him and his family in your prayers. That was his only request. I know this is a sad topic, but it is something that we all fear and my heart goes out to him that it happened.
After training, we packed a backpack full of things to get us through the week, locked up our other belongings and set off for our towns. I lucked out and got placed with the best language teacher, Kim Kong, and I am close to a few friends. There are three other people in my language cluster, one boy and two other girls. The entire Tramkok group (the others went to Traing, which is more rural) went to a wat in town. When we walked into the wat, the monks performed a blessing ceremony for us. We had no idea what they were saying, but they the point of the ceremony was to offer protection for our time in Tramkok. It was my first experience in a wat and it was beautiful. There was a group of older men who began a chant and then the monks took over the chant and blessed us with water (much like what the prients does during lent) and threw flower petals and candy at us. It really sounds strange, but it was a great welcome, although we had no idea what they were saying. We were on our knees and offered incense to them when they were done.
After the ceremony, the police chief welcomed us as honored guests to the town. Then came the fun: the host family announcement. One by one, they called our names and then called our host family name and we looked around to see who it was. I was towards the end and was soooo relieved when a woman stood up who was around 35 years old. She brought her 4 year old daughter with her and her husband. I said that it was going to be super awkward, but it was not nearly as weird as I thought it was going to be. From the little Khmer that I have learned, I found out that they have 3 daughters- 3 years old, 7 years old and 12 years old. Those numbers a little deceiving because in Khmer culture, the children all turn one year older on New Years, not their birthdays. After the ceremony, we were all dropped off at our houses. I met the other girls and they set me up in my room. We chit chatted (if you can call my very broken Khmer and a lot of motioning chit chatting) and then ate dinner. The 12 year old is learning English in school and is actually very good, so between the two of us, we are able to get the point across. My host mother’s sister lives right next door and she has 3 children- a boy around 11, a girl around 4 and a boy around 3. Their grandpa lives on the same plot of land- he stopped by last night and today to check up on the American. A few people that I do not know have come by to get a look at me. Where ever we go, there are always a bunch of people who gather round to see us. They observe everything and if they know how to say anything in English, they do. We ate dinner, watched a little tv, I showered and then went to my room. I talked to my friend Jacqueline, who is in Traing, last night. She has the exact opposite situation as me and referred to her situation as “real Peace Corps in the 60s.” She has no electricity- I was talking to her while a fane was blowing on me. She has no bed- clearly I have one. There were chickens running around her “room”, while she was sitting on a mat on the floor that doubled as a bed. Her host family does not know any English and it seemed very awkward. When I told her that I am fairly confident that I have the best host situation of the entire group, she said that she is fairly confident that she has the worst. Needless to say, I am super happy with my set-up.
Today started with a rude awakening at 5:30 by roosters. I never realized that roosters don’t actually sound like they do in the cartoons. Instead of saying “cock-a-doodle-do” it sounds more like “cock-a-doodle-crook””, and it really is not pleasant. I showered (showering is more like pouring water from a big basin over yourself in the bathroom outside”) and walked into town to meet up with Kim Kong and my group. By the way, the shower is really not as bad as it sounds. The thing that cracks me up is there is a gecko that lives in the bathroom, which I am thankful for because he eats all of the bugs. The firs time I showered, he sorta scared me because he was staring at me showering. I felt like I was in one of those Geiko commercials.
I will update later because I need to run to dinner and if I am not home by a certain time, it really does not reflect well on myself.
The thoughts and opinions in this post are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of the Peace Corps or the U.S. goverrnment.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Cambodia so far

I just spent the past half hour writing out an awesome post, but Mozilla shut down and now I have to restart it. I guess that is the price you pay for paying around 10 cents a minute for internet. We are in the Takeo province right now, which is about 2 hours from Phnom Penh. Our time is Phnom Penh was really short lived, since we got there at 11 on Friday night and left Saturday afternoon. From what I have seen so far of this country, the people are unbelievably warm and welcoming and the landscape is unlike anything that I have seen. Whenever we are walking to or from training, we stop for a second and just take in just how unreal this experience is.

To pick up from my last blog, we went to the guest house after getting in from Bangkok. Keiko and I were too tired to do anything, so we just went to sleep. We were so thrown off and ended up walking up at 4 and convinced ourselves to go back to bed until 6. At breakfast that morning, we were approached by everyone and we really had no problem rubbing in how great Bangkok is. We missed out on the first day in Cambodia, but I am pretty sure we got the better end of the deal.

We spent that day at our first day of orientation, which consisted of getting shots, our cell phones, taking pictures, etc. The orientation ended with the Undersecretary for the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports welcoming us to the country. It was a Saturday and the three representatives took time out of their weekend to meet with us, which was a great honor for us.
After the session with the MOEYS, we got into the vans and made the trip to Takeo. We are right in the middle of town and we are in walking distance to everything. Just to give you a little insight into Cambodian lifestyle, almost everyone has a bike or moto, either brand new or looks like it is from the 80s. Needless to say, traffic is INSANE!

The food is unbelievable. I have been getting a coconut a day, which is so refreshing and tasty. There also are fruit smoothies, called tuk a luks. We drink a lot of those. Just to give you an idea of how poor this country is, we went out to dinner our first night in Takeo with our Khmer instructors to dinner a few blocks away from our guest house, which seems more like a hostel than a hotel. My dinner was $2,which included a soup, veggie dish and fish dish, plus bananas for dessert and a Sprite. When we asked Kim Kong, one of our instructors, he told us that this was a pricey meal. We spend around we spent $1.25 this morning for breakfast and had more than our fill. The food is very different and not what I was expecting. Everything is really hot and there is not such thing as breakfast food. We ate chicken porridge for breakfast the first day. Another suprise is how much they put cilantro and mint in the dishes. We are trying to learn portion control and take it easy during our meals, but the food is so damn good, it is really difficult not to. I was suprised to find that cilantro and mint are in many of the dishes here.

The next 9 weeks will start tomorrow with our departure for the two towns in the province of Takeo, which is pronounced ta kay o. We will be meeting our host families tomorrow and begin living with them tomorrow night. We are all really nervous about this because we only know a few things to say. We know how to say hello, jim rap sua. My name translates to kim yon chimua Kealan and how are you is Gneck soke sa bye tay. The only other thing I know how to say is I am from America, kim yon mock bee Americk. Besides that, there will be a lot of pointing, sign language and motions. The volunteers ahead of us said that it will be the most awkward thing of our lives. If it really is the most awkward thing of my life,I really scared because I have been in some really awkward situations. More on that after I meet them.

Here is what a typical day is for me over the next 9 weeks:
-530 wake up and run with the running crew- I know, I know, this is very unlike me, but it is a great way to explore the city, bond with my volunteers and just a great way to start the day
-from 530 until 8 I will be getting ready for the day, so showering, eating breakfast, maybe some laundry, who knows.
-8-12 is when we have our language courses in our cluster classes. We are divided into 2 towns and in those towns, there are 4 groups, which are our cluster groups. There will be 3 to 4 of us
-12-1 is lunch
-1-5 is other culture/teaching/tradition classes
-5 go to host family and eat dinner
-530 dinner with host family and gates lock, so I am not allowed to leave
-730 ish is time for bed. The time before bed will be time with my family, time to read and write in my journal and general alone time.

In general, I am so happy. I called home last night and talked to my mom and Maura. I was bummed my dad wasn't there, but I was so happy to touch base. Keiko and I were talking about how great it is to call home and not stop talking about how this is the best experience and we are so happy. The group is really fun and we are getting along really well.

Well, I am going to head to dinner at the only Western place in the city- a burger place, so typical. We are going to be ultra American and drink some beers and play music in the courtyard at the guest house. There are plenty of stories, but now that I am a teacher, this 7 cents a minute for internet is going to get to me. I will tell all these stories once things settle down, because these days are jam packed, physically and emotionally.

I don't have much internet access, so please pass the link onto your family members and such. It is really difficult to send emails because the internet is so slow and the computers all are teeming with viruses. I enjoy the comments so much, so please keep them coming!

This blog purely reflects my own thoughts and opinions and does not reflect the thoughts and opinions of the Peace Corps or the U.S. government

Friday, July 24, 2009

Unexpected Trip to Bangkok

My first post is going to consist of the past 4 days rolled into one, so stay with me. It is always confusing when you travel such a long way because the days tend to blend together, but I will do my best to capture the past few days.
I flew from Chicago to San Francisco on Tuesday morning and landed in the afternoon and headed to our hotel for staging. There were 45 of us present that first day, but one boy left halfway through, or at least that is what someone said. No one can actually remember what this kid looked like, but that is the word on the street. Staging is going to be boring to try to describe, so, basically, we all met in a conference room and had some ice breakers. We all got to know each other a little better and talked about days ahead of us. I went out to dinner that night with a bunch of kids in the Japanese area of the city. We were completely whiped out and I headed to bed around 10:00. When my roommate for the hotels came into the room, we ended up having pillow talk (Leah, don't think that you have been replaced, but I need someone to fill that void in my life). Her name is Keiko and she is from Seattle and went to University of Washington.
We woke up bright and early the next morning and went to the airport. We left at 1:35 for Tokyo, which was a ten hour flight. We were broken up into five groups based on our last names. So, in true end of the alphabet fashion, the T-Z's were all in the front of the plane sitting next to Japanese people who didn't know English. I am usually really good at sleeping on planes, but I couldn't, even though I took two sleeping pills. We had a few hours in Tokyo before we took off for Bangkok. I was out like a light before we took off and slept most of the flight. We got to Thailand around 12:30 am on Friday and went to a really sweet hotel for a few hours to get some rest. We left the airport at 5:30 for our flight. While we were attempting to check in, the ticket agent told us that Group 5 was all on the stand-by list because the flight was overbooked. After not getting on the flight and having 10 hours in Thailand, the group of nine of us headed into the city. We were not upset that we were left behind; quite the opposite, we had an awesome day. We went to the Golden Palace and saw the Emerald Buddha. We split into two groups because some people wanted to go on a tour and the others didn't. Keiko, Jacqueline (originally from Denver and went to USC) and Philip (who has a really thick southern accent) walked around the palace and the grounds. We all agreed that taking pictures was a disservice to how unreal the grounds were. The architecture was beautiful and the decoration was so intricate, it was really a great trip for us. Jacqueline and I had to rent clothing because her shoulders weren't covered and my ankles were showing.
After the Palace and temple. we walked across the stree to get some lunch. We had some really great Thai food and shared some laughs. We were all really excited that we were able to bond with each other because it is a really awkward experience to meet total strangers and travel to 4 different countries with them in 2 days. We were able to get to know each other and we all agreed that the kids who got left behind actually had a much better time. We walked around the city and looked at all of the monks going about their daily activities. Jacqueline, Keiko, Phil, RT and I all bought Ray Bans for 150 baht (which is $5) and they look pretty good. Beats Canal Street in New York.
The rest of the group spent the day with the current volunteers in Phnom Penh. We really had no idea what the plans were, but we will most likely stick to the original plan and head to Takeo for the beginning of training. Although we missed the first day in Cambodia, we all really wanted to see Bangkok and it will be 6 months before we can even leave Cambodia. Traveling has been a little rough on all of us, but our excitement to get to Cambodia and start language training and experiencing their culture is what is keeping us going.
Jacqueline said that she is going to help me become a better blogger, so I can guarantee more pictures and such next time. I am uploading my pictures onto facebook and snapfish right now, but it is taking so damn long. Send this link to anyone and please leave messages!

This blog purely reflects my own thoughts and opinions and does not reflect the thoughts and opinions of the Peace Corps or the U.S. government