Wednesday, August 26, 2009

And the province is........

.... Battambang! My permanent site is in Battambang, which is in the northwest of the country. Here are a few facts about my placement:
1. I will be in Battambang town, which is the second largest city in Cambodia
2. The province has the highest amount of landmines in the country.
3. I will be living with the brother and sister-in-law of one of the LCFs, they are in their mid-50s and are retired with three daughters.
4. There are a lot of Western restaurants in the town and I will have electricity.
5. I am about 170 miles to Phnom Penh (a 4 hour taxi ride, 5 hour bus ride) and 90 miles to Siem Reap (about 3 hour bus trip).
6. I will be living close to another volunteer (literally across the street)
7. The market is less than 1,000 meters from my house, as is the school I will be teaching at.
8. From what I have heard/read, the region is pretty famous for it's fruit, it is amazing, I guess.

I have to go because other people want to check their emails, but I wanted to let you know! Miss you all!!! This week consists of being in Phnom Penh, visiting my new family in Battambang and back to Phnom Penh for a Khmer Rouge official tribunal (which will be horribly sad....)

This blog does not reflect the thoughts or opinions of the US government or the Peace Corps. This blog reflects my thoughts only.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Hello everyone!

Sorry that it has been so long since my last post, but things in Cambodia have been pretty crazy. Picking up where I left off.....

We visited Whitney in Pursat town. There was a group of us that took a ramourt (the best way to describe it is a motorcycle that pulls a big flatbed truck) There were about ten of us. The tricky part about traveling in Cambodia is that there are hardly any fixed prices, so travel isn’t just getting on a bus and that’s that. You need to fight for it. We laugh because that’s how eating is too. To eat anything, you need to cook it thoroughly enough, soak it in bleach or find something that can be peeled. That is how travel is. We met at the Tela at 6:00 am and spent at least 20 minutes arguing with the tuk tuk drivers because we refused to spend more than one dollar to get into Takeo. We finally got on a ramourt for 2,000 riehl, about 50 cents and went into Takeo. For the record, they use dollars and riehl in Cambodia, so either works. As we are on our ramourt, we picked up or dropped off many people along the way, so it took a little longer than usual to get into town. We met the Traing group at the Tela in Takeo and negotiated bus prices and found one for 5,000 riehl per person. The group split up and we headed off to Phnom Penh. We started out with 9 Americans and our driver, but Khmer drivers will go to great lengths to fit as many people as possible in the car. We picked up 5 or 6 more people, so there were 14 of us in a 9 passenger van. But that really wasn’t even bad at all- one group had 38 people in one bus, 8 were on the roof. When we finally made it to Phnom Penh, we split off and Jessica, Keiko and I negotiated a tuk tuk to the bus station. Our driver dropped us off at the wrong place, so we had to get another one. When we finally got to the bus station, we bought our tickets for $7, which we found out was way to much, but we didn’t know how to negotiate that because there was no way for us to prove that it was too much. If a fruit vendor pulls that, we just walk to the next stall, but when we have to take a bus to get to where we are going, we sort of have to deal with it. It was 9:30 when we bought our tickets for the 11:00 bus. We wanted a little time to walk around the big city- we ended up at a KFC and it was unreal. All the meat here is full of bones, so half of dinner is spent pulling bones out of my mouth because that is how you do it. If you try to remove the bones beforehand, it is weird. The boneless chicken sandwiches and fries were out of this world, even though it was 10:00. When we walked back to the bus station, the bus was basically waiting for us and we got front row. The trip was about 3 and a half hours and it was so great to see the north. We have been in the south for so long that we were eager to see what the rest of the country is like.
We met up with Whitney and Bri (another K2). Bri had two K3s coming to visit, but since her site is so far, they stayed with us at the guest house in Pursat town. We checked into the room (it was $5 per night and actually had a shower head and a sit down toilet, even though it didn’t flush!) We walked to the market and went to the Chinese drink shop and bought pasta and the makings for sauce (although the sauce was more Khmer than Italian). Whitney is friends with a girl who works for an Australian NGO (non-governmental organization) and lives at her own house with a kitchen. We made garlic bread and pasta- it may have been the worst pasta in America, but it tasted oh so good. We were so happy to just hang out with Whitney, Bri and Dani (the Australian) and just talk about what to expect in the first year. They helped us gain a lot of insight as to what we should say in our interviews for our site placement (which I will talk about later...)
We woke up the next morning, got breakfast and took a tuk tuk 40 minutes to a floating village in Pursat. We hired a man to give us a little one hour tour on his boat. It was pretty crazy to see some of the things- they had a floating gas station, one family was “moving” which meant that they pulled their house by boat to another place. It was incredibly sad to see because there were so many children there, but they have nothing to do. The water is so polluted and there is no where for them to run around and play. Their social interaction consisted of waving to us and saying hello. This village also has one of the biggest crime rates in the country because there is nowhere for people to retreat to. All in all, it was a very interesting aspect of Khmer culture to see.
That night, we went to dinner at a restaurant pretty close to the guest house. We had a good time just laughing and hanging out. It was enjoyable for all of us to have a break from training and I had to remind myself that we weren’t in America because it was the first time that we didn’t have to really guard what we were saying and how we were acting.
The next morning, we woke up at 5:30 and bought our tickets for the trip back to Phnom Penh. All of the K2s made plans to head back into PP (as we call it) to spend a little time there. Whitney knows a lot about PP, so when she told us about the place where she gets massages, we were all over it. First, we got pizza and it was so good. Cheese doesn’t really exist in Cambodia because refrigeration doesn’t really exist, so having cheese was unreal. We took our time eating our pizzas and enjoyed every bite. After pizza, Keiko, Jessica andI took a tuk tuk to the spa Whitney told us about. We all opted for the hour long massages and it was worth the $12 we spent. We all decided that when we swear-in as volunteers, we are going to treat ourselves to a spa day (which will be less than $40).
When we left the spa, we wanted to meet up with some other trainees to head back to site. We had trouble negotiating a tuk tuk and then a car back to Takeo. When we finally loaded 6 people plus a driver into a compact little car, we headed off for Takeo, for about a block then we were stuck in traffic for 2 hours. There was a bus in front of us and motos and tuk tuks all around- traffic jams in the US are NOTHING compared to traffic jams here. Oh another thing- traffic laws (and signs for that matter) simply do not exist here. We think that the unspoken rule is to honk when you pass someone. It is pretty rare to see street lines and way too common to see people driving on the other side of the road.
We started practicum this week and I am halfway through it. Since I do not have any formal experience with a real class, I was very nervous. I spent the past three days teaching 10th graders English for 45 minutes. I was shocked when my lessons didn’t crash and burn. I know that I have a lot to improve on, but that will come with experience. I actually really enjoy teaching. It is very different here though. Peace Corps and the K2s really prepped us on how Khmer students are, but it is very different when there are 30 Khmer students sitting in front of you. When you think of American classrooms, I think of a classroom that is buzzing with noise, students speaking with confidence, asking questions and maybe even some disagreement or argument. Well, Khmer classrooms have none of those qualities. Getting students to answer a question is a task in itself. They all know the answers and are incredibly smart, they are just so reluctant to put their hands up. They are also really cute when they answer a question because they stand up to address you. Just a quick note: Cambodia is all about titles. In the U.S., we refer to people as Mr., Mrs. and sometimes Dr. Well here, everyone has a title- anyone older is bong, younger is pa-own, teacher is lo crew for men and net crew for women, etc. So while I am teaching, the students call me Teacher or Cher for short (not pronounced like Cher the singer, more like how it is spelled). They are very shy and it was rare when a student asked me to explain something to the class that he was unsure about. Those students are rare and they are usually boys- the girls are very reserved. I will just have to learn the culture and norms as I go along. I will be teaching with a co-teacher tomorrow, so we will see how that goes.
Yesterday, we had our permanent site placement interviews and I took Whitney’s advice and told the two people who interviewed me exactly what I wanted and didn’t want. They make no guarantees but I am sure that they want to place people where they are going to be happy. Basically what I told them is this:
-I want to be at a big school because secondary projects (such as sports teams) are more likely to happen because funding is not as difficult.
-I want to be able to travel the country and not be confined to my site. So, I basically do not want a rural site. I do not need a provincial town, but something like Tramkak would make me very happy.
-I enjoyed having electricity and the internet. Because the internet has become the main form of communication in the US, those people from home who want to help me will most easily be reached through the internet. That doesn’t mean that I need to have internet, but I want to be able to go somewhere close and spend an hour a week at the internet cafe.
We will see how that goes, but that is what I told them. The rest of this week consists of finishing up student teaching. Next week is the mack daddy of all weeks- we are traveling to Takeo on Tuesday for an overnight seminar until Wednesday. We will spend Wednesday night with our host families and then we will head out to PP to meet with our co-teachers and then visit our permanent sites. That trip will take us into week 6, which is nuts to think about. I will be blogging once I found out where I am going next week, which should be Tuesday or Wednesday!

Hope all is well, miss you all!

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

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Today we had a little free time so I thought that I would use this window to let you all know what is going on in Tramkak....
Here are a few more updates to life in Cambodia in general:
Learning the language: In my town, there are 4 language groups and mine consists of JaNise who lives the closest to me and Nick, who lives second closest to me. We are lucky because most groups have 6 members, but we only have three. Some on that is luck and it also is because our 4th member, Jan, broke her ankle one of the first days we were in Tramkak and was sent home, unfortunately. So, learning the language for us is a good time because we come up with stupid pneumonic devices for everything. For instance, the word for yesterday sounds a lot like “muscleman”, so we all flexed our muscles and said the Khmer word in a manly voice. Our LCFs are patient in general, but for them to handle our actions and jokes after every word makes me think that they are going straight to heaven when they die (although they believe in reincarnation.) Also, verbs are usually coupled with water or rice because those are the two main things Khmer people eat and drink. For instance, instead of saying, “I am going to eat” the translation is “I am going to eat rice”, as if there was ever a question of what they are going to eat: it is always rice. To say I am full, it is “I am full of rice”. We laugh every time we learn a new verb because water (tuk) or rice (bye) is most likely going to be added on.
Daily life: Everywhere we go, we are still gawked at. There have been a few cat calls but the most common form of “harassment” as Peace Corps defines it, is people calling to us “Hello! What is your name? Where you go?” There is no time to respond and if you do, they have no idea what you just said anyway. We also get a little peeved when we see the same people who ask us the same question every single day. You know I am going to study Khmer and that my name is Kealan. On the really long days, we tend to get annoyed, but when a super cute kid works up the courage to speak to a “ba’rong” (foreigner), it always brings a smile to my face. It cracks me up about how much we complain about being the only westerners and how everyone always stares at us because we are so different. But, the second another westerner comes into Tramkak, we stop what we are doing and stare at them like the Khmer villagers do to us. We all whisper to each other what we think they are doing here and where they are from. This hypocrisy makes me laugh because it puts us in such a bad mood when we are on the receiving end, but the second we have a chance to gaze at on outsider, we are all over it.
For those of you who are looking to send things over, disregard what I said in my last post. We went to Takeo for a seminar day and they gave us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and I have never been so excited to eat the simplest American meal. So those of you who want to send things over, not only will I be eternally grateful, my diet consists of broth with some boney meat, green veggies and maybe bamboo on a good day over rice. Honestly, I will take anything. We are able to get some things, but the Japanese cannot do junk food like Americans can.
We went on a field trip to Phnom Da on Saturday and it was great to see some more of the country. I was also able to learn a lot more about the history of Cambodia, which is not really emphasized. Just to give you a background, history is not a requirement in high school. We took a boat 40 km through some of the prettiest scenery I have ever seen. Since it is the rainy season, we were able to take a boat taxi. During the dry season, however, the “river” transforms into rice patties. After 30 minutes, we landed about 5 km away from Phnom Da (phnom means mountain) and went to a museum with artifacts from the Funan dynasty. We got back on the boats and went to 10 minutes to Phnom Da, which is the name of the wat and temple, it isn’t the name of a city, like I thought. As soon as we got off the boats, we were swarmed by 30 little kids, asking for food or money or both. They walked with us up this little hill and we went to the ruins of the wat. There was an unbelievable view of the water and surrounding area. The Vietnam border is only 5 km away, so we were able to see Vietnam from the mountain. We then went to a little temple that was a 5 minute walk from the wat. We ate lunch as a group and gave our leftovers to the “Lord of the Flies” group of kids that didn’t leave our side for the day. We walked around the inside 3 times, which is supposed to bring good luck. Hopefully it works. We then walked through the forested area to get to the most disappointing waterfall I have ever seen. It was basically a 5 foot pool full of green water. Since the wet season has not been very wet, the waterfall was not much of a waterfall. We walked back to the boats
Tomorrow, Keiko, Jessica and I are heading out on our “Kampuchea Adventure.” That basically means that we are going to visit a K2 in her permanent site. The K2 is Whitney and she is in the Pursat province. She is in the provincial town (which means that we will be staying at a guest house!) The funny part about staying at a guest house is that it makes hostels look like the Sheraton. We slowly downgraded in housing from San Francisco to Bangkok to Phnom Penh to Takeo. When we got to Takeo, the bathroom consisted of a sit down toilet and hose (notice lack of toilet paper) and a shower head. When we signed up for Pursat, we were so excited at the thought of a sit down toilet and shower head. We met Whitney when we first got to Cambodia and she is extremely helpful. We will be gone from tomorrow (Thursday) until Saturday. When I told my family that I would be gone for 3 days, they all told me that they would miss me (at least I think they did, my Khmer still needs to improve a lot).
Sometimes we get frustrated with how little Khmer we know, but we have been here for less than 3 weeks. It feels like much more than that.
On another note, malaria pills make you have weird dream. Bridget- Paige was in my dream the other night and I brought her to Cambodia. I don’t want to share some of the others because they are really weird. They have been really vivid and sometimes I wake up and need to assess where I am. My host parents have a habit of waking me up just a few minutes before my alarm clock is supposed to go off and I am not sure how they are able to manage that. But, when I wake from these weird dreams, I feel really discombobulated and it takes me a second to realize that I am not in Jersey or Oak Park and this person saying my name with a weird accent is my new roommate.
A few of us have come up with a little quote to help us when we start to feel bad for ourselves- this is my life. For instance, when I was practicing Khmer and a beetle the size of my ipod flew into my face and I screamed and my family laughed at me, I simply said to myself, this is my life. But there are other times, like when I finally make a complete sentence in Khmer that my family can understand and I comprehend the answer, I feel good while saying, this is my life.
I miss you all and for those of you that have little babies (Kel, Bridge and soon to be Col) I would love to get pictures and such of the babies so I feel like I can actually see them grow up a little.

This blog does not represent the Peace Corps or the U.S. government. This blog represents my own thoughts and opinions.

Friday, August 7, 2009

My first trip to a.....

Hi everyone. Sorry that the last post got messed up, not sure how that happened with that and this is the first time that I have been back to the internet cafe in town. I will try to pick up where I left off in Tramkak...
First of all, I love all of the comments and I feel horrible that I cannot respond as I wish I could. I hope you all understand how little time I actually have. We are also trying to indulge ourselves in the culture and the internet is not a huge part of their culture like it is in America. Plus the computers totally suck.
We went into the provincial town in Takeo for a seminar day. It was the first time that we were all able to get together, so it is a really good time. Our 2 days there consisted of more cultural lessons, health seminars, etc. So that night we decided to go out to dinner as a big group. The boys went to this restaurant across the street from our guest house and we met up with them. They were raving about how great the service was and the girls are used to it because men are typically treated better. It wasn’t until we noticed their clothes and when the boys told us that they were getting massages that we put two and two together and realized that we were at a brothel. One of the volunteers told us what to look out for so we don’t end up in another one. No wonder the food did not taste good; they weren’t cooks.
One of my favorite stories is that I wear a lot of headbands because it is so damn hot and my hair has a mind of its own with this humidity. My host cousin brought a towel from her house and tied it around her head to look like me, which was adorable. I gave my host sisters and my host cousin one headband each and I have not seen them without them since that day. They are the most enjoyable part of the experience.
Peace Corps intentionally makes training really busy, but we are all getting a little burnt out. We study Khmer from 7:30 til 11:30 and eat lunch right after. Our bikes are not the best, so I usually walk into town at 12:30 and we have culture lessons from 1:00-5:00 and we have to be home immediately after that. One day in particular, I was getting really frustrated with the set up and language. My host sister, who is 3 (I think), was really scared of me and whenever I tried to talk to her, she would run away. Well, this one really bad day I turned into the path to my host family’s house and my town littlest host sisters ran up to meet me, like they always do. But that day, my littlest sister grabbed my hand and held it all the way back to the house. It was so subtle, but it made me feel so much better.
Tomorrow, we are taking a field trip to Phnom Da. There are 5 different locations and group of us signed up for this one because it is an hour boat trip to the town. I am really excited to see another part of the country. Next week is going to be nuts, we are taking a 3 day field trip to see other Peace Corps volunteers who have been in Cambodia for a year already. It will be really great to see what life will be like.
As for the language, it hit me the other day how much respect I have for my language and culture facilitators (LCFs) because going from Khmer to English is so difficult. Khmer is so simple, it made me realize just how complicated English is. For instance, directly translating “I am mad at you” to Khmer is “I mad you”. They also have some words that have so many meanings. “Nom” is the word for any cake- rice cakes, donuts, banana chips, etc. We have a word for everything. They have spent so many years learning English and they decided to stay in Cambodia. They could have easily left and gone to another country, but they decided to stay here and try to make a difference. One LCF, Dara, learned both English and Thai in a refugee camp during the Khmer Rouge period. Thai is more complicated than English, he says. It really makes me have so much respect for them, because they worked so hard to learn English and most are teachers, and teachers make so little money here.
As for things to send to me, I would really appreciate just letters in general. I will be able to write more letters because it doesn’t require internet to respond. Unless you can send a deep dish pizza, there is not much that I really need or want. That also may change.

Please keep the comments coming! I love reading them although I do not have time to respond!

This blog does not reflect the opinion of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps. This blog reflects my opnions alone.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


Here is my address:
Kealan Waldron
Peace Corps
PO Box 2453
Phnom Penh 3

Today was our first day off from training and it couldn’t have come at a better time. We are all so tired and we all really missed each other, so we met up at the Tela this morning. I slept in until 7:15 and walked into town and met everyone at the Tela, which is probably the equivalent to a regular gas station or 7-11 in the U.S. Our day is going to consist of walking around town and hanging out. Peace Corps has done a really good job of keeping us busy, so a free day is just what we needed.
Not too much crazy stuff has happened since my last post, so I thought that I would share some general observations and stories. First, my sisters are probably the cutest girls in the world and my cousins are just as much fun. The four girls and two boys are always waiting for me to do something “American” and sometimes try to mimic me. For instance, I wear headbands a lot because it is so damn hot and humid here. One day I was wearing one and my cousin ran home and tied a towel around her head to look like me. I gave all 4 of them headbands and there hasn’t been a time that they aren’t on their heads. Another funny one- I was eating dinner with my parents and they pointed to a dish that had some meat in it. I try to avoid the meat because they don’t take the bones out and it is awkward when I bite into one. So, they put some on my plate and pointed to it and told me to eat in Khmer and told me that it was monkey. Now, I am open to eating different things (I tried ants the other night) but monkey is where I draw the line. They saw my face and repeated monkey a few times and when I didn’t budge, they acted out a chicken. Thank goodness it was NOT a monkey but instead chicken because that would have gotten real weird real quick.
Some general differences in Cambodia:-Eating: I eat with my mom and dad for lunch and dinner while the girls...

This blog does not reflect the opinions or thoughts of the Peace Corps or the US government. It reflects my thoughts and opnions only.