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.