So, today officially marks the 6 month point in my service. I left
exactly 6 months ago, which equates to one quarter of my service here. Pretty crazy to think about. Chicago
So, my birthday was on Sunday and I was prepared for it to be a regular day, but there were a lot of people who really made it a special day. My coteacher told our classes (in Khmer of course, so I couldn’t understand) that it was my birthday and they raised some money and I got three presents from the classes. It was really unexpected and extremely cute how the students presented the gifts. I had just arrived at school and there was a group of girls standing near where I always park my bike. I was talking to another student and they kind of waited around, then handed me the present, which was wrapped and had a card from the class. The first gift was a wooden carousal that plays music as the Ferris Wheel of teddy bears revolves. There is a windmill has four planks that read “Best Wishes For You”. They were really cute about it and a few took pictures, so hopefully I will be able to put those up. The second gift was a box with two pairs of earrings. Khmer fashion is pretty centered around jewels and sparkles, so these earrings are really sparkly. I have never really been that flashy with my jewelry, but when in
…. So I wore one pair on Monday and every female that saw them complimented me on how beautiful they are. The last gift, which I think is my favorite, is a Mickey Mouse lamp/ night light. It’s Mickey in a glass of ice cream. I put pictures on facebook of all of the gifts, so log on and check them out! Rome
My student Vida, aka Elvis Presley, also got me a gift. I was concerned that he spent money on it, but he reassured me that he didn’t. I know that he doesn’t have a lot, so I didn’t want him to spend what little he has on me. One of his friends makes jewelry and keychains out of coconut shells. So, he had his friend make a cross necklace. The cross is actually the name “Jesus”. It is hard to describe, so hopefully I can upload a picture onto this blog to show you. The other thing that he gave me is a keychain in the shape of
with my name engraved. His friend has made a little business out of it and I would love to help him, so if anyone is interested in getting one, I have some visitors coming over soon(ish) and maybe something can be arranged. While I would love to do a mail order thing, it probably isn’t the best idea because for one, things break on the way and also it may not go over so well with Peace Corps if I am working in a business. Cambodia
Darlene also came through and bought me a cake and brought it to my class on Monday, which was 11C. I was not shocked to see every kid in that class when there usually are about 20 out of 70 on average. The cake was made by our friends who just opened a western store (it’s a Khmer family) and are quickly adding on- a little café, garden and bakery are the latest additions. They are a really great family and the boy who made it told me today that he put a lot of chocolate on it because he knows I like it. The class really liked it. Again, there are pictures on facebook of the occasion… I also met with Leah and Eddie, who are K2s who live in my province. We went to lunch and ice cream and basically planned what we will do for International Women’s Day (which is March 8th) and caught up. It was a very relaxing birthday and again, the weather makes it so confusing because my birthdays are always really cold. Time is totally standing here, but I have grown accustom to writing 2010 and saying “Kinyom mein au ma-pie bye chnam” which means I am 23 years old.
This week really marked the beginning of my busy schedule. I am meeting with English Club 5 times a week and the English Club on Mondays and Fridays. It’s nice because the English Club at my school is really me calling the shots and settings up, but at the
UME, the club is already up and running, I am just there for guidance. I will be meeting with the club on Monday and discussing the readings that were assigned the Friday before. We are able to have more in depth discussions about really important issues- health, environment, AIDS, etc. On Friday, I will come in and work for one hour on a skill (this week it is the Do’s and Don’ts of using PowerPoint in a speech, next week is The Importance of Body Language in Public Speaking). The second hour will be really general, open for questions, discussion, etc. I am very happy that my projects (teaching formal class and the two clubs) are very different, so I’m not getting bored. The next project, however, will probably be unrelated to teaching English. Like I said, we are trying to start a project for International Women’s Day. We want to have some girls get together and discuss their goals, options and futures. We will probably focus on education and how to get to university and stay there. It will also be a great way to plant the seed about our girl’s camp that will be over the summer. Needless to say through all of this that I am super busy. But, I didn’t come here for a break or to relax. There’s a lot of work to be done here. Some days are really tough, but that’s part of the job.
I am steadily making more relationships with my students. There is probably one student a week who works up the courage and asks for English help or asks a random question. I realized really early on that the high school is my way into the community and it’s going well. There are some students who are still really scared of me, but I find myself not really being alone much when I am at school. There is one student, Houert, who asked me today to help him learn how to teach. He juts got a job teaching children English. I could tell that he is really proud of this and we arranged a meeting for tomorrow to talk about techniques. One of the goals of Peace Corps is to teach teachers how to be better teachers and focus on student centered learning. I never realized that by teaching my students American techniques in the classroom that they will be able to carry them over. I’m not sure if it’s just a coincidence, but this boy Houert has a job as an English teacher and Vida (aka Elvis) is trying to get a similar job. Just to clarify, most Cambodian students study full time (at a school like Net Yong) and then what they call part-time, which is at a private class and is paid for. There are a lot of schools that are private where students come to learn after school. So, they are trying to become teachers at those schools. That is also a reason why a lot of kids ask me if I will charge for English Club and when one boy said he wanted to study with me, he quickly added, I will pay. I constantly have to reinforce the “smot jet” (volunteer) status. It is not the money but rather the fact that my schedule is steadily becoming more and more full. I am literally exhausted all the time because of the workload and the heat. But that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Two days ago marked the 7th anniversary of the death of my host sibling’s father. Because he was ethnically Chinese (his parents were from
) many of the traditions that we took part in I would imagine stem from his Chinese roots. The day before, Huck told me to eat lunch at home (I usually eat at a stand on the way home from school) so I knew that I was in for a feast. I got home from school to see a legit spread on the table and it was only 11:00. My host sisters were cooking all day and we had some awesome food. We started out with Fried Noodles, which are so good. I had to pace myself because then we sat down to a feast of rice (obviously) chicken soup, mushroom and chicken stir fry and to my surprise, peas and vegetables. I totally forgot about peas. It’s weird how acclimated your body gets when you have changed climates, diets and lifestyle. We ate then I napped for a little before going back to school with a completely full stomach. Before the meal was the tradition, and I guess ceremony if you will. The food was used as an offering to the prayer houses(my family has three, one outside, one right by the front of the house and one on the wall in the sitting room). When everyone arrived (as in my host brother and sisters who do not live at the house), they lit incense and prayed for their father in front of the table full of food, incense and candles. Again, check out the pictures to be visualize it. So, basically, there are two prayer houses that they prayed in front of, in addition to the huge table of food, incense and candles. They put the incense (they usually light three, five or seven at a time, but this time I noticed it was seven because it’s good luck and symbolizes family) in the pots in the two prayer houses inside then in a holder outside of the house. I always wondered what that was used for because it looks like the thing that contains the holy water inside churches. My question was answered. As I was riding back to school and writing in my journal later that night, I was really impressed with how happy the event was. I thought that it would be really sad because from the stories that I hear, he was very well liked. “My father always cooked while my mother worked, which is opposite in China .” The entire time, everyone was really happy and enjoying the company. People always say that we should celebrate someone’s life, but I have never really seen that until now. He thought that family was really important and you could tell by looking at his kids. They included me in on the process and I was very happy to be there. It was probably the first time that I didn’t feel awkward at a ceremony. It was really intimate and personal. Cambodia
English Club is currently working on creative writing. This is a difficult concept to get across because they simply don’t write for fun. I was so happy yesterday because I had two students, both 11 graders, read each other’s story then give feedback and suggestions. One of the students was Vida (Elvis) and the other was a girl (I don’t remember her name, Khmer names are tough) who has really come out of her shell recently and is opening up and speaking up more. They felt really weird at first, but they sat together and talked about their impressions of the other person’s story. It was really heartwarming to see because at first, they said that they wouldn’t be able to because they don’t know how to say it in English, but they tried and they did a really good job. What I am trying to do is to have the students work more with each other instead of relying on me to correct and fix. It was a great first step and I hope that things continue to move forward in this direction. Some of the stories are really great. We are planning on having a meeting where the parents, siblings and friends can all come to listen to the stories. We will also make a book of all of the stories. It is really a long project, but I want this to set the stage for what we will be doing, which is working on things over time and using each other to learn. I can already see HUGE improvements and the students have no idea. It is really a pleasure to watch the whole process.
That about sums up what is happening currently. In between running to class and club, I am trying to spend time with my family and friends in Battambang as well as plan future events. My group of girlfriends are going to try to plan a trip once every two months (at least) to get to each other. The problem is that we are all so far from each other. Keiko and I are about 3 hours away, which isn’t bad. But you have to travel through PP for most trips down south, so it’s another 2 hours to get to PP. From PP, Jessica lives about 2 more hours to her provincial town then another half hour to her site. Jacqueline practically lives in
. If I were to travel from my site to hers, it would take about ten hours. But our plan is to meet in other locations, so in February we will go to Siam Reap. We are also planning some international trips, most likely Vietnam Vietnam in April then this summer. It helps to plan these things because it gives us something to look forward to. If we were at site with no trip on the horizon, it gets tough. Plus, we will be able to see a lot of the country this way (actually the continent if we have our way…) Australia
Well, I have to sign off now. Hope all is well with everyone back home. As for the weather, it rained for the first time in 2 months for about an hour yesterday and the day before. The “cold” season (cold being about 70 degrees) will end in about two weeks with the beginning of February and the hot, dry season starts. That should be fun to teach in. I am still hot and it’s “cold”. People are actually wearing winter jackets. I have to admit that it is pretty chilly, but hopefully that means that I am used to the weather. If not, I am in big trouble when the hot season comes around.