Monday, March 22, 2010

Awesome Article

Here is the link that didn't work in my last post. Hopefully it sheds some light as to why I am here. I can't put it in a a link, my tech skills are really suffering. So maybe just copy and paste it?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

It's Mango Season!

Today marks the last day of teaching for me for at least a month.  Next week is the beginning of grade 12 exams and they are a really big deal, so students who aren’t in grade 12 aren’t allowed on the campus. So, no class next week and then because of Khmer New Year, we have a vacation until April 20th.  That means that maybe the students will decide to come back on April 20th and they may decide to take a few more days (or weeks) off.  So, that means that I have a lot of free time coming up.  While I am not looking forward to having nothing to do, teaching has really gotten to me, so this break will be a nice refresher.  This means that if school starts back up in late April, we will teach for the rest of April then May and then exams start the first week of June.  That means that I am almost done with my first school year.  Crazy!

Last week saw the continuation of my cultural interaction.  I went with my family to a ceremony for the 3rd anniversary of my host mother’s sister’s death.  In Cambodia, death anniversary’s are celebrated with a party/festival/ceremony for the first 3 years, then it becomes much smaller scale.  And ceremonies in Cambodia mean all day affairs, for at least two days.  I’m sure that you can imagine how frequently funeral ceremonies happen here if they are celebrated when they happen, then for the next three years.  There is traditional funeral music that plays to let everyone know that there is a ceremony happening.  Also, I forgot to explain in my last entry, but for these ceremonies, the family rents out tents from a company and they set up these tents on the street in front of the house, which means that many streets are impassable because of ceremonies (whether funeral or wedding).  So, music is BLASTED from rented speakers all day long.  So, my family told me a while ago about the ceremony and I have gotten to know my host family’s extended family much better, so they made sure that I would be there.  Reaksemey, who is the girl from 11B who is a host niece made sure that I cancelled English Club for the party.  I talked to my family the night before to set up what time we were leaving, etc.  It is a Peace Corps policy that volunteers are forbidden from riding motorcycles (or motos as they are called here) but since the most popular form of transportation is by moto, my family always has to arrange special transportation for me.  So, my host brother, Huck, told me that we would be leaving at 8am.  I woke up at 7 am (slept in) then got ready to go.  I realized that my family will just knock on my door when it’s time to go, so I killed some time reading when I realized that it was 10:30 and I was still sitting in my room.  My host cousin, Poe, came and knocked on my door.  I threw on my clothes really quick (it’s too hot to wear anything but a sarong in my room) and walked outside my room to see everyone in my family either watching TV or sewing (my family runs a tailoring business) and I was the only idiot all ready to go.  Poe, who speaks English, asked me why I was ready to go when the party didn’t start until 2.  “Oh, I thought that it was earlier than that.”  “No problem, you can just come to my house now.”  So, we left, me in my teaching garb, four hours early for the party.  When we got to the party, the tent was still being set up and no one was even close to being ready.  So, I sat there and tried to help, caused more harm than good and just observed.  It’s really great to get to know my family, but I felt so stupid.  Plus it was so hot, of course, and I was sweating through my clothes before the party was even set up.  The set-up was essentially grass mats in the front with decorations, either traditional Buddhist art, colorful sheets or flowers and a picture of the deceased.  There was a set-up for the monks at the front and they arrived at 3:00 and the ceremony proceeded.  From my perspective, this is what happens: there is a clergyman who sort of emcees the whole thing and the monks lead chants while the rest of us (me and about 30 Khmer women) sit on the mats with folded hands.  I don’t know the chants, obviously, but I am always distracted at these events by how quickly my legs fall asleep.  I try to shift as discreetly as possible, but let’s be honest, I stand out like a sore thumb in this country and everyone is PACKED into the room, so moving is not really easy, especially when I can’t feel the lower half of my body.  After the monks finish their chants, they go back to the pagoda and two more monks came and basically passed the mic back and forth and gave a sermon.  I have been to many Buddhist ceremonies now, and they all vary based on the event, but this is basically the standard, as far as I have seen.  The two monks that came for the sermon where the head monks and one of them made a reference to me being there and taking part in their ceremony.  How did I know this?  Because I heard a few clues in Khmer such as “foreigner” and “English” then everyone turned around and looked at me and smiled.  I didn’t really know what to do and he asked me in Khmer if I could understand him and I said that I could and he thanked me in English for coming and listening.  Huck, my host brother, told me “He’s talking about you!”  I had figured it out by then and as awkward as it was, this is yet another example of how by simply coming to those events and being pleasant, it reflects well on my family.  After the monks left, we sat down and ate rice porridge or “boh boh” as it’s called in Khmer.  I sat with some people that I didn’t know, but I am used to that now.  So, I ate my boh boh in silence and reached for my security blanket (my cell phone) when I finished and didn’t have anything to do.  I have noticed that unlike meals in America, or at least with my family and friends, Cambodians don’t really view eating a meal as a social event.  At home, we usually have a running conversation at meals but in Cambodia, meals are reserved for eating only.  I have eaten a few meals in complete silence, which is actually welcome when I am feeling more uncomfortable than normal.  Many Cambodians (at ceremonies or even at restaurants) will eat then bolt right after.  There is not a lot of time after the meal for just sitting and chilling.  After dinner, my host mother asked me if I wanted to go shower.  Oh, I have been meaning to explain this: Cambodians shower no less than two times a day and usually more.  Chun Lai showers three times a day.  The “mue tuks” as they are called here, are really important because being clean shows a lot of self-respect.  So, even at an all day affair like this ceremony, people who didn’t live there showered at the house we were at, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, etc.  So, I went home and showered.  When I came back, we ate some more food and the drinking started.  My host mother’s family from PP was back (the ones from the wedding) and they were loving round two of drinking with the American.  I took it easy because there were a lot of people there.  I have found a balance between not getting drunk but still having fun with them while they drink.  There was a band that came and the dancing started right away.  Everyone was really determined to get me to dance and I refused a bunch of cousins, then one cousin, Poe, convinced me.  Khmer dancing is very different from any that I have seen.  We basically walked around a table in a circle and moved our hands.  People don’t touch when they dance and it’s not very difficult, but I still felt stupid.  After three trips around the table, I realized it wasn’t for me and took my place next to my host brother and watched.  At 10:30, about 11 hours after I first arrived at the party, my host mother took me home.  I went to bed right away and slept like a baby. 

 The ceremony with the monks

 Monks giving a sermon.

As I said before, Khmer ceremonies are a two day affair, but I told Huck that I needed to go to church, which usually goes from 8:30-10:15.  As I was leaving church, Huck told me to ride my bike to the “festival house” when I got there, I realized how late I was and how underdressed.  Great, I was so early and overdressed Saturday, then late and underdressed on Sunday.  You win some, you lose some.  We walked to the middle school by the house and I sat with some more people that I didn’t know and we ate lunch together.  The food at these ceremonies is really, really good.  Like I said, no one really talked and a few people skeeted right after they finished.  We were only there for a few more hours then we went home.  I went to meet up with Darlene at the Sokimex to catch up on our weekends and when I got home, my host sister-in-law told me that we were going to the festival house for dinner.  “This damn party just won’t end!” I thought to myself.  I asked her if I needed to wear special clothes, but she said no and a few minutes later, my host brother came with his car to take me.  As we were about to leave, his car wouldn’t start.  I felt bad about the car, but I just wanted to eat in peace and go to bed early.  It was an exhausting weekend and I fell asleep right away that night.  

 Dancing at night. My host sister is in the white shirt.  

I realized that I have not described one of the most important factors of my service (and life): food.  As you probably now, rice is the most important food here, but second is fish.  And man, the food is so good.  It is really easy to tell which foods are “in season” because they are everywhere.  Watermelons are in season, while cauliflower and pumpkin season are just ending and it is the start of mango season, which will probably be my favorite.  I have been eating a fresh mango in my oatmeal for a while now and it’s amazing.  I also have developed a favorite food: grilled catfish with mango/fish sauce.  It is simply amazing.  The catfish is from the Sangker River, about one block from my house.  They salt the fish then grill it.  When they serve it, they take small mango shavings and mix it with fish sauce, garlic, sugar and chives.  It is out of this world and is my favorite food. 

I have been thinking about lessons that I have learned in Cambodia as we pass the 8th month mark and I want to share them with you.  It is a completely disorganized list, but I find these things important, none the less…

1. Traffic laws and rules of the road are two completely different ideas here.  The “right of way” belongs to the biggest vehicle, not to the most at risk.  So, the hierarchy means that pedestrians are at the bottom.  Honking, instead of sending a message of “hey, I’m here” it is more of “watch out, I’m coming through!! Move it or lose it.”

2. Packing (whether it is a car, bike, bag or moto) the rule is basically, if it can fit, it’s fair game.  In a car, this means that a 50 pound bag of rice has a place in a car if it can be stuffed.  It is common to see a family of six on a two person moto and about 25 people in an 8 person van.  Now, this only includes the amount people- motos, animals, food, luggage, etc are not included in this number.  Cambodians can pack anything.  It’s common to see a van piled high with people, goods, food and animals and other forms of transportation, such as bikes and motos. If there is not enough room in the back, it is commonplace for there to be 4-5 people in the front seat.  Oh yes, the drive will sit on someone’s lap while he controls the wheel and someone else controls the petals.
3. Honesty is not seen as a quality here, it is the norm.  People just say it like it is, not meaning to insult anyone, that’s just how it is.  I can respect that.  At first, I wasn’t too happy when I would meet someone and they would say “so fat” right away.  Sometimes I get a “so pretty” sometimes I get a “so fat”.  It’s basically what they notice first- my face or my fat.  My students wrote letters to their pen pals and they didn’t sugar coat their lives.  One student wrote, “I have 5 brothers and 5 sisters.  We are very poor because my mother died 15 years ago.  My house is very small, but it’s ok because it is ours.”  He doesn’t want his pen pal to feel bad, that’s just how it is for him, so why not?  It’s sort of difficult to get used to, but I have really come to appreciate it.  It’s like a whole country of Pollard family members: in their heads, out their mouths.

4. Titles within the family can be VERY confusing.  For instance, Reaksemey, who has been referred to by Huck as “my niece” is actually his cousin’s daughter, which is not what we would call a niece.  I thought that I was missing a sibling or something, but then I realized that it’s just the titles.  Likewise, Reaksemey was referring to my host mother as her “grandmother” but really she is her great aunt.  The more I am with my family, the more I am realizing how people are actually related because the titles are really misleading.  In the end, it doesn’t really matter, but it helps me organize my family when I learn how people are actually related. 

Lastly, I wanted to tell you Chun Lai’s top two activities as of late.  There is a Khmer song called “Rambo” that basically says a bunch of things that end in “-o”.  For instance, one line is “chi moto, srok Boribo”  which simply means, “ride a moto, Boribo district”, two things that have nothing in common besides the fact that they rhyme.  My friend Keiko lives in Boribo.  But this song is essentially a bunch of nonsense words that end in “-o”.  One line is “le-it leo” which means “wear underwear” and it’s Chun Lai’s favorite part of the song.  So, whenever I do laundry, he always takes the clothes out of the bucket for me to hang up and every time he sees my underwear, he says “le-it leo”.  Even at dinner, he will tell me to “nyum bye, le-it leo” (eat rice, wear underwear).  Today, we were eating coconut cakes together and he was mixing up the words to say things like “wear a moto” and “ride underwear”.  He loves talking about underwear now, especially mine.  He will ask me if I am wearing underwear, which isn’t that weird because a lot of people don’t.  The second thing is that he now doesn’t let me go into my room without opening the door for me and telling to me enter.  Even if we are outside, he will run inside to open the door and say “joll” (“enter”).  It’s a cute little phase…..

With all my free time before my trip, I will probably try to tutor the kids who want to study over their vacation and finish the plans for International Women’s Day.  It is really becoming a huge deal- the governor of Battambang will be there.  I will probably try to get to know Battambang a little better as well and make more connections.  I also want to decide what to do during the summer.  Maybe study for the gre?  Maybe start a project?  Who knows…..

 Chun Lai showing off his green fingernails and toenails .

Happy belated St. Patty’s Day.  I was able to find some Guinness at the vas station, so Darlene and I enjoyed the day properly. 

Also, click on the link to read a little about why I am here:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The DL on Khmer Weddings

On Sunday, I went to a wedding and I realized that I haven’t really explained what it is like to be an American at a Khmer wedding, so I will try my best to give you a play by play.  Although all weddings are different, we will use this one as an example of how things are run.

But first, I had a meeting last week with my coteacher and school director to discuss how I decided not to teach two of my classes anymore (11B and 11C).  While there are many students that I really like in those classes, as a whole (70 students), it is very clear that they don’t want to learn English with me.  There are a few reasons that I can think of- many think that they are really good at English, some don’t like the book but most think that taking private classes is important for their grades and because they may be more interested in other subjects, such as math and science.  I am not upset or angry at all, quite the opposite, I think that those students that want to learn with me still can, just not in the formal classroom setting, which is actually where we get more accomplished.  There are 4,000 other students at my school, I need to give the ones who want to learn English a chance because I gave 11B and 11C a chance and it didn’t really work out.  I am still teaching 11D and 10Q and those classes are going really well.  The kids are really improving.  I also have more time to spend in the library, which means those kids who want me to teach them can find me.  There have already been a lot of kids who have approached me and asked for more help.  I decided to clean up the storage room connected to the library to have a place where the English students can come to study with me.  It is really gross in there and I spent one afternoon sweeping and dusting and it is still a work in progress, but it serves it’s purpose, which is to have a place where the students and I can study.  We started a new project during our meeting last week, which is a pen pal program with my friend, John, who is a teacher in Chicago.  Some students have already finished their letters and they are SO excited to be a part of this.  They all wrote about their families, friends and their country.  They really took the role of talking about Cambodia seriously and did such a great job explaining our school and province and their country.  I’m so proud of them and I cannot wait until they get their letters back.  With the opening in my schedule, I was able to add another afternoon on for the English Club at the UME, which makes me happy because they are really intelligent students and we have a good time.  I am now working there about 6 hours a week and it’s really enjoyable. The students in the club were all very happy when I told them that I can work another afternoon with them and I think working with them is really beneficial.

Well, after my coteacher made the announcement, it was really clear that 11C didn’t care, but a group of 5 students from 11B pleaded with me to come back.  I refused because I have tried to talk to them about their behavior in class, but they didn’t change last time.  They all apologized and said that it would be better this time.  I felt really bad about it, but my decision was final and I have to stick to my word.  I can’t cave and go back, as much as I like those kids.  The unfortunate part is that while I have time to study, they all are so busy.  Between regular class and private classes (both held at the school) they also go to private schools to learn “part-time”.  It’s really different because the students are always in a classroom but hardly ever study on their own.    

Ok, so weddings.  Here we go----

Eating the 3rd course.  The initiator is on the far left and the man is from PP and has a daughter in San Francisco.

Huck told me on Friday night that there was a wedding on Saturday and he said that the family really wanted me to go.  I said that I was really sorry, but I had been sick all week and had English Club, so I declined the invitation.  When I came home yesterday after my English Club meeting, there were a bunch of people there. Turns out they are family from PP and after dinner we all chit chatted.  They are really nice and one of the men has a daughter who is studying in San Francisco and was so proud of her.  He has been to America 6 times and was glowing when he talked about her and how she is coming home this summer.  They asked me to come to the wedding and I was really looking forward to a day of rest and initially denied it, again.  I could tell that my host mom felt kind of bad (I realized why later) and I reconsidered.  When I thought about it, I realized how silly I was actually being.  Why not go?  What else am I going to do?  Sleep?  I can sleep when I finish being a Peace Corps Volunteer.  This is why I came here! So, I decided to go.  They told me that we would leave from anywhere between 9-10 so I set my alarm for 7 and said my “rea-try sua-sa-dye” (goodnight) and went to my room.  I woke up on time, made my coffee and started to get ready.  I don’t have traditional wedding clothes, so I just wore some teacher clothes.  I realized that I have been in uniform my whole life and living in Cambodia is no exception.  I simply traded my SHU pinstripes for a sampot and blouse.  I did my make up a little more flashy than usual because weddings are special occasions (aka more mascara and more blush).  I texted Keiko and told her that I have never worn so much blush in my life, so thanks Maura for that Christmas present, it has really come in handy.  I was all set to go at 9 and heard everyone eating, so I knew that it would be time to go soon.  Well, 9 turned into 9:30.  I walked into the kitchen to find Huck not showered and eating.  He said that we would leave around 10.  I went back into my room and watched “Six Feet Under” and waited for the knock on the door.  It finally came at 10:45.  We all packed into a car (as always, it was packed, 13 people in an 8 passenger van) and we took off for the wedding.  We pulled up and I realized that I was at their engagement party like 3 weeks ago.  In Cambodia, engagements usually last a few months, but sometimes they last a few weeks.  Most people want to get married before it gets too hot and no one wants to get married during the rainy season, so it was a rushed engagement.  I felt a little more comfortable knowing that they knew who I was and why I’m here.  It didn’t stop the stares though.  So, the families of both the bride and groom are at the entrance and everyone greets both sets of parents and the bride and groom by the traditional way, which is to fold your hands in front of your mouth and say “jim riap sua” and bow while you are saying that.  Weddings are a two day affair, so this was day two (I missed day 1 on Saturday) and it usually takes place at the house of the bride.  They set up huge tents and blast music so everyone knows.  You know when there is a wedding, there is no question.  So, we sat down and everyone had a cup in front of them with a napkin inside and there is what looks like a gift bag with bowls and spoons.  We spent about 5 minutes using napkins to clean our glasses, spoons and bowls. This is customary in Cambodia; I do this at the place where I eat lunch everyday with my spoon and fork.  Eating is done based upon arrival, so we were just starting our first course when the first table was just finishing.  The caterers brought out the first course, which was fried spring rolls, nuts, papaya salad and some other stuff that I have no idea what it was.  After we finished that course, they cleared that and brought out the second course, which was a spicy beef salad.  It was delicious, but as always, I don’t know what to do.  I don’t want to be rude and take too much, but everyone always gets concerned that I’m wasn’t eating.  I also don’t really know the “when to use chopsticks and when to use a spoon” rule, because we have both and for some things you use chopsticks and for some things, you use a spoon.  For instance, it was acceptable to use my spoon to pick up the nuts, but not acceptable to use it for the beef salad.  I usually just sit back and try to take up the least amount of space possible and just hope that my host mom or host brother will take care of me, which always happens.  Every table has a drink initiator.  I don’t know if this is a custom, but it always happens where there is one person who peer pressures everyone to drink and initiates the drinking.  As a reminder, drinking in Cambodia, especially at ceremonies, entails everyone who is drinking to not sip on their beer on their beer.  Instead, everyone drinks together, which makes sense because everything is so communal here, and drinking is no exception.  The initiator stands up and tells everyone to drink, so we all cheers then drink.  There is even a special way to cheers.  If you are cheersing (not a word) with a person older than you or someone who you respect a lot (as in someone who has a job that is in a position of power), you have to make sure that your glass is lower than theirs when you cheers as a sign of respect.  Also, your hand placement is crucial- either two hands on the glass (most respectful) or one hand on the glass and one hand around your wrist (also very respectful).  If you hold your hand close to your elbow, it is the least respectful and one hand on the glass and one hand at your side shows zero respect (which I did accidentally all through training).  When the initiator was out of her beer, so told me that I have to finish my beer because she was finished (she had just filled me up).  All eyes were on me, so I did what any self-respecting person would do in this situation, I pretended that I couldn’t do it twice then chugged it all and pretended like it was so painful, when of course, it wasn’t.  They all asked me immediately if I was drunk and Huck said to me, “Kealan, it’s no problem.  If you are drunk, you can go home and drink.”  Little do they know what college is like for most people.  Or rather a Pollard family get-together.  She was bombed within two hours.  Ok, so back to the meal.  That course was cleared and they brought out a fish dish that was really good (catfish perhaps?) Again, I used the wrong utensil and felt dumb, but then the man from PP who has a daughter in San Fran took care of me and gave me a huge portion, so that took care of that course.  The last course came out (have you noticed that there hasn’t been any rice yet?!?!) and it was a seafood and chicken soup with rice.  It was a bit spicy and I was full by then.  It has been so hot that it’s so hard to eat, especially hot or spicy food.  After that we were officially done with lunch and the second that we got up from the table, about ten homeless kids swarmed out table and ate what we didn’t.  They go to weddings to collect cans and bottles to recycle and hope to get some food.  One boy actually pushed me out of the way because I wasn’t moving fast enough.  I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture of it because it literally breaks my heart and it’s something that you all don’t want to see.  They are still people and it compromises their value if I were to have taken a picture of them for the sake of showing you- I’m sure you get the point of how heart wrenching it truly is.  These things happen all over- at weddings, at restaurants, outside of bars, etc.  

We sat around for a little while longer and at 2:00 we loaded up the car again after we took a bunch of pictures.  We had 15 people this time and since it was the hottest part of the day, we were all sweating.  On the way to the car, a parent of one of the students from 11B, who is also a host cousin, asked me about how I stopped teaching his daughter, Reaksemey.  I like his daughter a lot, she actually texted me to come back, but I told him they don’t listen to me, so there is no point.  It wasn’t confrontational, but I know that when I was upset with that class last time, Reaksemey’s brothers and sisters told her to make sure that the class behaves because they are lucky to have me as a teacher.  He said that she is “not happy now” and I felt bad about it, but I have to stick to my word.  We also made a stop to get rice because the family from PP likes BB rice better, it’s more delicious, or so they say.  So, we added a 50 pound bag of rice to our van already full of 15 people. 

 The bride and groom.  The bride usually changes outfits at least 5 times during the reception.  My host mother is next to her. 

I am still working with my really loyal students, especially Vida, aka Elvis Pressley.  He tells me the inside scoop at school.  He was so cute the other day because he told me that he wants to have friends that are girls but he is so shy that he can’t.  He has a lot of friends that are boys but they all want to start hanging out with girls.  I asked him if he wants a girlfriend and he said that he is too young and busy, he just wants friends.  So, I told him that no matter how shy he is, the girls are shyer than he is.  He said that he was scared that they would make fun of him because he is a “pagoda kid” (because he lives at the pagoda with the monks) and he is poor.  When I informed him that he talks to the scariest female at the school (me) and when it didn’t work, so clique, but I told him about the quote in America “there are plenty of fish in the sea”.  I told him that if he talks to girls they are mean, you don’t want to be friends with them anyway, so find new ones.  I didn’t really think that would be the case, but I wanted to give him some confidence.  The next day at English Club (which was Saturday), I noticed him working with two girls (two of my favorites, I might add) on translating an article about the earthquake in Chile and I told them once to speak in English then gave it up after I realized how much fun they were having.  It was a small victory for Vida, I was so proud of him.  I also worked out the problem with teaching Reaksemey, the girl who is a member of my family and was upset that I stopped teaching (her dad asked me about it at the wedding.)  We set up a time to learn together, which is Friday from 2:00-4:00.  It is usually just Vida and myself, but when I asked Vida if it is ok if more people come, he said that the was happy to learn with others because he wants to make more friends. He was nervous when I told him that it’s only one girl from 11B, but it will be a good chance for him to make a connection with a student from another class. 

Monday was International Women’s Day so we didn’t have school.  Our event isn’t until March 31st, so Darlene and I decided to do something productive.  So, like most of our days off, we met up at “The Spot” and had breakfast with one of our favorite families in Battambang.  We rode our bikes into the nearest district (about 4 k) to the orphanage that we visit a lot.  We were coloring with a bunch of the little kids when Sothea, who is an 11th grader at my school, said that there were Japanese volunteers coming.  They came right after and had a really great activity planned.  They had letters from people in Japan and they gave out the letters (actually more like cards) then had the kids respond, more like just colored.  It was great to see the interaction between the volunteers and the kids and even though it was Women’s Day, men don’t really come to orphanages, so the boys were all ecstatic.  We rode back and ended our day like most days off, at the Sokimex.  However, I have been really sick (maybe the heat is getting to me) so there was no sneaking beer for me. 

It rained for the first time in about three months two nights ago.  And it POURED.  The next day was really cold (maybe 70, which has become very cold for me).  It’s pretty incredible how quickly your body can adjust.  While I tried to play it cool like I wasn’t cold, I was cold.  My students thought that it was funny that I was cold.  Today was a bit hotter, but not too hot.  It was pretty consistently in the high 90s for about two weeks, so this hot spell snap is definitely welcomed, and appreciated. 

 Me and my oldest host sister outside of the wedding.

As for what is on the docket for the next few weeks, I will be busy at site until the beginning of April.  Grade 12 testing will start on March 23rd, which means that I won’t be teaching until May.  We will be really busy with our International Women’s Day and I hope to continue to teach private classes during the break to stay busy.  As for vacation, it is still unclear whether or not my brother Pat will be able to come (that’s just what happens with stand by travel) but I have planned a trip to Vietnam with my friend Jacqueline regardless.  If Pat is here, that’s awesome.  If not, we will be able to have a trip.  My vacation will start on April 2, which is when I will leave BB for PP.  The next day, I will take a bus to Vietnam and pick Jacqueline up on the way (she lives on the highway connecting Cambodia and Vietnam.  Our trip will last until April 14, which is the start of Khmer New Year, which will be an amazing thing to see.  It is supposed to be a huge deal (clearly, we have a month off of school).  We will be traveling from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi by train, which will take 33 hours from start to finish.  Seems like a long time, but we will be able to see a lot of the country, which is out goal.  Plus it’s cheap.  Northern Vietnam is supposed to be cold right now, which will be so refreshing.  We are going to have a blast and while I am super happy here, a trip to another country will be great.  I want to see as much of the region as possible.  I have already been to Thailand and obviously Cambodia, so this will be my third country in Southeast Asia.  Not bad. 

Monday, March 1, 2010

Into the 8th month....

Chun Lai's Birthday Cake- sorry for the delay, I forgot on the last post.  The huge pig is on the cake because he was born in the year of the pig. 

 The birthday boy on his 3rd birthday.  He rocked a mohawk, of course.

I have officially passed the 7th month mark, which is really wild considering how insignificant my work here seems.  We were in PP last week for In Service Training, which is basically a time for us to have meetings all week and discuss our secondary projects.  My main assignment here is to teach English and anything that I do outside of teaching English at my school is considered a secondary project.  For example, our event for International Women's Day is considered a secondary project because it is above and beyond what I was sent here for.  We talked about how to do secondary projects and what it means.  We took a field trip to the Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia in PP and learned about what is happening in the health sector of the country.  The clinic was simply amazing, they had everything.  Like developing countries, there are huge issues with reproductive health.  They covered all aspects of reproductive health, from education and prevention to testing and surgery.  There is still so much work to be done.  The cities are so different from the countryside and most people live in the countryside.  Because Cambodia is a traditional culture, there are many misconceptions about sexual education and health, so as volunteers, we have to find those people and make changes.

Before I left for PP, I went on a tour of BB with Darlene and we went to get our nails done at the market.  Our friend, Sina, who works at the Spot (Espresso House Cafe) always has beautiful nails and I said I wanted them to, so I got them done for 3,000 reihl, which is about 75 cents.  Plus we made some new friends.  Check out the picture below. 

75 cents for these nails and a new friend. 

As for the meetings, we were in air conditioning talking about development, so it went about as well as expected.  It was super informative and really gave me some motivation for side projects.  We were able to hear from the K2s, which was really informative.  I also came to the realization that I am going to drop two of my classes, as in stop teaching them.  Out of my four classes, there are two that are really resistant and basically rude and don't want to learn English, for whatever their personal reason is.  I will continue teaching two classes (10Q and 11D) and try to add another class or start a private class or add more English hours.  There are plenty of students at my school who want to learn English with me, so I need to stop wasting my time with students who do not want to learn with me and find those who do.  I came here to teach English, not to convince students to learn English.

As for International Women's Day, the preparations are coming along very well.  We pushed back the date until March 31 because we were feeling rushed.  Now we are able to take out time and do it right.  We asked a Peace Corps doctor to speak to the girls about her life.  She survived the genocide and studied in Vietnam and America and is incredibly inspiring.  She is from the countryside and survived a lot of hardship and is really successful.  She will talk about her personal history (how she funded school) and also how she balances being a daughter and wife as well as being a doctor.  She is simply wonderful and I cannot wait for my students to hear her story.

I am trying to adjust make to life in BB.  I will be staying here for a month and then taking about two weeks in April for a vacation.  It will be Khmer New Year, so classes are canceled and the country takes a long time to celebrate.  My brother, Pat, will be coming and I will show him Cambodia then we will go to Vietnam for a while.  He will be my first visitor and I am really excited to take some time to see the country and Vietnam.  Plus, I haven't seen him in a long time, so I can't wait to see a member of my family.

That's about all the news here.  We had fun in PP and did what most Americans do in PP, went out and ate pizza.  We bowled and had fun.  PP gets to be overwhelmed after a while.  There are some really awesome things to do there, but it sort of gets old quick.  It was amazing to see all of my friends, but I am happy to once again be back at site and start doing some of the things that I want to do outside of the classroom.

At site: Hair up, glasses on, blouse covering shoulders, skirt (sampot) covering ankles, woke up at 6 am and the highlight of my social life includes sneaking beers at a gas station at 4pm and of course, no make-up.  Meals included rice and more rice.


In PP: Hair down, contacts in, make-up on my face, knees exposed, shoulders barely covered, slept in til 8 and my social life included a club and dinner at a restaurant.

Just wanted to show you in pictures this double life I am leading....