Wednesday, May 26, 2010

310 days and countin.....

Well, I am officially a few days into my 11th month of service and the arrival of the next Peace Corps Cambodia group is approaching much quicker than any of us thought possible. 

Last week I was in PP for my one-year check-up.  They bring us in to make sure that we haven’t picked up any crazy diseases and that our teeth are not falling out of our heads.  I have stayed relatively healthy (knock on wood), especially compared to some of my friends who have had multiple worms, amoebas and other things that I cannot even write because they are that gross.  I was more nervous about the dentist, however.  Now, I am not a freak about my teeth, but I brush them at least 3 times a day and although that should be more than enough to keep the cavities away, Cambodians insist on putting sugar into everything, so I was scared.  When I got to the dentists office, the dentist checked my teeth out while a dentist in training nervously watched.  I knew something was up when he lingered on a tooth a little too long.  He told me that I had a suspicious tooth and that I needed an extra.  I just didn’t want a cavity, simply put.  So, we got the x-ray and crisis averted, no cavity.  Lesson learned, from now on, I need to tell the man who makes my fried noodles to hold the sugar, not really a sentence that I ever thought I would say, ever. 

But now I am back at site.  School is winding down and I just found out that this was my last full week of the year.  Next week on Tuesday, we don’t have school because of another holiday, then tests start on the next Monday.  I realized that I probably should have done some sort of review, until I realized that my students all buy the test from the teacher (not me) a few days before, so there isn’t much point in reviewing.  This is not bitterness or anything, it’s more acceptance.

While teaching my brother Huck and his girlfriend Navy English last night, I found out about a fight that has been going on between my host family and their cousins, who live behind us.  This feud started when my host mom build a wall around our house (which looks really awesome) but her sister-in-law who lives behind us thought that she was infringing on her land.  I had literally no idea, but it makes me feel right at home! (Just kidding!)  It made me realize how little I actually know in the grand scheme of things.  Nevertheless, I had no idea because no one is really taking it out on me, which I am thankful for.  My cousin, who is in the family that is pissed, covered my solar panel headlamp charger when it was raining and I wasn’t home.  They all look out for me more than I will ever realize, regardless of the family fights. 

I officially ate durian last night.  If you don’t know what that is, you are lucky.  It is a fruit that is really popular in Southeast Asia.  Cambodians go nuts for it.  I inadvertently have eaten it a few times when I order a tuk-a-luk, which is a fruit smoothie.  The first time I ate one, it tasted just like a Jamba Juice.  Except in this, someone accidentally put an onion in it.  Upon further investigation, I found out that the mystery onion fruit was called durian.  I automatically hated it and never gave it a chance.  It looks like something out of MarioKart and smells like rotting meat.  I always think to myself that if someone is chasing me down the street, I can always grab a durian and use it as a weapon because those spikes are dangerous.  In Singapore, they don’t even allow durian in the country because it smells so bad.  Well, it’s allowed in Cambodia and it’s everywhere.  Huck told me that when he was little, he hated it but now he really likes it.  What he was getting at was that it is an acquired taste.  It made me think about some of the things that I thought was nasty before but now love- wine, beer, Chinese food, sushi, etc.  So, when my host mom summoned me to try some durian, my will was really tested.  The rotting meat scent hit me right away as Huck said, “I tried to tell her that you don’t like it, but she wants you to eat it.”  For the sake of my family and all Cambodians who love this fruit, I decided to try it.  I took the yellow bulb looking fruit and tried a little nibble.  And it was worse than I ever thought possible.  At least in the fruit smoothie there as some papaya, mango and banana to offset the onion.  My host mom said to try a little more and if I didn’t like her so much, I would have refused.  I don’t know if I accepted the “acquired taste” thing to take affect immediately, because it definitely didn’t.  I excused myself right after and sprinted to my bathroom to brush my teeth for about 10 minutes.  What did I learn in this experience?  Durian is gross.  My family at least got a kick out of the ugliest face that I have ever made. 

 Durian.  So nasty.

I have started a few summer projects.  One of them is yoga.  I started on Monday and I really like it.  I decided that I was sick of people calling me fat, so I started to curb the junk food and took up yoga.  I was investigating “weight loss yoga” and was thrilled to find something called sauna yoga, which is just doing yoga in a sauna.  I’m in luck because my bedroom doubles as a sauna on really hot days, so let the sweating begin.  Running has never really been my thing, but I am going to try to do it once or twice a week at least, but yoga is an everyday thing now.  I also want to find a Khmer tutor because Huck is going to the pagoda to become a monk soon.  My search for summer programs continues, but I have a pretty good idea of what my summer will look like. 

As for summer projects, I am turning to you, my family and friends back home.  There is an awesome project which is called the world map project.  It’s pretty self-explanatory, but I plan to paint a huge world map on the side of my school.  Many Peace Corps volunteers worldwide start this project and it’s a fantastic way to build community relations as well as learn about geography.  Although all Cambodian high schoolers take geography, I am skeptical as to whether or not they even learn anything.  I say this because I was talking to my brother about the pyramids.  When I asked him where they are, he said Brazil.  When I told him Egypt, he asked if that was in America.  When I said that it is in Africa, he said, “well, yes, but Africa is in America.”  He was pretty floored when I brought out a map and pointed out Egypt in Africa, America in North America and us in Cambodia, in Asia.  So, I decided to paint this map on the wall of my school this summer.  I also want to do it at the university that I work at.  Each map will cost about $40, so I am looking for contributions because sadly, my $4 per day won’t cover the $80 needed.  If you are interested in making a donation, please send me an email at  

A Peace Corps Volunteer that I don't know and her World Map Project
As for the rest of my life, everything else is normal.  I have been in Cambodia for 310 (who’s counting anyway) days and am still learning and growing everyday.  Miss you guys a lot. 

Monday, May 17, 2010

300 days!

I tried to make a post before my little adventure this weekend, but my blog was being very strange and it didn’t work.  Then I lost the document because I put it in the trash prematurely, so I will try to summarize the past few weeks.  

 One bike parking section behind my school.

Today marks 300 days since I left America and it has been a whirlwind.  My first year as a teacher here is coming to a rather abrupt end.  I found out last week that grade 11 second semester exams start on June 7th and I started freaking out.  I was shocked that no one else was when I announced that many of my other teacher/volunteer friends are on the last chapter of the book, which is 20.  What are we on?  Just finished chapter 9.  Uh oh.  But when I was the only one with any sense of urgency, I calmed down.  It must not be that big of a deal, so I just let it go.

I have been meeting with some Ngo’s in town in search of a summer project.  One was really great, but the other two were in other districts, so they are off limits.  Peace Corps really wants us to stay in out own districts for two main reasons: first, we were assigned to a district for a reason.  Second, if I go to a district that has another Peace Corps volunteer, I will really be infringing on their turf.  I was able to pass along the information that I received to the other volunteers.  I have one really good project lined up and a few more meetings.  I am sure that things will work out.  

 My 10Q class taking a test. 

I often write about the ups and downs and I am positive that will not end until my time here does.  It is the goal to have every volunteer COS, which means close of service.  If the volunteer wants to end early, that is called early termination, or ET.  Rarest of all is medical separation, which means that the health of the volunteer is in question and they must end their service.  There have been a few people to ET and while it is a tough situation, I have counted myself lucky that my closest friends here have all stayed.  Well, there was a blow to the group this weekend when our friend Jessica was medically separated.  I have been lucky enough to find three amazing friends, Keiko, Jessica and Jacqueline.  We talk all the time and although we are all really spread out across the country, we have been able to meet up about once a month.  We get along really well and have a good time.  Moreover, we have all been really supportive of each other.  While family and friends back home have been so supportive, I have been fortunate enough to find a support system in country.  They know exactly how it is, while it is a little more difficult for family and friends back home to understand.  So, on Thursday, Keiko and I got into a taxi to Siam Reap because school was cancelled due to the King’s birthday.  Siam Reap is only a three hour taxi ride from Battambang and about a five hour bus trip to Phnom Penh.  We had just gotten into the taxi when we got a text from Jessica asking us to come to Phnom Penh.  She has had Dengue Fever twice and was in PP.  We weren’t really sure why she wanted us to come and when we talked to her, she said that she was getting medically separated.  We had just gotten to Siam Reap, so we decided to spend the night (it was already about 4:00) and took the 7:00 AM bus into PP the next day.  We spent two days with Jessica and although she was really sick and upset, we were able to have a really fun last weekend together.  I went back to site yesterday, which was Sunday and said my goodbyes to Jessica.  It was really sad and I officially cried for the first time in country.  I know that we will be friends after this, but the group just won’t be the same.  The four of us balance each other out and while we will really miss her, we all consider ourselves really lucky to have had ten months with her.  

 Me and my friend Jessica

Last week was a rough week and on Tuesday, I had a miserable day.  My coteacher scheduled a meeting with the vice school director about me teaching his daughter English because she is going to America.  I wasn’t really excited about this meeting at all, but I think that since she is going to America, I want to help prepare her for the trip.  I know that if roles were reversed, I would really appreciate it.  Also, the vice school director is a pretty important person at the school, so I thought that it would be a good chance to get to know him better.  When we had the meeting, he told me that she works Monday-Friday and her only free time is on the weekends.  I wasn’t really excited about working on Saturdays or Sundays and when he said that he wants me to teach her for three hours each day, I had to politely inform him that is just too much.  Six hours between two days is a little much.  There were a lot of teachers listening in and because he is important, it is such an awkward position.  I can’t flatly refuse this man, but seriously, that’s a lot.  I told him that I can teach one hour each day, so two hours on the weekend.  I told him that I will not always be in town and that I have other things to do on the weekend and I may not be able to come.  Two hours on Sunday is probably what I will end up doing.  I was just very annoyed that my coteacher put me in this position.  Many people believe that since I am an English volunteer teacher, I only want to teach English.  I was just not in a good mood after that.  It was one of those days that I have about once every two months, where I just question what I am doing here and if I am even making a difference.  Well, just like every other time, my students came through in full force the next day to remind me of why I am here.   Although teaching formal class is really difficult because we never really have it, my English Club students have remained true and attendance has been better than I thought it would be.  We worked on public speaking and Vida presented his two weeks ago.  Vida has really grown a lot and while not too long ago he was a shy “pagoda” kid, he has really come into his own and when he presented, he was full of confidence.  Also, he showed the other students how to do it.  Last week the other 5 students presented.  Vida talked about how to improve your study skills while two girls who attended our International Women’s Day presented on the event.  One boy talked about “how to sharpen your mind” and another boy talked about “how to improve your English skills.”  The last two girls talked about the traffic in Phnom Penh and education in the countryside.  They all did really well, but Vida shocked me the most.  He was asking questions left and right and gave everyone suggestions and advice.  The girl who presented on education in the countryside was grilled by Vida.  She talked about a boy that she knows who is really poor but is a really good student.  She also offered information about how he pays for school.  Vida was asking all sorts of questions about this boy and I thought that he was getting out of hand and when I told him to relax, he said that he works with an Ngo that tries to find students like him to work and earn money.  Vida just wanted his name and information so that he could help him.  I felt bad for disciplining Vida, when in truth he was just trying to help a kid much like himself.  Those kids in that class are so cool and are so positive.  Sometimes I wish that I could just teach the eight of them because it is so enjoyable.  Then again, it’s the difficult work that needs to be done.  

 English Club before their public speaking presentations.

I will be heading back into PP on Thursday for my on year check-up and dentist appointment.  I am pretty scared about how many cavities I will have because everything has sugar in it here.  I feel pretty healthy, so I’m sure the check-up will be alright. 

Chun Lai is still in Takeo and hopefully he will come home next week with his mom and sister.  I miss him.  I also was floored this week when Huck told me that he will be joining the pagoda this summer and will be a monk for about 3 months.  It’s very common for Buddhist men to become monks for a few months (it’s much different from the role of priests in my religion).  I assumed that he was joining to learn about his religion and felt a spiritual drive to do so, and I’m sure that is a part of it, but he told me that his doctor told him to… um, what??!?!?!  As I have written before, Huck has arthritis in his ankles and although he is only a few months older than I am, he walks around the house like a 90 year old man.  He went to Bangkok a few years ago and was given medication but since he has a really sensitive stomach, he would just vomit after every meal, so he stopped taking it.  As an American, I have much faith in the health field, mainly because of the progressive nature of medicine and technology.  This happened a few years ago, but I can tell that my family lost faith in the system because this one medication didn’t work.  He went back to the doctor to see if there is anything that they can do, and he said that if Huck becomes a monk, his pain will decrease.  Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe in miracles, but this is different.  A medical professional should not be offering this sort of advice, I mean it’s arthritis, there are other things that can be done.  Again, I’m sure that Huck feels a spiritual drive to become a monk, but I am scared about when he leaves the pagoda.  I am working on a back-up plan to help him when he gets out. I’m praying for the monkhood to cure his pain, but I am also trying to come up with a plan b.  That is one of the most frustrating parts of living here- development doesn’t happen overnight and that is clear in this situation.  My family is correct to turn to a medical doctor (as opposed to a traditional health worker who uses unsanitary and questionable means to cure ailments) but then the doctor turns them back to something that goes against what his profession should be.  I am hoping for the best outcome in this situation, however.