Saturday, June 26, 2010

A long Vacation.... And a Long Post

Summer in Cambodia is a very strange concept mainly because I feel like I am in a perpetual summer.  I left America during the summer and the weather never really changes, so sometimes I feel like time is standing still and it is still July, 2009.  I have to remind myself that I have been here for 11 months already and that contrary to my instincts, time is moving forward.  I find myself making comments to my parents and friends that really shows my ignorance to this whole time thing.  For example, I was talking to my mom last week about the trip that we are planning for us (my parents and myself) and she was saying how it would be fun for another sibling to come along.  I offered that Pat would be free to travel with us. “No, Kealan, he will be at Yale by then.”  Right, people actually have lives.  Sometimes I forget that.  I remember thinking that when I was little and we went on vacation that since we weren’t at home that things actually stayed the same until we got back.  Sounds very selfish, but it’s very difficult to grasp the concept, even after all this time. 

            On Sunday, June 20th, my grade 12 English Club members asked me to come to their end of the year party.  I knew that it was a very special occasion because they cooked banchayoo, which is my favorite Khmer food, and is a sign of a special event. Banchayoo is made from rice (of course) which is ground and boiled to create a batter, which is cooked on a wok into a sort of pancake, then inside the pancake is sprouts and a pork-carrot-seasoning combination.  It’s pretty difficult to make and is a special occasion meal.  The day of the party, two students came to my house to collect me and my friend, Rachel, who I met through the Child Hope Ngo where I will do the health workshop (she is doing a summer internship of sorts for one month).  We rode about 3k to my student’s house, and it was a section of town that I hadn’t ever traveled to, so I was glad to see another part of this huge place.  It was really beautiful out there.  I was able to see the Cham (Muslim) population in Battambang as we rode past the mosque.  I invited Rachel along because my students are always looking to meet new Americans and practice their English.  I also wanted Rachel to meet them and have the chance to hang out with them.  So, we went to one student’s house and we cooked the banchayoo together, joked around and had a good time.  There were some other teachers there from the students’ private classes, so it was a fun mix of people.  We all sat down to eat the banchayoo, which is eaten with herbs, cucumbers and lettuce that is dipped in peanut sauce.  It is hands down my favorite food in Cambodia.  We sat on the floor and all ate together, typical Khmer style.  Afterward, we ate dessert, which was a mixture of fruit (jackfruit, passion fruit and many others that I don’t know the English word for) mixed with coconut milk and ice.  So delicious.  After the meal, we all sat around and listened to music, and shared stories, jokes and language.  It was a very fun day and I was really honored that they invited me.  On the way back home, I rode my bike with a student who kept thanking me for coming to the party and coming to Cambodia in general.  She lives about 25k outside of town and leaves her house at 5am to go to school, which is a 1.5 hour bike ride.  She just kept telling me how happy she was that she was able to be at a party with foreigners, which was her first party with Americans.  I tried to express that I felt the same way and I hope that she understood that the feeling was reciprocal.  We made plans to ride our bikes to Banan Mountain, which is a sacrifice for them because they all ride motos, but because I can’t, they agreed to take me all on bikes.  I also want to cook American food for them.  I texted my friend Keiko about it that night because it was one of those days that I will look back after I have finished my work as a Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best days.  Her response was that those days are valued so much because as volunteers, we don’t really get too much feedback to indicate if what we are doing is actually making a difference or an impact.  So, those days that come every once in a while that provide the feedback that we crave and are ones that are really special and will be stored as a fond memory.  

 Cooking the Banchayoo!

Banchayoo all ready to go!!!

The feast....


            Every now and then I need to be put in my place, in general but also here in Cambodia.  I actually think that we all do.  I didn’t do much the week after school ended and chalked it up to “needing a break” and I spent a lot of time in my room and read a lot.  Now, I think that is ok, but I had the audacity to complain about being woken up at 5:30 to my cousin chopping coconut skins.  I wanted to lie low for a while and pick up my work after July 4th.  Then I realized that didn’t make any sense.  I didn’t come here to waste time in my room.  My students have an unbelievable power to humble me.  After I was upset about being woken up at 5:30, my student really unknowingly treated me by telling me that she leaves her house at 5:00 (a half hour than I woke up that day!) and obviously has to wake up much earlier than that to complete her household chores.  I secretly was ashamed by my selfishness but she provided the kick in the butt that I needed to get my act together and work hard before my mini vacation for the 4th of July to PP.  I turned over a new leaf and put some plans in motion.  I started the World Map at the Ngo shortly after and got the ball rolling with my health workshop.  The English Clubs at my high school and the UME will continue as before. 
  I decided that the week leading up to my trip to PP would be a good time to take on the World Map project.  Although I am more of a baseball girl myself, the World Cup is a perfect time to do this project.  Geography in Cambodia is a requirement in school, but after asking various questions to my family, friends and students about geography, I realized that it is a really important aspect that is missing.  Most of my students couldn’t name the continents and had trouble finding their own country on a map.  Soccer is a really popular sport here, so the World Cup has been on every TV after dinner and everyone is talking about it.  I noticed my brother saying the names of countries that he didn’t even know existed before.  I couldn’t have asked for a better time to do this.  Because this project is mainly done at schools and my school director said flat out “No!” when I asked him to do it because the walls were being repainted, I asked my friend Rachel, who is a college student intern at Child Hope Organization, where I will be doing my health workshop, if she wanted to help.  Due to time constraints, we projected the map onto a wall and outlined it ourselves.  We began teaching very basic geography and learned quickly that the students only knew a handful of countries and couldn’t even find them on a map.  We dove right in and learned the names of the continents and drew attention to many popular ones.  For example, Cristiano Ronaldo is HUGE here, but the students all thought that he was from Spain.  Now they know that he is actually Portuguese.  Likewise, they knew that the World Cup was in Africa, but didn’t know that it was South Africa and couldn’t find it on a map, and they were all floored when we pointed out how far many people were traveling to go watch the games.  We finished it on Friday and it looks so great.  Many of the students painted their hands and made hand prints on the wall to make their mark in the world.  It was a nice touch.  Aunt Sue and Mom, I cannot thank you enough for providing the funds to make this possible.  I will send PLENTY of pictures, but the look on their faces when they actually started to think about the world as a whole, it was truly remarkable.  They are so excited to be a part of it, and it means so much to them to paint.  These are kids who are extremely poor- their parents’ income depends on finding bottles and glass to recycle.  Many are street children and some are orphans.  Because of human nature, they tend to be looked down upon, but simply by helping me with your donation, you really helped open their eyes to how big the world is.  It warmed my heart on the last day when this one girl took her friend who had missed the lessons before that, up to the almost completed map and taught her all of the continents and the big countries.  So, on behalf of all of them “Ahkun cheron!” (thanks a lot in Khmer).
          After the first step: paint the wall light blue (for the water)

Next: outline the map!

Then paint the countries!

The little girls were so brave and painted about half the map

My favorite boy painting in Cuba
One girl teaching her friends the continents

 The final product!!

  Now, as for my health project, things are going really well.  I met with Child Hope Organization a few weeks ago and they are doing some fantastic work with training these children.  There are daily English lessons, computer class, agriculture lessons and they even hatch and raise quails, which are sold and eaten.  I realized that one aspect that I can contribute to this organization is related to health.  Now, these are children who are going through other people’s garbage to find bottles and glasses to recycle to make money, so hygiene is not emphasized.  So, I devised a plan, using two trainees who are two of my star grade 11 students, we will conduct a one week workshop on very basic health concepts.  So, our plan is to have these sessions to teach or to reinforce very basic ideas, such as why drinking clean water is important and how to make sure the water you are drinking is clean.  But, it has been my experience that Khmer people know these concepts, but since it is not habitual to them, they tend to neglect them or change their ways.  Think about it, as a child, I specifically remember taking bathing breaks together as a class with Mrs. Skaleny and after we finished going to the bathroom, she watched us wash our hands.  Same at home, wash your hands before you eat, when someone is sick, etc.  It is so deeply engrained in us that sometimes we forget that it isn’t in others.  Having said that, the workshop will be the starting point of implementing healthy habits into the organization with the effect of the children bringing those habits home.  Another setback to practicing good health is that it’s expensive.  When it comes to these families that don’t really have any money, having soap around the house is trumped by getting food for the family, always.  So, part of our workshop will be for the children to take something home with them (a bar of soap, a toothbrush, etc.)  We also will make sure that there are some changes with the organization when it comes to these issues, which I discuss below.  Here are the five lessons that we will teach and what they entail:
  1. Handwashing- Instruction on how to wash your hands using a fun activity I found that involves glitter, which is always well received here.  We will put glitter on a few students’ hands then have them touch their friends, their books, their pens, etc. and we will be able to see how easy it is to pass germs. We will then have the kids wash their hands and if there is still glitter on them, they know that they haven’t done it right.  Each student will have to properly wash their hands in front of an instructor to be given a bar of soap. In our budget, we will also have extra soap that we will keep at the organization and each of the teachers and workers will make sure that their students wash their hands after going to the bathroom and before they eat. 
  2. Tooth-brushing- This is probably the most expensive topic, but none the less very important.  Many people here have very bad teeth and it is incredibly painful for them later in life.  It is also a source of embarrassment and they tend to be self conscious.  We will have the students draw a picture of how to brush your teeth and they will take it home to their families.  Once they have finished that, they will each get a toothbrush and toothpaste.
  3. Water purification- Many people drink dirty water, so we will discuss how to make water drinkable.  This, again, is sort of tricky because it requires boiling water, which can be expensive.  This is why the students will be in charge of boiling water and making sure that there is always clean water at the organization.
  4. Diarrhea- Towards the end of the dry season, there was an outbreak of cholera in 4 provinces to the east of us.  Many children die from diarrhea every year caused by dehydration.  This will be a piggy-back off of the clean water lesson, and will talk about prevention (drinking clean water) and how to fight it (making oral rehydration salts).  We will teach them how to make the mixture for the rehydration salts and keep some at the center. 
  5. Mosquito borne illness- Because it is rainy season, the mosquitoes have really been a problem.  There is an announcement every morning about sleeping inside mosquito nets, wearing long sleeves, etc, but still, there are many children who die from diseases such as dengue fever.  This lesson will be about how to protect yourself from mosquitoes.  The students will each take home a bag of abate, which is a chemical that is offered at the health center to kill mosquitoes in water.  All families collect rain water and most of them are exposed and are teeming with mosquitoes.  Most Cambodians know about abate, but they don’t want to go to the health center, so we will make the bags for them and keep some extra at the organization for the kids to take home.  The chemicals are free and all you need is a bag to put it in and drop it in the water.  It will be the responsibility of the students to then refill the abate on occasion.
The two students who I chose as my summer interns are Vida and Kimny.  Vida is the boy I always talk about and Kimny is one of my best students, she also went to International Women’s Day.  They are two of my star students and also expressed interest in volunteering.  Vida isn’t really interested in getting money this summer, he would rather get professional experience.  Kimny wants to be an English teacher, so this will be a great way for her to have some teaching experience.  I took them to meet with the director, Socheat, at Child Hope.  He asked them to submit their resumes because he wants them to start teaching English to children at the pagoda.  Vida told me that he asked to volunteer there before, but they don’t accept high school students, only university.  Vida went back and gave Socheat his resume that day and Vida and I worked with Kimny on hers the next day.  Kimny is nervous because she thinks that she isn’t prepared, but this is such an awesome chance for her to get some experience under her belt.  As for the health workshop aspect, Socheat is on board and is really excited.  I will be working closely with him, as well as my interns until we have the workshop in September.  That will give us more than enough time to prepare for everything.  One important part of this is to train Kimny and Vida how to do everything- the budget, the curriculum, the translating, delivering the workshop and then assessing the workshop and moving forward.  I want them to see the whole process and learn from it.  First is the budget.  We went to the market to price everything that we will need and Vida was leading the brigade- negotiating, making deals, bargaining- he was awesome.  Kimny played the sweet Khmer girl card a few times.  They were real go gotters.  We then have to actually write up the budget, which will be done before I leave for PP (I will be submitting it to PC when I get in).  It’s exciting and they are the two best people to have on my team.  I can’t wait.
            I have set up times to meet with my grade 11 (Tuesday and Wednesday from 9-11) and grade 12 students (Tuesday and Wednesday 1-3) because they are a blast. My library was taken over by some books (not books that should in a library), so we will have to find another place to study.  I made a slideshow of my sister Katie’s wedding and showed it to my grade 11 and 12 students this week.  My students were baffled that we wore black dresses and one student said, “A Khmer girl would never wear black to a wedding.”  The bride doesn’t wear white here (she actually have about 4-5 different colorful outfits she wears each day).  I used to think that Khmer weddings were exhausting, but I saw the same look of exhaustion on their faces when I explained that it’s a one day affair for us.  “But cher, you travel to so many places for your weddings! Pictures before, the church, the reception, someone’s house!”  They also said that it was bad luck if anyone cries at a wedding.  Hopefully that isn’t true because I think we all brought Katie and Matt lots of bad luck.  They thought that everything was so beautiful and couldn’t believe the cake.  Some things were just lost on them- like how many people like to play “Shout!” at the reception and everyone crouches on the ground at one point when he repeats “a little bit softer now…” 
            My summer basically looks like this- teaching two groups of students at my high school for 2 hours twice a week (so total 4 hours).  Then working with Kimny and Vida on the health workshop at least once a week.  I also have two afternoons twice a week with the UME English Club.  I will continue to teach my brother Huck and his girlfriend every night, as well as the man who pumps air in my tires once a week and the school directors daughter once a week.  I want to set up a program with Child Hope that would be a sort of gym class where we go to the park (well really the open field) and play red rover, kickball, etc.  Darlene and I have talked about a resume/cover letter writing workshop at the universities. 

All in all, it has been a great start to the summer.  I will be going to a wedding on Sunday (our tuk-tuk driver is getting married) and next week should be quite busy.  I will head into PP on Sunday and meet up with my friends there.  Summer will fly by, I’m sure.  I am just trying to balance having fun and working hard, which actually isn’t much different than my previous life….. Miss you all!

Also, congrats Kelly and Dustin on the new baby! So many babies back home that may not be babies when I get back. 

Friday, June 11, 2010

One school year down, one left

This week has been a very important one for me because I have officially completed my first year as a teacher.  Grade 9 students already finished their tests and grade 12 students takes their tests next week, so classes are officially done.  I am really proud of myself for making it through one year, but I still have one more left.  I have learned a lot of lessons that I want to share with you:
            Much like most (if not all) Peace Corps Volunteers, I entered my service a bright eyed idealist.  I still possess those idealistic ideals because frankly, I would be miserable or at home if I didn’t have them.  After training, I was super excited to get into the classroom and make these huge changes.  Well, needless to say, those changes that I was seeking were not as dramatic as I anticipated initially.  I thought that I would defeat cheating, inspire teachers to teach when they are supposed and most importantly see a huge improvement in my students, both with their level of English and attendance.  Well, after about a month or two, it became clear that these changes weren’t going to come so easy, if at all.  I gave up on fighting cheating and learned that when teachers aren’t paid, they simply aren’t going to teach and focused my attention on working my butt off to improve my students’ English.  Most of my students improved their English levels, but I have noticed successes in some really unlikely places.  I was talking to my friend Jacqueline about how at the year mark, it’s so easy to look back on the things that we wanted to change and didn’t, but it is such a pleasure to see those changes that actually took place.  See, it is way more obvious to see the things that did not change, because they seem so important.  But let’s be honest, the system has been this way for much longer than I have been around, and Cambodia is a place that sticks firmly to it’s ideals and customs, which I believe to be its best and worst characteristic simultaneously, so it makes sense that not all battles taken on are going to be victorious.  But, if I could express in words the pleasure that the small successes have brought on, I would not be writing an amateur’s blog, but rather a book.  Although I am setting myself up for another failure, I will attempt to describe this feeling.  On my first day of actual teaching, a sheepish boy came up to me and asked for extra lessons outside of class in the library.  I knew that he worked up the courage the entire class and seemed extremely relieved when we set the time.  Those first few lessons proved that we needed to work really hard, but Vida showed that he was determined to learn English.  We would study grammar and vocabulary, but we got to know each other a little bit.  I learned more about him with every lesson- he hasn’t seen his parents in 3 years and for an 18 year old, that is a really long time.  He also told me that because he is not from here, he didn’t have many friends.  When I started my English Club, Vida was the only boy who came and was really awkward around the girls and I noticed that while he spoke when we studied alone, he hardly said a word while others were there.  He confided in me one day that he felt really self-concious because he is a “pagoda kid”, meaning that he lives with the monks at the pagoda, rather than in his home (which is about 400k in a distant province called Kampong Cham).  Over time, I noticed that with his improved English, many of the boys who sat around him would ask him for help and suddenly, he was Mr. Popularity.  He even ventured so far as making fun of his friend in front of the class.  I asked him to answer the question: “What does your friend like to do during the weekend?” and his response was “My friend likes to look at pretty girls.”  His friend didn’t understand, but he instantly gained more friends.  For the past two months, I have noticed his self-confidence peak.  He has even gone so far as correct me (rather put me in my place) during class when I confuse tenses and write something wrong.  In the English Club, we call him “Cher Vida” because he is so good at English is always looking to help the other kids.  When everyone presented their public speaking assignments, he grilled everyone and offered his expertise to help them out.  He is a completely new kid and it has been a pleasure to watch his progress as a student and also with his confidence.  I am really looking forward to watching next year. 
            As volunteers, it is a tough lesson to learn that not everyone will benefit from your efforts, for whatever reason.  By the end of this school year, I stopped trying to include the students who didn’t want to be there for a few reasons.  If they don’t want to be there, I’m not going to take away from attention and help that I could give to the kids that want to be there.  I know that is such a teacher thing to say, but it’s true.  In a class of 70, when there are about 10 kids who want to do the work, you tend to not care about the other 60.  I wish that this wasn’t the case, but I came here to teach English, not to convince students to listen to me and do their work.  Some of the kids really got their acts together and took an interest, but most didn’t.  It would be foolish for me to believe that I could make everyone interested in my subject.  If I devoted my entire life to that, then maybe that would be worthwhile, but I have other plans.  Most of the kids who didn’t pay attention in class are the kids that pay the most money during private classes with my coteacher, so they can get away with it.  Essentially, my hands are tied because I would be creating a huge fight if I got involved in that.
            Yesterday, I met with my grade 11 English Club and when I asked them if they wanted to study this summer, they all said yes.  Now, this English Club would mean that the students have to take time out of their vacation to study more, which is unlike most 18 year old kids.  They have family obligations and they aren’t getting anything out of this besides knowledge, but that is what they want.  This is a huge success for me because Cambodia is run by stupid certificates that people get for taking part in classes, so no certificate usually means no interest.  Their reading comprehension, listening, writing and speaking skills have sky rocketed.  Before I had to spoon food any metaphor or deeper meaning, but yesterday when we read an article about cholera in Northeast Cambodia, they were connecting the dots and making comparisons on their own.  

 11D students in the library (aka storage room attached to the library)

So where does this leave me?  With renewed spirits and a break to work during the summer, which starts immediately.  Here is a breakdown of my summer projects, just to keep you informed:

  • World Map- Thanks to my mom and Aunt Sue, I have enough money to paint the world map on two separate surfaces.  I want to do it at my high school and the university, but the university may not be so keen, but there will definitely be two world maps in Battambang in a few months.  This project will be a really great geography lesson, but more importantly, it will be a good community project.  The students that will paint the map will most likely be the students from my English Clubs, which will be a really fun activity to do.  Likewise, Khmer students tend to be very artistic and rather meticulous when it comes to straight lines and proportion, so I think that they will look beautiful.
  • English Clubs- As of right now, I have four English Clubs.  One at the university and one for grade 9, 10 and 11 each.  I meet with the university English Club two Mondays and Thursdays from 2-5 where we discuss a specific topic from the World Book Encyclopedia.  The theme for this month is natural phenomena (such as tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, etc).  The students read the material, we discuss it and then they each give a speech about what they learned.  They are a lot of fun and we have a lot of laughs.  They are very curious about America because most want to study and or live there, so we tend to share information about our countries, which is always a really great cultural exchange.
  • Private English Classes- I have three private classes as of right now.  Every weeknight, I teach my host brother Huck and his girlfriend, Navy.  They are great students and it is a great chance to get to know them better and spend time together.  I told Huck that I needed him to speak and be brave, so initially just guessed all the time, which I appreciated, but eventually it led to him getting many questions right.  Sometimes he is so far off, but he tries really hard and doesn’t get embarrassed.  He has improved so much, especially with listening because before if he didn’t understand a word, the entire sentence was thrown off.  Now he is able to pinpoint the word that he doesn’t understand and ask about that word.  It always brings a smile to my face when he uses a phrase that I taught him, such as: check it out, it depends, what’s up.  I also teach lessons once a week to a man who is a bike repair man.  He is really sweet and although the cards are stacked against him, he wants to be an English teacher.  We read articles together from the Cambodia Daily and he gives me free air in my tires.  I also teach English once a week to my vice principal’s daughter, who just married a Cambodian-American who lives in California.  She will be moving there in 6-10 months, so she wants to prepare.  I am trying to improve her level as much as possible while also trying to prepare her for the cultural differences.  I think that she will be ok because she is going to Long Beach, which has a high mount of Khmer people. 
  • Health Training Center English- I went to meet the director of the center and after a rather embarrassing exchange (he went to shake my hand, which is very uncommon in Cambodia because they hold their hands in a prayer position and bow just a little, but I was confused and thought he asked me to take a seat…) we went into his office and talked about what the center needs.  He told me that they have many resources, but they are all in English, so the trainers (professors or teachers) have to learn English and then translate them into Khmer then teach them.  He was asking for someone to teach the trainers and the trainees (aka the students).  I still have a lot of thinking to do about this one because if I simply help to translate these documents, when the next documents come in, this health center will be in the same position.  Likewise, if I teach the trainers and trainees, they need to have a high level of English to understand books about health.  So, I am thinking that I will lay the groundwork for some sort of English curriculum for the health center.  I think that this will be best because the better that the trainees are at English, the more that they will understand from these resources and after they graduate, they will be better candidates for jobs if they can speak English.  Also, for many jobs at clinics or organizations that are run by international funders, reporting is done mainly in English, regardless of the country that the organization is from.  This project, though, seems really huge.  Then again, I’m not looking for cushy jobs here and although this project is one that I cannot do alone and will take many years after I am gone to implement, it has the capacity to really help the health sector in Cambodia, which is obviously a big one. 
  • Health Workshop- There is an Ngo very close to my house called Child Hope Organization, which works with children, mainly street children, extremely poor children, orphans or children with a parent with AIDS or a disability.  These children go to school in the mornings, but because their families are poor, they are forced to go to parties and schools to collect cans and bottles to recycle.  This organization was established to give them a safe, clean place to come and learn skills.  My plan is to set up a weekly workshop on a health issue with my student, Vida, who wants to get some volunteer experience.  It will be a sort of internship.  We will work on the curriculum and create a book for the workshops.  We will deliver the workshop together, me in English and Vida translating to Khmer.  The issues we will discuss are washing hands, how to handle diarrhea, teeth brushing, drinking clean water, etc.  I will need to submit a project proposal for funding because my plan is to get the children to come to the sessions by offering food in the beginning.  Then we will deliver the workshop and upon completion of a sign to bring home or hang in the organization, the children will get something to bring home to their families to enforce what they learned.  For example, when we do hand washing, the children who complete the lesson will get a bar of soap.  Or when we do teeth brushing, they will get a tooth brush.  Because we will cover many different topics, the children who come to every workshop will get a certificate and some sort of prize (money most likely).  Because being healthy is expensive when you don’t have much, we need to cater to those needs.  We will also implement these values learned in the seminars around the organization, such as making sure that there is always clean drinking water and soap for them to wash their hands with while they are there. 
  • Youth Development- There is an Ngo that works with youth development and I think I will work with them to try to find funding, as well as give English lessons and hold various workshops about resumes, applications, etc.  They have a youth club that I would like to be a part of, but that is still unclear too.

That about covers my summer.  It may seem like a lot, but there aren’t too many obligations that I have for the summer and I know myself well enough to know that I will need to stay busy to stay sane.  The next group of volunteers will be here in a month and half and that will be fun to be a part of.  It will be difficult to do anything next summer, so I want to make sure that I really put myself out there this summer.  Some of the programs will most likely bomb, so it’s good to have certain programs that will run.  It also helps that I will be working with places that are established already.  I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, I just want to add to what is already out there.  Most places want an English speaker to help teach or proofread applications for funding, etc and although it is not my ideal summer project, if that is the blaring issue here, then I will do it.  Notice that I am working in a wide range of places, which will help me with the projects.  I have had my fill of teaching from the English for Cambodia curriculum, so teaching my private class will give me some room to teach as I please, as do these other projects.  

As for the 4th of July, which was something that I was nervous about, I will be heading into PP to celebrate.  Jacqueline and I decided to have a really American weekend- swimming, subs, shopping, eyebrow waxes, and air conditioning.  There is a party at the Embassy on the 4th, but we are going to make sure that we have a great weekend before that.  It has been a while since we got together to have a break, so we will make it worth it.  

 Me teaching Darlene how to use facebook.  Sometimes we joke that I am her grad assistant.

I have learned more in my first year as a teacher than I did as a student.  It has been a crazy year, but I still feel good about being here, even though there were times when I doubted myself, my work and the ability to help.  Some volunteers have abandoned their optimism for “realism” but they aren’t really happy.  It’s really easy to get down and negative and blame it on being realistic, but if I lost my hope, why would I remain here?  No matter how upset I get with Cambodia, I know deep down that I am doing some good, no matter how difficult it is to see at time.  And if I ever lose that fire, well, it’s time to go home.  I think that after being a teacher for one year, one of my biggest successes is keeping a positive spin on things.  I found a quote in a book that I am reading that I think is perfect in this case.  “But any country is still in the making. Always.” He was talking about America, but I think it is perfect for this situation. I will try to remember that when I think things aren’t going well.

P.S. I changed the settings on the blog so that anyone can comment.  That’s a hint…. :)