Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Donations need!

I submitted a project proposal for a hygiene station for children to wash their hands and brush their teeth.  If you are interested, please click on the following link! 


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Just some ideas...

Now that I am about 16 months into service (has it really been that long?), I have noticed how much difference one year makes.  Some of it comes in the form of just knowing more about the culture or sometimes it is when I finally connect the dots.  The most recent connection came in the form of our chapter one test for grade 10.  Now last year, I wasn’t too good about being strict with the students and was more worried about being a good representation for my organization, my country and myself.  Knowing what I know what I know now, I probably wouldn’t change that because it led to having a following of really awesome students who feel comfortable around me and are able to learn because we broke down that barrier of their shyness.  But, I feel like I only reached a few kids last year.  I know that is more than I could ask for, but I was really disheartened last week when my co-teacher didn’t come to class and the students didn’t listen at all.  They were really rude to be honest (rude if a very subjective word because what is considered rude to Americans may not be considered rude to Cambodians and vice versa).  I was really mad and I called Keiko about it and she told me that they don’t respect us.  We don’t determine the grades, they hardly understand us, so our hands are kind of tied.  They may like us, but for the ones that are not interested in English, they just don’t want to be there, but have to be.  At dinner a few nights later, Dave, a K4 who loves phrases, idioms and sayings of any kind, said, “It’s better to be respected than liked.” I realized that I am already liked and even still, did I come here to be liked?  No, I came to teach English.  My students listen to my co-teacher because they respect him.  I decided that I needed to do something to change this in my class. 

We talk a lot about choosing our battles in Peace Corps.  Some you fight, some you don’t and some you just ignore completely.  Last year, I ignored the cheating and copying during tests.  This year, with the support of my co-teacher, I chose my battle: cheating and copying.  I didn’t have much data in terms of my students understanding the lessons and tracking their improvement, which came from students not ever doing their homework assignments and not taking their own tests.  Policing cheating will help me to see what they understand and what they need to work on.  I can also see how much they are improving, if they are indeed improving.  Because I chose not to fight the test battle, I was vaguely aware of what was happening and added bits and pieces of what was happening by tidbits from students, mainly Vida.  When I went to copy the tests, I made enough for both classes, so 140 tests.  Because the students are obligated to pay for photocopies, many teachers add a little bit to make a profit.  I obviously was willing to pay for it to make sure that they could take the test.  Altogether, the tests set me back less than $2.  Now, one of my co-teachers last year used to charge 1,000 reihl per test, which is 25 cents.  Per student.  Every class.  Every test.  It’s just so upsetting to hear those things, but what can I do?  He has kids and a mother to support.  I can’t judge because I’m getting my money from Peace Corps and I don’t have to worry about that.  It makes me sad any way I look at it. 

So, we had a review session.  A few volunteers (not including me) came up with a test booklet for the national exam, which includes a review sheet, the test and the answer key.  We reviewed as a class and I told them my new rules.  Combating cheating is one of those things that is all or nothing, you can’t give any wiggle room, so my rules are pretty strict.
  1. If a student talks, copies from another student or allows a student to copy from his or her test and I see it, I will make a huge red X on their paper, which means -5 points.  If they do it again, that’s -10 points and one more time is 0 marks on the test. 
  2. All notebooks and bags at the front of the class and one pen is allowed at the desk and only two students to a desk.
  3. If a student is caught with a cheat sheet, I will confiscate it and that’s -30 points.  If I catch them with another, 0 marks. 

They knew going into the test what the rules were and I told them in Khmer that I am a policewoman.  I told them to study instead of trying to cheat, I would catch them.  I also made two different variations of the same test and gave two different tests to a desk so that cheating was tougher. 
The day of the test, I was nervous.  My class is really big, about 70 kids.  I also was scared that they would all cheat, so monitoring would be impossible.  I told my co-teacher (who was absent the day of the review) and he seemed to support it, but one can never know.  After taking their notebooks (he seemed weird about making them put their bags up front) we did the dictation section and the test was in full swing.  All together, I gave out 15 x’s, which is less than I thought I would.  There were some kids who were pissed because they helped their friend and I put an X on theirs, but I think that next time they won’t let their friend.  I was sooo nervous that I would have to give someone a zero, but the most anyone got was 2 X’s.  One boy got an X and when I looked at his paper later, he hadn’t done anything on the test at all.  So zero marks minue five more points.  I put an X on one of my favorite students test and felt bad.  But then I put two X’s on a girl’s test who is always rude to me, so I guess it evened out.

After the test, I told them that they probably think that I am mean and are mad at me, but that I didn’t care.  I came here to teach, not to watch them cheat.  I told them that we will tell them exactly what to expect on the tests so instead of trying to copy, study. I noticed that after the test, when we started the new lesson, the students were more attentive and respectful. 

Today, I gave the other class the test and there were much less X’s in that class.  Maybe the kids from the first class told their friends in the other class.  I’m really glad that they didn’t test me too much on it, because I really don’t want to do it.  But I want my students to learn, so I guess it is something that I don’t want to do, but I must.  

Over the course of my service, I have read 62 books.  I am proud of that because I was never a big reader before, but I think that I have shifted and really enjoy it.  But then I realized that amount is a little too high and I need to cut back a little and give way to another hobby.  I chose to work on my photography.  I have always been interested in it and took a class in high school, but there are some really cool photo ops here I would like to take advantage.  I also have a fun program on my computer to edit the pictures.  So here are some of the pictures, some are from before I came to Cambodia and some are from Cambodia.  Enjoy!

Taken at the floating village before my fortune
Soccer ball at the orphanage 

My training host sister Lina

First trip to the floating village

Maura and I when were were little in Tennessee

Scary spider

My brother Pat's book reading.  Maura is on the couch.  I took this a week before I left America

I took this with my film camera in Ireland, in my dad's hometown. 

Bamboo, so important here

Not my bike


The flowers are so pretty here. 

I'm going to miss coconuts. 

Water puppets from my trip to Vietnam. 

Rome trip. 

Rome trip, again


One of my favorite pictures ever. 

Darlene with a special needs teenager at the orphanage
 In fruit news, mangos are coming back into season.  Pretty soon they will be just about everywhere.  So delicious.  Cambodians scoff when I tell them that a mango in America is about $3 (is that even right?) when in Cambodia, they are just under $1 for 3 mangos. Right now, many people are eating grilled fish with a mango-fish cause-garlic-chili pepper combo, including myself.  During mango season, they are everywhere, so no one even pays for them. People have too many mangos so they just hand them out to anyone that will take them.  That’s my favorite part of the year.

I received some good news about a week or so ago- my mom is coming back to Cambodia with my little sister! Such great news! I told my family that my mom loved Cambodia so much that she wanted to come back.  I am thrilled about it! The tentative dates are January 1st- January 12th.

As for the approaching holiday, there will be a training session for the new group of volunteers in Battambang, so the Battambang volunteers are arranging a Thanksgiving dinner for about 80-90 people.  Coordination is proving tough, but we will be able to pull it off.  We are having a sleep over at Darlene’s then waking up and cooking all day.  Sit tight for more news of it…. I’m also pitching my Leader Club to about 200-300 students on Friday.  We want to spark their interest and get the ball rolling on giving them the tools to create community projects. 

I went with Darlene to the orphanage that we spend a lot of time at, and two projects were formed.  First, Darlene is working to get a replacement for the solar powered water pump.  The pump broke about a month ago and now the children must use the back-up well and transport water to all of the bathrooms and kitchens.  It takes about 2-3 hours everyday.  We also discovered that many of the children were really sick during a recent flood.  The reason is because they don’t wash their hands.  In most Cambodian bathrooms, there is no sink and soap, so hand washing never really gets done. So, I created a project to make a hygiene station, which will be a place for the children to wash their hands and brush their teeth.  Because they don’t have parents to monitor their hygiene, it is often neglected and leads to further problems.  We are aiming to solve this problem by creating the station, supplying the children with toothbrushes and toothpaste and supplying the center with soap.  I also asked my two students, Kimny and Vida, who did the health workshop over the summer, to do a workshop about hand washing and oral hygiene for the children with three of the high schoolers who live at the orphanage.  The funding will come from family and friends back home who can contribute online.  I submitted the proposal on Monday, so I hope to hear back soon and I will send on the link.
The boys dorm. 
Because my mom and sister are coming to visit right after the holidays, I was torn between spending the holidays at the beach with a few friends, but decided to stay at site through Christmas and celebrate New Years in Siem Reap with some friends, then meet my mom and sister.  Coincidentally, a really awesome project essentially fell into my lap.  While at the orphanage, we were told that on December 22, 23 and 24th, a team of Canadian doctors will be setting up a clinic at the orphanage.  Free check-ups will be provided to anyone in the community, so long as they come to the orphanage.  I talked to many of my students in my English Club (these students tend to be poorer, which is why they study with me, because they cannot afford to go to private school) and we made a plan to bike the 7 kilometers to the center, with siblings, parents and other family members who are interested.  I also talked to Socheath, the director of the organization that works with street children and orphans where we did the health workshop about getting the children to the clinic.  I talked to Vida about making sure that all of the boys who live at the pagoda to come, since they are essentially homeless.  We will have a pretty overwhelming group, but I cannot imagine a better way to spend Christmas Eve- helping to get kids who are sick to doctors.  These kids have no advocates for their health and well-being.  Because we will have a huge group, I’m going to bring games to play while we wait for the doctors. 

My host family life continues to be one of the best parts of service.  I’m worried, however, about my nephew Chun Lai’s attachment to me.  His parents live in a different district and he sees them probably once a month for only a few hours.  He is being raised by my host mother, my host sister and my host brother and not really by his parents.  This is common in Cambodia.  Sometimes kids leave home to live with a relative and hardly see their parents.  I thought that it was really traumatic for the children, but I learned that it happens all the time once I asked my students about it.  Although it is part of the culture, I can tell that he is acting out because of it.  He hits his grandmother (not nearly as big of a deal as it would be in America, especially with my grandma) and yells and cries a lot.  He doesn’t go to school yet and is surrounded by adults all the time.  I have become his play thing, which is really fun, but he doesn’t listen to me.  Like last night, when he tried to draw with permanent marker on his eyeball and I had to snitch on him to my host mother.  We have a blast and I’m so glad to have him; he keeps me smiling and I love to be silly with him, but I won’t be here forever.  I just hope it isn’t too messy when I leave.  I hope that he just moves on to the next thing.  Besides that thought, the nightly English lessons with my brother Huck and his girlfriend Navy are really proving to be paying off.

Before the sentimental part, I was told last week that my name means playful in Thai.  Fun little fact.

When I was an athlete (it seems to long ago now), I was never really concerned with my stats.  During college, I never knew the exact numbers, but I could usually gage how well I was doing.  But it was shocking sometimes to realize how far I had fallen.  During the great slump of my freshman year, my batting average was so low; I was shocked that it wasn’t lower.  My coach would sometimes read the team stats, especially from the most recent 10 games, but we usually knew what to expect- 4 errors in the past 10 games wasn’t a shock, I was there for all 4 of them.  During my sophomore year, I was slumping really badly towards the end of the season.  A few bad games turned into a dent into my batting average and really any offensive category and one practice my coach announced that I was “0 for my past 15”.  Now, I knew that I wasn’t doing well, but I didn’t realize that it was that bad.  In softball slumps are unavoidable and the most difficult part of the game.  Confidence gets lower with every hitless at bat.  They don’t happen too often, but when they do, oh man, it’s a tough road ahead.  This is how is works with my service.  Sometimes I fall into a slump and don’t even know it’s happening, except as a volunteer, I don’t have someone to hit me with my .000 batting average to whip me back into shape.  During training, we talked a lot about peaks and troughs and how it’s really hard to tell that you are in a trough, sometimes you don’t even realize until you are on your way out of it.  This is what happened to me a few weeks ago.  Although I don’t have a statistic, my daily planner was alarmingly barren.  I was teaching at my high school and the university, but not going above and beyond what I want to be doing and frankly should be doing.  I don’t really know how to explain it aside from being stagnant.  Even though I don’t have a coach to call me out on not doing much, a community need usually snaps me out of it and helps to realize what was happening.  I also noticed that after I come out of a slump, just like softball, the stars seem to align and projects fall into my lap.  Jenna Best, one of my closest friends, always used to repeat what her mother would tell us when she came to games “Do something out there, will ya?”.   I think this is pretty perfect because it’s those times where I just lay dormant that it’s not that I am doing something bad, it’s more that I’m not doing much of anything.  We are here, we should do it to the best of our ability.  But that’s behind me and let’s hope it’s the last trough of service and I can plateau from this peak.

It never ceases to amaze me how important perspective is in general, especially now.  When my mindset is out of whack, Cambodia seems like such a backwards, tough country.  But when I alter my position to be open-minded and positive, I appreciate just how remarkable this place truly is.   

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My fortune Teller experience.

Many Cambodians consult fortune tellers when they are faced with important decisions, and those topics can be anything from daily questions to life changing issues.  Sometimes Cambodians consult fortune tellers without questions, but rather insight into the future, especially potential problems.  Many heads of state and important leaders have fortune tellers that they rely on when they have important tasks at hand.  These fortune tellers can be found just about anywhere and are typically older women. Many people that I know well (Cambodians, of course) consult a fortune teller a few times a year.  One woman I know who is opening a hotel in town consulted a fortune teller to determine the best day to open the hotel, the colors that will bring the best fortune to the hotel, what to call it, etc. My brother, Huck, told me that his girlfriend’s mother consulted one at Banan Mountain, which is a mountain with a temple at the top that many people in Battambang visit. I asked one member of the Peace Corps staff, and he said that he goes to a fortune teller about 4 times a year for a wide range of things- what to name their baby, what day of the week to move, professional insight, etc.  My host mother is going to a fortune teller next week to make sure that my host sister gets married in the right month and on the right day in March.  I have seen fortunes told in the meat section of the market.  The means to read the future vary from a deck of cards, reading palms or feet, according to horoscope or date and time of birth or by simply looking at the person and reading their aura. I read a book a few months ago about an Italian journalist who lived in south east Asia for most of his adult life, and he spent one year traveling around the region and getting his fortune read by various seers (The book is called A Fortune Teller Once Told Me by Tiziano Terzani).  He only spent a few days in Cambodia and was actually kind of arrogant, but the combination of the book and knowing many people that have done it, Darlene and I decided that we wanted to take part as well.  Darlene told her coteacher, Phanet, that we wanted to do this and Phanet made all of the arrangements.  Tuesday, November 9th was Cambodian Independence Day from France, so classes were canceled.  We were expecting to go to the market or somewhere in Battambang but Phanet arranged a time with a woman in Pursat Province, about 2 hours from Battambang.  She is the best, or so we are told.  So, on Tuesday morning, we assembled, Darlene, Phanet, Phanet’s friend, Phanet’s neighbor and I.  We rode to Pursat province and turned down a little road that seemed vaguely familiar.  I asked Darlene if she recognized this place and she felt as if she had been there before, to which she responded yes.  After asking a few questions, we discovered that we were in Krakor District, which is where our friend Tyler lived during his time as a Peace Corps volunteer.  We were both at his floating village, which is exactly what it sounds like- a village on the water.  So strange that of all places to see a fortune teller in Cambodia, we ended up in Tyler’s floating village. 


Killed some time until my turn

The only street

Everyone comes to this coffee shop to watch the soap operas

Because they don't have electricity, this generator powers the TV

Ice cream man
The bathroom in question. 

After asking around, we found the fortune teller’s house, which was extremely modest, even for Cambodian standards.  Darlene went first with Phanet as a translator, so I walked around and took some pictures of the village.  I had to go to the bathroom so I asked this woman who had a coffee stand to use her bathroom and she pointed me out back.  Now, my bathroom standards aren’t too high, but this was a first.  The bathroom was over a small stream, with two planks out and a make shift “toilet”.  I was scared that I was going to insult the woman, but I was really scared that I was going to fall in or break their wooden planks (this woman was barely 5 feet tall and 80 pounds soaking wet).  She reassured me that I would be fine, and right as I was finished, Darlene walked out of the bathroom and caught my standing on these planks in the middle of a stream.  After some pictures and a lot of laughing and almost falling in, it was my turn. 

The fortune teller's house

I want to describe to you what happened during my consultation.  The parts in italics are my thoughts, things that I didn’t actually say out loud.  Now, my Khmer isn’t good enough to understand a fortune teller’s description of my fortune and luck, but there were some parts that I understood, but Phanet was my translator, so she was the medium for all of this, and she did an incredible job.  All of the dialogue was done through Phanet.

Fortune Teller (FT):  Please sit down.  How old are you? 
Kealan (K): 23.
FT: You aren’t happy.  You haven’t been happy for two years. Is this true?
K: I don’t know. I understood the fortune teller when she said to Phanet that I had a “bpee-bpot jett” which means a difficult heart.  Translating this to English is unhappy, but having a difficult heart means something different to me, at least.  “at sabye jett” means to not have a happy heart, which is what I think unhappiness is.  She said that I have a difficult heart, which I think is not necessarily not being happy.  I think that difficult heart in this case doesn’t mean that I’m not happy.  I am very happy, but it’s a different kind of happiness.  It’s difficult, absolutely.  Happiness in America means being with my family, living comfortably, etc. In Cambodia, I love my life, but I really miss my family, my job is tough, I’m hot most of the time, I get sick a lot easier here and I spend a lot of time alone.  It’s not unhappiness, but it’s not sheer happiness by my American standards.  My happiness comes from very simple things here- playing with my host nephew, a student asking me a question after being too scared to approach me, my host mother confiding in me, etc.  In America those things not only aren’t of a big deal, but here they make me happy.
FT: Do you have a boyfriend?  Husband?  Please shuffle these cards 7 times
K: No and no. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me that… (I then cut the cards and chose one card, I believe the 9 of clubs)
FT: A man is in love with you.
K: Who?!? Oh my word, who?
FT: The man that you will marry.
K: Who is he?
FT: He is a relative.
K: A…..rel-a-tive? Like someone in my family?
FT: Yes, a relative.
K: As in a cousin?  That’s illegal.  I think that she means how Cambodians refer to relatives, which can mean that anyone is a relative.  If I go to a province I have never been to, in a restaurant I have never been and order from a man I have never seen before, I call him older brother, uncle or grandfather, even though he clearly isn’t related to me.  Let’s hope that’s what she means.
FT: You were a very good student.
K: Not really.  I wasn’t a bad student, but I was kind of a slacker, which I really regret everyday as a teacher when I look at my students. 
FT: Well, you are very clever.
K: Thank you. I’ll take that.
FT:  You have a brother, don’t you?
K: Yes, an older brother.
FT: You love him a lot, and you miss him the most. You think about him a lot.
K: I do love him a lot and yes, I miss him. Not true, I miss all of my siblings equally, and I miss all three of them a lot.  Pat’s birthday was last week and I wasn’t able to talk to him, so I was thinking about him a lot last week.  I talk to my sisters more than my brother, so maybe that is why?  But, Katie and Maura, rest assured, I miss all of you equally. 
FT: Please shuffle these cards again.  Cut the deck then take one card.
K: Ok.
FT: (I hand her the queen of hearts) You miss your mother a lot, and she misses you a lot.  This card has come up a lot.  You think about each other a lot. 
K: Yes and yes. True that.
FT: (after turning over some cards in 4 piles) Right now you don’t have a lot of money.  But you are not too smart about spending money.  You need to learn how to save your money and think more about when and how you spend your money.
K: Yes. One of my on-going battles, but I am improving.  One of my Peace Corps lessons.
FT: When you go back to your country, you will have a good job, a big job.  When you are 25 years old, you will have your best year and your good fortune will begin.
K: Oh ok. Take that, economic recession!
FT:  When you are 25, three important things will happen to you- you will get a good job, you will get married and you will start to get more money. 
K: Married?!?!? 25 and married?!?! The good job is a huge relief, but the money isn’t important. The marriage thing is pretty surprising, I will be 24 in January, so that leaves a year until I turn 25.  Maybe I should start going to more family reunions to find this mystery relative.
FT: Yes, married.  Your life will begin to look like a staircase.  Every year your fortune will improve and it will stay very good, then it will improve more and stay the same.  Once your life starts to really improve, you will have your own house, a car and your life will be comfortable. 
K: Ok.
FT: You are very independent and that will help you find your fortune.  You are emotional and that is why you are unhappy [difficult heart] now, but that will be resolved when you go back to America.  This job will be a great job because you will make important decisions and it will be good for you because you are independent.
FT: Do you have any questions for me?
K: Yes, I want to know about my children. If we are already talking about my wedding that will take place in 2.5 years, why not talk about kids too?
FT: Shuffle these cards 7 times, cut the deck then pick a card…. Your first child will be a son. 
K: A son. Ok.
FT: The first ten months after you get married will be difficult for you because you will have money jobs to do.  But after 10 months, everything will be ok. 
K: Ok. What about this staircase? Can I ask one more question?
FT: Yes, please.
K: I want to know more about this husband you speak of.  Do I know him?  Is he from the same place as me?
FT: (looks at me like I’m a lunatic) He’s your relative, of course you know him! 
K: Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot. Crap, that’s weird.
FT: (after I shuffle the cards 7 times, cut the deck then hand her two cards) Your husband will be from a good family and he will match your good fortune, because he has a good job and is a good person. 
K: Oh, that’s a relief.  Of course he is from a good family, it’s my family! I like that she said he is a match for me and not vice versa, which is sometimes how marriages are perceived in Cambodia.
K: Thank you for your time, aunt.  Good luck.
FT: Thanks and same to you. 

I went to a fortune teller before I came to Cambodia and although the settings were much different, one was at a floating village with chickens under the house and one was in an air conditioned office, I felt the same feeling of relief.  I don’t know how I feel about a deck of cards depicting my future fortune, but both women were extremely caring and warm, so to have a woman who possesses some sort of power to tell you that everything will be ok is a relief.  One part that really struck me was how the Cambodian woman told me about my future in America- that I will have a good job and I have things to look forward to.  When I met with the seer in America, she told me that going to Cambodia was my destiny and whatever it is that I’m looking for, I will find it. 

After a delicious lunch, Phanet wanted to see one of her former students who lived nearby, so we stopped at her house for a bit.  We left Battambang at 8 am and arrived back at 5:30 pm.  Almost every time that I have gone with a Khmer person anywhere, there is always a stop to be made and a few hour trip quickly turns into an all day affair.  That’s fine by me; it was a fantastic Independence Day.  Darlene and I were talking about our sessions and we both agreed that we had a lot to look forward to because we have had great lives thus far and our best years are right around the corner (our best years, coincidentally are the same year). 
Sitting at the students house

Coconut tree

Huge spider

Many people find these things to be scams or fake.  The jury is still out in regards to how I feel personally, so I will take it all with a grain of salt. One of the women in the car stated that the teller helped her with a very successful business venture and has helped in her personal life on a few previous occasions.  I tend to be na├»ve when it comes to things like this, but I think that it helped me to breath a little easier and I think will help me take advantage of the last few months of service , because I know that everything will work out. Maybe talking to a fortune teller helps people be braver and do things that they probably wouldn’t because they are too shy, but by someone saying, yes, it’s ok, maybe we take more chances because we are unsure of how it will end up.  The four other women felt very positive about their experience.  As for me, does it really matter if it comes true or not?  Everything seems to work out in the end, and if these women are reassured in their futures for $2, who really cares?  All I know is that the vibe on the ride back was much more jovial than on the way there.  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hey Hills.

I am back at site after a weekend trip to Phnom Penh.  My initial plan was to go to Siem Reap for Halloween (I guess it’s a big deal there?) but the plans changed, as they often do.  It all started about two weeks ago when we (the volunteers) caught wind of three important people coming from Washington, D.C.  My friend Keiko and I got really carried away and were talking about how we were going to teach our students the national anthem to impress Hillary Clinton.  Or when Michelle Obama came to our sites, we would coincidentally be running a girls’ empowerment camp.  It got out of hand really quickly, but it was fun to joke about it.  We found out that the visitors were three people from Peace Corps Washington, not Hillary or Michelle and that they weren’t even coming to my site, so I let it go.  The very next day, I went to English Club at the university and the leader of the club, Vutha, made an announcement that the Embassy called him and he was in charge of making a group of 20 students to take to Phnom Penh for a town hall meeting with the Secretary of State.  I dropped the book I was holding.  The rest of the story consists of Darlene and I taking to the Embassy and the Peace Corps staff and the result was 20 volunteers being invited to Phnom Penh to see Hillary Clinton on Monday, November 1st.  Keiko and I couldn’t believe that we had made all of those jokes and then Hillary actually came to Cambodia! We started to text things that we really wanted to happen because maybe it would work again, but so far, none of our wishes have come true.  I traveled to PP on Saturday because going to Siem Reap then PP then back to Battambang is about a 24 hour trip, so I decided on just PP.  It was pretty relaxing and whereas before, when we came to PP, we would eat everything in sight then go out at night, I stayed pretty low key and just relaxed.  The day of the event, we all made our way to the Embassy and got checked in.  It was essentially the Embassy staff, their families and Peace Corps Volunteers.  We had no idea what to expect, but we were hoping at the very least for a Peace Corps picture with Hil (as we continued to call her, like we knew her on a personal level).  The main reason that I wanted this picture was for the Peace Corps Times, the Peace Corps newspaper.  We get it once very few months and it is basically a report from Peace Corps worldwide, including news about new groups swearing in, major projects, new sectors opening, etc.  But in every issue, there are some countries that always appear, namely Guatemala.  Keiko and I were texting about how we need a picture for the Peace Corps Times to stick it to Peace Corps Guatemala, but we came up empty.  She made a speech about the importance of the workers on the ground and she mentioned Peace Corps twice.  It was a nice speech, then she shook some hands and left to board a plane to Malaysia.  It was pretty cool to be a part of it. 
With Keiko and Jacqueline at the Embassy

All of us

Ambassador Rodley and the Secretary of State

The closest picture I have

Now I am back at site, teaching.  Classes are going well.  I’m working with a wide range of students and still really liking it.  We are getting to the point in the school year where there are a lot of holidays- Friday was Coronation Day, Monday was King Sihanouk’s Birthday, November 9th is Independence Day, then Water Festival and so on and so forth.  It’s difficult to get into the flow of school when it gets canceled about once a week, but I have a year of experience now, so I think that I will be ok and try to use those days to my advantage. 

The students that won scholarships to America are in America.  My mom was able to go to the welcome luncheon at Northern Illinois University to see them.  Sounds like they had a blast.  They are struggling with the cold and the food, but I think that they are still shocked by America and will be ok once they get settled in. I had a tough time the first week, and I have spent a lot of time traveling.  This is their first time out of Cambodia and it’s difficult for them.  I can’t wait to hear about all of it, though.

I have a daily planner that I keep track of what I do everyday and in the corner, I keep track of the days that I have been in Cambodia and days that I have left in Cambodia.  Many volunteers have differing perspectives on this, but I keep track of the days for two reasons.  First, the days in Cambodia is a nice pat on the back.  I also learn best by writing out steps (I make a lot of lists) so it helps me to organize my time here, which is why I keep track of the days to go.  Contrary to popular belief, I do this not as something to look forward to, but rather to remind me that my time is dwindling and I need to take advantage of the days that I have left.  It always surprises me to see how many days I have left, which is good, because my worst fear is that I won’t do enough with my time and realize that it is too late.  The numbers, as of today, November 4, 2010 are as follows:
·        Days since I left Chicago: 471
·        Days until close of service: 280

My goal is to be home August 1st.  That means that I have less than ten months.  Actually even less than that because during April, there is no school and I will be traveling with my friends visiting from America.  Also, June and July, there won’t be school, so it’s a lot less than ten months.  Scary!!!

As for the weather, rainy season is coming to an end and I know that because we had the boat races in Battambang two weeks ago.  On November 20th, the national boat races will take place in Phnom Penh and that marks the end of rainy season.  It’s called the Water and Moon Festival because it is when the most water is in the Mekong River and the Tonle Sap Lake and the river reverses flow and the Tonle Sap floods.  It is when the river and the lake are at their highest points.  So each province and many companies send representative to compete in the boat races.  I watch on TV but will not go to PP.  There are so many people, it’s just too much at times.  With the end of rainy season, cold season is just beginning.  You can always tell because little kids start wearing winter jackets.  I think it’s light sweater weather, but I am the only one in my family.  Oh, the temperature is in the mid to high 70s. Fall is my favorite season, but this hardly counts even as fall, let alone cold season.  Cold season lasts from November to the end of Christmas and January warms up again.  Last year February, March and April were all equally hot, around high 90s and into the 100s fairly consistently.  So, I suppose in relative terms, yes, this is cold season.  I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t slightly chilly, but I am welcoming the change in weather with open arms, even if that means a stuffy nose and sore throat.  It also really scares me that 70 degrees gives me a sore throat, because Chicago winter may be the end of me.  Until then, long sleeved shirts for me it is!