Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happy Merry Christmas

This past week was a really busy one.  Since my last blog, I gave out two zeros to girls that tried to use a cheat sheet during the test.  It’s a heart breaking moment when you see it as a teacher and it makes me cringe that I did it as a student. 

I taught my American culture class about the holiday season in America.  Things like candy canes are easy enough to understand, but they couldn’t get their heads around the concept that people put Christmas tress inside their houses.  A bunch of kids asked me why we don’t put them outside.  Even though my answer was that we decorate them and they would be ruined outside, it didn’t really work and I think I just confused them even more.  I guess the Christmas spirit is something that you have to see firsthand to get and can’t be taught via powerpoint in 80 degree Cambodian heat. 

My high school English Club watched a movie about a family that survived the Khmer Rouge and escaped to America and lived in Dallas.  Although the three older children were born in Cambodia and the last was born in a refugee camp, they are typical Americans.  The movie is about their first trip back to Cambodia in 30 years.  It’s extremely powerful and the students really enjoyed it.  They are writing letters to the woman who is the narrator and main character.  It’s a documentary.  We should be sending them out next week. 

On the 23rd and 24th, I brought a bunch of people to the free clinic at the orphanage that I build the hygiene station at, which was run by Canadian nurses.  I brought my host family the first day and they were all given vitamins, medicine, toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss and most importantly, advice.  Two of my host aunts came, as well as my host mom, host brother, host cousin, host sister and her daughter.  My suspicions were correct that my niece Chun Liap has Down’s Syndrome.  The nurse sat down with my host sister and told her how to care for Liap, because she will always have respiratory problems.  It was a huge relief to me that they had their questions answered.

My host mother

In line. 

3 people in a picture is bad luck, but I do it anyway

They got stickers and are showing them off

Liap is so brave!

Weighing some kids
That afternoon, I arranged for about 25 of the children from the organization that I worked with over the summer for the health workshop to come.  They are the children from extremely poor families, some are orphans and some are street children.  They all had pretty good health.  One boy, however, has scabs all over his body and it was heart breaking because he was in so much pain but never once cried.  He said that he was 9 but he looked more like 6.  The nurse who looked at him was under then impression that someone has burned him and she believed that someone poured oil all over his body (that isn’t the case, however, so don’t get upset).  His caretaker, who he said is his grandma, put baby powder on his scabs, which made it worse.  I took him to get showered and the nurses put on Neosporin and gave him a bag of medicine to bring home. I totally lost it on the phone that night with my family because I was convinced that he was being abused and the road to getting him in a safe place would be a tough one because there is a lack of infrastructure and we don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.  But, Phanet, Darlene’s coteacher who translated for the nurses and the patients said that he told her that he has been like that since birth.  She remembers when she was little, many Cambodians has leprosy and she thinks that he has that. The signs are all there.  He had scabs all over his body, he has already lost a few toes and his finger nails were falling off.  To be honest, I thought that the world had rid itself of leprosy, but as Darlene pointed out, it’s much like polio, not common, but it still exists.  So our game plan changed drastically, and for the better.  We are going to talk to the director of the organization and visit the child at home and talk to his parents or grandmother about getting him the proper treatment.  Leprosy treatment is free at the provincial hospital, so we are hoping to team up with the parents to make sure that he gets the treatment.  It cannot be cured, but it can be halted so that he doesn’t get any worse.  Lesson learned, don’t jump to conclusions, a lesson that I should have learned a long time ago, but those lessons that we learned when we were little are the most important- share, be nice to everyone, don’t jump to conclusions, work hard in school and love your family. 
The hygiene station!

Impromptu teeth brushing lesson at the hygiene station!
 Christmas Eve started by meeting my English Club students at the high school then riding out to the orphanage to get check-ups.  They were nervous, but they didn’t need translators and ended up translating for a few villagers who came in.  They totally stole the show.  They also had a lot of questions answered.  They mainly had the same ailments- lack of sleep because they wake up at 4 am to help around the house, then study all day and skip lunch because they either don’t have time or don’t have money, drink more water, eat more food and heart burn brought on by a combination of stress, spicy food and sugar.  They had a blast and the nurses loved them. 

Ranin getting his check up
Vida describing his heartburn
Laughing and comparing weight.  They asked me to step on the scale, but I refused. 
Sampoh and Kimny talking to the doctors. 

After the clinic, Darlene and I went our separate ways for the afternoon and then I went to her house for a sleep over.  Our friend Dave came too, he lives in the next town over.  He brought his host brother and he’s a nice kid.  He loved hanging out with Americans and got a very accurate depiction of what Americans do when they hang out, because we traded music on our iPods, ate cheese, drank beer, then Dave played guitar and Darlene sang.  In the morning, I cooked pancakes and talked to my family on the phone.  It was Christmas Eve, so that means that everyone was at my house for the annual Pollard family party.  I was able to talk to a lot of my family, which was nice, but the truth is that holidays get increasingly easier as more time goes on.  Last year, Christmas a total bummer.  But this year, I was really busy and there are almost zero reminders of Christmas, or reminders that I am used to.  No snow, but rather 90 degree dry heat, I live in a Buddhist country, so Christmas music and holiday food (it’s not like there are Starbuck’s on every corner advertising peppermint lattes), so unless I looked at my calendar, I hardly thought about it.  I am coming up on the last few holidays away from home (New Years but I will be with my family, St. Patty’s Day, but we are planning a party at Darlene’s, Easter but I will be in Thailand and Independence Day but I will be on American soil at the US Embassy).  The second time around is so much easier than the first. 

Christmas dinner- noodles and a sugar can juice.  It costs about 75 cents. 

Dave on guitar and Darlene on vocals. 

My health workshop was on Sunday.  Although the children have been taught time and time again about hand washing and teeth brushing, the workshop was a blast.  The station turned out amazing!  The location is perfect, so the children must wash their hands after bathroom use, before meals and brush their teeth after meals.  The most important part is the jobs assigned to the three trainees- Sothea is in charge of hand washing before meals, Sophy is in charge of keeping the toothbrushes for the small children and leading teeth brushing after meals.  Rong is in charge of maintenance everyday.  The goal is to make it a part of their habits so that it becomes second nature.  In the meantime, those three will lead the brigade.  The money that was raised went towards building the station ($450) and supplies ($50).  The $50 went a really long way.  The older kids had just gotten toothbrushes, so the ones that we bought for them are back-ups, for when they need a new one.  The little children were also just given toothbrushes, but I thought ahead and made sure that bought a container, because the small children must return their toothbrush to Sophy after brushing their teeth because that way they will stay clean, and not lost.  She is also in charge of toothpaste because the small ones don’t need much.  They had a lot of fun, so to everyone who donated, THANK YOU!!!! The kids really appreciate it, and it’s so important for them because they can get sick so easily and oral hygiene is really neglected here and leads to huge problems in the future. 

Hand washing session

In action

The trainers used glitter to demonstrate how easily germs can be passed and how they can only be killed with soap

Thanks for your help!

Group teeth brushing

Littlest guy at the center

The trainers and Darlene

One station

The other station!

They each got their own toothbrush

The workshop staff. 

Showing off our clean hands and teeth

Now that my crazy two weeks are over, I will teach Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday then take a bus to Siem Reap, where I will pick my family up from the airport that night.  My closest PCV friends will be in Siem Reap for New Years Eve, so we will have a blast. 

I probably won’t be blogging much over until mid- January because my family will be in Cambodia! I will post as many pictures and stories as possible. 

I hope that everyone had a great Christmas.  Have a happy, safe and healthy New Year! 

Again, to those who made a donation, I cannot thank you enough.  It seems like such a minor task, but hand washing and teeth brushing are two of the most important things that I can teach these children.  I really appreciate your help and I wish that you could have seen how much fun they were having and how serious they took it.  I hope the pictures do it justice! 



Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I have been thinking a lot about how animals are viewed very differently in countries.  I remember when I studied Italian, we had a whole lesson about how Italians are really interested in animal rights.  There are times when my host family turns on the TV and there is a show from America about animals.  Every now and then, there is an animal segment on “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” (a family favorite).  Recently there was a piece on this family that had pet pigs, about 5 or 6 of them, like most families have dogs.  They wore clothes, were trained and did tricks.  Now, this is silly in America.  But imagine how my family felt when they saw this.  Dogs serve a purpose here, they eat scraps and protect the house from ghosts, as Cambodians believe.  Likewise, cats eat mice, spiders eat mosquitoes and geckos eat every kind of bug.  The big geckos, called “tu-kai” because the sound they make when they “cry” is “tukai”, are considered lucky.  My family asks me about animals in America and when I tell them that sometimes animals are treated like people, sometimes better than people, they find it funny.  And it is pretty funny, actually.  My language isn’t good enough to describe the idea of adopting pets and enrolling them in school or sending them to doggie spas and hotels, and I’m actually glad that I can’t explain that.  The way that my family views animals is very practical.  When a cat lived with us for a few months until it mysteriously drowned in the water basin in the bathroom, no one really made notice of it.  They didn’t feed it; but rather it earned it’s keep by eating the mice in the house.  When I asked my brother where we got the cat, he looked at me like I was nuts and he told me that the cat chose our house, not the other way around.  Apparently, cats meander around and choose the houses with lots of mice in them and when their work is done, they move on.  The chickens that we have are for daily eggs and in case of emergency, we can sell the chickens.  I have seen only a handful of leases and zero doggie bowls. 

Now, before I get to the good stuff, I must explain about ghosts.  Yes, ghosts and animals have a relationship, but more on that later.  Most Cambodians believe in ghosts and are deathly afraid of them.  Ghosts are the spirits of people who died a horrible death and stay around to haunt.  There are constantly stories of ghost sightings near areas where people were murdered.  Many people claim to have seen them.  There were a lot of ghost stories after the stampede.  I heard a story last week that ghosts are haunting a resort in Battambang.  Huck told me that after his aunt died, she visited the house and tried to choke him, his sister and mother.  The story is that she choked to death, but there is speculation that someone poisoned her over a land dispute.  It is not really clear what happened, but all three claim that the ghost visited her to let them know, violently, that she was dead and was upset.  A volunteer, shortly after moving into her host family’s house, woke up nightly with shortness of breath.  She told her host mother and her mother responded that a ghost was trying to choke her because the set up of the room was upsetting the ghost.  They rearranged the room and then the girl was able to sleep.  BS?  I don’t really know, but regardless, it comes up daily.   There are many ghost stories, involving the ghosts of the victims of the Pol Pot regime.  There is a lesson on ghosts in the national curriculum.  When I drew a picture of what Americans think ghosts look like, the students all laughed at me.  I drew a typical floating white sheet with a circle for a mouth and black eyes.  Then the students drew for me a really creepy skeletal like black orb.  It looked more like I think the devil would look like.  No wonder everyone is afraid of them. 

When I talked to my brother about animals, we got on the topic of what animals say.  This was a very enlightening topic because some were the same and some were much more accurate.  I don’t know if I can really write down the way that they are said, but in America, what we think animals say is not exactly accurate.  For instance, pigs don’t say “oink”.  I mean, it’s cute and fun for little kids, but because most families here are farmers or have some sort of animal living at their house, the way that they think animals make noises is much less fairy tale-esque.  We don’t really see cows and pigs in America unless we go to a petting zoo.  I see them everyday.  Also, an important note is the role of ghosts. I broke it down by animal to make it easier.
  • Chickens- My first time hearing a chicken impression was from my host sister.  She asked her daughter what chickens said and her daughter couldn’t make the noise, but it sounded like a pigeon impression.  It was much better than my “bahk bahk bahk”.  When I asked my brother about it, he made a weird chicken noise, but he told me that Cambodians translate this from chicken language to Khmer.  They say “ma chak p’dai vuyiek crow” which, in English, means, wake up people of the house and feed me.  This is said by the roosters.  When they say “koh-kee” that means get up.  Also, when a hen lays an egg, she says “ar tuk adoit” which means that she has laid an egg and she is announcing to the family “one more” but usually she says “koh kee” as in get up.
  • Dogs- the way I wrote this is pruh with a rolled r.  It’s like a growl and it makes much more sense than “ruff”.
  • Cats- We usually just say “meow” in America and Cambodians say the same.  But there is a cry for when they are in heat and a cry for when they have babies. 
  • Goats- it is similar, but Cambodians think they “ma”, which means mom here, so it’s the goat calling for his mom.
  • Cow- we think they say “moo” but Cambodians think it’s “ah-moh” and they translate that from cow directly to English for “one more”.
  • Pigs- They name for pig in Khmer is “cheruk” which comes from what they think the noise is.  So for this animal name= sound it makes.
  • Geckos- In English, we only have one name for this animal- big or small.  But in Cambodia, the small ones are “geen jaw” and the big ones are “tukai”.  They are literally everywhere and while the small ones are enjoyable for everyone to look at, most people are afraid of the big ones, even though they are considered lucky.  The belief is that if a “tukai” (the big one) falls from the wall or ceiling and gets stuck on you, 7 married women much come to remove it.  And when they make their noise, it is called “tukai yom” which means “the big gecko cries” and they make the “tukai” noise a few times.  They sort of gargle first a few times and then make the noise.  If they make it 7 times, that is considered bad luck.  I have to be honest, ever since the “tukai” moved outside of my room, I have counted his cries and so far, so good. 
  • Owls- Many people think that when they see an owl at night that it is actually a ghost because you can only see it’s eyes. 
  • Vultures- Although there are no vultures in Cambodia (or so I am told) these animals are believed to eat ghosts.  After the stampede, my brother told me that vultures came to the site and were circling around the bridge where the stampede happened.  Hopefully they ate all the ghosts. 
  • A black bird that we couldn’t identify- When this bird crows someone dies.  It must be the bird of death.  It’s not a crow, not a vulture, not an owl.  What could it be?  Not sure. 
  • The word in Khmer for dinosaur is "big camel".  
Between the noises that the animals make and their function, it’s an interesting topic. I think that the functionality of the animals in Cambodia is very appropriate to the culture.  Cambodians are very practical.  For a Cambodian, keeping an animal that doesn’t serve a purpose, but rather takes, is a silly concept.  I don’t like to dwell on the differences between our countries, but this may be one of the very few things that I will chalk up as a difference.  It makes for a really great example of our cultures though.  Every pet that I knew in America was described as the best, groomed, bred, primped and trained.  “Isn’t she just the cutest dog?” “Fido is the most beautiful dog”.  I always knew, but now I can really see the indulgence that we have as Americans.  We can’t just have a dog, it has to be a member of the family.  It has to have its own house.  It’s own food, identity, even name.  I’m not knocking it at all, I will have a dog when I get home, and that’s for sure.  But for Cambodians, animals have a purpose.  Everyone in the family serves a purpose, and when a family does something, everyone does it.  Dave, a fellow volunteer, has a host father who catches fish all day and when he comes home, no matter what time it is, every helps him unload the fish, regardless of what they are doing.  In my family, when my mom comes home with the groceries for the day, we do whatever we can to look busy so we don’t have to make ten trips to the care.  Animals are the same.  If this animal is going to stay here, it’s going to have a purpose.  A watch dog, an mouse eating cat, an insect eating gecko, etc.  I love pets and animals, I think that they are great.  But that is a sort of luxury that most Cambodians can’t have. It’s very aesthetic in America, but in Cambodia, dogs aren’t bred, or even spade and neutered, which actually is kind of gross and makes for some really ugly dogs.  We aren’t really an agricultural society, so I’m sure that this doesn’t apply to the animals in the countryside.  But most Americans aren’t farmers, they are suburban or urban and maybe have a patch of herbs in the backyard.  An American dog that catches a rabbit in the backyard is seen as a trophy dog but in Cambodia, it’s an expectation because that’s dinner.

In other news, I took a trip to the orphanage to check on the hygiene station and things are looking really good.  The builder decided to build two different stations, which makes more room for the kids to wash their hands and brush their teeth.  There was some controversy about the height, but we will be building a little step for the younger children, so they can reach the station.  I met with my team of youths involved in the workshop this weekend.  We made our plans and will purchase the supplies on Saturday and deliver the workshop on Sunday morning.  The two students from the summer workshop (Vida and Kimny) are taking the lead and training the two new girls (Sothea and Sophy) and the new boy (Rong).  They each have a daily task at the orphanage.  Because the children eat every meal together, Sothea is managing every child washing their hands before the meals, Sophy is in charge of leading the teeth brushing after each meal and Rong is in charge of maintenance to the station, which involves cleaning and making sure that there is always soap and that it is working.  Each child will get a toothbrush, but Sophy will be in charge of keeping them, because a three year old orphan will lose that toothbrush immediately.  This will ensure that they stay clean and not lost.  We will put tape around each brush so that each child has their own.  I think that the system is pretty good and Kimny, Vida, Sothea, Sophy and Rong are really excited about it.  Youth empowerment is one of the most important tasks as a volunteer, and one of the most rewarding. 
The kitchen is near where that car is in the corner

3 faucets each

Two stations.  Those are the bathrooms. 

I also found out, and this is embarrassing, that the name I have been calling my host sister is wrong.  How does that even happen?  Well, allow me to example this year long mistake.  I picked up on the fact that Chun Lai was calling Huck, ---- Huck.  I heard it a few times, but he said it fast so I assumed it was one of those small words like, “there” or a little kid word.  Then I asked Huck about it and he said that the word is “jake” so Chun Lai calls Huck, “Jake Huck” and when I asked what it means, he said that it’s uncle in Chinese.  Apparently in Chinese there are two words or aunt and two for uncle, differentiating between a parent’s siblings.  It’s pretty confusing, but let’s take Chun Lai and Young Uh for an example.  Chun Lai’s dad is the oldest in the family and Young Uh’s mom is the second youngest, Chun Lai calls my sister Sokeit “go Keit” and Young Uh calls her “ee ee Keit”.  So, the children of the boys in my family use the same words for aunt and uncle and the children of the girls use the same words.  It’s really confusing.  I very slowly put two and two together and realized that I have been calling my sister the same thing that Chun Lai calls her, which is “go Keit” which means Aunt Keit.  So I have been calling my sister Aunt Keit.  This actually came to me in a dream a month ago when Keit was mad at me that I don’t call her “bong srey” for older sister.  I wanted to be like the family, and I (wrongfully) assumed that Chun Lai was calling her by her first name and because I call Huck only Huck, no brother in front or anything.  I actually think of him as a twin, but we don’t do the older brother/sister thing.  And I’ve never heard them call each other older brother/ sister.  Lesson learned. 

Here are some pictures from a wedding I went to last weekend.  I have another this Saturday.  
Ma and Me

Ma and Chun Lai

Older sister and Ma

Our table

Me and Bong

The bride dancin

I have also solidified my holiday plans.  I will spend December 23rd shuffling my family and students from the city center to the orphanage to get check-ups from the Canadians doctors.  I want the doctors to look especially at my brother, who is my age and has arthritis in his feet, my host mom, who I think is going blind and my host niece, who is almost three and I think has Downs Syndrome.  But obviously, I want all of them to get a check-up.  On Christmas Eve, I will teach in the morning at the high school (probably about Christmas) then do the same at the university, or have a Christmas party with them.  At night, I will go with Darlene to the orphanage where they will be having a Christmas Eve party.  There will be music and dancing.  It sounds like a blast.  I will sleep over with Darlene and we’ll wake up and have a pancake breakfast (thanks Mom!) then ride to church.  I will then travel to Siem Reap on December 30th and meet my family at the airport.  I am so happy that I will be spending New Years Eve with them.  Should be a fun filled and busy two week trip for them (and me).  Right after they leave, I will be turning 24, which is a very scary thought. 

I wish you all a happy and safe holiday season and a happy and healthy new year! Quickly approaching are my three New Years- International New Year on January 1st, Chinese New Year February 2-4 and Khmer New Year April 14-16.  Only three more New Years then I will be home.  

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It's Wedding Season!

This past weekend I went to Siem Reap for what we call a “dahling”.  This Khmer word can mean many things- to go for a walk, to travel, to visit, go for a bike ride, etc.  It’s probably my favorite word in Khmer.  So this dahling was much needed because I had been at site for about a month and the wear and tear of school was getting to me.  There was a bike race and half-marathon around Angkor Wat, so many volunteers participated in that.  Everyone assumed that I was going to participate, but lazily, I decided against it.  I am not one to have regrets, but I really regret that decision.  They woke up at 5 am and biked around the temples at sunrise.  It was for a good cause too.  A few volunteers have really funny stories.  One said that she was passed up by little barefoot Khmer kids.  Some people dressed in mascot costumes and passed volunteers (imagine Benny the Bull passing you in a marathon…)  Overall though, it was a good weekend because it was an excuse for all of us to get together.  I’m at the point in my service and my life that I prefer to be around my friends and avoid the obnoxious crowds and bars.  So it was a pretty tame weekend.  The highlight included barbequing at Tyler’s house, who was a K2 volunteer and teaches at a school in Siem Reap.  His apartment complex has a grill and a pool, so we had a pretty typical American day.  I cooked some asparagus for the first time in over a year.  There is a western grocery store in Siem Reap that has almost everything, so we always stock up on our western needs there.  It is a really basic grocery store, but there are only a handful in Cambodia, so we tend to spend a lot of money there and lug back our goodies to site.  It’s called Lucky, rightly so. I bought brownie mix and baked brownies at Tyler’s house to bring back to my house.

After the feast that we cooked for Thanksgiving, my host mother asked me if I know how to cook American food.  When I said that I did, she didn’t mask her surprise too well, then asked me to cook for the family.  I have been thinking about cooking for them for a long time, but I was nervous that they would hate it but feel bad.  As Americans, we eat all different types of food and essentially what is American food?  When I think about what my family typically eats, it varies.  On Monday we could eat Italian, then Tuesday is Mexican, so on and so forth.  But in Cambodia, it’s rice with some sort of stir fry or soup.  It wasn’t that big of a deal for the volunteers that I came with to adjust to Khmer food because it’s very similar to Thai and Chinese food.  But for my students that went to America for a conference, they hated the food.  One boy only ate fruit and another said that he hated literally everything except when they ate Thai or Chinese food.  There was only one girl out of 7 students that enjoyed the food.  So, I was nervous about this, and rightly so.  I decided that spaghetti was a safe bet.  Cambodians eat noodles, but rice noodles.  They also eat a lot of vegetables, so I decided to make sure that it was more similar to something my family would eat. 

The day of, Huck asked me what he needed to buy.  I bought the noodles and Ragoo sauce in Siem Reap at Lucky.  So, Huck bought onions, green peppers, tomatoes, bread and beef.  I added a few more tomatoes, onions and garlic to the sauce(I bought one bottle of sauce for 2 pounds of pasta).  Then I put in green peppers and beef to give them something that they could identify.  The name that we gave to the pasta was “mee eettalee” which directly means “Italian noodles”.  So all day, my nephew Chun Lai kept asking about mee eettalee and my host sister was happy for the night off.  I was a nervous wreck all day that they would get sick or hate it and continue to eat it because they were too polite to say that they hated it.  Huck and I cooked it together, which was an experience because we cooked over coals, so it’s sort of difficult to control the heat.  But we managed to boil the water and prepare the sauce.  I had Huck and my host mom taste it because Cambodians tend to put sugar and MSg seasoning in everything, so I wanted to make sure that they liked it. 

When it came time to serve, we all sat down and ate the pasta, which chopsticks.  You may laugh, but it’s much easier and cleaner.  We had way too much pasta, but my host mom took care of that and took several bowls of mee eettalee to our neighbors and her friends.  My older sister came over and ate some, but she put her own special touches on it- lime, sugar and hot sauce.  To each their own.  Cambodians probably cringe that Americans cook rice in a microwave, so I guess we are even. 

The family seemed to really enjoy it, and I know this because my host mom asked me if she can buy the noodles here, because she wants to cook them for Chinese New Year in February, which is the biggest holiday in our house.  We also ate the brownies after, but I got hungry on the bus back to Battambang and shared a few, so there weren’t that many.  Next time I’m in Siem Reap though, I will bake some more.


Chun Liap, my niece

Chun Lai and Chun Liap with their mother

Not so easy

Basketti face! 


Ma eatin noodles

In the kitchen

Brownie and bread. 


Tomorrow is Human Right’s Day and in celebration, I will be meeting with my counterpart for the hygiene station for lunch.  Thanks to everyone who made a donation!  I went to the bank and got the money gram, so I will give him the $450 to begin construction.  It should take about 4 days to build, and in the meantime, I will be meeting with my summer interns and our three new trainees from the orphanage to prepare the workshop.  We are meeting on Sunday and will most likely present the workshop next Sunday (December 19th).  Because of the school schedules, it’s tricky to find a day that works for everyone, so it’s usually Sunday when I work with students.  I am really excited to get the kids their station, toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap.  It will be very interesting to see this workshop because I plan on taking a backseat and letting my two summer interns run the show.  They worked so hard over the summer and now know how to do these things, so I will be there more for guidance, and they will be the leaders.  I am really excited to see it unfold.  The station should be complete around Wednesday or Thursday, so the timing is pretty good for our workshop. 

Time is really flying and it goes by even faster when I am really busy, which is the case for this month.  I have a wedding this weekend- my host brother’s brother in law is getting married.  I would seem very distant in this relationship, but I got my invitation for both days, with my name written in English.  Last year, I just received invitations a few days before without a name because people didn’t know it.  Moving up in the world.  Next weekend is the wedding of my “ming’s daughter”.  Ming means aunt, but she isn’t a real aunt or host aunt.  I was supposed to live at her house, but due to Peace Corps requirements, I couldn’t live there, but we have maintained a friendship.  Her brother and sister in law came from Rhode Island and I met them when I went to the house for lunch this week.  They told me about their life in America, which has been really difficult, but they maintain how lucky they have been.  The wife cooks cakes and sells them at a grocery store to pay for their trips back to Cambodia.  They are both on disability because she has thyroid cancer and he had a stroke a few years ago.  They are just a testament to the Khmer work ethic and family values.  It was a different side of the Cambodian experience that was new to me.  I’m excited to hear more at the wedding.

After the back to back weddings, it will be Christmas!  The Christmas spirit is a little tough to get into when you are perpetually sweating.  It still feels like summer 2009, which is good because I think I’d be homesick if there was holiday cheer and I wasn’t at home.  There will be Canadian doctors and nurses coming from December 22 to 24.  I will be busy shuffling my family, my students and kids around my site to and from the clinic.  On Christmas Eve, the orphanage goes to church and has a little celebration that includes traditional Khmer music and dancing.  I have not been invited yet, but I am hoping to get in on that.  I joke that this is the year of the weasel because I have been sneaking into events that I probably wouldn’t have been invited to unless I was a foreigner or a Peace Corps Volunteer, such as any Cambodian ceremony, the speech by Hillary Clinton and the Embassy gala.  Cambodians are very interested in Chinese astrology.  I never knew before, I was born in the year of the rabbit, same as Huck.  My brother once was explaining this in Khmer and I was confused why he was calling himself a horse, his son a pig and his daughter some animal I had never even heard of (dragon), but now I get it.  Huck’s friend was over the other night and asked me what I star sign was.  I reverted back to being American and said Capricorn then realized after the puzzled stares that he meant the other one.  Is that a pick-up line?  Not sure.  But it comes up a lot. My old daily planner had a chart that told you which animal you were by which year you born in.  

According to a website I found (, this is what a rabbit is like. 


Occupying the 4th position in the Chinese Zodiac, the Rabbit symbolizes such character traits as creativity, compassion, and sensitivity. Rabbits are friendly, outgoing and prefer the company of others. They also prefer to avoid conflict. In confrontational situations, Rabbits approach calmly and with consideration for the other party. Rabbits believe strongly in friends and family and lacking such bonds can lead to emotional issues.

Their serene nature keeps Rabbits from becoming visibly upset. Because they’re serene animals, Rabbits are easily taken advantage of. Their sensitive nature makes them shy away from aggressive or competitive situations. They’re overall conservative and not interested in taking risks.

Classy, sophisticated, expressive, well-mannered and stylish, those born under the Sign of the Rabbit enjoy leaning about cultural issues and learning about people from other countries. Rabbits are most comfortable being home, and their homes are always neat and organized. Home is also where Rabbits prefer to entertain. Rabbits are conservative in their decorating tastes.

Rabbits should work at building more self-confidence and self-worth so they can feel more secure. The desire for remaining in safe, comfortable environments keeps Rabbits from taking risks which sometimes causes them to miss out on good opportunities. 


Even though Rabbits don’t usually get visibly upset or stressed, they do tend to keep these feelings inside. When they don’t express these feelings, such feeling can cause Rabbits to become ill. Rabbits could benefit from more everyday activity which would reduce their stress levels and better their health.


Rabbits tend to give more of themselves than they should. This can lead to unrealistic expectations and unhealthy situations. Rabbits need partners who won’t take advantage of their giving nature. Such pairings will be strong.


Rabbits are articulate and good communicators which is why friends and acquaintances seek out their advice. It’s also why Rabbits make excellent diplomats and politicians. Other good careers for Rabbits include: writer, publisher, actor, fashion designer, therapist, doctor, administrator, public relations, and teacher.

Rabbits and the 5 elements


Fire Rabbits – Years 1927 and 1987 (I was born in 1987)

Fire adds spark to the Rabbit’s personality and all that Fire Rabbits do. Fire compels Rabbits to seek new adventures. Prone to tantrums, Fire Rabbits prefer to avoid conflict.


The Rabbit is most compatible with the Pig and Dog and incompatible with the Rooster and Rat