One of my favorite parts about living here is discovering similarities that have been masking themselves as differences. Sometimes they are not too difficult to discover, but some take a little more digging around. Here is a list of example from this week alone.
Cleaning- In my house, my family went insane this week cleaning up the entire house in preparation for Chinese New Year, but also for a special day- the god that travels to heaven and the families that have clean houses will have good luck in the upcoming year. Whatever the reason, it felt a lot like spring cleaning and like every family house cleaning session from my childhood. Tensions run high. Sneezing is rampant because of all the unsettled dust. Kids thinking they can help, but inevitable prove that they are more of a nuisance than anything. Magazines, boxes, clothes and things of years past seem to resurface out of essentially nowhere. But, it’s all worth it when one can look at the revamped house and the pile of crap that needs to be thrown out, and feel the pleasure of a good days work (or in the case of this Chinese holiday, 3 days). It’s also universal that no matter how clean the house gets, the magazines will go back into hiding, the dust will settle again and the spiders will spin their webs double time to make up for their houses that were recently destroyed.
Little kids- I was nervous about living with little kids because it’s tough enough to talk to people my own age in Khmer. But it became clear after a few months (that’s how long it took for my host niece and nephew to warm up to me), that little kids all like to do the same little kid stuff. Boys are boys. They, typically, like to wrestle, play war games, get dirty and catch animals. Girls, typically, like to get pretty and do little girl things. When I give them candy, they ask me everyday for more candy. And if I don’t have any, they tell me to go buy some more. So, when I cleaned out my trunk in preparation for the god going to heaven (I didn’t want to be the reason why my host family would be overlooked in the lucky category for next year), I found two glow sticks. They provided the entertainment for the night. They used them as microphones, guns, and necklaces. And then in the morning, when they discovered that they had no more light, I had to field 10 questions per day for a week about why they have no more light.
Holidays- Besides the cleaning, my family is making preparations for Chinese New Year, which starts in February 2 (which is Chinese New Year’s Eve and the holiday lasts until February 5). We are having a lunch and dinner party on New Year’s Eve, my friends Lisa and Keiko will be coming too. The menu is pretty much set, plans are being made for February 3-5, which is the time when people travel and have a bit of a break. It reminds me so much of any American holiday. My family (my real family) always hosts Christmas Eve and although the day of is crazy, preparation begins long before that, even though we have been doing it for a while. We bake cookies, buy boxes worth of food at Costco, the house gets reorganized to hold my huge family and other things that I can’t seem to remember because I haven’t been there in two years. But, the day of the holiday, all of the running around, the preparations and stress leading up to the start of the party, or the meal, is worth it. The way that we all celebrate is the same. Get together with family, cook good food, relax and hang out, play some games and drink a little beer. Mixed in are religious or cultural traditions, which is the reason or excuse for all of us to get together. It’s the company that keeps us there and makes the holiday special. I always get the same feeling of family and togetherness whether I am celebrating Easter in
or Phchum Ben in .
Sibling rivalry- Because I spend so much time with my host niece (Chun Liap) and nephew (Chun Lai), I have become very familiar with their respective personalities. And I have noticed the same feeling that I used to feel when my little sister would get special attention for being younger and cuter than me. If I am playing with Chun Lai, Chun Liap will come over to play, but then one up her brother and sit on my lap. It’s actually really exhausting to be the one that they are competing about. It leads to tears a lot of the time, and sometimes I just go into my room to avoid the situation. But Chun Liap (the girl) did something to really up the ante this week. Chun Lai is about 4 and is a very bright little kid. He likes to echo me and has picked up on a few of my mannerisms and repeats some lines from a conversation that I have in English with my host brother. He started to say “ew” after he heard me said that after Chun Liap walked in chicken poop and tried to sit on my lap. He also started to say “yeah” for affirmation, which clearly isn’t the Khmer word for “yes”. The other day I was singing a song (“What’s My Name” by Rihanna) and he repeated the chorus after I sang it. Chun Liap tried, but she just sort of mumbled. Chun Liap is about 3 years old and has Downs Syndrome. She can only say a handful of words in Khmer but was clearly not enjoying the attention that Chun Lai was getting from his parrot-like performance. On Wednesday night, we were watching the Bears game. It was the unfortunate game where they lost to the Packers and I already knew the outcome (the game was played on Monday, Cambodian time) but I was so happy to see my city’s football team and shots of
on the screen. I was explaining the
rules, vaguely, to my host brother when the camera zoomed in on Brian
Urlacher. I was telling Huck how
Urlacher is really famous in Chicago
and how many people think that he is a really great leader. Then I said “Look at him, Huck. He is so big!” and from behind me, I heard a
faint, high pitched “so big!” and was shocked when it came from Chun Liap. I immediately taught her a Pollard family
classic- “How big is Chun Liap?” to which she responds “so big!”, arms over her
head and all, showing just how big she is.
While we were enjoying this moment, Chun Lai, from across the room said
“Kealan, ask me. I can do it to.” Well
played Chun Liap. I am interested to see
how Chun Lai responds to this. Chicago
This game of “spot the similarities” is a personal favorite and will keep updating you.
Speaking of updates, I have my close of service (COS) date. It is July 12th. That means that all Peace Corps Volunteers from my group must leave
on July 12th with two exceptions.
One is a formal request to stay longer, the latest possible date is
September 30. The second case is someone
who cashes in their ticket for 80% of the value and finds their own way home,
which some will do so that they can travel around Cambodia Asia
a little bit. I will not be extending or
staying later, so my plan is to be leaving on July 12th. Cambodia
What does this even mean? Well, for one, it means that I will be coming home 3 months earlier than I initially thought, but because the school year ends in June, there is not much reason for us to stick around, since the school year starts in October, so really November. It’s a weird spot to be in because I have been gone for so long (556 days exactly) that on one hand, the 166 days until then is like a drop in the bucket. But, I also can’t help planning a few activities for when I come back. How can one balance the excitement of seeing my family and friends that I have missed so much and the stress of time winding down and leaving this country that I love so much? My mindset is much the same as it was in college. I loved every minute of going to Seton Hall and playing softball there, but some senior year, I knew that I would be going to
and pursuing a long-awaited and sought-after goal. I was really looking forward to going to Cambodia and
becoming a volunteer, but there was plenty at Seton Hall to keep me there
mentally and happy. This is how I feel
about my position now. I am literally
swamped with projects and work until April, which is the point when the country
shuts down for a month to celebrate Khmer New Year and also escape from the
heat. I have two friends coming in April
and then we will go to Cambodia
for a trip. I will come back to Cambodia
in May, and mid-May is when Peace Corps brings us into PP for COS conference,
which is when we start to transition out of Peace Corps life back into American
life. I can imagine that the rest of
May, June and short time in July will be busy with farewells, packing and tying
up lose ends. There is plenty to keep me
busy and finish out my Peace Corps life like I want. Thailand
Currently, I have been in Battambang since my family left. School has been really consistent, and my American culture classes are held every week. I have been doing workshops at the university here and there- last week was how to make an email account, this week was how to make a facebook account. It’s weird to teach a monk how to facebook, let me tell you. We are planning International Women’s Day, which is coming along well. We are close to solidifying our Peace Corps doctor, Navy, to come and speak to the girls about her life. Her family was really poor and she is from the countryside. She survived the Pol Pot regime and studied really hard. She studied in
and now works in PP as a doctor. She is
married to another doctor and has two children.
We think that she is a perfect example of a strong woman- she has a
career, marriage and is a mother. She
will talk to the girls about balance and how it is important for women to
pursue their interests as well has maintain their Khmer traditions with family
and children. Her husband and children
will be coming, which will demonstrate the support from her husband. We also want to have a segment on women’s
health. There is a Cambodian woman that
one volunteer has worked with and she may talk to the girls about how to care
for their bodies, because people have to be really proactive about their health
here. She will probably talk about being
pregnant and having children because many girls get married after high school,
if she can come, that is. America
Besides that, I am starting work with an organization in town that works with a community of squatters in the train station. The train station has been abandoned for some years and many people have come there to live in the station, the office, the box cars and really anywhere providing shelter. It is a school that has a sister school in PP and is just starting, so hopefully I can help them set up some programs and increase the community participation. It’s a perfect project because I can’t start any new projects now, and this one is started and just needs a little help. I have some ideas that I think will help and I’m looking forward to helping them out.
I’ve also started running and working out in my room. While I also ran into a moto, the only other problem is the stray dogs. I carry a rock in my hand, just in case. So far, no bites. I have never really been a big exerciser, but since I wake up by 6:00 everyday, sometimes 5:30, I might as well start the day with a run. It’s not so hot then and I really enjoy watching people start their days. The kids walk outside, rubbing their eyes, the market that I run past is just getting started for the day as the sellers get up shop, the men and women who sell various goodies on a cart are starting their rounds for the day and sometimes I see a few kids I know. One boy who I know from the health workshop rode his bike along next to me while I ran the other day. Maybe I will see him? It makes me realize how slow I am running, but I enjoy the company and I’m sure that he likes to show off that he knows the weird American who runs by their houses. Cambodians typically don’t run, but they do jazzercise and more calisthenics.
|Passport and bank book to be burned as an offerin to the ancestors- the company is called|
"Hell and Paradise" and "Bank of Hades and Heaven"
|In case they need a plane ticket, they can fly on Hell/ Heaven Air|
|Clothes, a comb, whiskey, a razor, money, cell phone|
|Happy Chinese New Year from Chun Lai|