Thursday, January 27, 2011

Year of the Rabbit.

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 America or Phchum Ben in Cambodia.

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 Chicago 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. 

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 Cambodia 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 Asia a little bit.  I will not be extending or staying later, so my plan is to be leaving Cambodia on July 12th. 

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 Cambodia 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 Thailand 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. 

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 Vietnam and America 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. 

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.

Happy Chinese New Year! This year will be the Year of the Rabbit, and I am a rabbit, as is my host brother, Huck.  He is pretty excited that it’s our year, so therefore I am too.  Chinese New Year is my favorite holiday and I told my host mom that I can make spaghetti, which she quickly said that she would love.  I am teaching Huck’s girlfriend how to make it because they want to know for after I am gone.  Last year, I sat like a bump on the log and observed but this year, I’m a part of the party.  Every now and then, I get a pat on the back, and it’s always nice to realize that you are a part of things, and not just some strange observer. 

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

Monday, January 17, 2011

My 24th.

On Monday, I turned 24.  Scary, I know.  But my mindset going into the week was that it’s just another day.  Like I’ve said before, American holidays and important days get easier and easier as time goes on.  I have never made my birthday a big deal, for the most part, so I knew that I wouldn’t be disappointed. 

Birthdays in Cambodia are a very interesting topic.  Typically, asking people how old they are is very confusing, since children turn a year older on Khmer New Year, which is in April.  I once asked someone how hold he was and he said that he was 24, born in 1989.  Most people don’t have birth certificates, so some people don’t even know how old they are.  Sometimes people don’t know what year they were born in, but many times they don’t know the exact date of their birth.  I’ve asked some people when their birthdays are and sometimes they say “March” or “May”.  It makes me laugh and I tend to leave it at that; I asked someone once the exact date and they were embarrassed about it, so I dropped it. 

The only people who celebrate their birthdays are old people and rich people and the Royal Family.  Birthday parties for old people are more of a religious event.  It’s very different too because the younger people all go and present their gifts, which are usually money.  Because Cambodia is a country that values old people and people are proud of their age when they get to a certain age, there are sometimes religious ceremonies with monks and lots of people coming to celebrate.  Sometimes they last more than one day; sometimes it’s a small family gathering.  I think that this may also be a city vs. countryside thing.  Those people who live in the countryside tend to hold tighter to Khmer traditions and are resistant to Western influence (whether that is good or bad is another story). 

For the young people, parents are throwing more birthday parties for their children.  It’s very Western: birthday cake, party favors, presents.  They even sing the Happy Birthday song, in English.  It’s pretty funny.  One thing that I don’t understand is how after the child blows out the candles, everyone sprays him or her with silly string and canned snow.  But it gets all over the cake.  It seems to me that parents are keeping track more of the date that their children were born.  But, many teenaged

For the Royal family, the King, the King’s father and the King’s mother’s birthdays are all three day holidays.  A friend once sent me a text that said “Isn’t it funny how most Cambodians don’t celebrate their own birthdays, but we have 9 days vacation to celebrate three people’s birthdays.”

Because I’m not an old person, small child or member of the Royal Family, I assumed that it would be easier to mention my birthday to a few people, but continue life as normal, which is what I did.  I woke up and taught class from 7-9, talked to my parents, read, made lesson plans, ate lunch and then went to the university for my American Culture lesson.  I find that the abundance of American and Khmer holidays present great opportunities for lessons and discussions, I made the lesson about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and the holidays celebrating his life and message.  I told them about his life and his work and we watched a youtube video of his “I Have a Dream” speech.  My birthday coincides with this holiday every seven years and I used to enjoy having the day off of school on my birthday, but also a sense of pride that my birthday was celebrated on the same day as his.  His message, however, meant a little something different this year.  Living in a place that doesn’t have equal rights, talking about this topic with students who are searching for justice and development for their country.  Dr. King’s message was very well-received to my students and I was really touched to be a part of it. 

After the lesson, Raya, who is the leader of the American Corner library where I teach these lesson and is one of my closest friends, tried to pull a fast one and told the students to wait around a moment because they had a surprise for me.  He really underestimated my Khmer skills, but I went along with it when he told me to close my eyes.  For about 30 seconds, there was a lot of rustling around and when I was told that I was allowed to open my eyes, there was a cake on the table with candles and all the students started to sing Happy Birthday.  It was so touching because I didn’t expect it.  The students all wished me good luck for my life and success (which is a Khmer custom that is typical for just about any situation).  We all ate cake and I rode my bike home.  When I got back, my host brother, Huck gave me a gift from him and his girlfriend- a notebook and pen.  Chun Lai and Chun Liap were around and Chun Lai took the bag that Huck used to keep the notebook and pen in and gave me the bag as a gift and told me that I can use it to put the notebook and pen in.  So cute.  After dinner, my host mom gave me a new towel, my host sister gave me a little purse that she made and my host cousin wrote me a note.  It was so cute and heartwarming.  My host mom also wished me good luck, good health and success in my life. 

I was so touched that so many people who mean a lot to me went out of their way to make my birthday special, even though birthdays aren’t a big deal here.  I told myself that I need to remember that feeling for when I am annoyed with my host family, students and friends.  I was talking to my friend Keiko about how nice it was, and we came to the conclusion that our students, families and friends don’t really have too many chances to show how much they appreciate us.  I was making plans to return the favor to them when I leave, but then I remembered that I am a volunteer here.  I enjoy it so much and am learning so much that sometimes I forget the other side of it.  Most volunteers abroad view their service as a service to the country, but Peace Corps views it as a partnership- half is learning and half is teaching.  While many non-Peace Corps volunteers forget the learning part, but Peace Corps volunteers sometimes forget the other side. 

Although I was sort of dreading turning 24, it turned out to be a really great day.  But now it’s back to real life.  School is going to start slowing down once February starts because there will be testing and Chinese New Year.  March is very similar and school will most likely pause until May begins.  Second semester exams are the first week in June, so I have a feeling that I won’t be doing very much teaching after March.  I am trying to stay as busy as possible though, because now that it’s the home stretch, I can’t get homesick or mentally check out until it is time.  In the meantime, we are planning International Women’s Day for March 11th, in addition to the regular programs.  I found an Ngo that works with a small community of squatter who live in the abandoned train station.  I am looking to start a weekly sports program for a community development project.  We’ll see how that pans out.  Because this is the point where we should start phasing out of our projects, I won’t be starting anything huge or new for two reasons.  One, almost everything takes a few months to get going and two, because I don’t want to start a project that will die immediately after I leave.

Our close of service conference is May 16-18, which is when I will find out when I will be coming home, but I will be home by August 1st.  That’s good news because I don’t think I would be able to survive dropping into a Chicago fall, let alone winter.  Here are some more pictures that my mom put up on facebook.  Enjoy!

At the party at my school
Ma and Mom (ready for a weddin) 
Maura and I at dinner
In Phnom Penh. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Family in Cambodia!

Happy New Year everyone!!! I hope that everyone had a safe and happy holiday.  I hear that it was a cold one.  
My New Year was one for the books.  I celebrated a holiday with my family for the firs time since July 4th, 2009, so this was a special New Years, and I’m not one for New Years.  But first, let me describe the whole experience…. 

My mom, brother and little sister all made the trek over and originally planned on coming in from Ho Chi Minh at about 8:00 at night, but that changed, as the Waldron travel plans frequently do.  I checked my email right before leaving Battambang for Siem Reap and assumed (wrongly) that they would be arriving at about 3:00 to Siem Reap.  I took the bus in, got to the hotel, showered and took a seat downstairs in a chair that had a perfect view of the street.  

We spent the next day viewing many of the temples at Angkor Wat and then went out with some friends who were in Siem Reap for New Year’s.  We were so exhausted, but somehow managed and brought in the New Year with a bunch of Peace Corps Volunteers, tourists and Cambodians.  It was a blast and I have to hand it to my family, after all that traveling and touring of the temples, they toughed it out.  All of my friends commented on how much fun my family is and how they were so surprised that we were able to stay out, but it was the first time that they met other members of the family (family and friends back home would expect nothing else…)

Angkor Wat

Mom and Pat in a tuk tuk 
Bayon Temple
Personal Tour Guide

Maura and I

Pat and I in a tuk tuk 

In the tuk tuk on New Years. 

We spent the next day going to the markets and recovering a bit.  We went to the Cultural village before we left, which is basically a big compound dedicated to Cambodian culture.   Siem Reap is often called Disneyland by Peace Corps Volunteers because it is a city that caters to foreigners.  The food is good, the hotels are really nice, the markets are manageable and the city planning makes much more sense than Phnom Penh.  Siem Reap and Phnom Penh were the touristy parts of our trip.  Sandwiched in the middle was Battambang, a better representation of the real Cambodia.

At the cultural village in Siem Reap
Cultural Center fun

After two days in Siem Reap, we took a taxi to Battambang, which was a total blur to me because we hardly stopped moving the whole time.  I tried to balance doing the touristy thing and seeing the sites with showing them my real life.  We stayed in a cute new guest house (for the record, we stayed at really cool hotels the whole time…) and had at least two activities each day. 

The first day, we went to Phnom Sampoe, which is a temple on a mountains and killing caves at the top.  The Khmer Rouge basically marched people to this mountain then threw them into the caves.  It is terribly sad.  That afternoon, we went to the university and my family met my English Club students.  They asked a lot of questions because they are in my American Culture class, so they were able to ask three Americans questions.  They just love to practice English. 
View from the top of the mountain

University English Club

The first time they met and they are best friends. 

The next day, we went to my high school and met the school director then had English Club with my English Club there.  Each students had a specific aspect of Cambodia that they presented on, such as food and drink, art, lifestyle, religion, geography, agriculture, etc.  They did a really good job even though they were so nervous.  They don’t have the chance to speak to many foreigners, but they held their own and made some really great presentations.  That afternoon, we went back to the university and Pat and Maura made presentations on their education.  Maura talked about health care ethics and Pat talked about cross- culture exchanges.  They did a really good job and the students came up with some really great questions.  From the university, we went to my host family house and we started to cook what turned out to be a feast.  I cooked spaghetti (or as I call it to my host family “mee Italy” or Italian noodles) and my host family made fried noodles and grilled quails.  My host siblings all came over and met my family.  We drank wine we bought in Siem Reap (maybe from Italy?), rice wine, honey wine that my host mom makes and some Irish whiskey.  My host nieces and nephews all came, as did Darlene and we all had fun.  I was relieved that the spaghetti was a hit.  At one point in the meal, I saw my family eating the fried noodles and my hose aunts and siblings eating the spaghetti.  I taught my host brother’s girlfriend how to make it because I think that it will be on the menu for holidays to come.  I will make it for Chinese New Year, which is the first week in February.
Mom introducing herself to the club

Vida presenting on Buddhism
The Club and my family

Navy and I cooking

Pat and my host cousin's baby
Maura and Chun Liap, instant best friends
Milk fruit
The feast
Pat and my host niece, Lisa.  Such hams.

The third day, we went to a party at my school.  I didn’t know that there was a party even taking place, but the day before, when I came with my family, the school director told me that it was happening (school was cancelled because the students were setting up for the party), so we had to go, we really had no choice.  My host mom was there with my aunt, which was kind of a surprise, but my host mom is really involved in every religious party, so I suppose I should have known that she would be there.  In Khmer, the word for this kind of a party is “bun” and it means that almost every monk from the surrounding pagodas was there and people make offerings, about 250 monks in total.  I still don’t really understand what the party was for; some students said that it was for National Victory on genocide Day (which was the day when the Khmer Rogue was overthrown by the Vietnamese army), but there were monks there blessing the school and government officials making speeches, so I think that I will chalk that one up to something that I just don’t understand.  I don’t add as many things to that list as I did before, but there are still additions.  After the party, we rode the bamboo train and they were able to see the countryside.  Because it is the rice harvest, most people were out in their fields, including many kids who have to skip school to help their families.  After lunch, we went to my host family’s house and my host brother drove us to Kamping Puoy, which is called a resort, but it is a reservoir that was built during Pol Pot.  There is a damn and huts that were built in the water.  We rented a section of a hut and relaxed in hammocks.  It’s a beautiful place and my students are constantly telling me to go there, so I can cross that off my list of places that I must go before I leave.  

Mom and Ma
Ridin the bamboo train
View from the front of the bamboo train

The next day, I woke up and went to church with my mom.  It starts at 6:30 and there is a fairly regular crowd.  It’s a short mass all in Khmer, but I enjoy seeing those members of the community that I hardly see outside of church, but it is kind of a cool feeling to see someone that you seemingly have nothing in common with, but we still practice the same rituals once a week.  As a person who feels weird, awkward and out of place most of the time, church is probably the most consistent place where I can come and just be another Catholic reciting the Our Father (granted I am the only one saying it in English…)  After church, Maura, Pat and I went to a pagoda in town and got a tour around with my star student Vida, the boy who lives there, and a few monks.  We all kind of paired off and Maura was able to talk to a monk in English and Pat had a different monk to talk to.  I walked around with Vida and he informed me of a few things that I didn’t know.  We stayed there for about an hour and everyone walked away feeling like they accomplished something.  The monks all study English and were able to share their religion with some curious foreigners.  Pat and Maura were very curious about the pagodas and Buddhism, so they each were able to get a tour with a monk.  Vida was also on cloud nine because there are very few westerners who are interested in visiting the pagodas and learning about Buddhism.  For the amount of foreigners that I see in Battambang, the pagoda and the public school are the two places that I can go and know that I will not see another foreigner.  He was proud to bring us there and show us off because he can’t really see his family and works hard around the pagoda.  I was happy to get to see that part of his life, because I was always curious.  The monks chanted one part of a prayer that usually takes 30 minutes to recite, but thankfully it was only a few minutes.  I love the sound of monks chanting, although I don’t like it at 5am on horrible speakers, it’s always awesome in person.  They chant in Malay, so I have no idea what they are saying, but the message is very similar to any prayer in any religion.  When we got back to the hotel, we got packed up and got in our taxi.  We stopped by my host family one more time to say goodbye and then we were on our way.  We stopped at the half way point, which is where my friend Keiko lives.  We went to her house and picked her up.  We went to eat lunch and toured around the crocodile farm behind the restaurant.  It’s pretty scary but the family is really nice and it’s cool to see those huge animals so close.  We then went out to the floating village.  Keiko’s host dad asked for the day off and arranged a big boat for us.  The floating village is exactly what it sounds like- houses, restaurants, shops, etc on the water.  Everyone has a boat, but there are many problems there- there is a high rate of HIV/AIDS, the crime rate is really high and alcoholism is common.  Our tour skipped over those things though- we went to a house that catches and sells fish and a place that makes ice and sells it to everyone in the village.  I was really concerned that our taxi driver would be annoyed that he had to stop or try to get more money, but he was in the back of the boat, loving every second of it, taking videos and making jokes.  We ended up getting into Phnom Penh pretty late, but we went out for dinner and called it an early night.

The crocs.

Phone stop

On the boat

The next day, we booked a tuk tuk for the whole day and we kicked it off with one of the saddest places in Cambodia.  Tuol Sleng, or S-21, was a school that was converted into a torture prison during the Khmer Rouge period.  Estimates are that 14,000 people died there, mainly those accused of being spies or former government officials.  The museum is really graphic and sad, so we decided that we didn’t want to be genocide tourists and cut out the Killing Fields.  Instead, we went to the market right around the corner and finished up the shopping for those back home.  We went to the mall (which is called the “modern market” by Cambodians, which cracks me up) and got frozen yogurt and DVDs.  We then went to Wat Phnom, which is a pagoda on a hill, where Phnom Penh began, according to the legend.  We then went to the Royal Palace, which is very similar to the golden Palace in Bangkok.  We made it in time for happy hour at FCC and went back to the hotel to back up and eat dinner.  We went to sleep early, like every other night. 
In the morning, everyone woke up and got ready to go.  They took a taxi to the airport at 5:45, so it was an early morning for all of us.  We decided against me coming to the airport because I couldn’t get inside and it’s not a good idea to take a tuk tuk alone at that hour.  So, we said our farewells at the hotel and I went back inside to sleep.  When I woke up, I was overcome with sadness because it was the first time that I woke up alone in almost two weeks.  It made me feel awful that they were gone.  I decided to start my day though because nothing gets accomplished when I feel bad for myself.  I took advantage of the awesome shower, free delicious breakfast, stopped by the Peace Corps office and was on the 10:00 bus back to Battambang.  I decided against staying in Phnom Penh because it just makes me spend money and be lazy.  On the bus, I was thinking about my family, but it dawned on me that I went over a year without seeing my parents and about a year and a half without seeing any siblings, the last six months won’t be bad because the tough part is over.  I have about 6 months left, give or take. 

I blogged about this shirt before, but we actually got a picture of it!

Now that I am back at site, I am planning the last few months.  The way that Cambodia works is that soon, it’s going to be much more difficult to get stuff done because the weather will start getting hotter.  There are tests in February, holidays in March and no one does anything in April because of Khmer New Year and the heat.  The school year ends in early June and I will be leaving in July. So, now it’s crunch time.  I have a lot of stuff planned- planning for International Women’s Day starts on Friday,  Martin Luther King, Jr. presentation on Monday, Yahoo and gmail workshops on Thursday and Friday next week and a workshop on the Cambodian genocide on the 24th.  I have a wedding next week, Chinese New Year In February, my host sister’s wedding in March, John and Catte visiting in April and so on.  It’s weird to be at the point where the end is in site.  Before it was a point in the very distant future, but now is where plans start to get made.  It’s the home stretch. 

I also was thinking about the idea of karma.  I believe in something called traveler’s karma and I saw it a lot when my family came to visit.  My family was so sympathetic to the working kids, men and women and I think that it really helped us.  There are some times when the tuk tuk drivers have no idea what they are doing or are rude, but the ones that we got this time were so nice and hard working.  They all took care of us and moreover seemed to enjoy showing us Cambodia.  I think that a lot of that has to do with how interested in everything my family was.  They were so curious and open to learning about anything and everything that we were paired up with people who wanted to show us their country.

All in all, it was a great trip.  I was so happy to see them and show them Cambodia.  While I was so sad to see them go, I understand that this is how things work.  I made a commitment to Cambodia and my work and I need to be serious about it until the end of the year.  I will have plenty of breaks, but the worst thing that could happen is to get homesick.  I’m in this for the long haul and plan on going out with a bang.  Six months?  That’s nothing.  It continues to get easier the longer that I am here, so I think the best strategy is just to enjoy my time left.  I should be doing that anyway, but it’s hard to remember that sometimes, no matter where we are.