Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The home stretch

You have all been updated on my undertakings of the past two years and to be honest, these next two months aren’t going to have many (if any) projects apart from finding scholarships and possibly another health workshop.  Besides that, I am tying up lose ends and enjoying time with the people that I love here.  I’ve found out that I the kind of person who needs to map things out for myself or else I cannot understand them.  Having said that, I will organize my thoughts, fears and opinions in a manner that helps me sort out this mire of emotion, which is a list.

Things I will miss-
  1. Khmer hospitality- there are ample cases of Cambodians, most of them people I know, but sometimes not, who look out for me.  The most extreme example was while I was taking a tuk-tuk to my student’s house for a party with my friends who were visiting from New York, when my phone fell out of my pocket and two women on a moto caught up to us to tell me.  I told the driver to turn around, and right as he did, a teenage boy pulled up on a moto with all of the pieces for me.  Then took off in the OPPOSITE direction.  More simply, there have been countless times where I ask someone where something is, and they send their son/daughter out to show me where it is. 
  2. Ma- My host family has been amazing and as the matriarch, she has made my time here so comfortable and enjoyable.  My Khmer isn’t stellar and she can only say “hello” and “thank you” in English, but we still have a good time.  She asks me really funny questions and isn’t shy about teaching me about Cambodian- the good parts and bad.  She is very frank with me about her time during the Khmer Rouge, not for sympathy, but as an ambassador for every mother who went through that awful time with small children.  She had a four year old and baby that both survived, which is simply incredible and speaks to her character and gumption.
  3. The Chuns- Chun Lai and Chun Liap, as you well know, are my host niece and nephew who live at my house.  I haven’t had the privilege of being an aunt just yet, but I have been given a sneak peak with those two.  Coming home and them running to say hello and demanding to play.  They each have their own personalities- Chun Lai is a little boss man who calls the shots, is adorable and knows it.  He’s so charming and clever, I cannot wait to come back in a few years and see what a little heartbreaker he is with his teachers and fellow students.  Chun Liap is the sweetest girl.  Her family misinterprets her Down’s Syndrome for being slow, but while Lai is all about himself, she can read a room better than any adult in the family.  She knows when someone is upset and will come over and be cute to try to cheer them up.  I have been so fortunate to spend time with them.
  4. My students- Out of over 3,000 students at my school, I was able to make a close relationship with 11 of them.  I was able to watch them grow from awkward, self-conscious juniors to confident, thoughtful seniors.  Most students, much like myself when I was a student, go through the motions without much vigor.  I just happened to find a few of them who were willing to go WAY above and beyond the call of duty of study more and learn.  This means biking 5 miles on awful roads at my beck and call to volunteer and study.  I wasn’t the greatest teacher to those students who were unmotivated but teaching these 11 was so much, it seemed unfair to other teachers.  As a volunteer, I will never see the outcome of my work.  Cambodia didn’t change because of what I did.  But I am so positive in my faith that they will grow up and administer the changes that are needed here that I can leave a happy and satisfied volunteer.
  5. Battambang- I was so lucky to be placed in this site and enjoyed my time here.  The people are really laid back and welcoming, but every volunteer says that about where they were placed.  I got to know this city and it’s people.  Moreover, I watched it grow in two years in ways that are amazing.  In ten years from now, it won’t be recognizable.
  6. Peace Corps- Even though I get angry at the politics at times, I believe in its goals and aims more today than I did when I left.  After seeing so many people and organizations interested in the selfishness of aid rather than development.  I have a belief that development is a 50/50 agreement since the host country nationals are the ones that have to live with the development, and if they do not agree or aren’t interested, that isn’t development, that’s a waste.  Learning the tricks of the trade can be so frustrating, but failing is a part of success and without it, I wouldn’t have learned how to help the developing world help itself.  It isn’t easy, but it is the most effective (cost effective too to boot). 
  7. Other volunteers- It is/was fun to meet up in a city and do American things with other Americans.  It was such a breath of fresh air.  Most of us are like-minded, but that doesn’t mean that we always agree.  We always joke that you have to be a little crazy to join Peace Corps.  Peace Corps, typically, attracts people who have the following characteristics- adventurous, idealistic, confident, active, etc.  But sometimes we can be stubborn, hard-headed, overzealous, etc.  These characteristics make for some fun and memorable times.  I also feel a connection to them similar to those connections for friends from grade school, high school, college and teammates- that we went through something together that others may not get.  I’m sure the readjustment period will include a lot of texts and stories to soften the blow of being thrown back into American life.
  8. Khmer prices- $4 for a cup of coffee?  I pay 30 cents!  $30 for a 4 hour bus ticket?  I spent $4!  $200 for a pair of jeans?  I could pay for a year of university with that!  I could go on for days, but going from paying $1 for a nice lunch to $12 is going to be tough.
  9. Lack of options- At first, it made me mad, but now, having more than a few options seems so stressful.  For lunch do I want fried noodles or fried rice?  Easy.  Just imagine picking out cereal- there are so many options.  Do I want a kiddie cereal? Chocolate? Fiber infused?  Other volunteers have commented that this is one of the most difficult things to readjust to because it’s just so excessive.  How many options do we need, really?  Even at the one supermarket in Cambodia, I sometimes walk out with very little because there are too many options (I read a really interesting article about this in The Economist and it talked about how consumers tend to not buy any product if there are too many options instead of just a few, so imagine how I will handle this!)
  10. Lack of technology- When I came to Cambodia, the iPad was still a secret in a lab and we came here with alien technology and were way ahead of the game with technology in Cambodia.  We were given very basic phones (think of the phone you got in 1998), but we didn’t need much more than that (it is a phone, after all, we don’t NEED to be able to send an email from it).  I charge my phone once every few days, sometimes once a week, and the coolest “app” that it has a built in flashlight.  Cambodian technology hasn’t really advanced much, but wifi is pretty easy to find and skype is easily accessible.  But in America, that is clearly not the case.  I finally saw an iPad when my family came to visit and still don’t really get it.  Every time I read an article, I am floored at what phones and trinkets can do.  I have no idea how to work any of these things and I wouldn’t be surprised if my house resembled the Jettson’s instead of the one that I left.
  11. The excuse “oh, I don’t know how”- This excuse, in Khmer is “at che” and can be used for anything.  If my words fail me and I can’t describe what I want to, I say “at che”, which means I know what I want to say but I cannot say it and that usually is good enough.  I’m good about trying to eat new food, but if I have tried it before and hate it “at che” is all I need.  In America, it may not fly if someone asks me to try something and I say that I don’t know how to eat it, because that doesn’t really mean anything.
  12. My bike- I thought it was a drag at first to ride my bike all the time, but I know how to get around the city and in Phnom Penh, I am able to save money and see more of the city if I take out a bike instead of getting a tuk-tuk.  I’ve never been a big bike rider before, but it’s nice to get out and exercise
  13. Using the same jokes to charm- Because not so many foreigners can speak Khmer, it is extremely easy to crack the same jokes time and time again to break the ice.  For example, when someone tells me that I speak Khmer very clearly, I tell them that they do too.  Gets a laugh every time. 
  14. Lots of free time to read- I wasn’t a huge reader in America, but I have enjoyed having enough time to read a book per week.  The Peace Corps library is ever expanding and I have been able to read a few books that I should have years ago in class, books that I have always wanted to read, recommendations from friends and in general a wide range of topics.  I have also been able to read recycled Economist magazines after my friends finish with them.  They are so dense that it takes about a week to read it (at least for me), but it has helped to keep me informed, even if I read the magazine a few months after the event has happened.  I just finished the one that looked in depth at the uprising in Egypt and it came to press right after Mubarak stepped down.  Regardless, it’s pretty timeless and their predictions are pretty spot on, so it’s still pretty current.  When I come home, however, I probably will need to get my own subscription and not nearly the amount of free time, once I get a job.
  15. The “I’m a teacher” card- I have been known to play, in some cases overplay, the cards in my hand.  While in college, I played the “I’m a D1 athlete” card more than I care to remember.  In Cambodia, since teaching is a very respected profession, wearing a sampot (the traditional teachers skirt) automatically gives me a little creditability.  Saying that I am a teacher while at the market, or really anytime that I think it will help me, can help me when I am bargaining or explaining while I live here.  This card, however, expires once I step foot on that plane back to America

I was contemplating making a list of things that I won’t miss, but I realized that my list of things that I will miss is much more powerful than the things that I won’t, so no need to focus on the negative.  But, I will not miss the roosters crowing whenever they feel like it. 

I am to the point, though, in my service that I am really looking forward to coming home, but I just set the date for my last health workshop, which will mean that Vida and Kimny (the two students who have done the other two) will be in charge of the whole thing and I will be on the periphery.  I’m also working with Phanet, Darlene’s co-teacher who has become one of my closest friends here, and we will both work towards getting those 10 students scholarships, but since the applications cannot be completed until after their national exams in July, Phanet will pick up where I left off.  It’s reassuring to know that the effort will continue on after I am gone.

Chun Lai and Chun Liap are still away, but should be coming home soon.  I cannot wait to see them!