Thursday, April 21, 2011

I just realized that I have not blogged since February. I'll try to give you a brief update:

1. Health Camp Glow: At the end of April, the 5 volunteers in my province had a girls' camp for 25 of our female students (5 from each district) and 5 of our teachers/or midwives. We brought everyone into the provincial town for a weekend of fun and sessions about leadership and health. It was an amazing success! The girls learned a lot and had so much fun (none of them wanted to go home)! As volunteers, we were excited to see that something we've been planning since September actually happened and finished without any problems. The last stage of the project will be completed this month as our girls plan a community activity to educate people in their respective districts about the issues they learned at the camp. If you have any more questions about this, please just send me an email...I'd love to share more!

2. Dengue Fever: Right after Camp Glow, I biked the 2 hours home and then later that night began to not feel so well. I just thought that because I had been so busy and because I biked both ways I was just exhausted. However, the next day I felt bones ached and I was tired. However, because I was leaving for vacation to Indonesia that Friday, I had so much to do, I just took some un-asprin, and tried to get stuff done. Then later that night I had a high fever and when the un-asprin wore off, my bones would ache- even to the point that it would wake me up in the middle of the night. Then on Wednesday, when I arrived in Phnom Penh (we flew out of PP) I realized I had a rash all over my body. Then I was certain I had Dengue Fever. So, the nurse took my blood (I was also anemic) and I was ordered to rest. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to even go on my trip. However, they were able to move my flight to a day later and I was able to get on the same flight as my friends who were leaving a day later. For those of you don't know about dengue fever, it is a mosquito borne illness that you contract from mosquitoes that carry the disease. There is no medication to cure dengue fever, just un-asprin to numb the aches and lots of water and rest. Dengue is very common in SE Asia and Cambodia, specifically. A lot of volunteers get it; however, no one in my province had gotten it yet.

3. Sumatra, Indonesia: Northern Sumatra was AMAZING! There were 7 of us (all PC volunteers) that went, which turned out to be the perfect number because we could rent our own van making travel very, very easy. Also, we are all really good friends so it was so much fun to travel with everyone.
Bukit Lawang: The first destination was Bukit Lawang. There we went on an overnight jungle trek to see orangutans. We saw lots of mother orangutans with their babies. Some were so close we could have walked up to them to touch them. We also saw different types of monkeys and a monitor lizard. Trekking through the jungle was intense (the Dengue probably didn't help). It was very mountainous and difficult because it was muddy from the rain. When we arrived at our camp for the night we all went swimming in the river and relaxed. We then hiked 3 hours the next day and then rafted the river back to town. It was amazing.
Berastagi: The second place we visited was Berastagi. There we stayed in a cozy guesthouse outside the city at the foot of a volcano. Here we all froze because it was high in the mountains and we came from Cambodia where it is eternally hot. The next day we hiked the volcano and then after our descent went to some hot springs to relax!
Lake Toba: Our final destination was an island called Lake Toba. We had to take a ferry to get there. Lake Toba is the largest lake in Southeast Asia. While the rest of Sumatra is very Muslim with mosques everywhere, Lake Toba is almost entirely Christian. Moreover, these Christians used to be cannibals (before they were Christians). You could see the mixture of their animist beliefs with with Christianity. Anyway, we had a great time relaxing at our guesthouse overlooking the lake and the mountains, going off the diving board, and exploring the Island. The second day there, my friend Kellee and I randomly discovered a German bakery/guesthouse that had the most amazing food- and freshly roasted Sumatran coffee! We went there one to two times a day until we left! I also bought some of the coffee and have been enjoying it here in Cambodia ever since. There are coffee plantations all over Sumatra and it is really some of the best coffee in the world!
I was catching a flight a night earlier that everyone else, so I headed by myself to the airport in Medan to catch my flight back to Cambodia. I had a layover in Malaysia where I drank Starbucks coffee twice! Definitely an amazing vacation. I had never considered going to Indonesia; however, it is now a place I MUST return after I'm done in Cambodia. The food is amazing, the people are nice and it is absolutely BEAUTIFUL. I also want to visit Java, Jakarta and Bali. Indonesia has over 17,000 islands so there is not a shortage of amazing sights to see. If you want to read more about my trip, check out some of my friends' blogs which give much more detailed accounts:,,,

4. Khmer New Year: I planned my Indonesia trip so that I could return to Cambodia before Khmer New Year per my Khmer family's insistence. Khmer New Year was a lot less busy this year than it was the year before. I only went to the pagoda one day as opposed to last year where I went for 4 days! However, there were still lots of parties to attend and games to play. Overall, it was good and I'm glad I was able to celebrate with my family and community for the last time. Usually, Cambodia's New Year is all about being with family, going to the pagoda and parties! Last year, I celebrated for about 15 days in a row. However, this year because I was in Indonesia and am now in Phnom Penh (finishing a Health Manual I'm writing) I reduced it to 5 days.

5. Life these Days....My time here in Cambodia is coming to a close. It is absolutely crazy to me that I've been here almost 2 years. It has gone by so fast. I have applied to help with the training of the new volunteers which if I am selected I'll be here until October. This also means that I am done living in my village at the end of May and will move to Phnom Penh for a month or so and then to the province where the new volunteers will be doing their training. Until then though, I have weddings (my host sister's included), traveling in Cambodia (hopefully) and our Close of Service (COS) Conference in Phnom Penh. In the meantime, I'm just going to try to enjoy my last month as a volunteer in Cambodia in a small village on the boarder of Vietnam! Definitely, lots of hanging out and eating!

Monday, February 21, 2011

About three months to go....

Sorry for not posting in such a long time. My previous excuse was that the government blocked blogspot, but it is now working, I decided it's time to post again after a VERY long time of not.
Things here in my village are starting to wind down. I actually have only about 3 months left! It's completely crazy for me- and, actually, VERY sad. The month of June I'm thinking about doing an internship (not sure where yet?) so I'll be done here at the end of May. My host sister gets married then so I thought it a good time to finish up- since they will share the room next to mine.
I've heard rumors that they are going to replace my site with another volunteer and it made me sad because the reality of me leaving is so much more of a reality. I mean, I don't really want to stick around another year, but I've really just started to become very comfortable with my life here. People understand me when I speak and I understand them. People know my habits and aren't scared to talk to me. I love riding my bike around town and hearing my students ask me "teacher, where you go?" It truly will be bittersweet to leave this place I've lived at for 2 years.
Despite being almost finished here I'm still keeping very busy. Next month we are having a girls' leadership camp that Peace Corps volunteers do world-wide called Camp Glow. We will focus on leadership skills and health issues. It's been a lot of work organizing and getting proper approval, but we're all looking forward to it (and hoping we can pull it off). I'll post more about this later. I'm also helping write a health manual for current and future volunteers. This, too, has kept me very busy. Other than that, I've been going to weddings and house parties. It's funny because if I've not gone to a wedding in a week or two I get really excited to go to one. It's always something to do and you get to see tons of people outside of school, the health center, or their work. Who doesn't like parties??

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Blonde, Again

Yesterday, while visiting my market ladies (something I do daily here at site), one asked if I wanted to change my hair color. Now, I REALLY did not want to change my hair color- especially, in a small village in rural Cambodia. I especially didn't want to because I have finally arrived at the stage of hair growth where I have discovered my natural color- after years of not knowing. Now, I've been asked before if I color my hair and if I want to here, but always I've said "yes, I did in America, but here I don't want to change it to black. I like my hair its natural color". This has usually satisfied people in the past. However, yesterday all my usual excuses did not work and it became clear they weren't going to take no for an answer. Also, I'm going to a wedding with them on Tuesday and, apparently, you must color your hair for weddings. So, after insisting that I was "scared" to color it black or red, they found two boxes of "blonde" for me in the back of the shop with dust on them. Both had hair samples attached so I could see the end result. One had a greenish tent and the other looked blonde. So, I let them do it. I let them color my hair blonde right there in the market. I was a bit apprehensive at first because the bowl and toothbrush that they used had leftover dye that was black. As I was sitting there, I was thinking about how disastrous-not to mention stupid- this truly could be. However, luckily enough, all went well and I am- once again- a blonde. After I washed it out I returned to the market and everyone loved it. When I went this morning they have already begun asking when I'm going to color my hair red. I think I'm going to hold off on that as long as possible. Another woman who was there yesterday when they were coloring my hair, stopped by this morning with cool-aid colored red hair (apparently they had talked her into going red after they got me). She was buying black dye to cover it up. I think her "fire colored" hair was too much and definitely a lesson for me to not venture into the realms of red hair......

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Harvesting Rice

This year some of the ladies from my market invited me to harvest rice with them. Last year I rode my bike to the rice field, took a few pictures, then got outta there once it started to get hot (so a half an hour later). This year if only I'd been so lucky. I really wasn't too keen on going in the first place, but because they are so kind to me I just couldn't say no. I asked what time I should go and they said "when the sun starts to come up." However, this morning when the sun came up I decided to finish drinking my coffee and listen to NPR (I love having Internet all the time). So, I arrived at their house around 6:30 am ready to harvest rice. Ready in that I was wearing my ridiculous bear pajama pants (gift from first host family and COMPLETELY socially acceptable to wear anywhere in public), a tee-shirt, long sleeve shirt and hat. Entirely too hot. However, they don't want you to turn dark .

Now, in my mind I was hoping that by "harvesting rice" they meant I would show up, they would teach me how to cut a few stalks of rice, we'd take some pictures, then they would send me on my way home. In fact, this is what all volunteers I know have done when they have "harvested rice." However, no such luck for me- they really wanted my help harvesting rice(probably because it was only 4 women harvesting a huge plot by themselves) . We cut rice until 12:00. It is such hard work. A couple hours into it I could barely stand up (to which I took a water break and secretly popped some IBUPROFEN.)To make matters worse, there has been entirely too much rain this year so most of the rice has been blown down and is in standing water. So, we were all cutting rice in water above our ankles. Additionally, there are leaches. Which is the main reason I didn't ever want to harvest rice. I cannot tell you how many leaches I or someone else picked off me (it's because my skin is white and my blood is sweet that they bit me everyone said). Then you pick them off and you're bleeding everywhere. To which they told me to wash it in the water. Yes, the water I was wading in that is brown from dirt, water buffalo droppings and who knows what else. Despite the backbreaking work, heat and general difficulty of the task it was a lot of fun. Everyone that passed got a kick out of me harvesting rice. They would yell, "The American knows how to harvest rice!" or "Does your back hurt yet?" In a way it was a unique way to bond with my community and to better understand them. It once again gave me a greater appreciation for the bowl of rice I daily eat knowing that it came at the expense of someone's very hard work.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Thanksgiving, Running and Babies Being Born

I am definitely overdue on posting. My apologies.
This year I was able to celebrate Thanksgiving twice. The first time was a celebration involving all members of my province. We ended up making tacos (yeah, not Thanksgiving food, but easy to make and so tasty). Jac and I made the homemade tortillas (using beer bottles as the rolling pins) and everyone else worked together to make the salsa, meat and veggies. We then made two homemade pecan pies and brownies. We of course didn't have an oven (because no one here uses them) so we made friends with the only family in town that sells bread and has an oven. They tasted AMAZING.
My second Thanksgiving was at my wonderful friends Tim and Jess's house (along with their son Ian). We made omelets for breakfast then ordered a traditional Thanksgiving meal from a restaurant in town (it included everything important: turkey, stuffing, potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce and PUMPKIN PIE!) for dinner. It all tasted so good! We also made coffee cake and lemon bars. All the while a year old football game was playing in the background! I even took a nap mid-afternoon and complained a couple dozen times about how full I was. Thanksgiving in its truest form.
Since being back from America I've attempted to train for a 1/2 marathon. It's been difficult to train due to the rain, muddy- and sometimes impassible- roads, dogs, Cambodians thinking I'm from another planet and constantly asking me if I'm "tired", etc. However, this Sunday I finished my second 1/2 marathon. The race was in Siem Reap province at Angkor Wat. There were a few moments- those precious few when I wasn't thinking about how stupid I was for running a 1/2 in Cambodia, talking myself out of stopping, or generally thinking about how much pain I was in- that I was struck by how beautiful and surreal it was to run in the temple ruins of an ancient civilization. It was also fun to see so many Cambodians come out to cheer us on and have little kids give us a high-five (which I did a few times but then decided against it for various sanitary reasons). Also, it was encouraging to see Cambodians, who had been disabled by landmines, participate in the race (maybe it was 3K). That was truly inspiring and made me realize how lucky I was to have a body that was healthy and able to run so far. Overall a good experience and many of us are looking for another one to run in the near future.
Babies, Babies, Babies:
I FINALLY got to see a baby born at my health center! I've missed about 3 births thus far so I was very excited when the midwives invited me to come after lunch to see a birth. I showed up at 1:00 when they told me to come; however, she had already "crossed the river" as they say here! I couldn't believe it, but then they told me not to worry because there was another woman in labor. At one point during the 3 hour adventure, the midwives told the woman that the child would come out with a face as white and beautiful as mine saying "bonjour" (the slang word for foreigner is French, thus, why the baby would say "bonjour" instead of "hello").
My conclusions I hear you ask? First, I will hopefully NEVER have a child in rural Cambodia. Second, the woman barely made a noise. Pain medicine you ask? Nope. No pain medicine. What happens when the head is too big to exit? They take scissors and make it bigger. Then they sewed her up and she didn't make a peep. I couldn't believe it. The baby didn't cry for the first 5 minutes. I, in my inexperience, didn't think she was going to make it and thought that if that happened I'd never see another birth because I'd be bad luck. The baby was so white and clearly lacking oxygen. Finally, after rubbing the baby, blood started to circulate and she began to whimper (because she couldn't cry). The whole time the midwife kept telling me that I was never going to want a husband after watching. To myself I was thinking maybe I'll adopt. The other midwife asked if I wanted to see another birth- which, I answered yes. I thought all the blood would freak me out, but it didn't in the least. I just kind of stood there in awe of what was going on. Furthermore, what I liked most was that the mother, sister, and aunt were all there encouraging her and helping her with the birth of her first child. The men were sitting in the next room looking nervous (or possibly drunk?) I felt so lucky to be a part of it. The new mother even thanked me (in English) for coming. I definitely want to see another.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Water Festival Tragedy in Phnom Penh

In Phnom Penh last night there was a massive stampede that left some 378 people dead (as of the latest count). It was the last night of Water Festival which celebrates the end of rainy season. During this festival, massive amounts of people come to Phnom Penh to watch the boat races. Most of the people that visit are from the countryside and make the journey to town to watch the races and take part in the other festivities going on around the city. I know everyone in my village wanted to come and everyone constantly asked if I was going. They would say, "There are so many people there and it is so happy happy." To which I'd respond, "There are too many people and so many thieves." The thieves part usually stopped their asking. I was there last year for a night and swore I'd NEVER go again because it's so crazy, expensive, and, like I said, full of thieves. This morning at the market everyone told me how lucky I was that I didn't go to Phnom Penh!

It all took place on an island close to the shore near the Royal Palace. There was a concert and a lot of people showed up. There were way too many people on the island and somehow (accounts vary) someone got scared and started to panic causing everyone else to seek the only exit- a small bridge- off the island. Some jumped or were pushed off into the water, but most were packed together so tightly they couldn't breath. It has been horrible to see (the Khmer don't seem to mind too much..but then again they lived through Pol Pot) the graphic pictures and filming of it all unfolding. At one point I saw a police officer pulling a person from a mass of people squeezed together so tight on the bridge no one could move.

Here is a link from the New York Times with some pictures:

In my province about 30 people were killed (if I understand correctly, the most from any province). This includes a student from my school and two from the village next to mine. I didn't know them, but it's still horrible. The newspapers report that some people thought the bridge was collapsing which is what sparked the panic. According to my cousin- someone saw a ghost.

One of the police officers from my town, who is also my neighbor, phoned me today to make sure I wasn't in Phnom Penh. I thought it so thoughtful. All that heard the story can rest assured that I'm safe and sound in the middle of nowhere!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Water Festival

I guess you're probably thinking that there sure are a lot of holidays because the last time I posted was a holiday.'re right- there are and I love it. It means no school for me and tons of time to do whatever I want. Last year at this time I would have been rather annoyed (thinking "what, more free time?") but this year I've gotten a lot busier and used to not teaching for 4 months. So, now I rejoice at the thought of no school and days of leisure doing whatever I want. Already I've read 3 books (in 4 days), started planning a girls' conference for March, wrote lesson plans and started translating a health presentation were giving at the Department of Health next week. Not to mention, I've ran (even a 12 miler which is terrible here with it still raining and REALLY muddy roads), downloaded new books for my ipod and spent countless hours wasting time online and listening to BBC. It's the life- one I'm sure I'll never experience after this. Other than that there is not too much going on here. However, I do have some random encounters I'll leave you with...nothing overly exciting, but enough to keep me entertained here.

* While at the Health Center the other day one of the doctors turns to two patients waiting and says "You're pregnant, what do you want?"I started laughing for it's absolute directness (which could be a language thing because everything is said very simply and directly here which is not how we approach things). The doctor then started laughing, too. One of the girls you couldn't even tell was pregnant. They looked at each other and then responded that they were waiting for the pharmacist, who had previously been in a meeting, but was now smoking a cigarette.

*It's party season again at the pagoda. My host dad, uncle and I were forced to go, despite the fact that it was clearly going to rain. I think my host mom didn't want to cook dinner. My dad said, "It's going to rain" and she said, "Go shower". My dad doesn't move. So, she tells me to go change. Which of course I do. Then when I return my dad has showed and were off. The road is HORRIBLE. It does start to downpour 1/2 way there so we stop at some random house and talk to an old guy who is blind in one eye. Then because the road is practically impassible (some are doing it, but clearly struggling and getting REALLY muddy) we start making our own road through people's yards. Such a hassle traveling can be in this country sometimes.

*I was at school the other day and sat down to a new female teacher at the school. This clearly makes her nervous. She then says, "teacher is fat." I respond with a very fake smile and sarcastically respond "yes". This is getting so old....yet, I'm sure she just didn't know what else to say.