Friday, December 18, 2009

Thanksgiving and Other Randomness....

Thanksgiving and other Randomness….
Sorry, this is old. Christmas is a week away, but I thought I'd share what I did for Thanksgiving here in Bodia. For Thanksgiving my province had language training in the next province over. It was absolutely wonderful. We were able to have chicken (Turkey or “foreigner chicken” here is VERY expensive), mashed potatoes, green beans, spaghetti, and other amazing food! I even got to do a little baking. I made my mom/grandma’s apple cake which tasted almost as good as it does at home. I baked a pumpkin pie (my friend Kellee’s friend, who is awesome, sent us pumpkin pie filling). Normally, I’m terrible at making crust, but somehow even using rice flower and only having a toaster oven, it all turned out amazing! On Saturday, we ate tons of jelly beans (or at least I know I did! Thanks grandma!! I finished them off the next week) and watched James Bond and then the Sound of Music. We all questioned why Peace Corps didn’t send us to Eastern Europe! (In the pictures is Kellee and Jac eating breakfast near the Market in Prey Vieng and the second is Jac riding Khmer style while Kellee is attempting to maneuver the bike. The first attempt was jac straddling the bike backwards while Kellee almost crashed. I almost wet my pants laughing so hard- I’m sure all the khmer watching were, too. I’m sure they’ll be talking about it for years. They all thought it was the funniest thing…foreigners trying to ride on the back of bikes! CRAZY Barangs!)

Other than that, not too much else is going on here. Still trying to get my schedule down and making enough free time to read and learn Khmer. I do have a couple funny stories to share. The other week I was making students write what they did yesterday in order to practice using the past perfect tense. One kid wrote that he went swimming. I was trying to get him to make his sentence longer so I asked him who he went swimming with. Of course he didn’t understand my question in English. So, I thought, sure I’ll give my Khmer a go. So, I said in Khmer, who did you swim with? Did you swim with a water buffalo….or so I thought that was what I said. He gave me a really funny look (which is not at all an uncommon response to my Khmer). My co-teacher then said, “Do you realize you just asked him if he wanted to go swimming with a bomb”? Oops!
In my 12th grade class I do the pronunciation of the new vocabulary words. This involves me standing in front of the class saying the word slowly, carefully enunciating all syllables, and then having the class repeat after me multiple times until I think they’ve pronounced it correctly or until I’m convinced they will never pronounce it correctly no matter how many times we say it together. We were covering a section titled “Protect the Baby”. One of the words the book (and the teacher) thought the students should know was “breast feed”. And why not, if they were in an English speaking country or chatting it up with a foreigner, breastfeed would be an important word to know. Seriously. Repeat after me class, “BREASTFEED, B-R-E-A-S-T-F-E-E-D………"and I’m supposed to be a health volunteer…….
The other day I was in the provincial town with the girls from my province. We were biking home from eating dinner at the river. As you can see from the picture (picture of water) that it is absolutely beautiful! Anyway, the four of us were riding our bikes home in the dark and I was on the back of Jac's bike because Suzannah cannot bring hers because she takes a taxi. Anyway, were riding down this dark side street, trying to see the road and attempting to avoid being attacked by REALLY scary dogs, when Jac notices that Kellee has stopped in the middle of the road. Jac then swerves and we literally run into a tree head-on! We were okay, but thought that it was the funniest thing. This tree incident left no marks on either of us, luckily. Apparently, there was a huge hole in the road causing Kellee to stop!

Finally, one of my co-teachers told me this week, in all seriousness, said to me that if it snows in Cambodia- he’s moving! If it snowed in Cambodia, it would only be foreigners left.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Rice Harvest

Last weekend my family harvested their rice plots and they invited me to join. Now, I must confess up front that when I say join, I mean I watched, took pictures and then rode my bike home when I got hot. I maybe stayed an hour. The part of the harvesting process I "participated" in was the threshing. A day or so before I showed up, they had already hand cut the stalks of rice. My cousin had invited me to help assuring me that there were no snakes. I told him I would be willing to try as long as there weren’t snakes. He said no snakes, but there were leaches and they hurt when they bite you. I was going to give it a go, but he went ahead and did it without me and told me the next day that he had already cut the rice. I was pretty tore-up about it (here you read loads of sarcasm). Actually, had he invited me to go that morning I probably would have. However, I’m sure he realized how much more work it would have been to invite me and show me how to do it. It’s definitely hard work. You have this hand tool -not sure the technical term, but my vocabulary would describe it as a skinny machete that looks like a hook(?)-and you are bending over cutting the rice stalks down. Now, as I’m sure you’ve ascertained from this blog, it’s freaking hot here. While it’s "cold" season (don’t believe it folks- it’s not cold) the rice fields seem to absorb the heat and hold it in. So when you’re in the field and there is a cool breeze you’re still hot because you can feel the heat from the rice escaping the stalks. Then, the sun comes out and it’s really hot. Being a rice farmer is hard work, which is almost the sole reason why I’ve decided to like rice.
This was the first year my family (that is my aunt and uncle, I’m not sure my parents grow rice- or at least I’ve not been invited to the field yet) used a machine to thresh the rice. It took them all morning to run it through the machine, can you imagine doing it by hand- I can’t?!? Harvesting rice takes a lot of people. As you can see from the pictures there are a lot of people involved. It was not only my dad, aunt, uncle and cousins, but neighbors and friends. Everyone helps everyone. Even with a machine it’s a lot of work- and that’s just the threshing!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Houses in Cambodia

My dad was asking about houses in Cambodia, so I thought I would post some pictures of my house and houses that you typically find here in "Bodia". My house is the one that is cement (I am now exposed because I'm not really roughing it too much here)! My house is VERY nice by Khmer standards- as you can see from the other houses. The other picture next to my house is our kitchen. It is located in the back of the house. This is done because my family cooks with wood over a fire pit and it prevents the house from burning down completely should there be a fire. We also eat out back off to the right. My family eats at a table, but usually families eat on benches (larger than a bench but the height of one). You can see one in the picture of the kitchen to the right.
The picture of the house that is made of wood is probably the most common type of house here in Cambodia. It is a traditional house Khmer house. The housees are raised off the ground by stilts and have stairs to get into the house. These houses usually have a livingroom and two bedrooms. The family usually sleeps in one or two rooms upstairs or below the house when it is hot (which is pretty much year round). It's not uncommon for most of the family to sleep in the same room. My family is sort of an exception. My sisters and parents all have their own room. However, when I was in training, I had my own room and the rest of my family slept together in the front room.

The final house is made of thatched roofs with bamboo walls. On my way into town this morning I saw one that used cardboard for the walls. These are the cheapest houses to make. I will note that because I'm close to Vietnam and electricity is very cheap, it is very common to see TVs playing in these houses and electricity. However, this is mainly due to the close proximity to Vietnam.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

There are a few funny things that have happened to me since I last posted that I thought I would share.
1. My sister went to a party the other night and when she came home I swear I thought she said they had dog for dinner. Dog is a pretty common dish here- even though I have not been lucky enough to eat it yet. This is not as bad as one of my friends who, when he was at training, came home to a lot of people at his house because the family dog had been hit by a car. The celebration included dog curry per the beloved family dog. Actually, not many dogs here are “beloved.” I personally cannot stand any dogs here. They are all bones and half starved, they bark all the time, they carry disease, and they have fleas. I would also not pet one for $100. Ok..since writing this two days ago I actually pet a puppy. Now, it was a puppy and healthy adn loved and I immediately washed my hands and arms where the dog touched. Despite this, 99% of dogs here I would not touch!

2. Since I am on the subject of eating dogs, another funny conversation was when a neighbor girl and I were talking about how we both do not like to eat dog. She said it is chewy and does not taste good. I’m hoping word gets around that the "barrang" or foreigner/French does not like to eat dog.
3. My friend Dillion, who lives in the town closest to me, came to bring me my mail last week. I thought it a good idea to introduce him to the neighbors because they really like that (even though Dillion has way better Khmer than I do and I figured that would be a source of many a conversations revolving around: “why does Dillion have such good Khmer and you don’t?” To whichI responded, “Dillion is smart.”) Anyway, so I took Dillion next door and what do we see? Tons of SNAKES. Yep, my neighbor gets them in Vietnam (not sure how) and then sells them. He also sells frogs. They are stored in huge burlap bags or buckets. Dillion and I did not stay long. Oh, yes, people here eat these, too. I will add that frog legs are very delicious. Also, Dillion added to my vanity about being "hard-core" because he confirmed that my road is totally Peace Corps. He thought it would take him a 1/2 an hour, but it took him over an hours (it takes me that long, too).
4. On a walk the other night I stopped to chat with an old yay (they are pretty inescapable). Anyway, I answered a couple of her questions, but then she asked me something I had no idea what she was saying. So, I said, “Sorry, I don’t understand.” To which she proceeded to act like she was nursing from me! I kid you not! Maybe she was saying, “Do you miss your mother?”

People here are also incredibly nice. The other day while on a bike ride a man asked me to join him for my favorite noodle dish. I had already eaten, but I think I will go to the restaurant next weekend. Also, my neighbor lady brings me fruit which is so kind because I know they don’t have a lot. One of the fruit sellers at the market gives me her best apples. My co-teachers are constantly buying me food or sweets. Thier generosity can be overwhelming knowing that they have so little. Even in the markets we always say that we are volunteers, thus, people should not rip us off just because we are white or foreign. However, the reality is that even as volunteers we make more than them.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Tree, I am unable to post pictures, but I have a funny story to share and a little time to write. Dad, I hope you can picture how this could happen. Maybe looking at the picture of the road I posted on the last post will help.
So, last week I ran into some trees on my way home from the Provential Capital. Peace Corps came to my site to visit and to make sure everything was going well and to fix anything with my schedule, etc. that they could fix. They then took me into the Provential Town where I had to stay the night because the ride was too far. So, early the next morning (think 6:00 a.m.) I started the 2- 2 1/2 hour bike ride home. I got to the site of my friend Dillion and then headed down the horrible road toward home. The day before I discovered that the other way is 37K whereas this way is 20-24K. About 15 minutes in, as I was riding on the side of the road because the real road was impossible to ride along, I saw trees (someone threw out the possibility that it could have been bamboo? not sure about that, just saw lots of leaves) in the distance covering the path. To myself I thought, Oh, I don't need to get on the road. I'll just duck a little and make it just fine. I think I did this last time somewhere along the road and it ended okay." So, I did. About mid-way through, as I was covering my eyes with my left arm, squinting my eyes, and peddling quite fast, I felt a sharp, piercing pain just below my eyes. Once I emerged I saw the blood. A lot of it actually. That's when I sort of panicked. I threw my bike to the ground and realized I was bleeding a lot and everywhere. As I was digging through my bag looking for my handkerchief an old "yah"(or grandma), I kind you not, she stopped, gave me a mango fruit rollup thing, pointed at the blood all over my face, said "blood" and then continued to walk away. It was bizarre. Anyway, I then called peace corps who was on their way to Dillion's site for his site visit. They had me bike to his moms house (who already is not happy I bike to my site and was very upset with my face). They then took me to the doctor/nurse that works at the house across the street. He cleaned up the blood and told me I needed stitches. I didn't think the cut was that deep (butterfly bandaide) so I said I didn't want stitches. Can you imagine? Stitches in Cambodia from some guy's house? That would definitley leave a scar. The peace corps nurse then suggested that we get a second opinion. We then drove back to the hospital in Svay Rieng where they said I didn't need stitches. However, they did put this nice "bandage"on my face. You would have thought have my cheek was missing. Peace Corps then dropped me off at the other, longer dirt road in which I rode the rest of the 18 K home-bandage and all. People gave me the funniest stares. It took ALL I had not to take the bandage off. Not only did it obstruct my vision, but I looked like a complete idiot. I decided to look like a really crazy foreigner rather than risk an infection. One funny bit of info the doctor gave me at the hospital was to not get the wound wet. I bet she did not factor in the 18 K bike ride at 1:00 in the afternoon in Cambodia. It's impossible. As for a scar? Oh, I hope not! It's scabbed over nicely. If anything it makes for a good story. Everyone, I mean everyone, asks about it. Ladies at the market, men in coffee shops, the list goes on. This weekend my friend Kellee and I were drinking coffee at a coffee shop in Svay Rieng and this nice man bought our coffee because we were Americans and we were helping Camboida. His friend had a huge gash/scar across his cheek and just under his eye. He said we were the same. I said "Jah, doit k'nea" or "yes, the same," but inside my head a loud, shrill voice was saying "I better not!!!" Sorry, I wish I could post my pictures...I guess you'll all have to wait in suspense until next time I bike into town. I'm actually going to be biking back to my site tomorrow pretty early and this time I PROMISE to be careful. However, I will let you know that after my accident I did do a couple hours of reading in "Where There Are No Doctors" and have an idea of how to splint my arm should I break it?!?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Saturday 24 October 2009
Today I went to the Watt for a party with my familiy. I had assumed that it was the Watt in town or at least the one that is a 5 minute bike ride. Nope. It was the Watt that is 25 minutes away in another village and the only reason I thought I knew where it was is because I decided to go for a bike ride this morning and kind of happened upon it. Or, rather I saw the entrance to the Watt with a banner that said something in Khmer and had today’s date. Good thing I know enough Khmer to ask for directions and when I was getting close these “yays” or grandmas directed me in the correct direction. The family sent me first since I have to ride my bike and they came later on Moto. When I got there I saw a teacher at the school who I recognized. She took me inside the Watt complex where I kid you not there was a street fair ride (the one with the cars or motos that go in a circle), balloons, tons of loud music, people in the watt sitting down getting blessed, and tons of food. My teacher friend insisted I eat and then passed me off to some of her friends who I sort of recognized but could not place where. Anyway, so I sit down at a table with them and then people brought us food to eat. Two of the guys serving us actually spoke English very well. One said in English with a tone of voice that was somewhat disdainful, “Are you French?” To which I responded, “No, American.” Everything changed. He smiled and was visibly excited that I was American. Turns out he had a Peace Corps volunteer as a teacher in Prey Vieng (the province next to me). He’s a teacher in this village. I spoke to him for a bit and then it was time to eat. The rest of the night kind of felt like I was watching a foreign movie with no subtitles. I think that maybe that is the best way to describe being in large gatherings where you don’t speak the language, even though this is not completely accurate because you’re actually taking part. The entire time you have no idea what to do or what people are trying to say to you. You just sit there, smile a lot, eat what is before you and follow people when they motion you to go somewhere. Despite my inability to communicate, people here are extremely kind and generous. Like this family that allowed me to eat with them. I could barely say anything to them, but they clearly enjoyed my presence. You could feel their generosity. I so badly wanted to express to them how much I appreciated their kindness and tell that it could have been extremely awkward for me to wait alone for my family to arrive, but instead all I could say was that my family was here and “thank you a lot.” I then went and sat with my family and two other couples that I had seen before but couldn’t at first remember where. Then I remembered that they were both police officers and lived next door! I was then socially forced to eat another bowl of rice and curry. Then lucky enough for me it was time to go home. Good thing, there was a huge storm coming in and it was dark. I forget the statistic, but a lot of Cambodians die because of lightening. However, it’s not the lightening that kills them rather it’s the fact that no one knows CPR. My host parents then followed me home. Me on my bike and them on their moto. I tell you what, riding home in the dark on a horrible road with only the light of a moto was actually somewhat fun and sort of a game. Seeing how fast you can ride and all the while trying to avoid huge holes in the road, mud which will causes your tires to slide, people walking and occasionally livestock! Somehow I made it home. The whole time I was riding home I just kept thinking, “is this really my life?” This happens quite regularly still. Eating lunch and seeing banana trees, riding my bike through rice fields that seem to never end and of course being the only American for miles. I guess when I stop asking this question I could realize that I’m bored.
Wednesday 21 October, 2009
Tonight as I was going for a bike ride, I saw people standing outside the health center and one of the nurses that I know. I decided to stop in because I’m never really in any sort of a hurry here and dropping in never seems to be a problem. As I ride up I see a patient lying on a hospital bed in the front of the lawn. He wasn’t moving so I was uncertain, honestly, if he were dead or alive. I soon found the answer to that question as the doctor put a tube up his nose and the man moved only a little. That’s when I decided I should leave and would ask questions tomorrow. I couldn’t help but think about how awful it would be to be sick here. While my hospital appears to be run very well, there are few conveniences available for the possibility of comfort. Take a hospital bed as an example. In the states patients have beds that move, have a reasonably comfortable mattress, a pillow, sheets, and a remote to change the channel on the TV. Here they look like something you’d see from a movie set in the 1950s from a psych ward. Or, if you watch Alias (I’ve been watching Alias because I finished first season of 24 and am waiting for the second), the episode where Jennifer Gardner goes into a hospital in Bulgaria or somewhere, they have beds similar to those ones at my Health Center. Regardless, they are metal, rusted and lack mattresses. This is obviously one of the more trivial reasons why being sick in Cambodia- as a Cambodian- is not desirable.
Since I haven’t quite got this place all figured out, I’ve been trying to explore new areas. On Wednesdays I ride my bike; whereas, normally I go for walks. A good hour or more bike ride keeps me in shape for the long trip into the provincial capital which hasn’t yet gotten easier. I attribute that to the fact that I am fortunate enough to be hauling packages home full of wonderful things from America like books and peanut butter and candy! This last time home my bag actually fell in the mud. Before I left, my family insisted that I take the other way because the road is better. This other way ended up tacking 7K onto my ride. Now, when you are already going 20K, another 7 is pure torture (ACTUALLY, I wrote this last week, yesterday, Peace Corps came to pick me up and we drove into the Provential town this way and it measured 37K; which, is about 23 miles!!!!) So, on my way home I decided to take the shorter, but more bumpy and muddy road. All morning it had rained so I decided to spend a couple hours on the internet in hope that it would stop long enough for me to make it home. No such luck; however, it only sprinkled so I guess it could have been a lot worse. When I got to the cratered road I realized that if I made it home without falling in the mud a miracle would have taken place. About an hour of biking on that road I came to a spot in the road that was nearly impassable without going through standing mud; however, there was a ridge between the two huge holes in the road I decided to brave. Now, my bag was in the basket on the back of my bike with a red poncho protecting it from the rain. I had just said hello to the nice lady staring at the crazy foreigner riding her bike and wearing her bike helmet when I decided to brave the ridge. I got about half way through and I heard the splash! I quickly jumped off my bike and went to rescue my downed bag which had sunk to the bottom of the pond of water. If not for that red poncho everything would have been completely ruined. The thing that struck me as odd was that I wasn’t upset at all. As I got on my bike I kept thinking that this should really make me mad, but it didn’t. I guess I knew I was lucky because it wasn’t me sitting in that mud puddle. Then I would have been mad.
Anyway, my exploring tonight took me on an irrigation dam through rice fields. It was breathtakingly beautiful. I’ve decided I need to take a camera with me on these bike rides. I see some of the most beautiful scenes that I would love to capture despite a pictures innate failure to really capture what you see. Tonight I saw two teenage girls walking through the rice fields with hoes in hand headed to their plot, I suppose. One of my favorites from the other day was these two boys riding water buffalo through the fields. This reminds me, I want to ride a water buffalo. I just put it on my list of “things to do in life.” Right now the rice is a brilliant shade of green. It’s even brighter when a storm is coming in and the sky is a deep blue. I love the contrast. It makes each more intense.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Life in K Ro

Sorry it's been so long since I last updated everyone with what's been going on! I thought I had internet, but the day I went to use it at school it wasn't working...whatever that means. So, I will try to catch everyone up to speed without being over boring or making this too long!
After going to Phnom Penh for swear-in I ended up riding with some other volunteers in a taxi to my Provincial Town where I hoped to be able to catch a taxi to my site. However, once I got into town I couldn't find anything going to my town for a decent price. So, I ended up staying in a guest house for the night and my friend Jacquiline's host dad knew someone going to my town the next day. Around 3, a husband and wife in a huge truck hauling bikes and other miscellaneous goods picked me up. They then took me to another town and a taxi took me home. At one point, we were waiting in front of this huge building that stores rice and then a taxi comes and they point that I should get in the taxi. I was so confused, but just did what they said due to my lack of other options. Both the groups of people knew the previous volunteer at my site so I felt completely safe. Getting to my site sort of stresses me out, but now I have a bike so I'm just planning on biking into the Provincial Town. I'm sure this will get annoying, but until my Khmer gets better it's easier.
The school that I'm teaching at is pretty nice. It's clean and very well run. The school director is extremely nice and genuinely concerned for the well being of his students- this is not always the case in Cambodia. I am teaching 16 hours a week, Mon.-Wed. and Friday. On Thursdays I volunteer at the health center. I will be teaching grades 7,9,10,11 and 12! Peace Corps recommends teaching only grades 10 and 11, but the teachers that need the most help with their English are in the lower grades so I think I will stick with my schedule. I guess if I don't like it, I'll change it later. Right now at the Health Center I just go and try to talk with people. I also started giving the doctors and other staff English lessons. I've yet to meet with the director to find out what he sees as my role there! It's on my to-do list for this week. The first time I went, I went by myself. I just showed up and tried to explain what I was doing there. I'm still not sure they completely understand, but it seems they are getting more and more used to me coming. I just kept thinking about how weird that would be for some foreigner to come to a hospital in America (and they couldn't speak English) and just kind of hang out and talk with the patients. Oh, seemed to me that they thought it was the most normal thing that the foreigner should come and hang out at the hospital.
I really like everything about my site and have it pretty good. Last week I rode my bike to the nearest volunteer to get my mail and it took an 1 1/2 one way on a VERY muddy road. I wanted to post some pictures but this computer doesn't have a slot for my memory card...maybe next time! I almost fell in the mud 5 times! My feet and bike were completely covered in mud. I actually really enjoyed it. I also got about 3 packages with tons of candy and other wonderful gifts!
A week ago I walked into Vietnam! I go for walks every night and people around town think it's crazy! They even told my family that! Anyway, one night they had my cousin go with me. He took me to this Pagoda on the outside of town. Behind the Pagoda was nothing but rice fields and Vietnam. He showed me his house way across the rice fields. Then he gave me the option to walk home the way we came or through the fields (Vietnam). Of course I picked the fields. About half way through the fields he said, "ok, we're back in Cambodia." He also showed me his family's plots where they grow rice. It gave me a whole new appreciation for all the rice I eat. Really, growing rice here is such hard work (which is one major reason people think it crazy to walk for fun or exercise). My cousin is a teacher, but because their salary is so low (about $50 a month) all the teachers I know farm. I asked him if he enjoyed it and he said no, but he needed to help his family. I ate all my rice for dinner that night.
Well...I think that's it for now! I'll have access to the internet in about 2 weeks unless a miracle happens and the school's internet starts to work! I'm also looking into getting internet on my computer...we'll see!

Friday, September 25, 2009

So, it’s official, I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer. Last night in Phnom Penh we officially said the oath that the military takes swearing us to defend our country. It was actually a very official ceremony. The ministry of education and the US ambassador spoke, and the Cambodian Secretary of State was in attendance. A lot of old peace corps people came as well. I chatted a bit with a guy from USAID who works in Cambodia who was a volunteer in the 1970s. He told me I shouldn't have a problem getting a job after I'm done with my service. That was good to hear!
On Thursday of this week I took a language test and passed. This was such a relief. Basically, my Khmer is good enough to get me around. I’m sure it’s going to improve once I actually get to my site because very few people speak English- and my family pretty much speaks none. Nonetheless, it was such a good feeling to not have the pressure of a language test looming over my head!
Today I’m in Phnom Penh for one more night. I’m probably going to get some essential Western food to carry me through the first three months. I’ve probably not mentioned this before, but I’m not allowed to leave my Provence for the first three months of service. This for most people is not quite so bad because their Provincial towns have western food. However, mine does not. It has been rumored that there is a grocery store on the Vietnamese/Cambodia border. The only downfall is that it is a no mans land where you leave your passport at the border. I think some of us are going to go before Thanksgiving in order to cook Western food.
Well...that's it for now. I'm not sure when I'll be able to post again!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

This past week about 11 of us volunteers have been traveling around Cambodia in a bus meeting different NGOS and organizations working in the health sector. Pretty much we think we are the luckiest people because everyone else is eating fish soup in the village (and apparently it has rained everyday and almost everyone is sick…kind of makes you feel bad that you’re getting to see Cambodia, learn about the work going on here in the health sector, eating Western food, and having access to the internet!)
The first day we went to Phnom Penh and met with an organization doing water sanitation. We were able to see the different water pumps they install and also look at the water filters they produce. Their water filters were made out of clay pots that used rice hull to filter out the bad/dangerous bacteria in the water (brilliant). They were also producing education videos cautioning against drinking water out of wells due to the high levels of arsenic in the water in Cambodia. It was completely fascinating. One program they did targeted kids and was in a format similar to that of Sesame Street. I wanted a copy because it also teaches children the Khmer alphabet and how to write the script! The next day we drove north to Kampong Chnam Provence. Due to the heavy rain the bridge we had to cross was out, so we had to take the “bamboo train.” Sounds exotic, yeah? That’s how I imagined it. Something like old world Asia. Nope. Essentially it is four wheels, bamboo and a motor (picture to the right). Anyway, it was raining and about 20 of us squeezed on this train that took us through the middle of nowhere. Along the hour to hour-and-a-half trip we actually met a real train! However, not to worry, the “bamboo train” is very easy to disassemble. We disassembled it about 4 times total. It was actually really fun and a real adventure that is definitely off the beaten path. The train took us to a pretty remote village where we were able to observe some of the work an NGO was doing in the realm of child malnutrition. We got to observe a community meeting talking about healthy eating habits. That night on our way to Pursat at about 5:00 our bus started smoking about an hour and a half away. So we pulled over and it was decided that the bus was not going to make it any further. I tell you what, breaking down in Cambodia is an interesting thing. The new bus was on its way but was 2 ½ hours away. Thus, the other option became to try to flag down a bus or taxi from the side of the road and hitch a ride to Pursat…and that is what we did. We literally laid branches in the road and finally (in the dark to add) a tour bus stopped and had enough seats for us to ride the entire way to Pursat! We were all relieved!

Currently, I am in Battambang. It’s a semi-popular tourist town. It’s been weird to see so many foreigners walking around since normally we’re the only ones! It’s absolutely beautiful! There is a river running through town, Buddhist temples everywhere and the architectural legacy of the French. Additionally, we’ve eaten some amazing Western food (and ice cream and real coffee!!!!!) Yesterday, we toured an NGO/ social enterprise organization that train those who are poor, disabled, and women rescued from the sex trade in digitalizing documents. For example, universities will contract this organization to digitize books, journals, etc. The social enterprising aspect of the organization is brilliant because it’s a business that pays for the majority of its mission (e.g not completely reliant on private funding). This NGO trains individuals in computer skills so that they are able to get jobs and pays for 60-100% of the tuition for a college degree.
This morning was kind of our day off. We headed to a village about 10K from Battambang to visit another peace corps volunteer. Her host dad is a health volunteer in the community. We were able to learn more about his role in promoting help within the community and the health needs of his community. It was very helpful for us since a lot of our role as health volunteers is health education. Here many have little to no knowledge relating to health, sanitation and basic nutrition. Actually, only recently has there been a push from the government for women to have their babies at the health center. Many did and still do go to traditional birth attendants or have them at home. Or, I've learned that in my province women will not eat or drink much during pregnancy so that the baby is smaller and easier to deliver. I mean can you imagine? Even if they do go to a health center they do not do any surgical procedures (or only very limited ones) so there is no way to do a cesarean or deal with other complications that may arise.
Next we went to the Wat (Buddhist Temple) across the street to look around. Currently going on is one of Cambodia’s largest holidays that lasts 15 days. I’ll blog about this more since next week I'll be attending the celebrations with my family in my training village. Anyway, we arrived in time for the feeding of the monks. They actually let us “barangs” or foreigners participate. I've somehow figured out how to successfully post pictures on my blog so you can find them in the slide show. It was awesome. After we left the Wat we went to an Ankorian temple. This, too, was a lot of fun. It’s good to see the ruins from the Ankor era….they are everywhere around Cambodia but all are different. Anyway, things are going well. Due to my daily internet access I'll try hard to post more entries and pictures. Oh, and the Khmer Rouge trial post is coming...I'm still working on it filling in some of the blanks.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Site Visit

I just got back from visiting where I will live for the next two years. It was great and I think that I am really going to love it! My family are the nicest people in the world. Also, I'll have two sisters who are excited for me to be living with them (despite me taking one of their rooms!) On the amenities side of things, I have electricity 24-hours a day (they get it cheap from Vietnam), my own huge bed, and my own attached bathroom with a western toilet! Before coming, I could not have even imagined that a house could have all these things, but they, I'll take it! Also, the community has really welcomed me. Because they have had a volunteer before they know what to expect. It seems that this will make my transition as a community member a lot easier. I wasn't going to learn to write Khmer but the volunteer did, so I have a feeling I'll have to. Also, she LOVED Khmer weddings and Khmer dancing. I've already been attempting to talk myself into being open to the idea of Khmer dancing.
Oh, one kind of funny thing that happened with my family was that at dinner the school director came to my house for dinner because he is friends with my family. We're all sitting down to eat and my dad starts filling these shot glasses with what I assumed to be water because it was from a water bottle. He then passed the shot glasses around the table to all the men and me. I thought, "weird, why not just cups..oh well." Then he toasted to me in Khmer and we all took drinks. I tell you what, that was not water!!! It was definitely rice wine and it burned all sorts of pain going down my throat definitely making my face turn red and I thought I might start a coughing fit.

Getting to my village was kind of crazy. Literally, I went to this market with the name of my taxi driver written in Khmer on a piece of paper and showed it to some of the drivers in the market. They then told me where he would normally be. Oh, I should note that someone had arranged for him to meet me in the market, so I wasn't just showing up even though that's kind of what you just go to the market where your taxi and buses leave from and try to catch one. So, I go to where he should be and showed the paper to a security guard of sorts. He then proceeds to communicate in very little English and then Khmer that he will be at that market tomorrow! To which I respond, "impossible, I need him to come today." Then my driver actually calls me. Now, I speak VERY little Khmer and even more little on the phone because I've gotten the whole routine down of reading lips and using hand gestures as cues for what is actually being said therefore making the phone impossible to ascertain what's going on. I then decided to just hand the phone off to the guard. He then tells me that my driver is in another market and that he will flag down a moto for me to take to get to him. I then have to tell him I cannot ride motos, but that a tuk tuk I can take. So, he gets a tuk tuk driver who for $3 takes me about 20 miles across town. The entire time I kept thinking, "this is CRAZY" and that you really have to be trusting of other people. Anyway, somehow it all worked out. I met up with my driver and made it to my village in about 3 hours. I've found that you get what you expect here of people. Also, once people know you are here to teach English and are a volunteer (no worries I tell everyone I meet this and can do it in Khmer) people want to help you and protect you because they know how much of a service you're doing to their country and practically everyone wants to learn English.

Today is my last day in Phnom Penh which is sort of sad because of all the Western luxuries.
I'm kind of ready to get back to the village and finish training. Today we actually get to go to the tribunal of a former Khmer Rouge officer. It's VERY, VERY exciting. The genocide here happened 30 years ago, so it's kind of crazy that they would finally be trying this guy. He was a higher up that was over a massive killing program. I'll try to post more on this next time because it's all so interesting.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The next two years I will be.....

Greetings from Phnom Penh! So, I am totally staying in a hotel in Phnom Penh with AC and hot water! I hardly know what to think. It's funny how something so normal in my former life is such a luxury! Anyway, Phnom Penh is awesome. Last night I ate at an amazing Indian restaurant and tonight at a Thai restaurant...and I actually felt full. It's been nice escaping the village life for the big, crazy city!

Two days ago I found out where I'll be living the next two years. The town I'm afraid I cannot really disclose on this medium, but if you email me I can totally tell you where it is located. My village is on the border of Vietnam. Literally, the border is right behind the school I'm going to teach at. I've been told I can stick my hand across the border and technically be in Vietnam, not the most comforting news being that I'll be in the middle of what I consider nowhere! At first I was EXTREMELY disappointed. It's nothing like I requested (the complete opposite really) and the last place I wanted to go on so many levels. However, with a little sleep and thinking about the site, I'm somehow kind of excited about it. It's small and in the middle of now where and in a VERY poor Provence. Other teachers I met today in the distract have said its really hard to get to. Apparently, it's about a 2 hour bike ride to the provincial town (or I can catch a ride with a guy that drives a big blue tractor to the provincial town daily..seriously). I'm also replacing an AMAZING PC volunteer. Apparently, the entire town cried when she left. Moreover, the PC staff had a community meeting explaining that the new volunteer (me) is not going to be like her. I unfortunately knew all this when I found out my site which initially disappointed me because I know how I'll constantly be compared to her and expected to act just like her. This is a reality in Cambodia, there is not much diversity and they expect people to act like other people because they value conformity. Moreover, its a society that says what they see. They think you're fat, they will tell you to their face, or they think you have acne on your face or you're of Asian decent (even though your definitely American) they will tell you because its what they see. Despite this and upon further reflection, I think it's going to be fine. IT seems to me like while its in the middle of nowhere and a very poor Provence, there is tons of work I can do to help. Luckily, part of my position is as a health volunteer so I'll get to work in a clinic at least a full day a week. Also, because there are no foreigners doing work in the area, I could potentially get to do some really neat stuff; which, I'm very excited about. The doctor at the health center said there is lots to do regarding pregnant mothers, TB and dengue. These are all things I'm very interested in. Also, in about 2 weeks I get to take an 8 day tour around Cambodia looking at different programs ranging from malnutrition to aids to orphanages to water borne disease! It's going to be most helpful when I get to my site. On top of all this I have some of the best people in my site...people who are soon to be like family to me. Also, I hear there is somewhat of a church at my site; which, if true I know I'll make it the two years.
In two days I get to visit my site and stay with my host family. I'll be certain to post about how it goes. Other than this...there is not too much going on! It's been pretty busy for me and will be until I swear into PC at the end of September.
I just thought I would inform all of where I'll be in the next few years. If anyone is interested in meeting up in Ho Chi Mann city...let me know...I plan on going sometime in Feb....hope all is well....

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Busy week of teaching

I feel like so much has happened since I've last posted! Last week I went to visit a volunteer about 2 hours north of Phenom Penh. It was good to see the life of a volunteer in a small, remote village (and that I don't want anything quite that remote, hopefully). It was also quite an adventure. We actually arranged our travel from our training village all the way to Phnom Penh then to her village. Phnom Penh is CRAZY- especially, without a map. However, our functional Khmer and lots of walking, got us to the right market with the right taxis and we made it safely. On both trips there and home we drove about 75-80 mph, had people puking in the seat in front of us, and filled the van beyond its capacity. This I'm finding out is normal here. Oh, I saw an elephant in Phenom was awesome!
Last week we had our teaching practicum. We taught Monday- Sat. for one hour. We also practiced co-teaching with a Khmer teacher.My teaching partner and I got really lucky because our co-teacher had taught with a peace corps volunteer previously. Also, we had really smart, we both felt like it was an easy week. Two other volunteers had co-teachers who said to their face that they were bad teachers. Ryan and I felt very fortunate after hearing that. I also recieved gifts from my students!!! I got some beautiful cards of Cambodia with thank-you notes, 2 hair clips and a bag of amazing fruit we don't have in the states. It's called um kum. It's sweet and sour. Literally, it tastes like cinnamon apple in a way. I love it. Also, this week we had site placement interviews which definitely compounded the level of stress. We find out on Tuesday this week where we will be living the next two years. Since I'm a health volunteer I will be placed relatively close to another volunteer. I'm really happy about that. Also this week we are going to Phenom Penh to meet with who we will be co-teaching with at our site. I'm really excited to go and stay all night in Phenom Penh. Apparently, our hotel has air conditioning, western toilets and running water (rumor has it that its warm water, too!)- the little things that make me happy these days! After our conference we are visiting our site and the family we will live with. It's going to be a crazy week. I'm looking forward to going to the western grocery market in phenom Penh to buy milk and cheese and peanut butter, oh, and chocolate! I'm also going to get an hour massage for $10!!!! We also get to eat western food, like last week when I was in Phenom Penh I ate was so good..and no rice!
Now...crazy/funny stories:
1. Mom told me to post this one because it's pretty funny. I was at my sisters parents house and there was this drunk guy that kept bothering me. Since he was in the military, they could not do anything about it because they would "loose face'". So, grandma, took me to her house so I could rest. We got upstairs and she pulled out a mat and some blankets from a grain bag. So, I lay down to see ants crawling all over the pillow, blanket and now me! In my mind I was like, don't freak out...kill as many as possible. Then I noticed grandma was nearing me...on the verge of spooning me (if you don't know the word spoon ask someone young...). I could feel her breathing no me and getting closer by the second. Luckily, my phone rang and she rolled over! Personal space is not a universal concept, I'm learning!
2. My friend Philip just came back to Cambodia because about 4 days in he learned that his dad died. Now, he is back and lives with my sister's sister- so we're cousins. On Sundays I usually go to their house and eat coconut and stare blankly as the women in the family speak Khmer to me. Anyway, his family kept saying "wisten" which he assumed to mean "question". So, he had a Khmer staff come and find out what questions they had. The Khmer staff was confused because they didn't have any questions, rather found out that they were referring to me! They just cannot say Kristin. It was all pretty funny!
3. The other night I had to pee so bad I went in my pot I use for boiling water!!!!!!!! It happened last night, too!

Well...I think that's it for now! I'll write later this week to tell all where I'll be living for the next few years! Also, if anyone is bored, you can feel free to send me snail mail! I received a letter from my grandma and Linda who I worked with at KSB. I'm only letting myself open one a day..but it totally makes my day!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Host Family

Hey all! So, I was able to catch a tuk tuk into town early before our all day training seminar (imagine motorcycle pulling a cart that seats 4-9 in it seats 4 normally, but in Cambodia they cram as many people in as possible. This morning we had 9 of us!)
So, I thought I would describe my host family situation. I live in a store front house on the busy street. I live with my Bong Sereye (older sister), here 21 year old brother, and her two kids (7 and 4). My sister's husband lives (works???) in California. My sister does nails from her house and my brother works for an NGO (I think they do micofinance). The host family situation has gotten a lot better. My room doesn't have any windows, so after I got a fan it was much more comfortable.
On Sundays we go and visit my sister and brother's parents and two sisters. It is so much fun. They live next door to each other in the country near tons of rice patties. They also have more traditional Khmer houses. These houses are wood and built on stilts. The kitchen and bathroom are downstairs and usually not attached to the house. Under the house is a breeze way with hammocks! I love hammocks! My friend Meghan's family has hammocks and I'm making it a habit to go to her house and just lay in the hammock. IN fact, most Cambodians do this in the afternoon because it's so HOT! At my "parents" house we usually sit on this large table and they ask me tons of questions in Khmer. Normally, I respond "awt yul" or I don't understand or pretend I understand. This involves lots of smiling, nodding my head and laughing! ONe of my favorite things about sundays is that my parents have many coconut someone climbs the trees and gets the coconuts! I then drink its juice and then they chop it in half and we eat the fresh coconut with palm sugar (like brown sugar but more liquidy)! IT is AMAZING! They also had peanuts..however, they are not roasted so they are mushy. I did have them roasted the other day and they were good!
Overall, I''m enjoying my homestay. It has really helped me to understand Khmer better and to practice it. Here not many people have heard a foreigner speak Khmer so even if you say the words right they might not understand. That can be kind of frustrating, but understandable. One sort of awkward things is that my family is always telling me I should marry my host brother. That's VERY awkward. However, that will NEVER, next time I'm going to say I don''t want any brothers over 15! After my language training I will live with a family. I can understand why. It is a lot easier to get integrated into the community if you live with a family because you are part of their family. Their friends want to meet you, have you over for dinner, etc. I like that. The people across the street always feed me and let me play with their baby. It really makes you feel like a part of the community; which, is a huge reason I'm here! to get to my seminar! Hope you all are doing well! I love hearing from your comments..keep them coming. Also, if there is anything you want me to post, let me know!

Friday, August 7, 2009

First Few Weeks in Cambodia

Finally, I am able to post again. I am now in the village of Traing. As you can ascertain from my lack of posts, I don’t have internet. The group was split into 2 villages and mine lacks some of the nicer amenities life has to offer. The other village actually has the internet and a gas station dubbed “Club Tela” (actually, it’s called Tela, but a lot of PC volunteers go daily due to the air conditioning, beer and ice cream). Us in Training like to think that our “roughing it” will pay off when were transferred to our permanent sites which will likely resemble our current state. We all actually really like our village because it’s quite quaint. ANYWAY, life is good. I have had to make a few adjustments and things that were once shocking now cease to faze me in the least! Over the past week I’ve compiled a list of funny stories…here goes:
1. After doing my laundry (which is so HARD because it’s done by hand w/ a bucket on the ground where you literally scrub and scrub and you have at least an audience of three watching you, telling you you’re not doing it right! (They think it funny I’ve never washed my clothes.) Anyway, it was raining in the morning so my sister put them in the kitchen to dry. The sun then came out so while I was taking a nap, she hung them outside. After my nap, I went outside to wait for my friend Meghan to go to class and what do I see? Yes, you bet. All my clothes- this includes underwear, bras, etc..hanging for anyone passing through town to see!!! Literally, I grabbed all my underwear and bras and took them to my room to dry. This would not be a big deal if I lived in the country. But, literally, I live on the only major road going through town. It’s very busy. While most trucks neglects the speed limit- if there even is one- driving 50 mph…all passing could see!
2. I am officially used to taking a shower with a bucket and using a “squat toilet” (imagine: a ceramic hole in the ground). Oh, and they don’t use toilet paper in Cambodia. There is a tub (larger than a bathtub) filled with water. I’ll let you imagine how one wipes…….
3. At breakfast the other morning, my friend Abby informed me and my language group that during the night she peed in a bag then poured it off her balcony. To which we all responded, great idea, but you should really get a chamber pot. Yep, chamber pots are used here and brilliant for those with bathrooms not attached to the house.
4. At breakfast I told the waiter that I wanted coffee in my eyes! He laughed so hard! Khmer (say Kh-my) is so hard to speak…..
5. Jess, another girl in my language groups wakes up most mornings to the sound of rats running in her room. One morning she even woke up to one staring at her!
6. My little brother likes to smell me. One day he even smelled my feet. I knew this was sort of a sign of affection and didn’t think much about it- except it being kind of weird. However, the other day I was informed that sniffing/smelling someone is like kissing them! I now always wear my shoes….
7. The other day in the capital of our Provence a group of us ate dinner at a brothel. Yep, a brothel. The sad thing is we didn’t know it. The guys thought it was weird that the women were touching them and grabbing their chests and telling them how handsome and strong they were…but, yep, we didn’t put two-and-two together!
8. I ate ants the other day. They are so good!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Seriously, once you get over the fact that literally, there are ants in your rice, they are tasty! They are crunchy and salty. YumJ
9. Men here pee anywhere. Seriously, I’ve seen them peeing on walls or buildings on the sidewalks of busy roads. My little brother will pee off the cement slab during dinner.
10. Normally, when you meet someone new here these are the questions they ask you. In order: What’s your name? How old are you? Are you married? Do you have a boyfriend? How much do you weigh? How much money do you make?
11. Another volunteer was asked by her host family, “How many Kilos do you weigh?” She responds, “I don’t know how many Kilos I weigh.” Host family responds, “we have a scale.”
12. Another volunteer allowed a girl who he thought was his host sister was his clothes. Then she gave him a ring. Then one night he came home and his host family told him to go into the living room for dinner. When he gets inside, his “host sister” is waiting for him alone with dinner. She then offers him a bracelet (to which he declines). He now finds out that he is engaged to this girl who is NOT his host sister, but a neighbor!!!!!!! Opps!

I’m really enjoying my time here in Cambodia. Everyone is really nice. As I said earlier, I live on a busy road. One nice thing about it is that I’ve gotten really integrated into the community. Many people are friends with my sister and brother and just stop by to either look at the foreigner or to practice English. It’s nice because I see these people in the market, roads, etc. They will invite me to sit with them. That’s kind of a charades’ game b/c I don’t speak Khmer..or they don’t usually speak English. Despite this I feel welcomed and like we’re friends.
The food is good as well. I eat so much rice!!!! I’ve never eaten so much rice in my life. Also, they don’t think I eat enough. I cannot imagine how I could eat more. The fruit here is also AMAZING. They have so much I’ve never eaten in my life. It’s all very good.
If anyone has anything they think I should post about…just let me know. I feel as if there is so much to talk about; however, this post is already long enough. So, until next time……

Thursday, July 23, 2009

I made it!

I made it! It's been a long few days! I'm not a big fan of flying, but all the flights were great. Crazy? In San Fran, the PC put us up in a really nice hotel in Japan town. The girl that was supposed to be my roommate didn't come so I got upgraded to an AWESOME suite!!!! IT was so nice! Another guy, I guess, left mid way through training. So, there is now 45 of us. On the flight to Japan from San Fran I was able to learn most of the Khmer Alphabet (all 33 constanents). In Thailand we stayed at another hotel (last taste of luxury) which enabled us to sleep about 4 hours and shower- it was divine! Then this morning (or 12 hours opposite of the midwest) we arrived! About 6 people from the group got bumped (despite many, many attempts to get them on our flight despite our reserved seats) so they fly in tonight. I really feel kind of bad for them because they are missing out on all the Phnom Penh fun scheduled for today!
I will say its all I imagined! Ok...gotta go..I'm at this internet cafe and we have to later!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Less than Two Weeks

As of last Tuesday I have less than two weeks until I leave! I am flying from St. Louis on Tuesday the 21st to San Fransisco. I will then have orientation that afternoon lasting until that evening and then the next day I head out! We will be flying from San Fran to Japan to Bangkok to Cambodia. I am definitely not excited about all those flights, but excited to get to go....

Time seems to be going so fast. For the Fourth I was able to spend some time with my family at the Lake of the Ozarks enjoying the sun and some boating. I then made my way to Springfield to say some last good-byes. I ended up having to come home early because I had a spider bite on my arm that was making me VERY nervous. I'm now on something to clear it up. Other than that I'm trying to get my affairs in order. Today I almost got the paper work for my thesis finished. I had to do some last minute editing and I had to write an abstract. I'm sure there are still some errors in the text, but I am so done with it. Moreover, this medication I'm on gives you a headache and causes dizziness. Definitely I felt those side effects as I was trying to get it finished. Oh,'s printed on the expensive paper. I didn't make it in time to turn it into the archive department because I ended up having to manually feed 89 pages through the printer. So, tomorrow I will again be driving to Macomb to FINALLY be finished with my Masters. What a good feeling!

I'm also trying to decide what to pack. I did a trial run the other night. There are some things I packed that I've negotiated with myself all day to not pack. That's what's hard. There are things you want to take, but know you won't really use them that much. It seems hard to really know what I'll use and need. I guess it doesn't really matter too much. I can get almost anything I need there, so if I need something I decide to leave I can just buy it there.

I was also told that I will probably have Internet only about once a month. However, I do plan on saving posts on my flash drive and then when I get Internet posting it. So, while it will be updated once a month, I'll try to include a couple posts each time I can get the Internet.

So, that's it for now! Next post I'll be in Cambodia....

Monday, June 8, 2009

Cambodia, not China

The goal of this blog is to keep family and friends updated when I am in Cambodia. I know many are thinking, "I thought you were going to China?" Well, I was. Apparently, the Chinese had problems with my X-Rays and most likely would not let me in. So, after declining my nomination to China I was offered a different post in Cambodia. This makes me VERY excited because it seems to be more of the experience I was expecting when I applied for Peace Corps.

Here are some of the brief details I know of my future. I'm leaving July 20th. I'll be teaching English and potentially doing teacher training. In China I was supposed to teach at the college level; however, in Cambodia those positions are few (and filled), so I'll be teaching 12th graders. It doesn't really matter too much to me. That's really about all I know as of yet.

With a little over a month left until I leave, I still have lots going on. I have one wedding remaining (Rachel's this weekend). I'll be spending the Fourth of July at my parents lake house with the entire fam on my mom's side. Then, hopefully, will get to meet my sister's new baby girl -Jordyn Anne- sometime around July 15th! Then off to Cambodia for 2 years! It seems kind of crazy, but what I want to do. Not sure when I'll post next, but hopefully once I find out more details (eg. where I fly out of, etc.). Until then....