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……