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!