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.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Independence Day

Today is Independence Day in Cambodia and so there is no school. This is just one of many, many holidays celebrated here in Cambodia. However, I did not mind the day off. I somehow caught a cold so definitely needed a day off to rest and do some much needed visiting of people around town (and laundry, but I always have that because I'm lazy). The wheel on my bike is also broken so I've had to do some walking to get places which has commanded many varied responses. Most people stop and insist I get on their moto- which is very nice, but I cannot ride motos, so I have to tell them I like the exercise. I also cannot get anywhere fast because everyone thinks I'm "so tired" that they make me sit down and rest for a bit. Which has been fun to sit and chat with people I usually speed by. I also have been able to walk home with some of my students which has been good because I get to know them better and they get to ask me questions or practice their English or I get to practice my Khmer.
Today while visiting the market I was at my favorite dessert stand when someone I didn't know brought over some money from Guatemala. Due to the fact that I'm the foreigner, I'm the de facto expert on all things foreign. Then I had to explain that the money is from central America. However, they then wanted to know why it wasn't a dollar. So, I had to explain America the country vs America the Continent. I thought seeing Guatemalan money in my little Cambodian market quite would be interesting to know how it got there? I asked the lady but she said she found it on the ground.
Then on my way home I was chatting with some of my students when a fortune teller approached us. My students told me he was crazy. He was telling my students how old they were and some other stuff I couldn't understand. He did tell me that I should marry someone who is the year of the cow and that I will have good luck in the future. But then again, he is crazy...

Thursday, November 4, 2010


My weekend trip to Kampot (which is in southern Cambodia on the Gulf of Thailand) was a nice mini-vacation. It was nice to get away and play tourist for a while. We ended up doing an all-day hike up Bokor Mountain which I've wanted to do since last year when I was in Kampot. It was worth the $18 -for the whole day, lunch included...and the people at the hotel apologized for it being so expensive. A van came and picked us up from our hotel at 8:00 and us and the other foreigners went to the ranger station where we were all loaded into the bed of a truck. We then were dropped off somewhere and were told by our guide that "because of corruption we could hike the mountain." Translation: we were not legally supposed to be there but because of some shady deal the guide had some type of agreement allowing us entry. He then said if something happened to us, it wasn't his fault. Also, he told us not to complain because the hike was kind of hard. It wasn't bad, in my opinion. An hour and a half up a mountain to the truck (why it couldn't take us the entire way was lost in translation). At the top of the mountain was an old, deserted former-French town. We walked around it for a bit and then ate lunch. There was an AMAZING view of the Gulf of Thailand and the forest (landmines included) leading to the beach. This was also inhibited by the Khmer Rouge during the war. Our guide told us that after seeing his parents killed in front of him, he fled to the forest where he lived for 3 years by himself, before joining a faction of the Khmer Rouge that then fled to Vietnam to join their army in overthrowing Pol Pot. He also, sadly enough, talked about building bombs and killing his own people. I was shocked by his honesty and bluntness. We were then taken to a waterfall and when we arrived back in Kampot Town we went on an hour long boat ride down the Kampot River. Definitely a full day worth the $18.
After dinner with some of the people we met on the hike I realized how I've lost many of my manners (this I've suspected for a while, but rarely am I confronted with people who make me see this). We were eating with some Canadians and Australians, when one of the Canadians was telling us about how he got really sick when he was in Indonesia. Then- not thinking- I asked if he had diarrhea and what kind (I think I actually said, "was it a rice stool?" Appalling I know). He was shocked and looked visibly embarrassed. I then, of course, had to apologize. Need to remember that next time I meet nice travelers.
We then stayed at a really nice hotel (it had a pool) that was about 2K from town and on the Kampot River with Bokor Mountain in the background. It was absolutely beautiful. The owner of the hotel invited us (we were practically the only ones staying there) to go for a boat ride to the sea where we watched his son and the owner of a bar/guesthouse kite. For those of you who don't know, I'd never seen it before either, it is a board with a huge kite strapped to their torso and they use the wind to jump and go across the water- it looked like fun and dangerous if you've never done it before. Definitely random. Later we ended up watching a ridiculously stupid Halloween movie (the only movies the English speaking channels were showing because they love ghosts here) with the owner and his son. Definitely random, again. Yet, it was a very relaxing and enjoyable weekend.
Now I'm back at site. I did get new Internet so I now have it everyday. If something random should happen again soon, I'll post again....hope all is well there.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Language problems....still

So, while my language has progressed to a point where I feel comfortable using it everywhere and teaching lower-level English by myself, there have been times when I wonder if I'll ever really understand all that is said to me. Usually, I can pick out the main point of the questions or statement when people are trying to talk to me. Or, if it's something talked about a lot- farming, weather, the new road, weddings, deaths- I understand easily. However, I have two stories that might highlight my confusion here, still, despite my progress.
Last night I was watching tv with my host dad under the mosquito net- because the mosquitoes are terrible right now being that it's rainy season and I don't want dengue. So, this program comes on TV- which I'll note that TV is usually hard for me to understand. They talk really fast and if it's the news or something they use words I don't understand. So, this program comes on TV and I have no clue what's going on because they are talking about words I don't understand. They are showing these teenagers (and I hear the word teenager) and some younger men doing exercises. I understand that they are talking about their daily activities. They are all wearing the same clothes- pants and a shirt (well..usually a shirt). There is a guy with a military uniform bossing them around. Then they switch to a doctor whose talking about I have no idea what. Then they pan the camera to these boys (maybe 13, 14 years old) who are hooked-up to an IV (which I'll also point out is no big deal- probably if I complained of a stomach ache they'd hook me up to an IV)- yet these boys were really skinny and looked sick. Then after this they go back to the boys exercising and playing soccer. Then back to the sick kids. I just keep thinking "what the heck do these two things have in common? What's the link? What are they talking about?" Finally, I ask my host dad, " what are they sick with?" He tells me but I don't recognize the words he's using. Then he explains to me that they are trying to make "bad people" into "good people"...then it makes since- they are drug addicts and they are at a recovery center. This is how I learn here- and how I'm confused a lot of the time-- still.
Today, I had language lessons with my language teacher. At the end of our session I was asking about using pronouns and if it was rude to use them. In the example I used, I told him in Khmer that "I wanted to meet with my friend in Svay Rieng." He corrected me and said that instead of using "I want" I needed to use "I want give". Now, this might sound like not much of a mistake, but according to him if I leave out the "give" it means I want to meet my friend for sex. Yep. And, I'd like to point out that I say "I want" rather than "I want give" ALL THE TIME- especially, in relation to meeting up with people. I'm hoping people just know I'm speaking incorrectly, or they think were all meeting up for a lot of sex- which of course were not. It seems like I should have learned this before being here over a year....
Other than that, I'm about to head down to the beach for the holiday (it's the Kings Birthday and Independence) because we have Friday and Monday off. It's going to be amazing...I'll post pictures. Also going on here is that my sister, who is the oldest, left last week for Phnom Penh to study at university where she got a full ride because she's smart. However, she is really, really homesick (has called everyday crying my mom told me tonight) and wants to come home. I'll probably see her next week- unfortunately. In May, she went to study in the provincial town for the grade 12 exam and lasted 2 nights. I thought this would be great in that I'd have the entire upstairs to myself. No such luck. My neighbor- who is marrying my sister sometime- has moved into her room. This happens to be super annoying because there is no ceiling and I can hear everything. Privacy seems like such a luxury.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Today I didn't have school so I went to the health center (my usual routine). It was a BUSY place to be- that's for sure. There was an organization there whose focus is on TB education (they are also funded by Angelina Joli interestingly enough). I asked them what they were doing there and they said "talking about TB." However, they were also generously dispensing other health information, too. Like one lady had a sick baby (diarrhea, fever- the normal). The TB lady was asking if she fed him solid food already. Of course the lady said yes- which, of course is the wrong answer because the baby was way too young to be eating solids. Then the lady shared with her about when she started to give her kids food and explained that they are fatter than normal kids their age because breast milk is enough for them to be healthy. Usually, if they are feeding them food, they are feeding them other stuff that uses unclean water or the food is not prepared in a way that is sanitary; which results in sickness. It was good to overhear this much needed advise. Anyway, I've seen the TB people there before, but have never really chatted with them. However, today the waiting area was so busy with patients I decided to kick it with them on the picnic table in the yard until things became a little more calm inside the health center. I also got to learn a lot about TB and TB in my district; which, it turns out there is a lot! I've been wanting to do some work with this organization for a while now, so it was good to make some connections with some of the people doing work in my district.
Also at the health center today, someone I know was going to have her baby. The midwife, who knows I REALLY REALLY REALLY (I tell them all the time:) want to see a birth, invited me to come back at 1:00 because that's when they thought she'd have it. So, I went home, ate, checked my email and then went back to the health center. However, when I returned she had already had her baby! This is the third birth I've missed. So disappointing. However, at least one person has a baby here a me seeing a birth is bound to happen sooner or later. Despite missing it, it was a lot of fun to just chat with my midwives and the mother and her family- and of course to see the new baby boy who was so sweet! I definitely need to get more of my mornings off from school!
Finally, BATS, BATS and more BATS! When I was home I told some of you this story, so you can ignore it if I've told you already. It's just too funny not to share. So, a couple of months ago I was at the health center and when I got there the director was sitting on the bench playing with a sling shot. I thought it strange at first- a grown man fooling with a sling shot- but nothing too out of the ordinary. There was also a fishing net on the bench. This started a conversation about the net (or asking if I knew how to say it in Khmer)which led to the pharmacist acting out a turtle because I didn't know what the heck he was talking about- quite hilarious, really. The director then gets on his moto and returns 2 minutes later with a camo army hat on- so, he went home just for that hat which I thought funny in light of what he was about to do next. Then, he gets one of the other doctors who grabs the net and they leave for the other building. I didn't really think too much of it until I heard loud noises coming from the other building about 5 minutes later. So, I went over there only to see a different doctor on a plank outside the building hanging up the fishing net over a hole between the roof and the building. Now, in my mind I was thinking "what the heck is going on????" Then I hear shouting and a loud bang from the inside. Then out walks one of the doctors with a dead bat in his hand which he then places in a box. It's my guess that half the bats died due to the director's mad sling shot skills and the other half flew into the fishing net where another doctor beat it with a broom (kid you not)! As all this is going on- and more and more bats are being added to the already fallen- one of the sick ladies that lives in one of the buildings at the health center comes over and starts talking with me. She says, "Bats are so delicious." To which I respond, "No way, not delicious!" "Yes, they are so delicious." To which I explain that in my country we don't eat bats- or dogs for that matter. Now at some point during this whole ordeal my health center director is running around the health center building while smoking a cigarette and shooting at bats with his sling shot! It was the funniest thing (seriously, imagine an Asian male, with a camo hat, sling shot in hand, cigarette dangling from the lips, running around a building and stopping only to shoot at a bat with a sling shot- very funny stuff.) Then one of the midwives comes over and the doctor in the rafters tells her to go to her house and get a pan, oil, pepper, salt and MSG. That's when I knew they were going to eat those bats! Which, is also when I decided I needed to get out of there- and sooner rather than later. So, I said, "I've gotta go eat with my family." To which they told me to stay and eat at the health center. I politely refused, got on my bike and went home. The next day when I returned to the health center I asked how many bats they killed. 25-30. I then asked if they ate them. Yes. I asked, why they ate them. "Very delicious" and "important people eat bats." I then asked if they knew bats carried disease. Yes they knew and then listed some of the diseases, but didn't I know that they are delicious?!? Just when I think I've seen all the crazy stuff that is to be seen here.....

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I'm Back

I finally made it back! Sorry, I've not posted in so long. I finally just got internet back at my site. I had to make the long journey into town on my bike to download the software so that my internet phone could connect to my new computer I got in America. Thus, once again, from my small village I am connected to the world per internet. I must say, though, I did kind of enjoy those few weeks of ignorance and not feeling like I'm missing out on something back home because there was no way for me to know what I was missing!

The flight home went very smooth. However, at the Cedar Rapids airport I was not allowed to take on peanut butter (a gift for the new volunteers in my province), lotion (gift for people in my village) and toothpaste. Apparently, these are all dangerous liquids (yes, peanut butter is classified as a liquid) that should not be allowed on planes. However, I did get one tube of toothpaste through the security check, but I bet if they would have checked my bags for a third time they would have found it! At first it wasn't so great to be back, but that was when I arrived in Vietnam. However, once I crossed into Cambodia into my province it actually started to feel good to be back. I could then understand the language and the rice is so green right now making travel through my province absolutely beautiful!

Since I've been back everything has essentially fallen back into place. The comforts of home seem like a dream quickly forgot. It's amazing how easily you adapt. However, things like ants in my bed (and everywhere for that matter), constantly sweating, and doing my laundry by hand are still as annoying as ever.

School has started and I've established a routine similar to my routine last year. However, I wanted to go to the health center more this year so I asked the school director to schedule some of my classes in the afternoon. However, per usual, this didn't really work out like I had originally envisioned. I'm teaching 17 hours and my morning schedule makes it impossible for me to go the health center. So, I've decided to wait a bit and then rearrange my schedule so that it suits me better!

I've also started training for the Angkor Wat Half Marathon in December. Last time I ran a half I swore I would train for it. However, the last few weeks it has rained every day and pretty much all day leaving the roads a muddy mess and making it enough of an annoyance I haven't run. So, now I'm a couple weeks behind on my training, but I still think I'm going to try to run it. I ran this weekend and I was fine. So, I'll keep you updated about how that goes. I'm sure there will be some entertaining stories that will follow because no one runs in my village (actually, there is a teacher that I've heard runs, but I've never seen him doing it) There are 4 of us in my province running the 1/2 and some pretty funny stories have emerged. One of my friends was running- in his own little world listening to music and thinking- when a little kid with a plastic gun jumped out of no where and scared the living daylights out of him! He said everyone was laughing because he was so startled, but he was so angry that he started lecturing the kid as to why "foreigners don't like guns being pointed at them".....I thought it too funny because I could imagine how it all went down so clearly.

Well..I need to get going, but I'll post again soon. I have some really funny stories to post that I was too busy/lazy to post from before I left for America! Also, I do promise to post more per many peoples' year resolution in September!

OH, I will leave you with a VERY funny Cambodia proverb I heard this weekend: "If you are shy with your teacher you will never learn anything, if you are shy with your wife you will never have any kids".....something to think about.....

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A few weeks ago, the new group of Peace Corps volunteers arrived in Cambodia. This is one of the main reason I've been so slow to post in a while- that and nothing is really going on here except me visiting and learning Khmer. So, after a busy two weeks in Phnom Penh and then in Kampong Cham helping the new group, I returned to site. On my way back from Phnom Penh on Monday I was talking to my taxi driver about where I've been and what I've been doing for the past few weeks. I then told him that there would be some new volunteers visiting my site and if he could bring them to my house. So, tomorrow they arrive. Everyone here is so excited. I needed to clarify travel arrangements with my driver because they changed a bit from our previous discussion so I gave him a call. Here is our conversation and I would like to point out why I'm always confused here (Oh, I'm going to literally translate..please don't think my English has digressed to such an astounding low- even though in many ways it has):

Me: "Hello, I kristin. Uncle go to Phnom Penh tomorrow, right?"
Driver: "yes, yes, go tomorrow"
Me: "New volunteers come visit me tomorrow. Can uncle get them in Phnom Penh instead of Prey Veing?"
Driver: "Go yourself (or sometimes this word is used as to mean alone, but in my mind I thought it meant are you going by yourself to PP)

(Here is where I am thinking to myself "what I go alone?" What is he talking about? Why would I go to PP? They are coming to me! So, I ignore it and push on thinking further explanation on my part would clear up what he was asking that I didn't really understand)
Me: "tomorrow volunteers come from Kampong Cham to Phnom Penh, can you meet them at Olympic market at 11?"
Driver: "meet at 5:30"
me: "Ok, good. Good -bye"
Drive: "Ok, bye bye"
(yes, I ignore the fact that he said 5:30- clearly not the time I intended or needed...I think "I'll figure it out later...maybe he forgot the say the five first (in Khmer the number 9 is 5+4)...yes, he did say five...but for some reason I was thinking 4...I really wanted it to work out..and I only had $.30 on my phone before I started talking so I was trying to be quick...I know..a lot of excuses)

Now, I hang up the phone and realize 5:30 really is 5:30. So, I go and ask my sister.
I told her, "he said 5:30, but I need him to meet them at 11:00."
She says, "did you ask him the morning or the evening,"
I reply, "I didn't ask."
My sister, " Why?" (she says this with a look that tells me she thinks I'm crazy)
Me, " I'm bad at talking on the phone in Khmer and I thought he was trying to tell me 9:30"
Sister, "But he said 5:30"
Me, "yeah, he said 5:30. That's a problem. Maybe he cannot drive the new volunteers"

After this conversation, I immediately ran to my cousin and explained to him in Khmer my problem. My host mom and dad were there, too, and we were all speculating to what the driver could have meant..yeah, they also asked if I asked in the morning or evening.

My cousin then calls the driver and turns out he thought I was riding to Phnom Penh with him in the morning (which he leaves at 5:30 am) to get the volunteers. Therefore, "go yourself" meant "are you going with me?" Yes, this is my life and why most times I'm in a constant state of confusion.

We then all had a good laugh and I now have $.05 on my phone. A lesson to be learned maybe? Ask more questions! I've gotten so much better at doing this because they shorten stuff so much here I NEVER am rarely completely confident in my understanding what they mean unless I've heard it used over and over again. Really, it is easier to just pretend that you know what they are talking about or remain silent with the forced half smile giving off the obvious response of "I don't know what the heck you're saying."

Oh, on a completely unrelated topic, I'm coming home in less than a month!

Thursday, June 17, 2010


I've not been the best lately with updating my blog-sorry. My internet phone has not been working so if I want to get online I have to bike 2 hours into town or go to Phnom Pehn. Lately a lot and not much has been going on. A couple weeks ago I met up with my friend Katie in Laos; which was AMAZING! It was good to leave the country for a bit even though she made me really homesick. I took a 24 hour bus to Vientaine, Laos (which included an overnight bus through Laos). I met these cute old Khmer men who I chatted with on the way there. However, once in Laos no one spoke Khmer. It really gave me more sympathy for tourists. Not knowing the language really makes it hard to get around (and you unknowingly get ripped off a lot out of pure ignorance). I then caught an 11 hour bus up north to Luang prabang! Luang Prabang was amazing and I definitely want to visit again. On my way back Cambodia I decided to fly home from Vientaine. So, I took the overnight bus from Luang Prabang to Vientaine again. The guy sitting next to me vomited in his plastic bag all night (and hung it from the seat in front of gross). Just like Cambodia. I'll try to post pictures later. It was good to come back and speak Khmer again. My family and neighbors told me over and over how much they missed me and that when i go back to America they are going to miss me so much. It made me realize how lucky I am to have such a great family and community!

School is officially over for me. We just had exams this past week. This summer I plan on spending time at the health center, studying Khmer, and socializing. I think it's going to go by fast. Everyone at the health center is excited that I'll be coming everyday. Finally, here are a couple funny stories that happened to me this week. I've decided that my community eats a lot of dog (or special food as they say)....

School party:
We had a party at the school because the grade 12 exams were finished and the guy from the ministry wanted to have a party. So, of course, I was invited to stay for lunch. My options for lunch included: fried small frogs on sticks, cow intestine and stomach, and dog meat. I ended up eating the frog (which is good!) and the cow stomach (tolerable). I still cannot bring myself to knowingly eat dog (I have eaten it before but I didn't know it was dog...and yeah, honestly, it didn't taste that bad...)

Going away party:
My friend who is Khmer/American is going back to America so they had a going away party for him. For dinner we had dog (of course), but not just any stray dog (or stolen dog)- his dog. This was a puppy he loved and fed real food (not just rice like Khmer people feed dogs). He said when they killed it he had tears in his eyes! When I arrived at the party I actually saw the dog's paw in the dish with all the other edible meat!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Randomness in the Bode

One night recenty as we were eating dinner we were swarmed by tons and tons of little flying bugs. So, what do we do, but move the table out from under the light and continue to eat as the bugs are flying all over us. Then, my dad and sister start catching them in huge bowls of water. My dad then bring out the broom and is hitting them down. It was quite a scene. Then after dinner I spotted my mom draining the bugs from the water. Sure enough, they then fried them up and we ate them. Not bad really. Tasted like grease.

On my way to Phnom Penh a few weeks back I saw a grown man and a small boy riding in the trunk of a car. The trunk was being propped up by a stick. The trunk was full of stuff, too. I wasn't even all that surprised when I saw them. I initially thought, "yeah, the fronts full...why not the trunk...there is room!"...then I realized I've been in Cambodia too long!

Yesterday, I went to a wedding in a village 20 minutes away with a man named Black Jack. Two days ago, I was riding my bike to a village 20 minutes away because last time I was in Phnom Penh I forgot my coffee mug french press on my taxi (which seriously almost brought me to tears). My student's sister was on the taxi and the driver gave it to her to return to me. So, my student invited me to his house to get it and to eat my favorite Cambodia food- Bon Chi'o. It's like a crepe but with bean sprouts and pork on the is so good...and they taught me how to make it and how to grow the bean sprouts. Anyway, on my way home from his house a man on a moto told me in english to follow him to his house. So, of course, I did because that is what I do here. Well, turns out he is Khmer American and visiting to see a doctor here for a stomach problem. He then invited me to a wedding in the village the next night. So, of course I went because what else is there to do! At the wedding I got to hang out with Black Jack and the pharamist at my health center (who is WONDERFUL and introduced me all night as his friend). It was a good night. Then my cousin stopped by to take me home because he was in the area at another party. So, him with his moto and me on my bike we went home! The slightly funny thing was that that morning I was complaining to my mom on the phone that I was bored because there was no school and no one had invited me to a party.
(pictures: left to right: Kellee, Jeremy and I at a party for Jeremy. His school director didn't get to see him on Khmer New Year so he threw a party for him and we were invited....seriously, boys have it so easy here! Next: My aunt, my host mom and the neighbor lady. Next: Co-teacher pouring rice wine into a tea kettle for consumption- sanitation in this country Next: Me and Kelle at Jeremy's party)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Khmer Weddings

In order not to put off talking about Khmer weddings any longer than I already have, I will FINALLY tell you about them. I have two classifications of weddings that I’ve been to here: rich weddings and poor weddings. Usually, the traditional and ceremonial structures are the same, but the food and drink will vary depending on which category it falls into.
This wedding season I have already been to 9 weddings- most in my village. Usually, this involves me biking, either by myself or following my family as they lead the way on their moto, about 5 to 10K into the distant parts of my district (and yes, I’m absolutely certain it looks as ridiculous as you imagine it does). Usually, when I arrive I am covered in sweat and dirt. People will then ask, “are you tired?” and “why don’t you ride a moto?” Always. Then I sit down with someone I know and we wait for our table to fill so that we can be served our meal. Now, at poor weddings, usually, the meat is beef and pork, rice (always!), and vegetables(there is a dish called “luc lak” that is lettuce, pork, a dressing of sorts, peppers, and has crushed nuts on is my favorite). There is also a noodle dish that is very delicious. At poor weddings you are also served

copious amounts of rice wine. Now, there is a special person at weddings whose sole purpose, I’m convinced, is to get everyone drunk. I like to call them the “alcohol pusher”. Furthermore, I am CONVINCED that if my brother-in-law PJ were to live in this country, he would be that person. I’m absolutely certain he would be invited to all friends’ and family members’ weddings for this sole purpose. Anyway, there is a shot glass at each table that is filled up and circulated and does not stop- even when the used water bottles filled with rice wine are empty because somehow new ones mysteriously appear. The “alcohol pusher” will make sure the glasses circulate as he walks around with his own water bottle full of rice wine to pressure people to drink increasing their consumption even more, thus, ensuring that most people are completely TRASHED when they get on their motos to drive home. However, I have learned that women in this country are truly superior in common sense compared to the males living in this country. When the glass is passed to them they will pretend to drink and then pour the entire contents of the glass on the floor! Brilliant or, as they say here, ‘very clever’.
Rich weddings aren’t really too much different except for their food and drink, as previously stated. Usually, there are a lot more courses of food at rich weddings. The wedding I went to in the provincial town last weekend had appetizers of cashews, something almost like chicken nuggets and a tofu thing (not sure what is was…someone said tofu?). They then had AMAZING fried chicken and grilled fish. Finally, then served us bread (which to all the ‘barangs’ was EXCITING, no rice!). It was absolutely amazing. OH, and they had cake! Furthermore, these weddings do not serve rice wine, but beer.
All weddings ALWAYS have very, very loud music to which everyone dances Khmer style and “hip-hop” around a table. It’s quite entertaining and fun. Moreover, this music can be heard for miles and miles and will succeed in keeping anyone in the surrounding neighborhood awake until way past their bed time. Everyone also wears Khmer traditional clothes to weddings. Usually, this is a silk skirt and an 80s style top (pictures on top). Also, many younger girls wear dresses like you would wear to a prom. Men wear whatever they want (typical to Cambodian dress code). Furthermore, it’s very stylish to get your hair and make-up done. The bigger the hair and the brighter the eye shadow the more “Sa’at” or beautiful you are. A couple of my friends and I went to the wedding of a fellow volunteers’ co-teacher a couple weeks ago and we decided to “make our face” as it translates. It was awesome and we looked like we walked out of the past. Someone remarked to me, “your face looks Khmer, but you’re American.” I just had to laugh at the accuracy. EVERYONE loved that we “made our faces.” The bride at a Khmer wedding will also change their clothes numerous times. Furthermore, there is still a dowry for a bride. The wedding of my friend’s co-teacher paid $3,000 for his wife (my friend asked).

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

So, two weeks ago on a Monday I was at school waiting for class to begin. My host mom comes up to me and asks if I want to go to Siem Reap (a very famous tourist town up north). I said yes, thinking that when she asks if I want to go it means in the distant future because EVERYONE asks if you want to go to Siem Reap. She then responds, “go ask the school director.” To which I said “What!? When would I go?” She says, “tomorrow.” Um…ok. So, I ask the school director and find out that a “car” will pick me up the next day between 4 and 5 am. They said they were going because the school director’s daughter (?) was getting married. So, the next morning as I was expecting a car with 5 people in it, a van shows up at 6:30 with 28 people in it. I kid you not, 28 people. I thought to myself, “I bet not everyone in this van is going to Siem Reap.” Oh, but they were. We even managed to shove another person into the van about 4 hours into the trip. I personally didn’t think it possible, but I guess after you have 28 people, what’s one more? In the van were people I know from the market, my school director, the police chief, the health center director, and many other people I didn’t know. About 6 hours into the trip, we stopped for a picnic lunch of rice and meat. There was cooked rice in coolers and meat already cooked. I felt bad for not contributing anything, but how was I to know rice was picnic food? About an hour from Siem Reap town everyone was getting very excited! The police chief was playing games (much to many peoples annoyance). At one point he caught me sleeping and yelled my name saying “Kristin, we’re in Siem Reap, you can’t sleep!” Then a kid vomited all over him! Not many people here own cars nor ride in them often so vomiting is VERY COMMON (and the roads are HORRIBLE). At many points throughout the trip bags to vomit in, stuff to smell and eat were circulated for all those who felt the need to vomit or prevent its occurrence. Even after being puked on, he was still extremely excited to be going to Siem Reap!
Once in Siem Reap, we all went to a house that was lived in by police officers (yeah, the guns on the walls gave it away). Honestly, I have no idea who they were, but they were police. The first night I stayed at the house of the former Commune Chief of our district. It was a nice house. The second night I stayed at the police house in my own room.
Usually, here in Cambodia, anywhere I’ve been there has been that one person who knows a little English. However, on this trip that person didn’t come! I realized how little Khmer I know once the basics are out of the way. Somehow it all worked out. I understood enough. The second day we were there we visited Angkor Wat, the famous temple ruins from the Angkor period. It was amazing. Seeing Angkor Wat with Cambodians is the best. Not only are they like kids in a candy store, but they are so proud of their history. We rented a tuk tuk to drive us around all day looking at the different temples. These are some of my favorite moments:
1. A lady from my market asked me if seeing all my “brothers and sisters” made me happy, happy! There are tons of foreigners running around the place. I told them I didn’t know any of themJ
2. I was exiting a temple and there was a huge crowd of South Koreans huddled around something and taking pictures. I thought maybe they had spotted a monkey or a famous statue. No, it was a French couple with a white baby. Asians love white babies. My friends told me over and over how much they wanted one! I said foreigners want their little brown babies!
3. My Khmer friends stopped three female British tourists to touch their skin, hair and comment about how beautiful they were. The men pointed out how big their breasts were! The girls were a bit freaked out. I told them they thought they were very beautiful…they were grateful for the explanation.
4. There was a beach we ate near for lunch. They asked if I wanted to "take a bath." Everyone swimming at this lake rented shorts and a shirt to swim in unless they were kids then they swam in nothing. They also gave you a sarang (similar to a towel but you wear it as a skirt here) to use to change into your shorts and shirt. I decided to sleep in the hammock!
It was a great trip. I never went to the wedding either. I asked, “Are we going to the wedding?” Someone said, “oh, no, it’s too far.” I thought that funny since it took 9 ½ hours to get there in the first place…what’s another hour or two? Oh, well…you couldn’t have paid me enough to get back in that van again! Needless to say, my next mode of transport was an air conditioned bus! After Siem Reap I had to head to Phnom Penh for a meeting and I must confess it was a nice escape to speak English again. It was quite the adventure. When I got back home this week my mom asked if I want to go to the beach with them over Khmer New Years. I said, "sure"....

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Kellee Comes to Visit and getting sick in Cambodia....

While life here in Cambodia has become pretty mundane with the day-in and day-out routine of teaching, there are times when the reality of where I am catches me by surprise.

Last week my friend Kellee was extremely bored (and broke) so she came to visit me. These are my top favorite memories of her visit.

1. Kellee told my family in Khmer that she could not eat the vegetables they wanted to put in her soup because they made her "Sh**". One word makes the difference between poop and sh**. Kellee didn't know that. It was awesome. EVERYONES face fell and became silent. I might tell them that next time I don't want to eat something.....

2. Kellee ate dog. We were invited to bike 3K (and in the dark) to another Aunt's house to see a cousin's new baby and to celebrate. We are sitting on the table with everyone drinking rice wine and EVERYONE is- of course- trying to make us eat even though we just ate a HUGE meal. Kellee decides to try some of the meat that is sitting in front of us. Then before eating, she brilliantly asks, "what kind of meat is this?" To which my grandpa responds, dog. Kellee says, "oh". Then they somehow convince her to try it! They then tried to convince me to eat it to which I said "no way, I'm full." Kellee is obviously way more fun than me:)We told them we never eat dog in America. My grandpa responds, everyone in Cambodia eats dog.

3. Kellee and I visit my health center. Now, the doctors at my health center love me. I've not quite figured out why because I only teach them English, but they do. Because Kellee came they thought it a good reason to have a party and eat soup. So we go eat soup and they teach us new Khmer fall. Kellee fell off her bike on the ride into town and has a HUGE bruise on her leg. At lunch, she lifts up her skirt to show them this massive bruise on her leg. I think Kellee is the doctors new favorite. Oh, and some teachers joined us after we'd been there for 2 hours. One of the teachers told us that he was never going to marry because he was ugly and poor. What do you say to that?!? We gave him our sad faces.

It was fun to have Kellee visit. I really felt that everyone I interact with in my village went out of their way to make my friend's visit good and by extension showed me how much they appreciated me and liked having me live in their community. Khmer people really are the kindest and most generous people. What little they have in material wealth they'd give to you.

I then decided I would go visit Kellee. This did not go so well because I ended up getting sick. Kellee and I ended up taking a taxi from my site to the Provencal town and then did the 40K bike ride to her site. while her road is 3/4 of the way paved...40K is FAR! In the morning when I woke up I didn't feel well at all. My body ached all over and I felt like I was going to vomit. We then went to breakfast where I couldn't eat anything...even the coffee I couldn't get down. We then said hi to her health center folk and i went back to her house and slept the rest of the day. I did start feeling a little better that night which was good because we had dinner plans with her co-teacher and his friends. I made it through dinner but when we went home I started feeling worse. Then the next morning as I was leaving to head back to the Provencal town I got the worst case of diarrhea I've ever had in my life (disgusting I know). To make matters worse, her bathroom is downstairs, like an outhouse, and the toilet is a hole in the ground. I will just say not good. Later that morning I caught a taxi back to the Provencal town and decided I COULD NOT do the 2- 2 1/2 hour bike ride home so i checked into a guest house. This was wise. The next morning I was feeling a little better and decided to try to bike home so I could skype with my family. However, I was a bit nervous about how the trip would go since the D was still with me. Now, there is this Peace Corps Cambodia story that has trickled its way down to my group of volunteers. There was a girl in Peace Corps who was biking home and felt that she might have diarrhea within the next minute. So being the quick witted PC volunteer that she is, she rode her bike into a rice patty, did her business, and told her family when she got home that she crashed her bike. If true, BRILLIANT. luckily I made it home safely and the D was gone 3 days later. I'm pretty convinced I had giardia. It's common here and I had all the symptoms (diarrhea, sulfur smelling burps...). I'm now feeling much better. Next post I fully intend on telling you about weddings here in Cambodia...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Christmas in Cambodia

Sorry it’s been a long time since I last posted. I’ve been waiting to get internet at my house and instead of taking a week it took a month! Welcome to my life in Cambodia…everything takes at least 5 times longer than you plan!
This year just didn’t feel much like Christmas. I think it was mainly the 90 degree temps making it feel more like summer than the wintery Christmas I’ve always known. Moreover, it was hard being so far away from family. However, I must admit, once Christmas was over I sure did enjoy lying by the pool drinking the best mango smoothies! I ended up heading into Phnom Penh for the holidays. Much of the weekend was full of eating and schedules revolved around it. For Christmas we ate Lebanese which was amazing. One of my friends remarked that it’s probably closer to what Jesus would have eaten rather than what we usually eat for Christmas. I can imagine Jesus loving Falafel. Seriously, who doesn’t? We ate copious amounts of cheese. You definitely cannot get cheese in my province. I miss dairy. Next to eating, I did a lot of shopping. Shopping here is done in Markets and involves a lot of haggling. I wanted this really cute shirt and the vender said $10. To which I responded “oh, too much” and walked away. He said, “for you Madame, I will only charge $2”. Seriously, from $10 to $2! Bargaining stresses me out! It’s hard to know if you’re getting ripped off and cheated or they are truly giving you a decent price. Some people love it; I’m one that hates it. You bargain for everything: rides around town, fruit, van fares, clothing, food…… I long for the days when there are price tags on items.
For New Years I headed to southern Cambodia to the beach! It was amazing! First, my friend Jac and I stopped off and visited some other volunteers at their site. They are married and so graciously hosted us and cooked us the most amazing spaghetti meal and carrot cake! And no, they do not even have an oven either. It inspired me to start cooking my own lunch. Which, I’m sad to say has not happened yet…but I hope will soon. Next we headed to Kampot town. It was absolutely beautiful with the mountains in the background. I’m definitely coming back to do some hiking. Jac and I joked that we were content in our province because we didn’t know Kampot existed! The mountains and beach would have made it a great place to spend two years. However, as our friends who live there say, their town is just like every other small town in Cambodia. Finally, we headed to the Island. It was so relaxing because there was little to do other than lie in the sun, play in the water and eat. One morning I did do a hike around the Island. It ended up taking a couple hours. It was interesting to see the small villages where people live, mostly as fishers. So, despite a sad Christmas, New Years was wonderful! I’ve also posted pictures so you can all see it….also, now that I have internet I hope to post more regularly! Hope you all are enjoying the snow…..

(Pictures clockwise: Kampot with the mountains across the river, our huts on the Island, the beach in the morning, me and the girls who went and finally, sunset on the Island)