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. Well...you'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 random...it 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.