Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Great Goodbye(s)

My service is over and I am officially an RPCV. Well, not quite because to be an RPCV you must be a 'Returned Peace Corps Volunteer' and I don't plan on returning to the States for another month. Instead I'm zipping around Cambodia - as a sort of goodbye tour -with some of my very best friends from home. They arrive on Friday and I couldn't be more excited.

This last week was hard. Although not as hard as I imagined it to be. I had goodbye soup with my co-teachers one night, followed by goodbye soup with my students the next, and then goodbye soup the last night with my counterpart Soksara from the health center. The hardest goodbye was to her because she has helped me so much this past year with projects like Camp GLOW and CCPCR, as well as being a good friend and always being there when I needed help. It's people like her that make being a Peace Corps Volunteer a hundred times easier, and tolerable when dealing with so much adversity and intolerance that can come when being the only foreigner in a town of thousands.

My goodbyes are far from over though. Staggering throughout these next two weeks, as I travel around the country, I will eventually say goodbye to most of all my fellow K3s. It's nice to know that the majority of us will go back to the same country and I'm optimistic that I will see people again. I think that is the only way I can make these goodbyes tolerable.

I don't have much else to write. Saying goodbye is exhausting. I'll try to post pictures tomorrow.

Monday, July 4, 2011

To the United States of America

To the United States of America,

This is your warning.

I am no longer the model citizen I once was.

Cambodia has changed me... maybe for the better and maybe for the worse. I want to warn you about a few things, however, that may surprise/disgust/frighten you. I've put them in an easy to peruse format for your reading pleasure. Here we go....

1) I spit food on the ground
2) I make strange noises like "ooooey" when I am surprised
3) I think an outfit can consist of a printed scarf with a striped shirt, sweatpant shorts, and chacos.
4) Do you need a tissue to blow your nose? Because I don't!
5) A palm leaf is a perfectly good substitute for floss
6) Anything can be a food. Why do we need to be so picky? I vote for termites to be adopted into the typical American's diet.
7) I bow to older people
8) I haggle over a 50 cent difference in price.
9) Soup or fried pork with rice are perfectly legitimate options for breakfast
10) Need to toast before every drink... literally

To be continued...

The Great Experiment Nears the End

All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

In one week it's over. My experiment/career as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cambodia is over.

It's been great, it's been horrible, it's went by quickly, and it also took forever. Right now I'm just trying to take one day at a time before I really take stock of the fact that there are people I will never see again, places that will never be the same.

Last Tuesday I finished my externship with CCPCR. It was great to meet those girls and young women and spend so much time with them. I'm a bit disappointed with how much time was forfeited to dengue. I lost two out of the four weeks I was given to work there and it cost me pretty much all that I had planned to do. The only thing I accomplished was a short workshop on health that I set up with a nurse from the health center in Romeas Hek.

Now I'm in Phnom Penh, trying to wrap up all my paperwork that I have - Description of Service, Site Report, Externship form, and about five other forms and papers - before I head back to site to say goodbye to everyone. I'm not really looking forward to it. I hate goodbyes. And everyone who has finished here , or are finishing up, said it has been the hardest thing they've done. EVER.

I hope I survive it...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Celebrating One Month Left - Dengue Style

The 12th of this month marked a month left of my Peace Corps journey!! What did I do to celebrate? I was curled up in the fetal position in a budget guesthouse in Phnom Penh and watching ridiculous movies like "She's Out of My League" and "2012".

On Monday I came down with a fever, chills, mind numbing headache, and sore eyes. At first I thought it wasn't that big of a deal because the fever was less than 102. Also I've been spending alot of time with young kids who are walking petri dishes of diseases and thought it was just a little something picked up from them. By Wednesday, though, I had developed a body rash and my appetite was nil so I made the call to our Peace Corps Medical Officer. Immediately I was whisked away to Phnom Penh to undergo the blood tests to determine if what I had was just a typical virus or it was the Big D - dengue.

What is dengue? It is a virus transmitted by infected mosquitoes and symptoms include "a fever, severe headache, severe pain behind the eyes, joint pain, muscle and bone pain, rash, and mild bleeding (e.g., nose or gums bleed, easy bruising)" (CDC). it is known asd "bone-break fever" because of the intesnse muscle and bone pain associated with the disease.

Luckily, my symptoms were not that bad (with the exception of an incredible headache). Every day for six days, I had to go into the Peace Corps Office to get blood drawn and have it tested to see what my white blood cell and blood platelet counts were. My white blood cells were low nearly everyday while the platelets were in the normal range. If the platelets get low then there is a chance of developing hemorrhagic dengue.

Over a week of having symptoms and hiding out in a hotel room in Phnom Penh, I finally got a clean bill of health today! I am looking forward to getting back to Svay Rieng and getting work done. I'll just need to be a bit more careful about mosquitoes once I get back. Now that I've had dengue once I am more susceptible to getting hemorrhagic dengue (the same as ordinary dengue except you bleed from orifices like your eyeballs etc.... think '28 Days Later').

Thursday, May 19, 2011


A Case of the Dimples

Upon returning from up north for an engagement party, etc, I came home to my host sisters telling me a story about the sub-school director’s daughter. When I first came to site I had the opportunity to meet her before she left for Phnom Penh to study at a university there. I hadn’t seen her in over a year and so it was interesting that my sisters would want to talk about someone who, for the most part, was no longer around. What I remember of her was that she was a very pretty, smart, and confident young woman of 18. The story went like this: she went to a ‘beautician’ who said she could make her skin white. This young woman, like most women in Cambodia, let the ‘beautician’ put harsh chemicals all over her body. Apparently she felt the burning almost immediately. She is now in the hospital because her skin is literally falling off of her.

I recently read a NYT story about the increase of cosmetic surgery in China. And recently, Time magazine also wrote about the wave of popularity plastic surgery is seeing throughout Asia and highlights how the government of Thailand is even taking it upon themselves to “hawk” these medical procedures as tours. Not that this isn’t popular in America, just that in the US and Europe we have the benefit of certain controls that make these procedures a bit more safe than they would be otherwise.
“Elsewhere in Asia, this explosion of personal re-engineering is harder to document, because for every skilled and legitimate surgeon there seethes a swarm of shady pretenders”. - TIME Magazine: Changing Faces
It frightens me when I hear stories like that of my sub-school director’s daughter, or others, who choose to get a procedure done here because they feel “they need it” or in a foreigner’s case, because it is less expensive than at home.

In my ignorance, I really thought plastic surgery was something that people only with disposable incomes would even consider. One of my good friends at site, Nary, returned last month from Vietnam with a facemask on. I at first thought it was strange as she doesn’t usually wear one and so I asked her if she was sick. “No,” she replied,” I got dimples.”

Although Nary and her family are business owners they are not rich. So when she proceeded to tell me that she spent $1000 ($500 a dimple… a fortune here), I got a little angry. I got even angrier when she said that I should go get some for myself. For this I replied that I “liked my face already” to which her mother replied “Ooooh she thinks she is already beautiful.”


So I’ve now taken some time away from Nary and her family. It is not that I do not enjoy spending time with them it’s just that when I see what she has done to herself, and think about how much she spent, I get upset. As for the sub-school director’s daughter, she is still healing at the hospital. Her family says she may be able to leave in a week or so.

TIME Magazine: Changing Faces www.time.com/time/asia/covers/1101020805/story4.

Chinese Turn to Plastic Surgery in Growing Numbers

Monday, April 25, 2011

Back and forth and back and forth.

…is how the next few months will play out it seems. And my feelings about the whole thing

Currently I am writing from my site. I have been here for about a week since returning from Sumatra and now I’m planning on leaving again. Going – literally – across the country to attend a Peace Corps volunteer’s wedding to a Cambodian man. I really can’t wait:) It will be a bit difficult in the end considering that when I return next week and I will then need to help my GLOW girls host a workshop on leadership on the 5th and then -nearly immediately after-hold my 50th Anniversary “Clean-Up-The-Library” project on the 7th. Whew.

I will then attend our Close of Service conference from the 17th until the 20th. After that I will only need to teach until I start my externship at CCPCR (The Cambodian Center for the Protection of Children’s Rights) on May 30th. I will live and work there, in the provincial town for about a month. In July I will come back to site and say my goodbyes and then it will be off to Phnom Penh to meet my friends and finish all my paperwork. My Close of Service (COS) date is July 12th.

When I think about how much (or how little) time I have left I start to get very anxious and so I’m trying to take it all in stride…. And not really think about it. When I do I’m happy because I’ll be going home! But then I’m sad because I will be leaving Cambodia. But then I’m happy because I’ll have a washing machine and Starbucks. But then I’m sad because I don’t know if I’ll be able to find a job and the winter in PNW is very depressing in itself without being unemployed.

Anyways…....About Sumatraa!!!!!!

It is beautiful. And completely devoid of all those gap year kids and backpackers that crowd the nice places on mainland SE Asia.

When I initially bought my plane tickets to this (very large) Indonesian island I had no idea what to expect. What I knew about Indonesia could be summarized in less than ten words - them being - Muslim, tsunami, Bali, Barack Obama, rain forests, coffee, and Palm oil. Air Asia being awesome (although a huge pain in buying the tickets themselves) I was able to score round-trip tickets from Phnom Penh to Medan, Indonesia, for $130. And any plane ticket less than $75 each way is as good incentive as any for a vacation (also there were seven of us going on this trip so - no matter what - it would be a good time).

It was a whirl-wind trip. I still can't believe I was there for two weeks - it felt more like three days. So as to not bore you with the details, here are a few of the places we went and things we did/saw:

Medan: NOT A TOURIST town and could very well be the worst place I've ever traveled to... ever. It has the only airport in Northern Sumatra, so there was no escaping it's banality. It somewhat redeems itself in my eyes by having a Starbucks... but that is pretty much it.

Bukit Lawang: AWESOME. We stayed at the Ecolodge Hotel the first and last night and on the second went into the jungle. We trekked for the entire day - only stopping occasionally to eat and drink some water. Sometimes the trekking got a bit frightening as some parts of the hike were so steep I would say we were doing more rope climbing (although in this case the ropes were tree roots) than hiking. We hiked until we got to the campsite, a small place on the river, and refreshed ourselves by going swimming. That night it really POURED on us and, of course, my sleeping spot under the makeshift tarp tent had a hole in it. Eventually I was able to get some sleep and the next day we all did some more trekking along a ridge near our campsite. In the afternoon we packed up our (mostly wet) things and rafted back to town.

Berestagi: The next day we were off to see Berastagi and hike up a volcano! On our way there our helpful, and somewhat clingy, trek guide from Bukit Luwang came with us and so we wnded up stopping at a Crocodile Farm when we passed through Medan. It was a very sad place. The crocodiles had no room to move and were literally living stackee\d upon each other. There was a pond in the back of the place where some of the crocodiles were allowed to swim. One of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers paid to feed a crocodile a live duck. Still am on the fence about how I feel about the whole thing. A crocodile has to eat... right??

Finally we got to our hotel, the International, and called it a night. The next day we were up and out early to hike up the volcano and hit up the hot springs. It was a really nice hike and mush less tiring than the trekking. The place smelled like sulfur, but we were all able to get a few good pictures out of the whole deal.

Lake Toba: The bonus about traveling in a group of 7 (or one of them) is that you get to take private transportation everywhere. So, after we gloriously triumphed in Berastagi, we piled in our third rented van and headed to Lake Toba, the largest crater lake in the world. We were actually going to stay on an island, Samosir Island, on the lake ( an island on an island...).

This was our most relaxing leg of our trip and nearly me favorite. We biked around the island a lot, swam, and played tons of Scrabble. We also discovered a place called Tabo that has beautiful bungalows, a bakery, and I really good buffet breakfast. We didn't stay there (we stayed at Carolina) but we did partake of their delicious baked goods and home roasted (and grown!) coffee.

On the 14th I was back in Cambodia and dreaming of Sumatra. If another chance comes up, I will definitely go back :)

If you want to read more about our Sumatra trip my friends were a bit more thorough... AND posted pictures... on their blogs.

Jen and Nathan's blog http://cambodiandays.wordpress.com/2011/04/18/sumatra-jungles-volcanoes-and-cannibals/
Cooper's tenthingsithink.com
Jacq's at jacqincambodia.blogspot.com
Kristin's at kristinincambodia.blogspot.com
and Jeremy's at http://dispatchesfromdeltas.com/.