Saturday, September 26, 2009

A funny thing happened on the way to becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer…

The journey has no doubt been long. To us, the two months of training have gone by exceedingly fast while at the same time being incredibly slow; especially those first two weeks with our host families. Without being able to speak the language the days felt like years (at least now we have a bit of a foundation for moving to permanent site).Tonight was our, K3’s, last night together until our mid service training in February. No tears were shed but by looking at everyone’s face you could tell that we all will be missing each other when depart for our permanent sites tomorrow. It’s daunting to know that we will be without a “support system” within our towns and cities, at least until we build those relationships ourselves. For some of us it will be the first time away, on our own, trying to navigate that kind of relationship building in another country. Although we were and are all fully aware that we would be living with a Khmer family, surrounded by Khmer people, and not having another volunteer or American close to us… now that it is upon us we are all a bit apprehensive. Over and over we kept talking about how it was for Peace Corps volunteers nearly 50 years ago when the first volunteers went to Africa. They did not have cell phones or the internet. And getting to their sites sometimes took days. It all made our “grievances” look very trivial in comparison.

This last week has been one of the longest during my training. Last weekend was Pchum Ben, a holiday only celebrated in Cambodia (that I know of). It is hard to explain but I guess you could say it is similar to that of Day of the Dead in Mexico because it is dedicated to the departed and lifeless. The holiday itself is 15 days long. The very last weekend of the holiday the families travel to their ancestral home and meet with other family members. And on the last Saturday they go to the Wat (Buddhist Temple)and pray with the monks in front of the stupa, where their dead family members’ ashes are entombed. They give gifts for their ancestors and to the monks. And throughout the day they eat A LOT of food. It was not until Pchum Ben that I had my first bout of diarrhea. I blame it on the sheer quantity and variety of food they made me eat. It really bummed me out because I was trying to win the prize for the only volunteer to never get it in Cambodia. I failed, miserably.

The rest of the week was filled with getting our stuff ready to travel to permanent site, taking our language proficiency interviews, saying goodbye to our training families, and getting sworn in as volunteers. All of us passed our language proficiency interviews (go K3s!). I think I have a bit of test anxiety because just the idea of taking the test made me nervous, and so during nearly the whole thing I was a bit of a wreck. Luckily the only question that I feel I really “messed up” on was when the tester asked me to compare Khmer culture and American culture. Only hours before had I even heard the word “culture” in Khmer and knew no other substantial words in Khmer to make an intelligent answer. What I came up with was this: “Cambodia has Pchum Ben. For Pchum Ben they go to the Wat and sit in front of their dead family and eat a lot of food.” I didn’t even mention anything about American culture. Luckily I passed with an Intermediate Low which is what the majority of the other trainees received.

On Friday, September 25th we were sworn in by the American Ambassador to Cambodia, Carol Rodley, in Phnom Penh. It was a fun day. Our school directors came from each of sites for support and to have a brief conference before the swear-in. After the ceremony we were able to mingle with some RPCVs (returned Peace Corps volunteers) that live in Phnom Penh. Many of them have prestigious jobs with organizations such as USAID and Helen Keller International. It is safe to say that many of us are looking forward to the possible opportunity to work with an organization such as those in the future. Also in attendance was the Cambodia’s Minister of Education, Im Sethy. Thirty years ago he was one of a handful of teachers who came to Phnom Penh to build Cambodia’s Education system from the ground up. The following are links to articles about our swearing in ceremony:
(more websites to come.. .hopefully)

What was the funny thing that happened to my on the way to becoming a volunteer? It was how much I enjoyed it. When I first arrived here I was set on to prepare myself to serve Cambodia as much as possible. In the process of doing so I not only learned a great deal of technical information but also how to have fun here. The kind of things that will help me be mentally stable while being away from so many people I love back home. Silly Khmer card games? Check. Good places to get ice cream in Phnom Penh? Double check. How to order the best coffee and sweetened milk combination? You bet :)

Tomorrow I leave for Rumeus Hek. Who knows how frequently I will have internet but I will try to post as often as possible :) Thank you for reading!

1 comment:

  1. Hooray Kellee! I'm so happy for you! I love your answer for american and khmer cultures;) hehe at least you passed! I knew you would! I hope that you get my package soon so you can enjoy some of the things you may be missing. I can't wait to chat again soon!