Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cambodian Dreams

I have been in Cambodia for about four months so far, two of those at site. Living in Southeast Asia is no longer a novelty but a fact of life. Starting at about 4:30 am every morning I expect to hear a dozen or more roosters cawing, dogs barking, babies crying, and women and children sweeping their homes. Within the last few weeks I have even begun to dream about Cambodia and me in it which means that I have both consciously, and unconsciously, accepted that I now live in Cambodia.

My days are really laid back, sometimes so much so that I end up feeling guilty about it; such as on November 9th. This day is a national Cambodian holiday and commemorates Cambodia’s independence from France. I had no idea that I would not have to work that day until a student came to my house the Saturday before and told me (if it wasn’t for him I would have showed up at my school, books in hand, waiting in an empty classroom for tardy students that would have never showed up). Anyways, I had not planned anything to do that day and so it took me by surprise. My town is only so big. And by so big, I mean very small. There aren’t many options for things to do in your free time unless you count housework or planting or replanting rice as options. On holidays I usually see groups of men sitting in a circle drinking shots of palm wine, playing cards, and eating. The children run around and lately (I assume because now we are out of the wet season) have been flying kites. They make these kites themselves and I have been impressed at how well, and how high, they fly.

We do have a thriving market that is very busy in the morning which becomes a ghost town after noon except for a few tailors and seamstresses. Don’t even think about going at 4 pm, you will be the only one there. So I went to the market, ate breakfast (Ramen – no meat- and iced coffee), and wandered around. I bought some clementines (which are in season here and are awesome) and some nome tian (a gelatinous ball made of rice flour and filled with coconut, cashews, and sugar). After which I sat and gossiped with a friend of my host family who has a shop at the market until about 9:30 am. After which I decided to go home, where I stayed for the rest of the day. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to be social but it gets so hot during midday and with having nothing to do I saw nothing better than resigning myself to a lazy day at home. I ate some clementines with my host sisters while chatting with them and then sat down with a book until lunchtime (lunch was stir fried pork and pineapple with rice). After which I took a three hour long nap and, after waking, proceeded to read again. I read until dusk (when the electricity turns on) and went about finding a way to assess my students’ knowledge of English on my laptop. And at 8pm I went to bed.

Instead of just sitting down and to read one book I have decided to read many books at once. This often helps me when I have an exceptionally long day with many hours to kill. Currently I am reading “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson, “Tellers of Tales” an anthology of short stories from 1947, and “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving. They have kept me very well distracted from otherwise itching my mosquito/unidentified insect bites or getting upset over the fact that the ants had got into my peanut butter AGAIN.

I promise you most days I am not that lazy. So if you are looking at become a Peace Corps volunteer or have recently been accepted to go to Cambodia, let me tell you it is no 'walk in the park'. During the normal school week the days go by very quickly and I do not have that much time to read or sleep the day away. My days go somewhat like this:

5:15 am: Get up and go running.

6:00 am return home, take bucket shower etc.

6:30am eat breakfast at a local food stand (usually I eat a sandwich or noodle soup accompanied with a few shots of delicious Vietnamese coffee).

7:00 am arrive at school and start teaching

7:05 am the class monitor tells me that the coteacher has a meeting in the provincial town and that I will be teaching the class myself. As my Khmer language skills are elementary (at best) I resort to doing lots of miming and drawing of the English words on the chalkboard in order help the students translate the words into Khmer (how do you draw the word "cause"? Oh let me show you...). I do this until I realize that there is a dictionary in the back of the teacher’s book which translates the words from English into Khmer.

9:00 am move to the second class of the day. The coteacher shows up on time and everything goes smoothly until I am broadsided by a question about an obscure grammar rule from my coteacher in front of the class. I try my best to bs through it until I must give up and say I will come back with a better explanation at the next English class.

11:00 am I go home to read and prepare for class in the afternoon

12:00 pm I eat lunch with my host family (Yum, fish soup and fried frogs).

1:00 pm take a nap

2:00 pm I grab some coffee by the market and, literally, jump on my bike so as I am not late for class. When I arrive the coteacher has just arrived as well. It is his turn to teach and so I sit to the side of the classroom and assist with pronunciation and reading dialogue.

4:00 pm take a short bike ride with my friends Nary and Narin.

5:00 pm stop by the Metphone business. I have made friends with the manager and a few days a week I can go there and use their internet. This can only happen when the town has electricity between 5:30 pm and 10 pm every day.Recently I have discovered that Metphone blocks facebook. FACEBOOK?!? My only real reason to go on the internet now a days... urgh.

6:00 pm after using the internet I go home. I visit my sister who is cooking the dinner for that night in the back of the house. As we don’t have electricity everything is either fried, barbequed, or boiled over an open flame. We have lots of sour fish soup and boiled frog (I made the mistake of saying that I like frog to my family and now I have it about four times a week. I appreciate them trying to accommodate me but I can only eat so many frogs. )

7:00 pm I sit down to dinner with my entire host family and their friends. They seem to be constantly hosting guests at our house. Currently there are 8 people living in the house and with the additional guests it brings the party to 12. I spend the dinner time answering questions about why I ride my bike everywhere, if I miss my family, why I choose to wear short sleeves, and why I am so fat.

8:00 pm I take a bucket shower and settle down in my bed to listen to BBC radio on my shortwave and read a little.

Around 8:30pm or 9:00pm I go to sleep

Of course that is just an example of my schedule. Lately I have come to find that an entire class of students may be excused from class to harvest rice, or if it's raining, may just decide not to show up at all. On those days I just sigh, get my books together, and head to a coffee stand to sit and practice Khmer with some local people. For the most part the students themselves seem to be motivated to learn English. There is one class though that I feel like I am pulling teeth to get any student cooperation. I have started to incorporate more games into my lessons. It gets them more involved in class, but I fear it isn't doing much for their language ability. My bachelor's degree in History really did not prepare me to teach English to Cambodian students. I work hard every day though to take notes and work on my lesson plans in order to more effectively teach them. Some days seem awfully futile.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A long road

Before I came to Cambodia there were many things I never imagined doing. These things include eating ants and crickets, pooping in holes, being hit by moto scooters, wiping my butt with my hand, and doing my laundry with a bucket and brush. Recently this has come to include extracting bats from my mosquito net in the middle of the night. Imagine yourself in my position, sleeping after a long day of teaching and suddenly waking up to a bat flying around your face. I almost screamed. Quickly I grabbed my headlamp and jumped out of my bat cell. After about five minutes I had calmed down a bit and lifted one edge of the mosquito net, carefully so as I would not be hit by the aggravated bat on his way out. I tried my hardest to make a large enough opening that the bat would take notice and fly out to freedom. After five minutes the bat did just that.

How did this bat become trapped in my mosquito net? As previously mentioned, my mattress is WAY too big for my bed frame making it very difficult to tuck all the edges of my net under my mattress at night. After a few weeks I had given up on one side of the net for convenience sake allowing those mosquitoes smart enough to get in to bite me to their hearts content. Little did I realize that this also gave clearance for other creatures; namely, bats. Since this episode I have been sure to tuck ALL my net’s edges under my mattress at night AND weigh them down with books. It not only saves me from bat invaders but gives me a little library to choose from at nighttime without having to leave my bed :)

Before I came to Cambodia I never really rode a bicycle. I knew how to ride but as my mother was always very (almost overly) nervous about us riding our bicycles anywhere but the driveway, I never became very confident with the bicycle. And as I grew up I never really considered it a transportation option. However, now that I am in Cambodia and a Peace Corps Volunteer, my bicycle has now become my only transportation option as taxis are too expensive (for me) and I am not allowed to ride a moto. Just recently I made the 40 km (26 miles – a marathon!) commitment to ride to my provincial town. It went by surprisingly quickly. It was fun to see the other parts of the province next to where I live. To make it even better, when I stopped for a cold beverage at a sugar juice stand a policeman bought me my drink.

I try not to go into the provincial town too often, because I do not want to make it seem like I do not like my site. I love my site. The people are incredibly friendly and nearly everyone in the town knows by name now. When I go into the market to buy fruit I almost never have to spend any money, the sellers give me the fruit for free. They get offended when I insist on giving them money and so now I have stopped trying and instead make sure to stop by their stand every so often to chat.

School has been great. I have recently started to teach. This year I will teach three 10th grade classes and one 11th grade class for a total of 16 hours a week. I haven’t done anything too crazy or new (yet) but have been taking good notes on what students need help on. My teaching has been pretty much by the book. And by “by the book” I mean by the English For Cambodia” book 4 and 5. There are some INTERESTING stories in there, let me tell you. If I have time one of these days I will definitely copy a story into my blog for your reading pleasure. You may laugh, you may cry, I think you may just be confused by the story/stories. In any case, I am sure you will find them interesting.

On Sunday I will take the road back to my site making my total miles traveled by bike this weekend to 52+. After two years of traveling that distance every other weekend I am sure to log a total of 2704 miles just going to my provincial town and back. Whew – it’s a long road.