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.

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