Friday, October 29, 2010

Cambodian Proverbs..

Went googling to find a Cambodian proverb to write on the wall of the school's library. The following is a list of 23 that I borrowed from the following website:
(my favorites are in bold)

1. A husband should not talk of pretty girls in front of his wife.

2. Active hands, full bellies.

3. Cultivate a heart of love that knows no anger.

4. Don't let an angry man wash dishes; don't let a hungry man guard rice.

5. Don't let women who attract attention walk behind you.

6. Don't reject the crooked road and don't take the straight one, instead take the one traveled by the ancestors.

7. Don't shoot people you hate; don't lend to those you love.

8. Don't take rich people as examples.

9. Don't take the straight path or the winding path. Take the path your ancestors have taken."

10. For news of the heart ask the face.

11. If you are doing wrong, make sure you don't get fat from it.

12. If you are patient in a moment of anger, you will spare yourself one hundred days of tears.

13. If you know a lot, know enough to make them respect you, if you are stupid, be stupid enough so they can pity you.

14. Negotiate a river by following its bends, enter a country by following its customs.

15. People give, but don't be in a hurry to take.

16. Stealing may bring profit, but hanging costs far more.

17. The boat sails by, the shore remains.

18. The elephant that is stuck in the mud will tear down the tree with it.

19. The immature rice stalk stands erect, while the mature stalk, heavy with grain, bends over.

20. The tiger depends on the forest; the forest depends on the tiger.

21. With water make rivers, with rice make armies.

22. You can't claim heaven as your own if you are just going to sit under it.

23. You don't have to cut a tree down to get at the fruit.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

“The President of the World is Here!!”

This is the first thing the man who sells me coffee told me today. I was a bit confused at first but, after a minute or two, I figured out that he meant Ban Ki-Moon, and by here he meant Phnom Penh. Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary-General is in Cambodia this week to meet with people from the Khmer Rouge tribunal and, of course, Hun Sen. There are some reports that he will be meeting with those groups representing the people who will be – or are currently- displaced because of the Boeng Kuk lake development in the center of Phnom Penh. But this has not been confirmed. Information about his visit:

In other news, I am currently busy at site for the first time in months! My days range from hectic to slothful but mostly are somewhere in between. School is in session and so I am teaching nearly every weekday as well as running in the mornings. I am attempting to run my first half marathon in December although- between the monsoons, sickness, and an awful school timetable – I have been very bad at sticking to a training schedule. My goal is just to finish – whether it be by running, walking, or limping over the finish line.

I have also ambitiously decided to start a community service learning club at my school. This is ambitious only because a club has yet to be attempted – ever, it seems- at my school. I am lucky to have a very committed co teacher who is also the “head” of the English department at my school. He seems to think it will be successful and has conveyed this message onto the school director and sub-school directors. Who, when I met with them about the club, just nodded and smiled and said “okay!”. If only all meetings could go so well. Although I have a very strange feeling they may have just been humoring me…

Although I have been studying on and off for the last few months, I’ve only recently really started to commit myself to studying for the GRE and hope that three months of studying will be enough to do well on the test at the end of January. I took the test right after I graduated in 2007 but was not satisfied with the score, nor was ready to go to graduate school then. Now, with the many hours of self reflection that Peace Corps has given me, I am ready to pledge myself to two more years of coursework. Between studying, running, club planning, and teaching, I now have things to do everyday and a limited amount of free time - which is not a bad thing at all :)

Well, I’m hitting my afternoon slump (i.e. naptime) and must get back to facebook stalking and catching up on current events before I fall asleep. Until next time…

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On Voting

Recent developments have enticed me to write about something very near and dear to my heart, voting. I apologize for the soapbox rhetoric – but I need to get it off my chest :)

Before I became a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cambodia I worked for my county elections for about two years – including the summer in between my junior and senior year of college. While there, the majority of my time was spent on voter outreach which included, among other things, registering voters, filing candidates, and sending out ballots to registered voters (via snail mail, email, AND fax). I became familiar with the ebb and flow of elections during my time there. And, in contradiction to what many may think, elections staff members work year round whether there is an election going on or not.

Living abroad as a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer), has made me appreciate my home state of Washington and for the efforts they’ve made to make it an example State for fair, open, and accessible elections since the election of 2004* (which can be considered one of the most messy, contentious gubernatorial races in US history). This year, being a big election year across the United States, many of my fellow volunteers have expressed to me their desire to vote. Truth be told, PCVs (or at least those now serving in Cambodia) are some of the most informed people on current affairs that I know. It is amazing how up-to-date we can be considering the majority of us live in rural areas without easy access to the internet or the monolith that is the American media. Difficult as it may be to get information on this year’s congressional and gubernatorial races, it seems even harder for some volunteers to vote.

Having sent my ballot in weeks ago – it is hard for me to fathom that other states choose to disenfranchise their overseas voters, however unintentionally. Luckily for me, my ballot was sent to me by email, cutting down the weeks it would have taken me to receive it here in Cambodia and allowing me to send it in four weeks before Election Day. If you are curious as to how email voting works, it is quite simple. A word document with an individually formatted ballot is sent to the voter. The voter than prints out the document and votes, puts the voted ballot in a secrecy envelope inside another envelope that includes a signed voter’s affidavit and then mails it to the individual’s county election department. Washington State is now nearly an entirely vote-by-mail state, with the exception of one (or is it two?) counties, which makes absentee voting from overseas incredible easy as their ballot is already assumed to be coming by mail.

As a UOCAVA (Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act) covered voter, I am guaranteed the right to register to vote and request an absentee ballot simultaneously, and use a "back-up" ballot for federal offices, called the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot. This is wonderful, although it only allows voters covered by the Act who have made timely application for, but have not received, their regular ballot from their state or territory (subject to certain conditions). Recently (as of this election year) UOCAVA has been amended to make voting easier for overseas citizens**. These amendments include the right to a ballot 45 days before an election and the acceptance of ballots that have not been notarized. Does this mean that it is being applied and that voters are aware of their rights?

No, it does not. In fact many of my fellow volunteers had no idea that they could vote by email, or that they could request a ballot that far in advance. Part of the problem is that the voters are ignorant to these subtle changes in election law and, really, who has the time to think about voting over a month in advance of Election Day besides those who are somewhat involved in politics themselves? What is also troublesome is that on many of the county elections websites that I’ve gone to, in order to help my friends, there was no clear language about this at all. And, entirely more troublesome, is the subtle (and sometimes not-so subtle) differences in the ways elections are conducted in every state. For federal election years this may not affect much considering a blanket FVAB (Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot) may be used by any voter, regardless of State but in mid term elections – which influence a voter’s life more directly- they stand to affect a great deal.

In this globalized (yes, I just made it an adjective) and digitalized 21st century – election administrators need to be thinking outside their county borders. We can assume the days of polling stations are coming to an end within my lifetime. People no longer have the time to take off work to go to that church or school around the corner, they need a convenient system of voting that reflects the way they live.

Now, two weeks before Election Day (November 2nd), I am convinced I could have done more to make my friends aware of their voting rights. My only wish is that there is some continuity in the future between our 50 states with voting from abroad so that it may be easier to vote in all elections, not those just for president. The Pew Center on the States, through their Voting Information Project, is working towards making elections information more accessible and the voting process easier to navigate. Information on that and other innovative projects having to do with election reform can be accessed at the following address:

To end this tirade of word vomit that I just threw out to the World Wide Web, I want to sincerely thank the elected officials of Washington, Arizona, and other States who have worked to make it easy for me – an American citizen out in the middle of nowhere Cambodia – to vote in this midterm election. When I handed that envelope over to the woman at the post office in Phnom Penh, I felt not only connected to the country that I miss dearly, but more empowered than I have in months. It was awesome.

* To read the props for innovation in elections given to my home state, and that of Arizona, by the Pew Center you may go to this address:

** Information on the amendments made to UOCAVA, and the act itself, can be found at .

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Awkward moment of the week: What doesn’t go with morning coffee…

As I was sitting down, reading my book, and enjoying my morning coffee at my favorite little coffee place I felt a nudge at my feet. The coffee place has at least two dogs that are always around - either picking up food scraps or sleeping underneath one of its few chairs and tables. One of them, the black one, was underneath my table. Nothing exceptionally unusual, but when I looked down at her I noticed SOMETHING coming out her back end…a red, squishy SOMETHING. And then I realized this dog was giving birth! At my feet!

The proprietor of the establishment noticed me looking at the dog and started laughing. "Crazy dog!" he exclaimed, and then proceeded in attempting to shoo it away.

I appreciate the miracle of life as anyone else but not with my morning coffee, and not at my feet. I quickly sucked down the last drop of my coffee (never one to waste that beautiful, brown liquid), paid, and left. I actually left in such a hurry that I forgot my rain jacket but was so uneasy by the morning experience I waited until well into the afternoon to retrieve it. When I did, there was no dog in sight.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

To the Future Peace Corps Volunteers of Cambodia:

Congratulations - you’ve won the golden ticket!

You’ve succeeded in securing the opportunity to serve the United States and the Peace Corps in one of the most amazing places in the world, Cambodia!

At first you may be a bit apprehensive. There were and are some strange rumors flying around out there about Cambodia – its people, culture, et al. Do not be worried though- only most of these are untrue.

What is true is that the people here are warm and welcoming and cannot wait to meet you. They will invite you in for lunch but you’ll stay until well after dinner. You will not be able to walk down a street without at least one child yelling “Hello!” to you or an older woman saying how beautiful you are (and this goes if you are a woman OR a man). And they will make sure that you are safe – even when you do not sense danger.

It needs your help though. Cambodia is rebuilding itself from basically nothing. Those five years under the Khmer Rouge cost it more than just that. Without educated people, communities went without education and reliable health care for a long time. Things are changing quickly, however, and I am constantly amazed at the incredible changes my rural community has undergone within the short time of me living there.

It is a very exciting time to be in Cambodia. And as a health volunteer even more so! The opportunities to affect and change other people’s lives are endless. My name is Kellee and I am an education and health volunteer. Our group, K3 (Kampuchea 3), was the guinea pig for the Peace Corps Community Health Education program. The K4 group was the first to have a group of just health volunteers; which makes you part of the second group ever, in Peace Corps Cambodia history, of Community Health Educators. While we fumbled around our health centers looking for ways to be productive and helpful, you will have a much easier time of it with the wisdom of two previous groups’ experiences to aid you in your encounters.

You may be nervous about teaching health in rural Cambodia. I was:
“Health?!” I exclaimed, “How can I teach about heath when I was a History major whose experience with Health is limited to a couple of CPR classes that the Red Cross taught me?”
My first hand experience has shown me that even something small, like teaching about hand washing, can go a long way. You do not need to be a Mayo brother to help Cambodia, just be flexible, open, and a good listener. And before you ever even step foot on site, you will have the benefit of some amazing training from Peace Corps staff that other volunteers here, outside Peace Corps, are quite jealous of.

So get ready to break out of the comfort zone, to do something different and amazing and meet wonderfully unique people while doing so! I am completely serious when I say you have won a prize by being picked to serve in Cambodia. It is a country rich with culture, beauty, and people who deserve your help. You can only be so lucky as to have served in Cambodia.

Best of luck in your service,

Kellee Keegan,
K3 Health and Education Volunteer
Romeas Hek District,
Svay Reing Province, Cambodia

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Last Night of my Life: Or Why I Will Never Ride a Taxi at Night in Cambodia

As I was heading home from the K4 (Kampuchea group 4) Swear-In ceremony - also known as the “rabies booster and flu shot stick-it-to-em round-up” – I thought I was going to die. Actually, I was very certain of it. For starters, the taxi that was “supposed” to leave at 2pm …didn’t leave until 6pm. Us Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take transportation at night because of a number of things … things which I discovered after my experience; reasons that were and are legitimate grounds as to why a person should not attempt a nighttime jaunt on a Cambodian highway. But I will get to those later.

I, aware (but only blithely so) of the dangers, gave it a shrug and a sigh and texted my friends back in Phnom Penh at how annoying it was that I had been waiting in a taxi van for over three hours to leave. Most taxi vans must wait until it is economically viable before leaving - usually this is a certain number of people and or packages. We, apparently, did not have enough. As soon as we started to move along, a little after 6 pm, the rain started. For the first 20 minutes it was a medium to light rain (a drizzle one might say), but that was only the appetizer. The real party started nearly half an hour into the trip. If I had been driving in the Pacific Northwest even I would’ve considered pulling over (and we PNWers have mad skills at driving in the rain). Well the taxi van DID NOT have functioning windshield wipers AND the driver still chose to drive like the crazy taxi driver he was/is and pass anyone who thought to go below the speed limit. Can’t see the road? No problem for Mr. Taxi Driver.

As the windshield wipers would stick mid swing he would continue to drive (the manual) van and reach ACROSS the windshield to unstick it. I was lucky to have a front seat ticket to this show. Anyone who knows me knows I am fairly nervous passenger and this definitely put me on – if not over- the edge. I started thinking of all the last text messages, emails, and phone calls I had made – the final correspondence in which I would be judged for the rest of my family and friends living memories. Madly I kept hitting the invisible brake with my right foot.

The rain lightened eventually (as did my heart rate) and we came to the ferry crossing. To get to my province or Vietnam for that matter, you must take Highway 1 which “crosses” the Mekong. Or will cross the Mekong within the next few years (they just started to build a bridge). Currently it has a ferry crossing – fine during normal daytime hours that are not holidays- but a complete nightmare at night. You must wait there until there are enough cars to make the ferry trip feasible. And the ferry wasn’t even on our side of the river. The good thing about it raining, and being dark outside, is that there wasn’t the normal amount of sellers hounding us to buy their wares. “Hats?” “Fried grasshoppers?” “The latest Cambodian fashion magazines?” “Coka?”“Beer?” “Wine?” “Cigarettes?” You name it – they got it.

Unfortunately I was a bit hungry at this point – it was nearly 8pm and I would not be able to make it to my house in time for dinner…and so I was kind of missing the drive-up service. I opened the door of the van and looked at the river of water which was flowing above the highway underneath my feet and then into the dark, peering into the surrounding abyss and searching desperately in the direction of something edible. The friend of the taxi driver saw my hungry eyes and volunteered to go get me some hot meaty porridge, or “bohboh”. I gladly accepted and handed him the money.

Usually I am not a bohboh fan, unless I am at a place where I know it will be good, like friends’ houses, or parties, etc. But “side-of-the-street” bohboh? Not so much. Of course it initially tasted delicious, but as soon as I got to the meaty parts I started to have second thoughts. In the catalogue of meats and meat parts I recognized some chicken and… squid? The parts of the chicken I recognized were leg and … stomach? Whereas squid… well it looked like squid.

After nearly 45 minutes we were off again! I was so happy just to be moving I nearly forgot that just an hour or so earlier I was thinking that throwing me out of the car was a safer option then being in the car itself. For an hour the ride went fairly smoothly. He dropped off a couple in Svay Reing but got in a tiff over the fare price (which the customers hadn't negotiated beforehand. After a few coarse words, the couple won out and so we drove away angrily in the direction on Romeas Hek.

We had a few close calls on the way back. The road to Romeas Hek is pretty quiet – although since it has been paved it’s become increasingly busy (hence all the car accidents I’ve come upon while bike riding back to site). There was a cow, a kid on a bicycle, and a few dogs. About a half an hour from my site I breathed a sigh of relief. We had almost made it! I hadn’t died and we hadn’t hit anything!

And then we hit the dog.

I noticed him a quick second before he tumbled underneath the taxi van’s wheels. I was sitting upfront (best seat in the house) next to another woman and the taxi driver. The woman’s reaction mirrored my own… she too had her hand over her mouth and had exclaimed a loud “Oh!”. The men at first were exclaiming how stupid the dog was… and then about 20 meters down the road the taxi driver started to slow down and ask his friends whether he should go back.

Now in the US, to go back after you hit an animal is to find its owner… or move it to the side of the road at least. No, they wanted it to eat. Tere is nothing that goes better with Cambodian rice wine and friends company than some fresh dog curry. We turned around and the taxi driver’s friend quickly jumped out of the vehicle and grabbed the prize. Eating dog has not always been a Cambodian tradition, in fact I have been told by a number of reliable sources that the taste of dog meat was adopted from their neighbors, the Vietnamese. Whether it is true or not, Cambodian men eat dog. Sometimes, as in this case, it is road kill. But sometimes the dog is just a tramp that happened to wander into the wrong place at the wrong time. Rarely, if ever, do I hear of a Cambodian person buying dog meat. I actually asked my host dad’s friends this question as they themselves were settling down around a plate of barbequed dog pieces as to where you could buy dog meat in town. “Dog meat? You never buy dog meat! It is much too expensive!” and that was when I got the answer as to where the dog they were eating came from. “It was wandering around the rubber tree plantation (that my host family owns)”.

So, I was already well aware of what happens to dogs in Cambodia when this event occurred. If I had experienced this before I came to Cambodia, I may have been shocked, felt ill, or even cried ( I was a vegetarian – and plan on being one again once I return to the USA). But now, things like that night have become almost second nature (although I still do recognize the weirdness of it all). That night was just an amalgamation of many different, frightening, and odd occurrences. When I got back to site I almost wept; I had survived!

Now those reasons that were and are legitimate grounds for not traveling at night in Cambodia (and these go for every mode of transportation):

1) The vehicle may or may not have functioning headlights and/or windshield wipers
2) There are rarely, if ever, seatbelts
3) Cambodian people, animals, et al. like to meet up in the night… on the highway
4) There is ONE brain surgeon in the entire country of Cambodia. And the chance the doctor is on vacation when needed? Very likely
5) No one is monitoring the speed of vehicles on the highways at night. People can drive very recklessly unheeded… and they do.
6) If you are in the unfortunate situation of being in a car accident at night, it may be a long while before anyone of authority reaches you. And by the time they do, there is a high likelihood that the driver and all the passengers (who were capable) would’ve left the scene.


I am at site now, and plan on staying here for as much as I can the next 11 months I have. I am aided in this by having an internet phone that can FINALLY (and hopefully will) become a modem when attached to my computed. So, hopefully, I will be able to post many more blog entries from my site before this adventure is over. As for this one, it has been posted in the lovely Provincial town of Svay Reing.