Friday, January 7, 2011

The Yellow-Ribbon-Ramen Road to Rat-land

The name of this blog entry was inspired by my little friend Roal who loves to munch on dry Ramen noodles and always leaves a little golden noodle trail behind him as he wanders. And he usually wanders to wherever I am (usually sitting downstairs reading or studying upstairs in my room) and where he thinks it’s the funniest thing to just smack me on the head while I’m distracted. And for a two year old he packs a pretty powerful punch.

I survived New Years and arrived back at site only to be thrown into more partying and feasting. My site celebrated Victory Over The Genocide Day two days before the official holiday of January 7th (as that was the day my district was officially “liberated” from the Khmer Rouge). My host family was hosting not only one party BUT two that day; one in the afternoon for visiting people of influence (i.e. traveling business owners, managers, government officials) and another in the evening for the young Vietnamese and Cambodian football (soccer) players who had participated in the tournament that day. The party in the evening would simultaneously be a birthday party for my host sister who had turned 13 a few days earlier.

Arriving around 1pm on the day of the festivities, I came in at just at about the “right time” – when everyone was either quite buzzed or very drunk off beer and rice wine. Getting out of the taxi van and seeing the dozen or so tables set up and filled with drunken Cambodian men I tried to make a quick beeline to my bedroom. Unfortunately I was not quick enough and was summoned almost immediately to the table where my host parents and the District Governor were entertaining some very important-looking guests. Luckily they weren’t half as drunk as I had assumed them to be and were very friendly to boot. One of them even spoke nearly fluent English and, as manager to half of all the rubber tree plantations in Eastern and Southern Cambodia, he is probably a good person to know. We even made our friendship “real”.

In Cambodia, to really solidify a friendship, you must hold the other person’s hand over a cup and then pour some kind of alcohol over your embraced hands. The alcohol then trickles into the aforementioned cup and after pouring a decent amount of alcohol, you take the collected liquid and share it equally between yourself and your new friend. Down the hatch with your collected dirt, germs, and sweat and out comes a real friendship!

My new friends invited me to go to Kampong Cham with them that day and EVEN offered me a car to take me back that night (“It’s only two hours away,” they exclaimed) but I opted to stay in Romeas Hek and watch the soccer games between my commune, the neighboring communes, and Vietnam as well as join the party that night with my host family. I was glad I did so, too. That night my host sister, her friends, and I danced up a storm. They all wanted to learn to dance “American style” and so I tried to teach them the most PG way to shake their hips without breaking any cultural norms. Essentially I gave them the elementary school version of high school dancing in America.

The night wasn’t completely innocent, however, as I was persuaded to drink some rice wine and some “medicine wine” from Mondulkiri (one of the most Northeastern provinces in Cambodia) with the adults. The Mondulkiri wine wasn’t half bad and went well with my Cambodian cold-noodle curry dish (called Num ban chalk). I went to bed around 8:30 pm although the party was still “raging”. I’ve now come to terms with how loud the music can be at these get-togethers and can even feign sleep although my room, bed, and I are vibrating with the pulse of the music coming from the three large speakers below my bedroom.

Around 3:30 am I woke up with a start. At first I thought it was a dream, then I thought it was my new anklet that had brushed up against my other leg, because it just couldn’t be what my brain wanted me to think…. that a rat had just walked over my legs. In my half-asleep state I just rolled over and assumed I was imagining things. That naiveté lasted only a second. As soon as that thought crossed my mind I heard it trying to escape my mosquito net. I sat up in a panic. The sudden movement must have panicked the rat as well because it jumped back on my legs to the other side of the bed. Scrambling over the pile of books, laptop, and other things that clutter my bed, I ripped the mosquito net open and I jumped to the floor.

At about this point I was shaking and nearly hyperventilating. I proceeded to just stand there, outside mosquito-netted bed, trying to calm down and listen for noises that indicated it was still trapped. Many things raced through my mind at this time. Mostly I just kept asking myself how that thing could have gotten into my bed… I mean, these nets are supposed to make our beds safe zones, HAVENS, from giant-flesh-eating-Cambodian Rats. I am not joking about the giant part and the flesh eating part was something I just heard about (after putting up a facebook status about my experience, a Cambodian friend reasoned that I was “lucky” because while he was sleeping a rat had started chewing on his ear – no joke.) If you want to see how big these things can get just google “Cambodian Rats”.

After waiting about 20 minutes, I deemed it safe to get back on my bed. My site doesn’t have electricity between midnight and 5am and so I had to really rely on my other senses – namely hearing- because the flashlight I have is dinky (to say the least). I didn’t sleep the rest of the night and left my flashlight on the entire time. If it was going to attack again – I’d at least be able to see it!

Initially I wasn’t going to write about this experience because it has been so distressing to my psyche (and I really wanted to forget it happened) – but now I find it all very cathartic – as well as helpful. After posting about the incident on facebook I got all kinds of helpful suggestions that varied from setting conventional traps, to sticky paper baited with fish heads, getting a pet snake, and arming myself with a fork under the pillow.

Now, after thoroughly cleaning my room and mulling the whole thing over for a day, I have come to terms with the fact that rats may just crawl on me again. However, if they have the cojones to do it again, I plan on being prepared. I don’t know if I am quite ready to get a snake, but am willing to set some traps and arm myself with a fork under the pillow. I may just even want to work on my ninja reflexes so I can just pick it up by the tail and throw it out the window in one quick move.

Or maybe, just maybe, I should sweep up the trail of ramen noodles that lead to the landing in front of my room.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Beginning of the End, or the Beginning of New Beginnings

As I stare at where my toenail once was (a sacrifice I made to the Running Gods for running the half-marathon) and fully take in the fact that 2010 is really over - my mind wanders to the near future when I will no longer be in Cambodia.

It is impossible to avoid going there.

2011 is the year I go home and the year I start the rest of my "adult" life. Although this year will be the year of change, I doubt it will compare to 2010 - the year Kellee lived, breathed, and nearly became Khmer.

The following are a list of memories/accomplishments for the year 2010:

1) Ate dog, spider, snake, and duck fetus for the first time.
2) Celebrated New Years three times (once in January, again in February, and in April)
3) Was bit by a dog (retribution for #1? I think so...)
4) Saw Angkor Wat not once but three times
5) Visited Vietnam
6) Sniffed someone for the first time
7) Learned how to REALLY dance like a Cambodian
8) Swam in the Indian ocean
9) Discovered Justin Beiber (which I initially disliked, was then indifferent to, and now sing along with and have on my ipod)
10) Made amends with the rats that take residence in the ceiling above my bed
11) Became a fan of Prahak (no easy task)
12) Introduced my father and brother to the Cambodian culture (and my Cambodian host family to American culture)
13) Was visited by one of my best friends and her boyfriend (if not my favorite couple)
14) Ran my first half-marathon
15) Drew the ENTIRE world
16) Drank Cambodian moonshine
17) Made some lifelong friendships
18) Read ALOT of books
19) Cried for no reason
20) Laughed for no reason
21) Questioned my sanity (more than once)
22) Learned to speak (some) Khmer
23) Biked more miles than I thought I physically could
24) Fell in love with Cambodia

I know I could never replicate 2010 and am so grateful for everything that happened... even the awful, dog-meat eating, crying-for-no-reason, rat-induced-insomnia parts. I know my toenail will grow back. It usually does. Now it is time to say goodbye to the old and welcome the new. I cannot wait to see what 2011 will bring :)