Saturday, October 6, 2012

President Obama... and those disappointing Huskers

Well, I want to get my disappointment for the Huskers performance out of the way before I tell you about Obama.

I still enjoy (enjoy is being used as a loose term due to the Huskers performance) keeping up with the games at home but this last Ohio State game was murder for me.  I just wanted to cry.  38-63 OSU was the final score with me walking up and down my house cursing the Huskers and a few curious onlookers peeking in my door.

This week was pretty good for me, I began school which I learned is code for 'we will begin when the school director shows up okay?'  You would think I'd be used to this sort of thing by now but I still dragged my coteacher with me to introduce ourselves and gauge where the classes were in regards to their English level.

That was well and good for Monday through Wednesday but since Thursday I've only been in school for about an hour due to the tropical storm that is currently making the road outside my house into a river.

Finally, and sorry this is such a short one, President Obama will be coming to Cambodia in November after the election and the Peace Corps Volunteers have a chance to meet him.  We made this video so hopefully he accepts our invitation.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Puppies, cows, babies, and bombs

Don’t be alarmed by the title, I just thought I had to add something dangerous to make it a little more interesting.

So the neighbors that I have shared a small housing complex with for the last year left today and to be honest I couldn’t have asked for a better first year with them.  They were so hospitable and sympathetic to me and would cook food and feed me whenever I happened to be home.  They have been a huge part of my experience so far.

They worked for the Cambodian Mine Action Committee (CMAC), but don’t worry there aren’t any land mines around my site anymore.  Most of the work they did was up near Chum Kiri where another volunteer is stationed, but they are withdrawing from Kampot (my province) now because there isn't a real need for them here anymore, which is a good thing.

To explain why they were here in the first place is pretty easy.  When the Vietnamese invaded to liberate Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge, the Khmer Rouge would lay random mines all over the country to try and stop the advance.  Now since recordkeeping and mapping of the fields was practically impossible due to the fragmentation of the government, many of these mine fields went unmarked leaving it to the local population to happen upon a shiny object and BOOM!

But I digress, now that they are leaving and moving to a different province I’m really sad to see them go.  Yes, even though they are the ones who cooked the road kill snake for me, among many other strange dishes.  But that’s a story for another time and place.  I want to say that they were a cornerstone of my social support and I will miss them and their families dearly.

The long wait is over for my new host nephew!  He was a whopping 4 kg (8.8 lbs) (large when you consider my host sister who gave birth to him weighs 100 lbs) and he is really cute.  And a litter of 7 puppies was born while I was away visiting America and they are beginning to put on some weight and look healthy.  I hope my sister lets me keep one this time because they sold the last litter.

My Uncle has finally sold his two cows for a cool $1,800.  This last year I have watched as he fed, watered, and cleaned the cows every day,  and now he seems a little lost and doesn’t know what to do with himself all day.  I’m sure at some point he’ll noticed that I’ve been living in a house near his barn and start fattening me up to sell at the market.

Finally, I took a trip to the mountains in a province called Mondulkiri the last weekend before school starts up again and I had a blast.  We had a group of ten people and we stayed in these nice cabins and absorbed the flora and fauna of the area.  We had the opportunity to go to some waterfalls, go swimming, and went to a promontory were we could see for miles.  I feel like the cool mountain air did all of us some good.

That’s all I’ve got for now, it’s back to school next week and I’m happy to finally have something to fill the hours again.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The camera adds 10 lbs... So does America

I would like to thank everyone who made my trip to America memorable.  That was the most fun I have ever crammed into two weeks.  Throughout my trip I was able to see almost all my extended family and all of my immediate family during my visit, along with many good friends.

                Two and a half weeks is by no measure a long time to visit all your friends and family that you have not seen for over a year, but I feel like I did a decent job of seeing everyone barring a few people. 

Not only was my vacation filled with visiting people but it was also something reminiscent of a Roman buffet when everyone eats until they vomit (sorry for the picture but there were many times I ate until I could barely move).  I would also like to thank my mom for all the baked goods I didn’t have much time to indulge in because I was eating unhealthy amounts of other foods.

                The total count of my weight gain while in America was 10 lbs, but it practically melted away once I returned to Cambodia and I am back to my lean self.  Just goes to show how desperate some of us volunteers can be for a burrito.

                I want to thank my Brother and Sister-in-law and their wonderful daughter, Clara, for giving me one excellent weekend at Worlds and Oceans of Fun.  I had a blast, and I can’t believe how big Clara has gotten in my one year absence.

                I would also like to thank my Mom and Grandma because without you two this trip would have never been possible.  They arranged everything and cooked until there wasn’t a food in the house that was wanting.

                Finally, welcome to all the newly minted Peace Corps volunteers in Cambodia (I even have one living in my town) they have 2 years of experiences that will last a lifetime.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

One Year Mark

It was just about this point in time last year that I was saying goodbye to my family and friends for two years in the Peace Corps.  Well I’ve made it to the one year mark, the new group has arrived, and I’m preparing to come home (just for a visit) to see everyone before my final year of service.

It’s definitely been a year of firsts.
  • ·         First time on a different continent
  • ·         Seen my first wonder of the world (depending on which list you consult)
  • ·         First time living below the poverty line
  • ·         First time I’ve ate numerous animals and insects I had no clue were edible
  • ·         First time hand washing my clothes
  • ·         First time anyone in my life has ever referred to me as ‘Teacher’

I’m sure there have been more, but these are what immediately jump to mind.

On the other end of the spectrum there are several things I have done without that I didn’t think I would miss so much, but have been a huge contributing factor to my overall homesickness.

  • ·         AC, this one is obvious but it still makes me think of America everyday
  • ·         Ice cream, in a country that’s like the surface of the sun there is an alarming lack of ice cream
  • ·         Any type of cake, they have bread but if you are looking for a cake (not in Phnom Penh) you’re SOL
  • ·         My car has been something I sorely miss, farthest I’ve biked in one day is 110k
  • ·         Cheese
  • ·         Anything that’s open after 8PM
  • ·         Dogs you can pet
  • ·         Unlimited texting

I could go on but you get the point.

I didn’t involve all the friends, family and pets in here but I think that goes without saying.  I miss you all!

Since I arrived in Cambodia most of my expertise has centered on keeping kids thinking and learning during class but I have improved in other areas also.

  • ·         I consider myself an expert in mosquito, food, water, and fecal borne illnesses
  • ·         I have read nearly 40 books in the last 10 months
  • ·         Become fairly proficient in a language that shares almost no cognates with English
  • ·         Improved my meager guitar skills
  • ·         Shaving with no mirror
  • ·         Overall knowledge of English grammar

When looking at my experience and how it has changed me, I need look no further than the new group that just arrived.  I wasn’t exactly like them in every aspect but as far as not knowing what I got myself into when I accepted the invitation to serve in Peace Corps, I was right where they are now.  It was by no means easy for me to accept that Cambodia would be my life for two full years, and there were plenty of days I thought one more bowl of rice would do me in, but it’s interesting to see how far you can push yourself when faced with major lifestyle changes or unemployment.

I promised myself to make it to the year mark and then I would decide what my next move would be.  So I’ve reached that point and although it hasn’t always been the most pleasant experience at all times, I will never have an opportunity like this again anytime soon, so in all likelihood I will be spending one more year here.

Looks like it’s gonna be another hot one today.
Dear Mom and Dad, please send money.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

May May What can I do?

Well I can’t say everything went right last month but toward the end of May things really started to brighten up for me.

At the very beginning of May I was organizing an event at my school to teach about reading and how it can be used as a way to pass those hours when most Khmer people just gape into the distance.  I had contacted a university professor in Phnom Penh who happened to be running a program with volunteer students and was more than happy to put on the event at my school.  I traveled to Phnom Penh to meet him and was having some difficulties finding the University when a moto driver snatched my bag from the tuk tuk I was riding in.  Well this didn’t sit too well with me so I leapt from the tuk tuk in what I will describe as a ‘Superman dive’ only to feel his shirt slip out of my hand and watch him speed away.  Ipod, sunglasses, camera, favorite kroma.

Went to the meeting anyway looking helpless, homeless, dirty, pissed.  Proceeded to get advice from all the students and the professor on how to protect my belongings, no shit you’re careful with your things, no tell me how you carry your bag again.  Giving mindless advice to a person who is usually vigilant of things like this but had a lackadaisical moment in a city of opportunity, but I politely listened anyway getting madder the more I thought about it.

The meeting went well other than that and we planned for the event to fall on the 10th.  Next duty was to tell my school director and go about getting some supplies and seats for the audience.

Telling the school director went very well and he gave me his blessing to hold the event, and even offered seats and a tent that his friend had.  Supplies, everyone is on board, I got this thing locked and ready to go.

So I went to Kampot the 8th planning to return the 9th and do one last run over of the schedule.

On the morning of the 9th I received a call from my school director telling me the District office of Education was not going to allow me to do my workshop.  ‘What’?  ‘Yes the elections are on June 3rd and you can’t do your workshop’.  ‘But that’s 3 weeks away’ I countered.  ‘The DOE will not let the school do the event’.

By this moment I’m seeing red, couldn’t figure out what the election had to do with anything, and one day before? So I call my counterpart and ask what the hell is going on and he says the government is scared of large gatherings of people.  So what? There are thousands of kids who come to school every day and they haven’t canceled school.

So I had to call the professor and inform him he couldn’t do the workshop at my high school, something I really wasn’t looking forward to but he surprisingly understood after I described the circumstances.  ‘Is this normal in Cambodia?’ I asked.  ‘Yes’ he replied ‘just wait another week or so and you will see why.’
Sure enough in another week there were mass imprisonments, peaceful protests were violently broken up and the participants were treated to trial in a kangaroo court, and a 14 year old girl was killed in what the news said was ‘indiscriminate machine gun fire’.


I also had two other projects coming to their final events and funding was being received for them.
The first was an art competition in which my school and four other schools in the vicinity were participating, the three winners will be sent to Phnom Penh to see a real exhibit and meet a real artist. 

On a Tuesday I invited all my students into participate and it soon got out of hand with kids drawing on each other more than they drew on the paper, but I had some students take things very seriously and submit some very good art.  The art show is still on progress so we don’t know the winners yet but we should have the results tallied by the 14th of June.

My other project was a workshop for the boys in my grade and I got to take 8 of them to Sihanoukville for a conference called B.R.E.W. (Boys Respecting and Empowering Women).  It may seem a foreign concept, but most of the women still cook, clean, and care for the children, and do not get to go out with their friends often in Cambodia.  So our goal was to promote gender equality.

The boys were very receptive and enjoyed the conference, so I think I can chalk this up as a victory in my Peace Corps service.

Last but certainly not least I was visited by a very good friend I met when I studied in Costa Rica.  We were able to see almost everything I wanted to show her, only missing Mondulkiri by a few days.  It was a gauntlet of traveling by bus and early morning rises to see everything we wanted to in the short time she was here, and by the end of her visit I had been wearing the same giddup for 3 days because we never spent enough time in one place to get our laundry done.  Wasn’t a boring moment and I had a blast.

I apologize to my mom and grandma also because I have been trying to make birthday shoutouts part of my blog but have fell down on several of them.  Happy belated Birthday, love and miss you tons and will see you in August.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Vietnam Pictures

 Crazy House

 Island Tour in Nha Trang (good snorkeling here)

 War Remnants Museum (obviously)

 Night shot from our guesthouse balcony in Dalat

Dalat Central Market

Giant Buddha
Ms. Jill Luckett and Myself in Nha Trang in an all western restaurant and bar


I departed from my site for about 2 ½ weeks on the 6th of April for a trip to Vietnam while the rest of Cambodia went crazy celebrating Khmer New Year (although they technically observe the Gregorian calendar as their official system of keeping dates, they still celebrate events for the Buddhist calendar) which is 3 days but in most rural regions is celebrated for almost a month.  This of course means that I get a fairly large chunk of vacation time, and a few friends and myself decided to take a trip to Vietnam for about 10 days.

Almost immediately after arriving in Ho Chi Minh City we were scammed by some cab drivers who ended up taking us to a money exchange that gave us 4/5 of what we should have received and then proceeded to charge us each $10 for a ride around the block.  So Ho Chi Minh started off pretty well.  After we got our heads about ourselves we figured approximately how much we had lost and for some it was worse than others.  I had an idea about the exchange rate so I only changed $10 and ended up coming out okay, but a few members of my group exchanged quite a bit more.  That night we met up with a few other volunteers also vacationing in Vietnam and tried to forget the whole ordeal had happened.

The next day Stewart and I set out to find the War Remnants Museum and get a feel for the city.  Ho Chi Minh is much larger than Phnom Penh so our map that we thought had a reasonable scale turned out to be much larger than we calculated and things were quite a bit farther than the map indicated.  However we made it to the Museum and got to go see the war from a little bit different standpoint than we were used to seeing it in our history books. 

When I say it was a little bit different I mean there were 4 floors, and 3 ½ of them were dedicated to the atrocities of American soldiers and armed forces during the war.  The first floor was all about propaganda against American Imperialism and even compares the war to the expansionist approach of Nazi Germany.  So Stewart and I looked at each other and immediately decided we would claim to be from Canada.
Second floor was some of the major battles of the war with the French and American armies and the carpet bombing of the Air Force during the later parts of the war.

Third floor was about the massacring of entire villages and had some literature about Bob Kerry and his team.  The second part of the third floor was both my favorite and probably the saddest section of the entire museum, and it dealt with Agent Orange.  There were many pictures of children with deformities of both Vietnamese and American parents who had been exposed to the chemicals during the war.  Many of the pictures had captions and personal stories about the victims and some were very explicit in their descriptions of the effects it had on the population.

The fourth floor had some of the weapons the infantry used and had a final section with a little bit about the policies and history of Vietnam during the period.

I tried to write this to make it as objective as possible but the museum was very anti American and it was hard to write in a favorable or objective tone toward America for the way some of the displays were presented.  I am aware that the Vietnamese were not the most Geneva Convention minded during the war and many of the American soldiers were badly mistreated also.

The last night we were in Ho Chi Minh we stayed the night at a friend’s apartment and got a little more insight into the general attitude of the Vietnamese towards Americans because although the host was American also and has lived in Vietnam for about a year and a half, I had the opportunity to talk to a few of his Vietnamese friends.

I learned that at the end of April there was a big celebration and expressed my disappointment that I would already be back in Cambodia and wouldn’t get to join in the festivities.  Then a little later to add to my humiliation I learned this celebration was an annual event to commemorate the day America left Siagon.

After a few hours of sleep and one too many cups of coffee we all hopped on a 7 ½ bus ride to a mountain town called Dalat where we were told the air was crisp and cool, a nice change considering I have been living on the surface of the sun for around 8 months.

Dalat was everything it was promised to be and we had a chance to break out the fleeces and sweaters that we brought, and this small town had the charm of a village in the foothills of the Alps at an altitude of around 4,800ft.  We spent 3 days in Dalat enjoying the air and some of the attractions it had to offer including one ‘Crazy House’ literally something out of Alice in Wonderland.  I knew that Dalat would be an easy favorite for me because I enjoy mountains a great deal and the fact that I wasn’t constantly sweating because of the heat and humidity was a definite plus.  Nha Trang was our next stop, a tourist beach town about 500km northeast of Ho Chi Minh City.

Nha Trang was a very touristy town and had a lot to offer in terms of beach activities and some sightseeing, but I’ll be damned if it was 110 degrees in the heat of the day.  We had a great time though, and managed to score an island hopping tour for about $6 a person so we came out alright.  Overall Nha Trang was just an oasis with about 4 miles of beautiful beach.

Then it was back to reality and that’s about where we stand right now, heat, sweat, teaching, Peace Corps.