Saturday, December 17, 2011

A long December

So far December has been a pretty dull month in terms of traveling about and visiting places in Cambodia.  At the beginning of the month I did get to go to Angkor Wat (some of you may have heard of them) for the annual half marathon, but other than that most of my days have been spent lulling around my site and getting to know my community better.

I have met some interesting folks though.  One of the teachers at my school has a beautiful farm in the countryside where she grows (what else?) rice.  I planned to visit her farm for a short afternoon and ended up spending the whole day there. 

I have discovered that in Cambodia it is often very rewarding to go off the beaten path and see how the rural people live because Chhouk is by no means a large town, but it varies vastly from the rural countryside of Cambodia.

On a different note I started my club and am now teaching a writing class at the school.  It’s going well and the students seem to enjoy it but I am having problems getting them to stretch their imaginations.  One exercise I have found works well is to write a list of adjectives on the board and have students write a question using an adjective from the list.  Then I redistribute the questions and have different students answer the questions.  It usually turns into a pretty lively activity.

I have also started planning for my garden at school.  This has been a big project that my school director wants me to get underway so naturally, I have been putting it off.  However I now have a list of supplies that I need and will begin fundraising next week.  Wish me luck.

Thanksgiving was a success and our lovely K4s in Kampot cooked us a killer Thanksgiving feast, but it was bittersweet because one of the volunteers I have gotten close to was sent to Bangkok for an angiogram (heart) and missed the holiday.

Up next is a vacation to Monkey Island off the coast of Sihanoukville for Christmas and for my Birthday I do not believe I will be doing anything special which is fine by me.

One disclaimer I would like to make about my blog is that now I have been in Cambodia for almost 5 months I am beginning to see a lot of things here that no longer surprise me.  I realize that to the outside viewer many of the things I walk by on a daily basis and used everyday would require a detailed explanation of why? and how? but as I progress towards integration (I use the word ‘progress’ because no matter what I do I will never look like a Cambodian) I begin to see things as normal or tradition when I know they are not (at least to some of the target audience of this blog). 

So please if there are any questions about what I post do not hesitate to prod deeper as I’m sure I have overlooked many chances to explain various concepts or events

Sunday, December 4, 2011

More Pics

My house

My kitchen

Jelly (she got ran over)

This is an interesting picture because the apparatus you see before you is a dud B52 bomb that was dropped on Cambodia during the Vietnam war to try and stem the supply route of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  Today it is used as a bell to signal the beginning and end of class.

My school and students preparing to clean the school.

different angle of my students

Avg. Cambodian classroom.

Principals office, library and a few more classrooms.  Taken facing the opposite direction of the picture with the students seen earlier.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

You can't make this stuff up

I know, 2 blog posts in 2 days lucky your right?  Well this one is worth a mention in and of itself.

I observed my co-teacher give the first real test today in the Cambodian classroom and I should have seen what was coming.  There is a certain sense of community here that you don’t get anywhere else in the world and it is interesting how accepted a thing like cheating on an exam can be.

As soon as he had handed out the tests the students went to work completing the few test items they knew before looking to the stronger kids in class.  That’s when the fun started.

Everyone was up out of their seats watching the stronger students in class and copying their answers, one kid literally hand his test out the window and it was handed back five minutes later with all answers completed.
 Now I will give them credit because although the way in which they cheated was blatantly obvious and the subtly of their answers actually made me laugh out loud in front of the class.

Here is one of the sample questions:

Q: Tell one thing you will do tomorrow.
Kid 1 A: I will go to Chhuk market and buy food.
Kid 2 A: I will go to Chhuk market and buy clothes.

After I had seen that I had what could only be called a cheating riot I felt really small, not literally but in a figurative sense because it was obvious to me that this was just what the kids were accustomed to and to try and change something like this would be confusing to the kids.

But damnit I’m going to give it one hell of a try.

Monday, November 14, 2011

skinny me

Hello again!  Missed me did you?  Well I have been quite the busy little volunteer over here and finally have some down time to blog again and catch everyone up.

Some things about me and my current state; my weight, my Khmer has improved exponentially, miss my family and friends more than ever, and my school seems to have a lot of days off.

First thing, my weight.  I have lost about 20 pounds and am down to around 160lbs.  I arrived at a jolly ole weight of 180 in Cambodia and since eating rice and vegetables everyday have significantly altered my diet, and I had a horrible case of food poisoning during a TELF workshop in Phnom Penh, the weight has simply melted away.

Actually, that brings me to a funny little anecdote about how sick I was.

So I arrived in Phnom Penh on a Friday and spent most of the next few days glued to my bed and toilet, missing a large portion of the workshop, but around Tuesday I began to feel better and thought I might venture out and try to eat something (I hadn’t eaten a real meal in about 3 days).  So I hopped in a tuk tuk and went to a glorious burger hole named “Mikes”.  I walked in and was immediately taken by the aroma of beef and french fries.  I was so excited and all smiles when walking up to the counter and proceeded to order a burger called ‘The Explosion’ a mix of hot chili pepper sauce on a double decker burger with four slices of cheese, and I got some fries.

Now what I have failed to mention up until this point is the fact that earlier that same day I had requested an audience with my medical officer to make sure this was not anything more serious than food poisoning because I had never had an episode of food poisoning that lasted four days before and was becoming concerned.  Joanne (medical officer) told me to stay away from fried foods and spicy food and described how my intestines were still probably recovering from the food poisoning.

Well as you read above this is exactly the advice I did not heed.  And paid a price.  Would I do it again?  They say everyone makes mistakes and a fool is one who is doomed to repeat his mistakes, call me a fool.
Aside from this one episode of unpleasant sickness I have been a fortress against all comers, and diseases are repelled like they are drops of rain hitting stone.

Second, my Khmer language skills have improved tenfold and I am beginning to be able to express more abstract ideas and understand much better.

You see it is a common teaching practice when schooling in a new language to begin with very formal speech and work towards some of the more informal circumstances and slang terms.  So when I first arrived at site a lot of slang and synonyms I had not learned yet escaped me.  Now I am becoming better at assembling context and extrapolating terms’ meanings.

Next, as the holidays roll around I am beginning to miss my family and friends (and cold weather) more and more.  It is becoming difficult because I wish I was there to see everyone and not to mention spend my birthday with my family.

But I have a job to do here and I won’t go completely without.  Most of the volunteers have holiday plans as well and there is a good chance I will spend Thanksgiving eating turkey, and Christmas and my birthday on a beach somewhere.  The K4s (volunteers who arrived a year earlier) tell me that around the holidays it does get especially tough because you think about the time you are missing away from the ones you love.
All in all I am being treated very well and the people here insist on feeding me every chance they get because since I lost some weight (see above) they have been practically shoving food in my mouth.

Now onto the frustrating Cambodian school system.

The classrooms are very multi level meaning that some students are very advanced and some don’t know the alphabet so it can get especially difficult when making lesson plans and most of the time you must repeat many pronunciations and rules (which I understand is a part of learning any language).
However, there are kids in my class who come to class simply to goof and have no interest in what I am teaching.  I make them leave and do not allow them back into the class around (I would ballpark estimate I have kicked 15 kids total out of my class).  This works for the time being but I know that the next time I have the same kids it will be the same old story and that is what bothers me.

Another frustration comes from one of the teachers who simply want me to teach about every English class in the school and always conflicts with what he wanted before.  And of course, he is my technical team coordinator meaning he sets the schedule.  On the bright side I do have the choice to start my own club and not adhere to his schedule but in the past with volunteers he has created some problems so I am trying to stay on his good side for now. 

Onto a recent vacation I took.

So a few volunteers went to Koh Kong for the weekend and I figured; what the hell?  It’s only a 5 hour lan touris ride (basically the equivalent of an astro van packed with thirty people).  Although I consider myself a fairly large person (not fat… anymore but large considering the circumstances) I am allotted almost no extra room and children and stuff consistently come flying into my lap as people readjust.  I arrived with almost every extremity aching and fast asleep and proceed to almost fall flat onto the ground as I step out.  This is very funny in Khmer culture especially when it is a big foreigner.

But I manage to arrive safely and ended up having a very good couple of days seeing the beach and hiking a small waterfall.  And wow the food was amazing.  A volunteer actually lives in the district town which surprised me because if I lived there I would be blowing so much money on western style food I would constantly be broke.

Lucky for me I have few temptations at my site. Yay! (Sarcasm)

Well that is about it for now, hope you have enjoyed this entry, and to those of you back home; never complain about cold weather.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Work and Play... a lot of play

Last week I began teaching and I have to say that I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.  Although the kids have almost no clue what I am saying I know just enough to Khmer and we can meet in the middle most of the time.  The rest of the time ends up being a class laugh session.

I usually begin with some simple vocab that I can easily describe or draw pictures on the board.  Occasionally we come across a word like 'responsibility'.  Easy enough right?  Well it begins with me slowly (and I mean s-l-o-w-l-y) pronouncing the word a few times with the class repeating.  "Responsibility" I say "responserbity" is what I get back.  Okay so I need to break up the words into phonetics, so I write on the board 'ree-spons-eh-bill-it-tee' and am able to get them to pronounce it correctly after about 4 times.  Next I have to try and explain the word.

This is where things get difficult.  I am going through every possible explanation I can think of in Khmer without just giving them the word (because I have no idea how to translate responsibility) and even trying to explain it in basic English.  The kids just don't get it and about 5 minutes after trying to explain I think I am beginning to frighten them because I am over enthusiastic at even the most feeble try.  I finally go and ask my co-teacher who has taken a phone call and left the room.  He gives me the word and I go tell the kids.  By this time they are all laughing hysterically at my awful pronunciation of the Khmer word and I am laughing at their pronunciation of the English word.  All in all the teaching has been okay, and although its very slow moving every class I feel like my pronunciation is really helping them hear and speak clearly.

Onto my funny story of the week.  So everyday out back of my house there is a group of gentlemen who play soccer and on Wednesdays and Thursdays I go to join them.  There was a small carnival last week and it had a few rides and some small games kids could play, and it happened to be right next to the field where we play soccer.  The carnival usually plays American music (Beyonce, J-lo, Pit Bull, etc.), but no one can really understand anything being said and the lyrics are mostly harmless.

Except for one song.

Now picture me, 23 year old male with a sixth graders immature sense of humor and only fluent English speaker for miles, playing soccer with all these Khmer people who brought their kids to a fun day at the carnival when this song comes on

No joke, I am in the middle of the field and gasping for air, laughing so hard my face is turning purple.  It had to be the funniest thing that has happened to me since I arrived and my only regret is not having anyone who understands what is going on.  Most of the town already thinks I'm nuts because I walk everywhere, and don't know how to hand wash my laundry, and now they are witnessing a first hand total mental breakdown of this new stupid American who just arrived last week.

Needless to say I was a bit embarrassed and my family kept asking what is so funny but I didn't have the heart to tell them and still don't, but I am now officially known as 'that crazy Barang' but its okay because it was well worth what I got out of it, even if it made me look nuts.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

a few more pics

A baby named "David"

Yes, they have pugs in Cambodia

Swear In

My Language Group

Thursday, October 6, 2011

These people don't mess around...

Let me say it was nice to be in Phnom Penh for a few days before swear in to unwind and buy some stuff that I need (instead of getting a stove I bought a guitar, sorry mom).  However the unwind session soon turned into everyone fitting their goodbyes into a few nights and some early mornings.  One thing they don't tell you about Peace Corps is that training is not walk in the park.  Even on your days off it seems there is an insurmountable amount of work to do to either wash your clothes or study the new language.  Now it is all over and I can finally settle into site and have some free time.

Today was my second day of observing classrooms and one of the girls at my school came running up to me very excitedly.  She told me that she was sad because the fortune teller told her she could not marry me but was excited to study English with me.  Never met the girl before in my life but she apparently saw me yesterday (who didn't? I'm the only white person around 6' in this country) and ran to her local fortune teller to ask about her future.  I told her I was making an English club and she was welcome to come anytime, and walked away nearly crying I was laughing so hard.

That was not the strangest thing that has happened to me this week though.  The most uncomfortable I have been since I arrived in Cambodia was not due to heat or bugs, but surprisingly with a close encounter with a man who got a little too friendly.

I was sitting on a bench in Phnom Penh outside a bar waiting for one of my newly minted PCVs when one friendly Cambodian man came and sat next to me.

Now the culture and friendship of men here is different and they like to touch each other and really get up in each others business.  I am not a fan.  That being said you can tell where this is going.  He moves closer to me speaking broken English and I am trying my best to speak Khmer to him and telling him he speaks good English.  Well after I complement him on his English his hand goes straight to my upper thigh and I wince a little because I don't allow other guys to touch me too often (even for hugs).  So I remind myself of where I am and the customs here and slowly lift his hand and put it back in his lap.

His hand goes right back to my crotch.  I take it off and put it back in his lap and stand up.  Now he slaps me in the butt and stands next to me hand remaining on my butt.  Just walk away Bret.  So I start away and he kind of lingers on my path for awhile and finally goes his separate way.

Other than some bugs, heat and gross misunderstandings everything has gone pretty smooth so far.  I moved to my site, finally am able to settle in.  Pretty much have my own tile floor apartment, and looks like I have a pretty supportive staff at my school.  I miss the other PCVs that I went through training with but seem to have no problem finding awkward situations to occupy myself.

My market is very big and I have met a lot of nice people who are always interested in the foreigner.  I walk through the market and time seems to stop for everyone.  Its actually kind of amusing but I'm sure it will get old when I have been here for six months and still get gawked at on every corner.

This weekend I have a trip to Kampot (the beach town, woot!) to get my bike, why Peace Corps could not send it to my site I will never know.  But any excuse to go relax for a day is okay with me.  Next week I have a little more observing to do and then I begin teaching.  Wish me luck and now that I have some free time I will be able to start blogging more often,

Sunday, September 18, 2011

My Mother will be horrified

So I feel like two months into the Cambodian Peace Corps experience I have finally begun to adapt to the culture and the little bit of the language that I know and understand is beginning to serve me better every day.  However, this has come at a price (Mom if you’re reading this skip to paragraph 7).

I will apologize to those of you in advance for some of the things I will share but hey, it just might be the most entertaining thing you read today.

Fried spider legs and roasted crickets aren’t as bad as they seem, I will start out with a creampuff here.  I had them once in Phnom Penh and the texture was the thing that got me and not so much the taste.  I think it is just knowing that what you are eating is (was?) an insect and that really grosses a lot of people out, but it is such a different diet here and many people live to cook and others cook to live.

Dogs are the worst here.  I have had more flea bites than kernels of rice I have eaten, (oh and they are so satisfying to scratch) but it’s a part of the job and have found effective ways to cope.  The little fuckers (fleas) jump off of the dogs when they scratch and because of powerful hind legs are able to spring themselves onto shoes innocently sitting around.  About 2% of the dogs here are vaccinated and about all of them are mangy and have fleas.

I’m gonna leave the bathroom scene out of this because it can become pretty hair-raising for those of you not familiar with the living situation in rural Cambodia.  I will say that I have actually come to enjoy the bucket showers that end and begin each day (bucket showers consist of you taking a bucket full of water from a trough in your bathroom and dumping it on yourself).

Moto drivers are some of the craziest people I have met and are even worse when you put them behind the wheel of a moto.  Swerving in and out of traffic and the few near misses I have seen would make most people back home need quadruple bypass open heart surgery.

The amount of wildlife and nature enables me to become acquainted with many different types of insects.  It’s not the kind of fly you see at a family picnic but perhaps compare these to this size of a small rodent (ok maybe I’m exaggerating but I gotta keep you hooked).  Mosquitoes are the ones you really have to watch out for; most of the other ones just kind of creep you out for a second then you realize are harmless.  Khmer people think it is absolutely hysterical that the Americans are scared of spiders.  The neighbor girl throws spiders on one of the volunteers living with her on almost a daily basis and the family just laughs.

The weather, oh god it is hot.  Hot beyond words with no escape, and your only relief is the end of the day with the before mentioned bucket bath.

Now for the good stuff, I am finally adapting to sweating a couple liters every day, and even have begun to use a blanket at night because it seems to be getting cooler.  Albeit we are heading into the Khmer winter (usually lows around 75-80 Fahrenheit) I feel as though my body is adapting. 

The language seems to be coming to me easier and I am able to speak and listen to a fairly intermediate level of vocabulary, although I often have to ask them to speak slower.  This has been a huge hurdle for me because coming into the scenario I didn’t think I could ever master the language, but once you begin to break it down it can be simple and you begin to see that English is a lot more difficult to learn than people think.

Upcoming events for me are a much needed vacation to a remote island in the gulf of Thailand, and a few days in Phnom Penh before I move to permanent site.  I am excited because I get to see all the volunteers and how their sites are, and get to spend a few days in the presence of western food before I move to my site.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

My site

Let me apologize for the lack of posts lately.  Sorry.  On to business.

So the last week and a half or so has been stressful because we did our teacher training sessions and our community activities which went awesome.  For the teacher training I taught about reflective teaching which is when... you guessed it, brainstorm ways to reflect on your teaching failures and successes.  The class was not very receptive because education in this part of the world is different from in America.  For example the structure and hierarchy of the class is very important and it is generally assumed that the teacher knows everything, it is also considered embarrassing for students to answer incorrectly so it can be a little difficult to stimulate participation.

But these guys are teachers, I mean they have been teaching for years and here I come in and try and tell them how to run their classes.  Although I tried not to be too preachy and tell them how to run their classes age is a big part of the respect system here and I was teaching some gentlemen and women who were upwards of ten to fifteen years older than me.  I went in and simply asked them some common problems in their classes and suggested some ways to remedy the problems.  One big problem that you don't think about too much is that the European population is a little more prominent than the American, so many times the children are taught English from people from England.  This not only becomes a problem with pronunciation, but vocabulary as well.

So I finished the teacher training workshop and began to work on my community project which my group had decided would be based on gender roles within their community.  There is a proverb in Cambodia that says "men are like gold, as when they are dropped they can be polished and cleaned again.  Women are like cloth because once they are stained the stains are there forever". We were by no means trying to reinvent the wheel here but we figured that we could start very small and maybe ask the kids at the school a few questions to get them thinking about why people are treated the way they are and so forth.

We divided the kids in boy and girls groups to get more participation and tried to get them to think of the common roles that men and women have in their society.  We pointed out housework, workplace differences, childcare, education, etc. and listed them on the board.  We told them some of the roles in the different categories in America and then asked them about how things were in Cambodia.  We were surprised to find that the class thought women should be payed more in the workplace and most of the boys had some progressive thinking towards their gender counterparts.

In conclusion I think that the gender workshop went very well and although there is still a lot of progress to be made, this can be one of my projects for my time here.

Onto site visit.  So I live now with my training family in a small village outside of the provincial capital in Takeo (I know that doesn't mean a lot to everyone but stay with me).  Last Saturday all of the trainees met in Takeo to get our site placements and new host families.  This was an exciting moment because until now we have been kept in the dark on what to expect for our site and the Peace Corps was very secretive about our placements.

I found that I will be placed in Kampot province about an hour drive from the beach and I will have my own apartment.  I was really excited when I heard I would be in Kampot because I will be within close vicinity of many other volunteers and the school I will teach at is rather large (2700 students).  So I had originally asked for a place far out in the sticks where I could be in a more rural site and really get to know my community.  Unfortunately I am placed in a site that is the second largest city in the province and has a national highway running right through the middle of it.

Although I did not get everything I asked for, my house is very nice and I can see myself being happy and effective in the site they placed me.  It will be more difficult to integrate simply because the town is so large and the population is fairly transient, but if I am able to get to know the community and they are able to know me I feel like that will be a large accomplishment.  Many other volunteers have exciting sites around me and I will be able to visit them often also.

I will apologize for the lack of pictures also, but when I run the internet here I have to pay by the amount of data I use so it can be expensive if I download or upload a lot of pictures and videos.

Thank you for reading and I hope to post again soon.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Frustrating day

So when learning a language sometimes things are not always clear between your counterpart and you.  Thus begins my frustrating day with the host family.  I wake up in the morning and do the morning routine of breakfast and shower, then head to class.  When I return there are people everywhere at my house, I say hello to a few familiar faces and head to my room.  Out of the blue comes this feeling that this would be a great time to practice Khmer.

I go back downstairs and try to have some simple conversation with a few of the people and they are bombarding me with questions; Where are you from? Are you married? How many people in your family?  I answer the first couple easily enough and begin to feel pretty confident so I begin to ask them the same questions.  Blank stares.

After pronouncing the words in different ways I decide that its just not working and want to head back upstairs to do some work.  So I'm on my way to my room when I am stopped by my host mom and what I believe is her sister.  They ask if I have already eaten and I tell them yes and thank them but they proceed to feed me what I can only be describe as a banana tamale.

I begin to eat it and quickly realize I don't like it, but there is such hope in their faces I decide to take a few more bites and tell them I'm full.  While I'm trying to eat this thing my mom is asking me question using words and phrases that I am hopeless to translate.  She politely looks at me after every question and waits for my answer which is "ot yool" (I don't understand).

Most people would quickly figure out that I am not a native speaker and vocabulary is limited, but my well to do mother repeats the question using the same words and phrases. "ot yool".  Same question asked in the same way.  "ot yool".  Same question. "ot yool".  At this point I am laughing because I don't understand what she is trying to say and in my head I picture someone trying to describe the color red to a person who is colorblind.

Before she can ask a fifth time I manage to navigate through and get to my room to call my LCF.  My LCF comes over and translates what she was trying to ask into "do you know how to walk a cow?"

Just a little bit of frustration and a lot of communication problems but that is the life I come to know.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Practicum Week

Practicum is a week of supervised teaching, we are basically given the names and ages of the kids we will be teaching and make lesson plans based on what we believe their level will be.  My group was told we would have 11th graders so we thought that most of their English levels would be medium low to medium high.  We were surprised to walk into a class of ages from 12-16 and differing levels of English to boot.

So we revised our plans to fit the group and ended up having a very successful practicum (in my eyes) and I feel like the kids really enjoyed it also.  We taught for 3 hours each day from Monday to Saturday and showed the kids everything from hello and goodbye to where they want to travel.  The kids were great and by the end of the week I almost wish I could have this class for my two years of service.  The staff knew that we had been given kind of a raw deal also, but I think that we impressed them with our ability to adapt to the situation and make the best of things.

Onto this Sundays activities (things get kind of sad from here)

Our group decided that we would like to go and see a killing field, and these were places where Khmer Rouge would execute people and torture them until they confessed.

The first thing that I noticed was how long it took us to ride our bikes to the site.  Many times the Khmer Rouge would make people walk for days on end from sun up to sun down to get to where they would be living and working.  To give a general idea of about how far it was the ride took us about an hour to arrive and we are about a hour and a half drive south of Phnom Penh (Phnom Penh was evacuated when the Khmer Rouge took control) so in addition to 80 kilometers we probably rode our bikes 15k to get there.  Thats a total of 95k walking!

Anyway, when we arrive we saw the compound and a few buildings inside.  Immediately once you walk in there is a giant hole to your left.  From this hole they exhumed about 35,000 people.  To put it in perspective it was about the size of a three car garage.  They had some of the clothes that were unearthed during the excavation sitting next to the hole.  Next we walked over to where they had dug a 3x3x3 meter hole.  This hole was a prison cell.  The Khmer Rouge would put people in the hole at night and torture them during the day.

Next we walked up to a building that looked like a small obelisk with steps leading up to it (I know obelisks are Egyptian but its the closest thing I can relate it to).  Inside the structure were skulls and bones of the victims that were exhumed from the site.  The guide around the compound also told us about another pit that had not been exhumed yet because fund were no available but in total they estimated around 60- 80,000 people were murdered in this one location.

Underneath a large tree in the middle of the compound was a sign that said the Khmer Rouge would play loud  music or messages from speakers in the tree so the victims cries could not be heard.  The Khmer Rouge had a rule that no one could be killed until they confessed to their crimes, much like medieval torture you hear about on the history channel, however this occurred only 35 years ago.

This was a very somber experience and for me, the most humbling part of the trip was the willingness of the monks at the wat (temple) to show us around the site and describe the horrors that had taken place there.

So a lot of people ask me if I think I am doing the right thing, or if this is what I really want.  I can honestly say that at this point I am still looking but what better place to look than somewhere I can do some good, and learn as much as I can about a world that many people will never know.  Only problem so far is that the more I learn, the more I realize I don't have any idea whatsoever.

Deep huh?

Monday, August 22, 2011




Some Pics

Here are some pics that I hope everyone will enjoy.

So the first few are of my fellow trainees and I and our host families, we had a cultural roundtable where we were able to ask them questions about farming.  The one you see with me and a bunch flooded rice paddies in the background is Phnom Da, a temple built in the 11th century by the Funans, it is also about 3K from Vietnam.  Some pictures I didn't post are ones of the mountain in Kirivon that I climbed to see another ancient temple, and I took a few of my room and living situation but my house and room are really pretty simple.

On to the events of this week.  So week three was pretty basic more washing clothes by hand and bucket showers.  Rode my bike to Takeo town (provincial city) and bought some stuff, but overall pretty uneventful week.  My host family still laughs at me quite a bit because my Khmer accent seems funny to them but they can understand me most of the time.

Right now I am just kicking off week 4 and my second day of practicum.  Which means that I am in front of a class now teaching about 3 hours a day.  When they told me I would be teaching tenth grade I was a little intimidated because I was actually scared they might know more English than I did (I had to have someone explain the third conditional and modals to me).  However, it turns out the school director accidentally told some of the kids the wrong days and so I spent my Monday teaching a rag tag group of kids we had to go and pull off the street.  Cambodia right?

It went pretty well and we all had a chance to introduce ourselves and I proceeded to do an activity about the cultural differences between Cambodia and America by doing a little true or false.  I discovered that all my students believe Americans are rich, white and speak English (and Justin Bieber is the most prominent American celebrity here).  Anyway, I managed to survive the day and came home to my wonderful mosquito net and another bucket shower.

Hope everyone has been enjoying the blog so far!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Training Week 2

So I managed to find a small burger joint here (No McDonalds is not readily available in rural Cambodia) and may have eaten one of the most questionable hamburgers in the eastern hemisphere.  This was all a culmination of me searching for days on end and asking everyone in broken Khmer where I could find a hamburger.  A solid 75% didnt know what a hamburger was and the rest gave me blank stares, but I get the feeling they don't have a lot of Americans in these parts so it may have been surprising to them that I actually spoke some of their language.

The place was called Golden Fried Chicken and it had everything from pizza to... fried chicken.  I ordered the burger and could not have been more excited at the time.  When it came out I was quickly questioning my decision but realized how far I rode my bike to get to this restaurant, and even if the Apocalypse was raining down I was going to eat the damn thing.  If you have ever had the mystery meat they serve in some high school cafeterias then this would be two or three steps below that, but I have felt great all of today and will probably go back soon.

Also my care package arrived today and I got the treat of Starburst! Thanks mom and dad, you guys are the greatest.  I would also like to give a shoutout to my niece who is apparently being potty trained, give 'em hell and dont let them put the big girl pants on you too early, because there is only a small window of time you can poop yourself and have it be socially acceptable.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

and it begins to settle in

Well, so I have been in Cambodia for about one week and so far it is nothing that has been described to me or what I originally expected.  Aside from the blazing heat, the physical picture that I had painted in my mind before I left home has been far off.  Come tomorrow it will be exactly two weeks since I left my cozy home in Nebraska for the promise of two years of heat, bugs and rice. 

Onto today’s activities, we rode into the hub site along with the other trainees to do some administrative work along with vaccinations and it was overall a fairly pleasant day.  However there is one part of today that has been sticking in my mind. 

On our way to Takeo I rode with an LCF that had been a small girl when the Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia. 

As many people are not aware the Khmer Rouge was one of the most oppressive regimes in the 20th century and systematically killed over 2 million people in a country that had a population of around 10 million at the time.  During the Khmer Rouge any person who had any type of education or even was literate was executed.  
After South Vietnam fell and Vietnam was united as one country, Cambodia’s monarchy was soon to follow.  Cambodia was not supported by the Vietnamese who had arguably one of the most efficient armies in the world at this time, and Pol Pot’s loyalties were with Communist Vietnam.  Pol Pot had been causing problems for Cambodia’s monarchy since he returned from France (he was educated in France) and his revolution really began to build steam once the United States evacuated Vietnam.

As the revolution became more prominent and the communist party of Pol Pot began to assert its power the king was helpless as the countryside became a wasteland and intellectuals fled the country.  On April 16, 1975 Pol Pot marched his army into Phnom Penh and took control of the government, all educational institutions were outlawed and schools were burnt down or turned into communal eating areas.  Possessions became a thing of the past and everyone was forced to live within small tents in the rice fields and harvest rice every day. 

Anyway onto my ride into Takeo.  I was sharing a tuk tuk with one of our more experienced language teachers and she was telling us about her time as a little girl during the Khmer Rouge.  As we looked out into the vast rice fields she described to us what it was like to live in a tent and only have one dress to wear for four years.  On top of that the rice that was harvested by her family was give to a town chief who distributed the rice according to his whim.  Many people ate once a day and few ate twice.

So as I rode into town on an uncomfortable tuk tuk I stopped to think how far this country has come since that period, and about how this is what I will be a part of for the next two years.  All of a sudden no air conditioning doesn’t seem so bad.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Market Day

My group went to the town market today to buy some supplies and clothes, turns out I brought some heavier shirts than I should have and had to go buy a few lighter ones.  It was alright though because they were only 3 bucks piece.  The exchange rate here is 4000 reils for one dollar so I feel pretty baller walking around with 200,000 reils and a fat wallet.  Also got my bike today and it looks like I'll be wearing a nerdy bike helmet for the next two years (Peace Corps policy).

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Phnom Penh

SO... finally here, reminds me a bit of Costa Rica. Except a TON more motorbikes in the street.  Going to my training site tomorrow to start language training and all sorts of fun stuff you do with 11 hour days.  The language is really hard also, but the country seems pretty modern and up to date.  The food is gonna take getting used to because the hearty American diet of cheeseburgers and pizza I have been living the last few years may have to fall by the wayside, but that seems like it just comes with the territory.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Almost here

Well folks as of Friday July 22 I will be leaving for the Kingdom of Cambodia.  Over the next two years I will be  teaching English classes in Cambodia and traveling Southeastern Asia.  At this point in time I have no clue what to expect other than what I have read online and in a few travel books but I haven't heard anything bad from any of the volunteers I have been emailing who are currently serving or have served in Cambodia.  I am looking at this with both hope and apprehension as this will be by far the most unfamiliar thing I have ever done.  Looks like that's going to be about it for now but I'm gonna post again before I leave so be sure and check back.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ryan's wedding

wanna give a big shout out to my buddy Ryan who got married Saturday and wish him the best and congratulate him and his new wife Amy

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

First Day of the Blog

Figured I would start a blog so my family and friends can keep up and comment on my adventures through southeastern Asia and Central America.  Feel free to spread the word and link up by email if you so desire.