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.