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.