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.