Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Kampot River Cleanup

Next I would like to tell everyone about a very successful week I had in March.

I had my official site visit by my country director and program director on March 12.  They got to come and see my site and talk to my counterparts and school directors and things went pretty well.  Then they discovered that Jen and Jake, a married couple in Kampot (provincial town), had helped plan a river clean up with some of the expats and the governor.  Well my program manager (PM) caught wind of this and offered to give me a ride.  On the way down we spoke a little about the scope of the project and at the time I didn’t know how involved of a process it had been but thank god for Jen because she coordinated so much of the whole operation.

The next day, March 13, I woke up around 545 got to the river front to help set up all the tents and table and get everything ready for the 200 volunteers we were expecting.

Organizing 200 people is a pretty daunting task, however after the Governor discovered the operation we had a little over 400 people show up and offer their volunteer services.  This of course put a bit of a stretch on our supplies seeming as we had enough plastic gloves for 300 and the kids kept playing grab ass and breaking them, then of course they wanted new ones.

Despite the turnout doubling our expectations we managed to field a pretty successful day, Jen and a few other volunteers were in charge of the groups that would stay on the land and clean up the riverside, and myself and Katy Strong took to the high seas of the mighty Kampot River.  The Cambodian Journal, an English newspaper in Phnom Penh even sent a representative and photographer down for the event.

Anyway, the cleanup was a wild success and everyone got to enjoy some free lunch afterward and, not to toot our horns too much, the river did look a lot cleaner after we had finished picking up the garbage.  There was something peculiar that did happen during the cleanup however.  When we climbed out of our boat onto a grassy shoreline some of the children I was in charge of began to clean up the biodegradable material, and I had to basically give them a lesson right there on what went inside the garbage bags and what we could leave behind.

After this experience I decided to do some research within one of my classes to discover exactly what they thought was garbage and what they thought was otherwise.  It made more sense to me after one of my students described that the dead leafs and coconut shells were brown and ugly, and the plastic bags were colorful and beautiful.

Well that’s all for me for now, on April 6th I will be heading to Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon for all you AMERICANS) to spend a few days in city and surrounding mountains finally making my way to the beach around the 15th for some R&R. I also have about a month and a half off from school because of Khmer New Year and the Kampot Sports Tournament.  Thank you for reading and I appreciate the patience in between the recent posts.

Wedding Season

Wedding Season in Cambodia is a very special and hectic time for a volunteer.  Along with the usual workload you must budget your time between keeping up relations by attending weddings that can last up to 20 hours.  Okay so as a foreigner unless you have some relative in the wedding you can usually get by showing up for the reception, but it still can be quite exhausting.

I’ll walk you through the second week of February and that will give you an idea of the wedding season here.  So first of all I had two weddings that I had formally been invited to, with an invitation with my name on it and everything and neither of them were in the town I worked in.  Boom right there we already have 3 days off of school.  Next you are never really sure when you will get a spontaneous invitation by a Khmer person you haven’t seen in a few weeks to attend a wedding, this week I happened to receive two of these more informal invitations.  So I am already looking at 6 days (4 for actual weddings and 2 for travel) and thankfully my school director was understanding “yes because you are a foreigner you will get invited to many things and will miss some school” he says.

Anyway, now you are probably wondering ‘What exactly happens at a Khmer wedding?’  Well for the all day one I had to find transportation to a fairly remote village where I arrived at around 2PM.  Many volunteers have the opportunity to ‘walk the fruit’ in the morning at 7AM, however I have enough problems waking up for my 7AM class let alone arranging transportation to a remote village.  So I get to the village around 2 and everyone is intermittently eating and gossiping about me and I get to see many of the teachers from my school.  Well I soon discover that the reception or the next part in the wedding won’t start until around 7 so I have a good 5 hours of eating and drinking with Khmer people ahead of me.

I learned a valuable lesson at this wedding because although I had been to a few before this was the first one I actually had some understanding of the ceremonies and time lapses when there was simply nothing to do, because I had a friendly lady from Houston describing what was happening.  I also want to express that Khmer weddings are a really big deal, not just for the parties involved, but for anyone within a solid 5 kilometer radius.  They blare the music, dance for hours, drink like fish, eat, and then do it all again.  So by around 10PM I feel pretty tired (I know 10PM, cut me some slack I didn’t have my afternoon nap) but being a foreigner here is like having the Golden Ticket from Willie Wonka and everyone wants a piece of you.  You get pulled every direction, everyone wants to talk to you, and many times you just want to sit and cry (cough) I mean sit and relax.

It is a nightmare for me because it’s like all the avoiding of all the shady characters in my school won’t fly anymore, I’m there and they know I speak Khmer, and I can’t pretend I don’t.  So soon my co-teacher comes to bail me out and I am put to bed, it feels funny writing that because it’s like I’m an overgrown child, but whatever, if I didn’t get out of there I was going to throw a tantrum that would make a toddler losing their favorite toy seem mild.

So cram the above experience 4 times over into one week and you have a volunteer who needs a vacation.  Lucky for me I have found a polite way to turn down invitations now, and now I almost whole heartedly refuse to attend a party unless another volunteer will be present.