Sunday, December 19, 2010

Almost Christmas!

I've realized a lot of my blog posts are titled Almost ..something something...I guess I'm always looking forward to the next thing. These past few weeks have been just as packed as November. I'm waiting to see when things calm down, but I don't know if they will. Being busy isn't a bad thing. I went to Angkor Wat and did the 30k bike race. I didn't really race. The other PCVs and I just wanted to see the sites and it was a really good experience. We had dinner and brunch for free at a really really nice restaurant that I could never afford on my volunteer budget. We got up early and had Angkor Wat all to ourselves. We saw the sunrise and climbed on ruins. Here, you can pretty much touch everything, for better or worse.

Afterwards I had to book it back to site because I was scheduled to have my first club meeting that Saturday at 2pm. I made it back at 1:30pm, changed and headed off. I've had 3 meetings to date and it's been a lot of fun. Things never go according to plan and the hour goes by quickly. I think I'll slowly make it longer and longer. Right now, I'm helping with English, but my real goal is to gain their trust and build their confidence. I'm not teaching any English they don't already know, but sometimes the kids are just so timid. My only real rule in class is that EVERYONE has to participate. I will wait 10 min for them to think of something to say if I have to.Yesterday we played Pictionary for an hour and that was only supposed to be my warm up exercise. It's only once a week because of some scheduling issues. If you ask me about this through email i'll give you the real deal on "scheduling issues".

The work weeks has been hectic because suddenly NGOs are coming out of the woodwork. I met SCC and I went to Yeeang, a nearby group of villages, with RHAC. Last week I met a man from URC and I had the most rewarding and honest conversation about the state of Cambodian health care that I have ever had. It was the best 2 hours of my week and I didn't even plan on it. I've been actively visiting villages in the afternoon either with HC staff or on my own. This is a lead in to the crazy wedding I went to last week.

A few weeks ago I called a village health volunteer I knew. The VHVs are Cambodian villagers that communicate with HC and have certain resposibilities, such as giving out birth control pills. Somehow the VHV invited me to stay over her home for a night. I had no idea why. A week later I call her again to try to clarify and figure out its for a wedding. I have no idea who is getting married, but I go anyway. Last Tuesday, I bike straight there after work and for a few hours I just sit around. I wasn't sure when to go because at first she told me 2pm then 1 then 12. Also, it poured for a few hours and the ride on the mud road was not pleasant. I got there and met the bride and watched her get makeup on. I put on my dress after showering outdoors in the open for the first real time. This was how I figured out no one in this village had a bathroom, which is a common issue in Cambodia. I walk over to the wedding area and this is where the similarities end between a small village wedding and the slightly bigger wedding I went to in my town. Apparently, I was the stand in for my VHV, who was the aunt of the bride. So, I started out the wedding by leading the bride around the town. We were all dressed up walking on mud and cow shit, trying to avoid puddles and potholes. I prayed to someone to not let me mess this day up for her. I prayed hard.

After we walked around we got to the groom's house and I handed her off. Then it was time for a photo session. I forgot to mention that while we were walking there were bunches of drunk grandmas and grandpas fighting and dancing. It was a spectacle. I almost got in the picture next to the bride too, but I was relieved when some other relatives bumped me back. Then we walked back to where we started and I danced along the way. The first ceremony is the hair cutting ceremony. This is where we wait and people go up to the bride and groom. They pretend to cut hair as a symbol of starting anew, but without messing up her hairdo. As I'm sitting there, I suddenly get a punch in the jaw. It hurt. I look over and realize that a drunk skinny woman is hitting this teenager that was sitting next to me. He ducked and I got hit. She was a lot stronger than she looked.

I spend the rest of the day chit chatting, eating, taking another shower. Around 8pm we get dressed again and go to the dancing part, except it doesn't really start until 10. At 8pm, its just about 50 people slowly becoming deaf by watching really really loud K'mai music videos. Around 8:30 two women start dancing and they make me and the VHV start too. So now its 50 people watching 4 women dance. And by dance I mean making hand movements and slowly walking in a circle around a table. By 9:30 things have picked up and everyone is dancing. I sit down for a break and get punched a second time, this time in the arm, by a really strong grandpa  telling me to go back to dancing. By 10 I'm already tired, I would keep going but my VHV has started to limp and I think it's a good idea to sleep.

The VHV lives in a single floor wood home, but the single floor in most homes is really the 2nd floor. The way up is by a really old wooden ladder that actually isn't bad except it hurt my feet to climb up. Around 1am I wake up and realize I really really need to pee. The only way to do that is climb down the ladder and try to find a tree. This actually was the best part of the night. After stumbling around in the dark, waking everyone up because the floorboards are loose, and almost falling off the ladder I emerge from the house and look up at the sky. It is lit up like Time Square. I have never seen a sky so bright with stars and the moon, not even camping  in Maine. It was so light out that I didn't even need a flashlight. I stood there and stared for a while.

The next morning I had a breakfast of instant noodles, which is well accepted here. I think I had instant noodles 6 times the past week. Then I biked back in time to go to work. That was the day I had the awesome healthcare conversation. I biked into Pouk today to get some internet and I won't be back on until close to New Years. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sending packages

If you send me anything it may be cheapest if you get a flat rate box from USPS and then stuff a ton of shit into it. Though maybe you can look around online at the different shippers like Fedex or UPS. They may be cheap too.

Week 4 (Continued)

On Tuesday, I found out about something really tragic. I woke up and my host parents were watching TV. I didn't understand why Hun Sen (the prime minister) was making a speech and I was too groggy to care. I took my usual bucket shower and when I got out my host mom kept telling me that people in phnom penh were visiting for water festival and kept repeating a word I didn't understand. I didn't think anything of it and I went to class. There my kmai tutor informed me that over 300 people were killed and 300 more injured Monday night when something triggered a stampede on a bridge in Phnom Penh. The first thought that came into my mind was "wow, that is a lot of people to die in a stampede".  To me this is the epitome of senseless death and it really sucks for a country, that has already gone through so much, to go through such a tragedy again.

Later that day I found out a tidbit that was also surprising. Around 5 I went to the usual English class I help at and sometimes the students overcome their shyness to ask me questions. One girl asked me if I heard about Phnom Penh and what I thought about it. Then she asked me if any tragedies like this happened in America. We started talking about 9/11 and I realized that none of these students have ever heard of it. These were 10th to 7th grade students. They asked me why people died and in my broken k'mai I replied, "because people didn't like America." They wanted to know how many people died. They were curious, but the generation gap was obvious. There was also probably a large difference in the choice of topics in education. For a Cambodian, learning the history of another country that they will probably never see or even come clos to is logically not a priority. I did have another conversation about 9/11 earlier in training with my first host family. That one went more like I expected, but I think thats because I was speaking to my host parents. A generation that lived through it, like I did. Memories are short. We try to learn from history, but how much is ever really learned?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Water Festival and Week 4

* I am updating my wishlist, but really if you send me anything its awesome. Also, try to let me know if you get me something so I don't have 5 people sending me sports bras...Parents, don't send me anything on this list unless you already have it. I have a separate special list in store for you!

So, Water Festival is a three day celebration where they do, surprise!, dragonboat racing. I've talked to some Cambodians and they had no idea that China did it too. The origin story for each country is also surprisingly similar though, of course, the hero in each is the nationality of the respective country. I biked the 30k into the city with Travis and Kyle, two of my volunteer neighbors. By neighbor I mean people in the same province aka state.   Anyway we bike in and the area by the Tonle Sap River, which translated is River Sap River, is roped off and there's street shops and vendors everywhere.

Boats are going up and down the river. Dragonboating here is a bit different than in the states. First, they use super long skinny paddles. I'm not sure how they even move the water. The paddles look like big sticks. The person steering just uses a paddle. Also, some people stand and have extra long paddles. This is particularly hazardous because they have to go under multiple bridges to get to the finish line. We wander around the festival all day and meet up with Kurt who lives about 70 or 80 k away. Kurt and I, together, end up buying 9 bars of soap because if we buy 8 we get 1 free. Also, we save about 2000 Riel, which is the equivalent of 50 cents. This is at least 2 breakfasts for me, you can see the volunteer--no salary for two years, I live in a tiny village-- mentality coming out. Then we go to a pool! AWESOME. There are tons of pools in Siem Reap and the one I go to is basically free if you buy a coke or water. We go get dinner and have fun. Meet up with some K3's.

The next day we go grocery shopping! Yes, Siem Reap has a supermarket. It is amazing. Because it is a supermarket. In Cambodia. Though I have heard there is a Walmart type store in Svay Rieng. I might go all the way there to see it. Anyway, the reason we go shopping is because we are going to cook an American dinner for Travis' family!!! We even comparison shop cause there is more than one supermarket! We buy hotdogs, hamburgers, fries, bread, and condiments. Then we stuff all this into Kurt's backpack so that he can walk all the way to the highway and try to hitchhike back to travis' house. The rest of us get on our bikes for the 16k ride back, which was uneventful except for our big FAIL in trying to register for the Angkor Wat Bike Race/ half-Marathon. It also involved biking across the highway multiple times, which is scary.

Anyway, Sunday afternoon we get to Travis' site and start cooking. We realize we have no idea how to fry frozen fries. There was a big debate about thawed versus not thawed. Kyle pulled through anyway. He had plenty of experience from KFC and Wendy's. There's a joke in that but I'm not going to elaborate. Kurt is awesome with his knife skills. Using the classic Asian butcherknives. In the end, everything is delicious and we are all very full and ready to sleep. We didn't get much sleep the night before and by 7 we were ready for bed. Which is actually normal, most days I fall asleep at 8. Travis' family had different ideas. First, we all go out onto a balcony and awkwardly wait around confused. Turns out day 2 is the moon festival! Travis' host mom sets up a huge table with fruit, candles, and flat rice to offer prayers to the moon. Meanwhile, there are about a million insects, big and small, swarming around us. Flying into our faces and every else imaginable. They are really attracted to light. When the offering is done I think we're all relieved to run back inside the house. We think it's over, but Travis' dad asks if we want to go to the Wat (temple). They tell us tonight is the night Cambodians don't sleep. We all look at each other and we all are thinking the same thing, but we can't refuse an offer. So we all get into the camry and start driving, not really sure which Wat we are going to. It's Travis and his dad in the front. Then Me, Kyle, Kurt, and Travis' 25 yo sister in the back. It's a comfortable but tight fit. We drive in the dark, something I really miss about America actually. After about 15min we reach a wat and drive around it. Since we were tired we arrived too early to the party. Only a bunch of kids were there running around so we just drove out of the Wat, never leaving the car. We don't head back to the house, instead we continue on to Siem Reap City. By this point I start falling asleep because I'm the only one silly enough not to have taken a nap. All I remember from the rest of the trip are candles floating on the river, it was really beautiful. On our way back I snap awake when i hear someone ask " Can I have a pool on the moon?" Clearly we're delirious already, but I reply half-asleep " Of course! There's still gravity, duh!" In hindsight, I'm actually not too sure. Then we start talking about having alien octopus pets in the pool and jellyfish. Somehow I end up trying to explain how jellyfish tentacles can react to stimulus collectively when only one tentacle feels the stimulus and it doesn't use a brain. Yea, I'm a neuro major.

We go to sleep finally! The next day I eat about 6 bananas and then bike back home. I find out all the students I live with went home for the weekend so its just me and my host mom. Which was really nice. Finally some time to just be me. I guess this was way more than I anticipated so It'll have to be continued...

Friday, November 26, 2010

November: Week 3

I'm always surprised when people mention my blog. It seems like going to Cambodia is really what people need to do to get their blog noticed. But, thanks. It's awesome to know that I'm not just writing another xanga entry or live journal or any o my other older blogger blogs. haha. Anyway: Week 3.

Week 3, I got to work on Monday and finished the last day of training with the Village Health Volunteers. I thought that after that I would be free, but it turns out there are 20 more volunteers and four more days of training. On that Wednesday, the Peace Corps medical officers, Navi and Joanne, drove up to Siem Reap for a visit. It should have been simple, but first I found out my Health Center Director wouldn't be present because he had a meeting. He asked the lab tech/ nurse (everyone is a midwife or a nurse, there are very few doctors in Cambodia since their school system is only about 30 years old) to meet with the doctors. The Lab guy seemed to really look forward to it since it would be two women visiting. Come Wednesday, I bike out to a village at around noon. The road is totally washed out and I walk my bike across a pond. The pharmacist and assistant are about half and hour late arriving and we are half an hour late starting, but it doesn't matter because only about 20 people show up for vaccines. We just sort of chill out and eat oranges and unripe mango dipped in what tastes like ramen noodle mix. It's actually really good. Then it starts pouring. After scrambling to get all my stuff out of the rain I realize I'm going to be late getting back. It's about a 9k bike ride on a rocky bumpy road and now it's all muddy too. Awesome. A few minutes after it stops I bike back, as fast as I dare to because as most people learn in Cambodia you risk decorating your back with mud when you bike too quickly.

I finally make it back to the health center. I'm really really sweaty and the first thing Navi does is give me a hug. I apologize immediately. I also notice that the lab guy went home and instead my midwife has to see the Peace Corps docs. Not sure if he forgot, I miscommunicated, or he just delegated, but whatever. This kind of thing happens everyday. The rest of the visit goes well. They visit my home and talk to my grandma at first then they cycle through people and eventually my mom comes home from work.

The next day I get up early and get a taxi to Siem Reap. Getting a taxi is not a simple as it seems, but it's also very simple. Basically, I have to get to a certain place in town by 7am. There, I wait until I see a taxi like car pass by or stop. When it stops I ask how much it costs and I get in. Then I wait for it to pick up more stuff, passengers, or just sit there and do nothing. This usually lasts about an hour and I think 5 u-turns. When we finally get to Siem Reap this guy, that I met on my trip to Siem Reap with the students, calls my taxi driver to have a conversation with me because he saw me pass his tuk-tuk. It is a small world. I eat a quick breakfast of ice tea and a brownie and get online for about 20 min before my Program manager comes to pick me up with Kurt, the other health volunteer K4 in my province. We go to meet the Provincial Health Director, except he's busy and the person under him is busy too. Eventually, we meet the Deputy Director of Maternal Health and she is a very nice woman. Later we meet the Provincial Police Chief who is also a Brigadier General. We each receive a nice silk scarf parting gift and, eventually, someone in America will be the lucky recipient of this gift. Later that day we go back to my town, after we drive up an absurdly ditchy dirt road to drop off Kurt. This time my parents are home, but mostly its my host dad awkwardly sitting there while the PM interviews me in English. Site visits are for the higher ups to see my living and working conditions and deal with any issues. Then we go to the health center and the PM has to meet with the midwife again. Part of the conversation was asking the midwife what I could improve upon. Mostly they just say my language, but that's a given. She's clearly really nervous about giving feedback.

This nervousness is like a wall I come up against every single day. The older students are shy or nervous or scared, I'm not really sure. So it's just super awkward at home everyday. The staff, most of the time I think that just don't have time for me or they really don't know what I should be doing, but when you ask them directly for feedback or guidance they get very nervous. People find it hard to speak directly to me. The whold not knowing what I'm doing is a big part fo it htough. Since I'm part of the first group of health volunteers I really don't have a precedent to follow so we're all just doing what we can and each situation is truly unique. I have friends that can give presentations in English and have it translated, but I have no one that really can translate. Some have NGO's established in their towns, but mine mostly work on an outreach basis. Some Health Centers are new and have rooms for meetings, we have meeting in the waiting room. Sometimes there's a woman that just gave birth lying on a wooden bed while meetings go on....Each situation is just so different and we all are just trying to figure out what to do with what we have.

Anyway, that weekend is water festival and us K4 volunteers have big plans. More on that later...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

November: Week 2

 That Sunday, I go to a wedding that I was invited to. I get up at 5am because I have to be at the house by 6:30am, put on one of the 2 appropriate dresses I own, and head out. It's sort of awkward being all dressed up and walking down the street in front of everyone. People stare and tell me I'm pretty which is a pretty common occurrence, not because I'm exceedingly pretty all the time but because it's just a common compliment to make on a day to day basis. If someone dresses up or does anything different, everyone knows and comments on it. I get to the house right on time and find a long line of chairs. They're red plastic, typical, and placed in pairs facing each other. I'm totally confused and had no clue what to do. My first kmai tutor lives in that house and we started helping put fruit and snacks on the chairs. By fruit and snacks I mean big baskets with ribbons. They're all arranged to be offered at the wedding. Eventually, people started showing up and I am totally underdressed. When I get a chance to upload pictures, you'll all realize that it's pretty easy to be underdressed at a wedding. After putting the fruit on the chairs everyone picks a seat. Eventually, all the seats are filled then we pick up the offering and form a procession down the street. Men playing instruments lead us down the street and we walk a about 1 k to the wedding house. Then we file in and sit down. There's a band, but they accompany these two comedian/hosts. As far as I can tell, they know all the motions of the ceremony, but they also crack a lot of jokes, sing, and dance. After the ceremony we all eat rice porridge, which is wayyy more delicious than it sounds because its cooked not just with water but in a really good chicken soup. Everyone eats as fast as they can because they all want to go home, which is sort of strange considering they got SOOOO dressed up for the event.

So we all leave and wait until around 11. I put on my second dress, my host sister and aunts also dress up. My host sister went to Siem Reap the day before and bought a pink prom dress for 30 bucks, which is a lot of money here. Pink prom dresses are an example of typical attire for weddings. We did our makeup and put on heels and everything. When we finally get to the wedding it's just like a big buffet with an open bar, but I don't drink anything because women typically don't drink here. We get some really good food, but I notice my host sister isn't eating much. Usually she could eat an entire horse herself, but still stay stick skinny. It turns out her dress is too tight and she can't eat. On my other side just so happens to be the host sister of another volunteer. It's a small country. Oddly enough, we once again want to book it out of there even though we put in so much effort to be there. All the while, music is blasting. If you've been to a rock concert you experienced about the same amount of music blasting except we were not really far from the speakers on the stage. We were next to them. It seems that my efforts to keep my hearing will be completely wrecked because there's no concept of going deaf because the volume is too loud here. At the end of the buffet, we put our money in envelopes and quickly flee the wedding.

The next day I visit more villages and help in the Center with Vitamin A dispension. Then, Tuesday is a holiday so no work. It's a pretty typical day. Get up at 5:30 and brush my teeth. Eat my waffles, bananas, and peanut butter for breakfast. Then I do my laundry. It's sort of meditative and a work out at the same time because I repetitively handscrub my clothes for about an hour and a half. I hang them up to dry and start reading a book. I sing a little with my host sister and then after lunch a random van shows up. It turns out that the 5 students living with me are going to Siem Reap City for a day. They ask me and my sister to go to and I agree because they said they would be back early and that they had to go to school the next day at 7. I was worried tht I wouldn't get back in time for work the next day, but it seemed logical that they wouldn't miss school. So off we go. Spontaneous random trip to Siem Reap. We are driving along and i start becoming concerned because I have no idea where we are going. We drive on the bumpy road up a mountain and we end up at a big fish shop. We get out and there's just piles and piles of fish everywhere. I am thoroughly confused. Turns out that we were meeting the parents of the students. Behind the shop is a huge lake called the TonleSap. We walk down the street back to the van and someone whispers to me that there are a lot of Vietnamese people here.I ask them why and they reply that its because they are good at fishing. Anyway, we get back in the van and actually do drive to the city, but with the parents too. It takes about an hour to find the hotel then everyone showers and changes, even though 2 hours ago they changed to get into the van. I only brought pajamas so I just put on my "old" clothes. We went to a big restaurant, ate good food, and then went to Angkor Cyoon yoo. I've been here once before. It's a carnival with rides and games and food. It was a lot of fun though the rusty ferris wheels and small rollercoasters sometimes felt like I was risking life and limb.

Overall it was a fun day.  I thought we would be going back, but we didn't and it was too late for me to get my own ride back. The next morning, I didn't get back until 11 because, even though we woke up at 4am, we didn't leave the hotel until 7, didn't finish breakfast until 8, and didn't get out of the market until 10. Throughout this morning I was fielding calls from America, call my HC director, and my kmai tutor trying to make me go to an impromptu meeting with RHAC. Plus my cell battery was dieing. Somehow, it all ended up working out and work was cancelled because and RACHA decided to start a 2 week training for village health volunteers. I ended up being able to meet up with RHAC, another NGO, later that week.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Crazy November week 1

So later that week I go to work and do the usual chit chatting. I ask this woman next to me, she's with her daughter, her name and which village she's from and blah blah blah. Later that day I realize she's my next door neighbor and owns the big gas station. That was embarassing. Then I find out I'm going to the village to do a vaccination run. For various reasons, I haven't been able to go yet and this would be my first one. I ask multiple times about when they are leaving and each time they say 1pm. So around 12:30 I start walking to the HC and I see the pharmacist on her moto with her assistant going the other way, 30 min early. She tells me to go ask the Director for directions. So I go over and I ask this little girl, who I assume is his daughter, to get my boss. She goes inside and tells in a tiny little girl voice that her dad is resting. So I walk to the Health Center and some lady is giving birth so no one is available. Then I walk all the way back home and have no idea what is going on. I'm feeling pretty low at this point and really dissappointed. Half an hour later, my director calls me. Half and hour after that I'm in the village giving out Mebendazole and Vitamin A . I meet the village health volunteer and we have a really good talk. All the kids are shyly listening and looking at me. It was a really awesome experience.

Then I got home and somehow I ended up teaching my sister how to sing Love Story by Taylor Swift since it's really popular here. Then she asks me to do a random Britney song that I have never heard, but whatever. And we just sing and sing and sing. It ended up being an awesome and happy day.  I also realized that without music life would not be worth living.

Friday, November 19, 2010


If I could describe this month with one word, which I can, it would be "insanity". For some reason, my second month at site has decided to be a crazy, hectic, rollercoaster month in more ways than one. In order to accurately transcribe these events I will be updating this blog this weekend and next weekend, yay for training in Battambang! I will begin with the first week of November...

So, for Halloween I went into the city and I saw a bunch of volunteers. It was awesome to catchup and see everyone dress up. Though I, lamely, just put on a dress. I told everyone that I was either a Cambodian, a Korean, or a Japanese person. It's ironic because most people think I am those people on a daily basis. I got back home on Sunday and everything was fine. Got ready for work on Monday. I woke up at like 3 am on Monday unexpectedly for reasons I will not disclose here. But it really set the tone for the day. Went to my kmai lesson things went well. Went to work and went home. That afternoon I realize I can't find a pair of dress pants. I wasn't sure how i lost a pair of pants, but I only have 3 pairs and one has a huge hole in the crotch. So I decide to get another pair made since my butt doesn't fit most pants here. I go to the market and they tell me they don't have the material and I have to buy it in Siem Reap. I go to a tailor down the street and she tells me its 10 bucks! A fortune considering my other pants were 5 bucks. I go to another one and he's not home. I go to another one and they only make shirts. Later I go back to the one that wasn't home and he tells me he only knows how to make clothes for men even though I just want him to copy another pair of pants I already had. Some other things go wrong later that day and to relieve some stress I decided to go on a bike ride to Yeeang village, about 5 k away. I've made this ride a few times before and it's on a really big, nicely packed dirt road. I went a bit farther than I intended and realized that if I didn't book it I would be really late for this english class I help out at. I don't really help that much, but I like to hang out with the students. So I'm biking pretty fast and the road isn't bad. I'm almost home when I see a giant coach bus comming down the road the opposite way. This road is big enough for 2 lanes so I should have no problem. There's a moto in front of me and I watch him pass the bus, it's a tight fit. I make it past, and then I'm on the ground. I cleared my bike and skid a foot or so, reminded me of snowboarding actually. Luckily, there was no traffic behind the bus and I fell onto the road instead of off the side of it into a ditch. I get up and my left knee is throbbing. There's a small rivulet of blood running down my leg.I stand around trying to figure out what to do.

Then a nice guy on a moto rides up. I think he was by the bridge I just past fishing. He offers me a ride on his moto, which I should have taken, but instead I reflexively quoted the Peace Corps rule of not riding motos, ironically this is being changed at the end of the month. After a few minutes, I suck it up, ride the last 1 k home and my host sis helps me clean and bandage everything. Somehow I busted my left knee and also bruised the back of my right leg. I really don't remember at all how I ended up on the ground and now I'm a little more scared and wary of large vehicles. That day while I was bleeding, one of the girl's that lives with me had her mom visit unexpectedly and, equally unexpectedly, a monk came with her. In some cases, women are not allowed to touch or make eye contact with monks. Though actually it's the monk that should be the one trying to avoid doing those things. I'm not the one that took the oath. Anyway, I was limping around. The monk was watching me. The mom was watching me. I'm bleeding, I'm limping, I'm accidentally cursing in front of a monk. It was a crazy day. That was November 1st. The beginning of a journey that I think is a test sent by someone to test my patience and adaptability. Gratefully, today, three weeks later, I can say that my knee is almost fully healed and I'm riding around again. Another update tomorrow!

Friday, October 29, 2010


Sometimes happenings are artistic. Or they are semi-organized events that make a point, but here in Cambodia a lot of things just happen to me. Here's a list of things that have happened to me:

1. I biked about 30 k through floods, rain, and intense sunshine from Siem Reap City to my village, Sasar Sdam. While I did plan to bike home, I didn't realize that the torrential rains everyday had flooded the national highway. I also did not account for the fact that I would encounter torrential rain during my ride. Everytime I got to a cloudy patch I tried to peddle a little harder and get to a dry patch. When I got to the dry patch it would be intensely hot and my clothes would dry only to bike into another rainy patch. My bike was also stuck on a really high gear so near the end of my ride I was being passed by women biking in skirts with 50 pound rice bags on the back of their bike.

2. My job mostly consists of conversing with patients about almost anything. Last week, I talked to this woman for an hour because she was worried I would be kidnapped on my morning runs, which I hope she is exaggerating about.

3. Almost everyday I get asked, "Are you bored?" by at least 3 people multiple times. At first I would always say no because I wasn't bored. Everything was so new to me. Now I admit I am sometimes bored because it's a slow process to find enough projects to keep me busy like I used to be in America, but I also ask people if they're bored. And they are. They are very bored all the time and sometimes I wonder why they don't do something about it. I'll go on a bike ride or visit a neighbor, but some people just watch TV all day.

4. For some reason, really old Jackie Chan movies are really popular on tv. I watch at least one a week and sometimes they have chinese/english subtitles. And let me tell you, Jackie Chan movies are hilarious. It's way better than Rush Hour at combining action and comedy. At one point in a movie, Jackie Chan was dressed as Chun Li and mimicked her mannerisms perfectly.

5. One of my crowning achievements so far came one night while watching the usual werewolf soap opera from the Phillipines. One very short lived character made a joke and for the first time I fully understood a joke on tv, thought it was funny, and laughed because it was funny. It's rare to laugh because I think something is worth laughing. Usually, I laugh because I notice other people laughing. I have only a partial idea why and mostly I just want to fit in.

6. A few days ago I wore a hoodie in a tropical country and it was good. It's weird the things that make me feel at home, but I guess after 4 years in maine heavy clothing makes me feel at home. With my hoodie on I can almost pretend it blizzarding outside and I have a paper due in 5 hours and the campus just lost electricity due to falling branches. To this day, i still don't really understand how so many branches can fall everytime it blizzards. By the fifth blizzard there shouldn't be any branches left!

Saturday, October 16, 2010


I keep putting heavy boring things on this blog because that's whats on my mind, but plenty of funny and cool things happen too!

Some time in the past 3 weeks, my  host mom shaved my face with a razor and I'm not talking about a razor with a plastic handle. It was just a razor. Luckily, she sent someone for a new one right before it was my turn so no risk of any diseases if i get accidentally cut. Originally, it was just to shave my eyebrows. Something I agreed to because I needed it. And she did a really good job with all the other girls. I told her that in America we pluck eyebrows all the time and we don't shave. Her reaction was that plucking hurts like hell and why would people ever want to do that? Which is very logical. Though having a razor next to your eye also seems to carry some risk. After she finished the brows, she kept going. I didn't know I had hair on my cheeks but they were shaved. She did my whole face, but really I couldn't see the difference afterwards. I don't think I had that much hair on my face outside of the eyebrow area to begin with, but clearly she thought it was necessary to remove it all. Will I do it again? Probably not the whole face shave. But the eyebrows, definitely.

Wear and tear


Sometimes I wish i could just spend all day watching DVDs in my room. That much hasn't changed about me. It's weird to think that I've been here almost 3 months already. It seems long, but not in comparison to how long I will be here. And yet each day passes at its own pace. I have no control over the movement of time, but only of my perception of how it moves. A slow day is slow because I think it is. Because I haven't been able to think of a way to make it pass quickly. Being here has really been a mental battle at times. This being most evident at night time. In the 'middle' of the night, which here is about 11 or 10 pm, I'll half wake up and all the things that bother me during the day will just manifest itself. Some nights i'll be hopelessly itchy, thinking that ants or mosquitos are all over me. Some nights, I'll wake up midsentence, voicing the negative thoughts that I keep inside all day.

All of these things are just inside my head. Taken objectively, none of these things alone are really worth worrying over. A few ants, some mosquito bites, they're all part of life. Nothing huge, but everything adds up. All the pressures, annoyances they become the easy way to deal with the larger hardships. The fact that most days I'm practically mute. People, whether conciously or unconciously, don't speak to me because they know I won't understand. And I, choose not to speak to them because I don't have the ability to. This is not an issue I can fix except through persistence and continuous learning. A long and slow process, but the effects of my ineptitude are felt everyday.

In a way, I'm caught in an awkward transition stage. During training, I was a baby. Learning the necessities for survival. My family knew this and they treated me as such. It was continually rewarding because each small baby step I made was instantly praised. I could see the effects of learning a single new word immediately. Here, it's different. I'm expected to be an adult, to do a job. I have the mindset of an adult. The ability to observe, learn, and analyze as an adult, with a college level education at that. But in this country, I speak like a toddler, my best friends are children because they don't rely on language to bond, and I'm completely illiterate. The act of learning to read, of memorizing the alphabet, an exercise that seemed second nature to me as a child, is proving to be more of a task than I could have imagined.

As I write this entry, I have been living in my village for two weeks already. It seems like an eternity at times and I have to keep reminding myself that friendships and relationships take more time than that.In that time I have accomplished a lot already. I've started going to work everyday, which consists of observing the Health Center for 4 hrs a day. I've already started teaching English to my coworkers at the Health Center and I've found that the bonds there are slowly growing. At home, I play "basketball" with some kids with a ball I bought and some days I teach a mix of yoga/aerobics. There's some confusion with my language tutor, but, as with everything, I'm just dealing with it as I go. I've biked to my nearest neighbor for a visit (16k each way) and another neighbor has biked to me (30k each way).

Hopefully, when I write my next entry I will have accomplished so much more and will have found comfort in my new routines. Though really, as with life anywhere, you can't really predict what will happen. For example, this weekend was a 4 day weekend which could have been immensely boring. The first day I biked to my friend's house and when I got back I found out that the 6 people living with us (students of varying ages that live with us to be closer to school) were going to Siem Reap City for 2 days. The next day was slow as expected but I got some errands done. The third day everyone returned much earlier than I thought they would and somehow I ended up going to Angkor wat with my aunt. We packed 8 people comfortably into a toyota camry. The concept of seating is drastically different here. In fact, the Peace Corps vans have seats in the trunk so people can ride back there. I once saw a moto strapped to the back of a van with a person riding on on the moto instead of in the van. After angkor wat we had a picnic and went to a random carnival. There, on a full stomach, I went on a really fast ferris wheel and another ride.  All of this was totally out of the blue, along with my host sister's departure for Phnom Penh tomorrow.

I'm in the city so I can post this entry today. In the past week, not much has changed, but a lot has changed. With my sister gone and school starting up, not many people are around for my usual yoga sessions. I'm definitly on my own a lot more. I came into the city to get my bike fixed, which has been a source of constant aggravation. More people than I can count have tried to fix my bike, but unfortunately a mountain bike is a bit difficult to understand. It's funny, but most of the time people don't even see the problems with it when I first show them. But, to me it's obvious. The chain touches the sides of the cage on some gears, the bottom of the cage on others. But, most people initially just change the gears until they find on that works and they're like OK it's fine. I think they don't always realize that ALL of the gear combinations are supposed to work. Not just 5 out of 24.Anyway, I'm trying really hard to just let it go and ride it out until i can get a new bike. It's really understandable why people think this way. One, they don't usually have mountain bikes and nobody has told them how it works if they do buy one. In fact, I went to a store selling tons of brand new mountain bikes and they really had no idea how to fix my bike, though they proceeded to do so for an hour. Two, I look around most people's bikes and realize that they get really beaten down. Bikes cost a lot and they are the main, and sometimes only, form of transport. A simple bike can last for years and if the chain still moves the wheels when you pedal then that's awesome. Weird sounds, such as the chain rubbing against some metal, are common place. Which is probably why no one saw a problem with my bike and everyone said it was fixed. I'm the only one that knows that my bike should run silently, that parts should not rub against each other like that, that with a two month old mountain bike all the gears should still work. It seems strange that getting this bike fixed has been one of the most frequent reoccurring instances of the cultural gap and it's the one that makes me angry most easily too. There's just a culmination of all my frustrations. Cultural, language, and realtionship issues all come into play. Everytime I start getting upset I have to keep reminding myself that it really is not a big deal. if it breaks, I'll get a new bike. That's that. shit happens. But, sometimes it's just so hard to stay objective and reasonable ALL the time.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Going to Permanent Site

Today, I took the bus up to Siem Reap city. Tomorrow, I'm heading to my permanent village. I'll be there for the rest of my time in Cambodia and hopefully I'll like it there. I'll be living in my village with a new family and a new town and a new job to get used to. To top it all off I'll be in the village alone, as in the only volunteer. The next volunteer is about 15k away. Pretty much, my job is whatever I make of it. The first few weeks/months I'll just be learning to live again and getting to know people. I have to report to the health center every day, but I really can't do much yet because I need to learn a lot more k'mai. At the schools, it's a little easier to get started because they have a set national curriculum and also english speaking teachers. At the health center, a lot of it is just up to me and my own initiative. It's easy to just sit and give up. I have to make the right connections, identify needs, think of projects, start them, and finish them. There's not really a boss looking over my shoulder to make sure everything is going according to some grand plan. I hope I'm ready for that kind of responsibility because I know some days will be hard. Those days will be the ones where I'll be able to kick myself in the butt and make myself go to work and do what needs to be done.

On a lighter note, today my giant coach bus stopped by the side of the highway to pick up bags of cucumbers.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A few random things

Right now I'm sitting in a coffee shop in Phnom Penh. It's odd, but I never realized, until now, how much coffee shops remind me of home. The last two months I was in New York, I spent going from coffee shop to bakery to library in search of internet so I could study for MCATs and now I'm doing the same (except for the MCATs part, I'm pretty sure I never want to do that again).  Wow, this internet is super fast (for Cambodia). I actually just loaded my first youtube vid in 2 months. And let me tell ya, the adrenalin rush was better than when I get stuck on the top of the rock wall and go into a blind panic.

Something else that reminds me of home is doing aerobics. Picture doing a workout dvd, except your not at home. Instead, your standing in the middle of a huge concrete/tile sidewalk that actually is just a giant divider for one of the busiest streets in the biggest city in Cambodia. There's random music blasting on the speakers and you are surrounded by 20 to 50 year old women and some men. There's about 50 people just sitting on their motos watching you. There's a skinny K'mai guy who looks about 15 doing dance/aerobics moves and everyone is following him in (almost) perfect sync. Depending on whose leading the group, this can actually be an intense workout. Not to mention that it's 90+ degrees/ 80% humidity every single day. I've heard that this type of public exercise is also really popular in China, but that's just a rumor.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Almost done! (with training)

This morning I left my training host family and got on a "van" to Kampong Cham town.  My host mom and little brother started crying as we walked away. It seems strange because I feel like I should be going home to America now. Like I just finished a summer internship and I've learned a lot and now I should be going back to Bowdoin to cram for exams and run around in a snow storm. Instead, I'm going start this all over again. Part of me is really frustrated because I worked so hard to adjust and integrate into the community and right when I feel comfortable it all gets taken away again. The next 3 months will be harder than the last two, mostly because o I will be on my own. It's me and the village. That'll be a good book title.

So because I was leaving this week I decided to loosen my eating principles for a few days. That was a mistake. I think one night I ate so much rice that I had a stomach ache for about 2 hours after because it was just too much. They eat so much rice here. I'm talking a dinner plate mountainful of rice and then they go for seconds. And after the rice I had a pineapple smoothie. My host family has been making fruit smoothies for me for the past week except for a few days where our electricity was out. The last 2 days I've have double meals because I'll eat with my family and then my host aunt will invite me to eat again and I can't say no cause she'll be really disappointed. Also, I really like the food they make. This morning for breakfast I had fried rice with beef and then I had chicken curry with french bread. That's one of the things the french did right here. They left awesome bread behind. If only I could get whole wheat or 12 grain...

On a semi related note, in order to burn off a lot of the rice I've been eating I've been biking more. I'm very proud to say that I biked 15k on dirt, mud, and by the side of a lawless highway.  Though I've biked further here, the 15k was at a fast pace for me and I was exhausted. Unfortunately, the nearest town to mine will be about 15k away so I'll get a lot of practice. Eventaully, I hope that I'll be less dirty and sweaty after 15k because I'm sure my friend's host family will not appreciate a sweaty smelly girl showing up every weekend.

In less than a week i'll be officially sworn in, but before I left this morning my host sister put my hair in pigtail braids and I put on my aviators. I'm going to leave you with that image and the word 'badass'.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Back in Phnom Penh

So I did the 3 days with the host fam and also some time back in Siem Reap town. Today we came back to Phnom Penh for the first time since we arrived in Cambodia. The bus took super long. Somehow the people that left an hour after us made it to the hotel before us. After we got to the hotel, Kurt and I tried to go to the Peace Corps HQ, but we ended up getting lost for an hour. It was an adventure. Walking around Phnom Penh, I definitely get the feeling that this is just straight up a city. If Siem Reap was Time Square then Phnom Penh is the nitty gritty business part, without the glitz and glamour. It's weird, but part of me prefers Siem Reap. It's a little more relaxed, with time to just walk around and look. Basically, I can be in a daze and act as touristy as I want in Siem Reap, but Phnom Penh is a bit more stress. One up side to Phnom Penh is that there is a chinatown here. Yea, strange. I had hand drawn noodle soup and dumplings for dinner today and both were really really good. Reminds me of home. Going away from training and Prey Chor really made me realize how easy I had it. I had a host family that understood me and I understood them. I knew how things worked at home and around town. Now I have to learn it all over again and that sort of sucks, but I just gotta deal.

Cute anecdote of the week: While I was with my host family, I was able to teach my baby niece to bow to me. Haha. She is so cute. She's about 1 and loves to run around in shoes that don't fit her.

So, I'll be in Phnom Penh for another day and a half. This means that I will probably be online, usually either early morning(in America) or early evening (in America). Hope to chat with some of you!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Siem Reap town

If you're a New Yorker and you've tried to walk through Times Sq on your way to something important then you know how I felt today. Today I took a bus from Kampong Cham to Siem Reap. We are staying in a super nice hotel , aka has AC, and we walked around town. There is a mall. Something I thought did not exist in Cambodia. There are supermarkets. There are tourists and lots of them. There are giant beautiful buildings for the rich foriegners. It's ironic that when I first came to Cambodia I was shocked at all the things that were different from America. Now I'm surprised when things are shockingly similar. Part of me is glad. For maybe an hour's commute I can go to what is pretty much a big city and blend in with the tourists, but a large part of me feels really uncomfortable with it. There's just this unease with seeing the tourism industry at work and then going back and living with a family in a Cambodian village in a completely different world. It just seems strange that millions of people come to Cambodia and they see Angkor Wat and they see Siem Reap and they think they've seen Cambodia, but really all they've seen is a facade. It's as real as the lights on Broadway.

Tomorrow I''m meeting my new host family and living in my new home for 3 days...hoping for the best!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Site Announcement DAY!!!


It's 3:55Pm on a Wednesday afternoon. I'm home today because I decided not to attend the afternoon session on PACA since I felt sick. I just woke up from a very sweaty, hot 3 hour midday nap and I feel so much better. I'm just grateful that whatever I have is nothing compared to what I could be sick with and what I've seen others sick with. I'm sitting in my mosquito net with the fan blowing down on me. My window is open and the smell of burning plastic from the trash piles wafts in. Roosters are crowing for no obvious reason and the drone of monks has been going on in the distance for the past few hours. My host parents just came in. They're very worried. They have their own beliefs about why I'm sick and they really really want me to take a warm bath which actually sounds good because the cold water makes my muscles ache. Usually, I embrace the coldness, a welcome relief from the daily heat and humidity.They handed me a plate of apple slices and it is the best thing my mouth has tasted all day. My upset stomach is rejoicing to finally eat something that seems clean and pure and relatively easy to digest.

On Saturday we're all finding out where our permanent sites are going to be and the next day we'll be traveling there. This is a huge moment. During training there are, to me, three big moments (three that are scheduled anyway). The first is going to your permanent site to visit. This is where I'll be living and working for 2 years for better or worse. The next is the LPI, which is the language proficiency interview. If you pass your golden, at least to continue your studies at your permanent site. If you don't, then you need to study harder. The third and final event of training is swear in. During trained we're all PCTs, Peace Corp trainees. After swear in we're all PCVs, Peace Corps Volunteers. At this point I think a lot of people are just looking to swear in. We can make it through this one day at a time until swear in. I'm keeping this in mind, but at the same time I like to keep my goal as surviving the two years and thriving. My philospohy has always been to aim as high as possible, but to keep a realistic mindset. With the MCAT, I always said that my goal was a perfect score, knowing that I had a less than likely chance of scoring anywhere in that range. But having a lofty goal means that the goal is not my limiting factor. I want to make through these next two years happy and healthy. It might not be like that and when things happen I have to let them happen, but I'm not going to start by believing anything less. Seeing the other PCVs and seeing the other PCTs that have been through so much shit already and are still here makes me believe that actually this goal is completely realistic, it's just more long term than most people like to plan. Even thinking about the people who chose to leave doesn't really change this mindset. They made the decision that was right for them and if the time comes for me to make that choice then I won't hold myself to a rigid goal. I'll just make new goals to look forward to.

On a more humorous note, the cat tried to get into the shower with me yesterday and it was persistent. Throughout my shower I would just hear these thumps against the door and when I tried to leave it blocked the door. Sometimes I think about giving it a shower because it probably needs one, but it'll probably freak out and give me some nasty wounds.


So...I am going to Siem Reap. I know some people reading this just got really excited. For those of you that don't know, Siem Reap is a huge tourist province and it is home to Angkor Wat. Briefly, Angkor Wat is an ancient complex of Hindu temples that stretches for miles. It's beauty is unrivaled and millions of people come to visit each year. Angkor Wat is about an hour from my village. I don't know what my home or family will be like but I'll find out on Monday. Tomorrow, I'm getting on a bus to Siem Reap and there I'll be picked up by my new family. I'll only stay for a few days and go back to training. Today was definitely a rollercoaster of emotions and when I go back to my training village I really don't know what I'll say to my host family. I've grown so close to them and I've gotten used to my house and my town. It'll be a huge transition to get used to a new family, a new town, a new province, a new language (they speak a different dialect), and at the same time try to make my own way and do the work I was sent there to do. In a month, I will pretty much be on my own, by myself, and that scares the shit out of me.

-Thanks to Justin for fact checking and Che for grammar. and Saeed for letting me borrow his comp. Yes, they are reading over my shoulder...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Almost half done! (with training)

this is the cat. you will understand later.
I have today off because it's Sunday so a lot of us headed in to Kampong Cham town. Right now I'm sitting luxury. I have internet of a reasonable speed, a fan blowing straight into my face, electricity, a cold coke, and no mosquitoes in sight.

First some logistics. America, if you called me please call again!!! I'm sorry I keep missing your call! Also, i don't get caller ID for America so please leave a message so I can call you back. THANKS! Yea this happened to me 3 times. 
Also, I received some mail!!! It was awesome. One took only a week to get here and one took 3 weeks, but they got here and they were in pretty good shape. So don't be afraid. haha. If you send a package do it with a flat rate box. It takes longer but its wayy cheaper. My address is on the left side bar. I gtg to the market, but this will be updated in a few hours.

UPDATE: Alright, so these last few weeks have been cool. We just had practicum week where the health volunteers shadowed at various sites and then we taught in a school with education volunteers for one day and then we did a health survey. Teaching was sooo much fun. Which is weird because I usually hate teaching a class. It was definitely hard, but there's something about being ok with humiliation and making fun of yourself that is really liberating. This Monday was my bday, but I chose not to really tell anyone so it wasn't too eventful, but I was ok with that. Ironically, a list with all the bday's came out on Tuesday so everyone found out a day later. Then, i think it was Thursday night, my host dad broke out the christmas lights and I was extremely confused. He did the usual teaching me k'mai words and I didn't think much of it until my relative started coming over and then my k'mai teacher came over and then they broke out the cake. The cake had a sign that said "Happy Birthday Helen. We Love You" on it and I pretty much was 2 seconds from tears. Luckily, I ran upstairs to get my camera and had time to compose myself because it was a pretty epic bday party. Instead of singing happy bday my family played happy bday karaoke songs on the tv with our insanely good sound system, this eventually transitioned to Chinese children's songs. Picture me, sitting at a round table, surrounded by Cambodians, a home made cake (no frosting), and chinese children's songs blasting in the background with little chinese girls acting it out on the tv. Yea, it was an epic birthday.

On a random side note (Kerry you'll love this), a cat is in love with me. So one day, after an hour and a half of hard manual labor aka laundry, I was hungry and my mom made me fried rice. I ate pretty quick and there was a cat hanging around, which happens a lot during meal times. As I was eating there was a piece of garlic skin and i just threw it to the cat. It ate it pretty quickly and I didn't think anything of it. The next day I'm going back up the ladder to my room after my usual morning bucket bath and the cat follows me up. I don't think anything of it. That night it's in my room and it won't leave. I put it right outside of my room on the rug and it just come back in. I try to shut my door, but my door doesnt shut all the way and it squeezes back in. I'm ok with it until I try to get in bed and it tries to get in with me. Normally, that's not an issue, but the pets here are not vaccinated, don't have flea collars, and have numerous worms. If anyone remembers, I am extremely paranoid about fleas, though at this point I'm more worried about the worms. So i try to push it off my bed and it is holding on with its claws. The way a Cambodian bed works is that there is a giant queensized wooden bed frame, but a tiny twin sized "mattress" about as thick as a sleeping bag. And when I say tiny, I mean that it is about as long as I am tall. If i sleep with my head against one end, my feet are only about 2 inches from the other end. Some tall PCTs have to sleep diagonal. Anyway, so the cat is trying to cuddle with me, I finally manage to push it off my bed and then it just sits there staring at me for about 15 min meowing. Everytime I said "no" or "go away" it would just look at me with its sad cat eyes and meow. Then my little brother saved me by taking it downstairs. The next day everyone thought I had a fear of cats.

I thought that was the end of that. The next day i reaarange my room so that my door can close all the way. I hear it meowing a little, but I go to sleep. About 30 min into me snoozing, I hear this loud THUMP from above and I look up. There's something moving up there. The walls of my room don't go all the way up to the ceiling and I see the cat walking along. I'm like " shit, PLEASE don't jump onto my mosquito net and on my face." Luckily it just walks along the wall. I see it stop and try to jump in but it doesnt. Ten minutes later I hear Meows for help because it got scared of heights and got stuck on a book shelf... Now the cat just meows at me during dinner time, but I avoid eye contact so it doesn't get the wrong idea.

Next Saturday, I'll find out where I'll be living for the next two years. People are pretty nervous, but where ever I end up I'll just have to deal. And right after we find out, we'll be visiting the host family for a week. Things are happening pretty quickly and I'm trying to keep up with it all. 8 hours of classes and extra work after and trying to keep up with daily activities like laundry is tough. Laundry takes like 2 hours since I have to do it all by hand and it takes the entire day plus some of the next day to dry since it's rainy season here. I'll be back online the next saturday night and maybe during that week since I'll be traveling. Be prepared.  Also, pictures are up on facebook!

PS: it's been one month since I landed in Cambodia and a little over a month since I left home. crazayyy.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Back to the grind (almost)

This weekend has, so far, been really great and I'm lucky to get online again so soon. I traveled to see a PCV that is currently in a district town and the town was right by a lake and it was really beautiful. Not to mention, the house we were at had the cutest little puppy everr. I have pictures that will be uploaded. I also got to meet a lot of PCVs from the region and got to ask a million questions.

Today was really interesting because I really started thinking about the way things are in Cambodia. Yea, initially it was a huge shock. I was trying so hard to just adjust to everyday things. But now a lot of us are looking to the future. In 7 weeks training will be over and we'll be moving to our permanent sites. There we'll be trying to change peoples perspectives and opinions across a variety of fields and to create self-sustaining change. At least thats what they tell us in the brochure, but today was really the first time I thought about the system and really understood why it is the way it is.

I think a lot of times, being an American and a young person, I have a very skewed view of history. Even in my relatively short life span a lot has changed in America and those events drive how we act and the path of our country. Events like 9/11 and Katrina are subconsciously and consciously pushing our country down certain paths. History is not just in the past, its part of our everyday lives. No where has it been more clear for me than in Cambodia. I can come here and I can complain about the toilets and the health care system and the education system, but all of these things are basically only 30 years old and were recreated by people with little resources or experience in buildings these kinds of infrastructure. I walk around and the people that I live with and joke with have lived through a genocide. Their past is always there and yet, for two weeks I walked around totally oblivious. All I saw were things that needed to be changed, but in retrospect it is amazing how far Cambodia has come in such a short time. If you're at all curious the history of Cambodia is very rich and intriguing. Google Khmer Rouge to start and go in either direction from there.

Tomorrow I'll be heading back to my village. Training has been tough. Sometimes we have 4 hours straight of language and then 4 hours of technical and then I go home and try to understand my family which is a like a big logic puzzle sometimes. My brain is just tired and the roosters at 2am really dont help at all. It's been stressful emotionally, but that part is slowly getting better. There's only 7 weeks left and I have a ton left to learn.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Going Exploring

Im back in the Province Town, which is like a small city where the hotels have internet. My hotel doesn't so I had to trek to another one and I'm mooching off another PCT (Peace Corps Trainee). We're staying here for a night before we go off to visit a current volunteer for 2 days. The volunteer that I'm going to visit is in the Northwest part of Cambodia so I have to get up early tomorrow and bus it there. Bot sure how long it'll take but maybe around 5 hours. She lives in a town called Pursat, which I have never heard of, but lonelyplanet says it's a good place to rest on your grand tour of Cambodia.

These past 2 weeks have been hard. That's the phrase that I use most of the time. Think back to learning how to ride your bike, being potty trained, learning to brush your teeth, learning to shower, learning to speak, read, and write. Those things were hard when you were a kid. They're harder now. My first night in the village, my 12 year old little brother taught me how to brush my teeth again. He put toothpaste on my toothbrush and mimed the motion. Then he got water from the shower tank and I was like, what am I supposed to do with that and where do I spit? He waited for me to brush my teeth and I tried to do it as fast as possible. Then I mistakenly spit into the water scooper, that was a big NO NO. As I was relearning how to brush my teeth, my legs and feet were being repeatedly attacked by mosquitos and I was jumping around trying to not get dengue fever on my first night in the village. The entire time, my little brother is just watching me and patiently waiting for a 22 year old to relearn how to brush her teeth.

Everyday I am so thankful for my host family. I could not have wished for a better family. When they think I have a cold they give me warm shower water. When I get home from class they clean my bike and move it into the house for me. After they noticed i wear a headlamp to the bathroom and shower they installed a new light. At lunch and at night they slowly try to teach me new k'mai words. Once in a while they run around with this electric tennis racket mosquito killer because i am getting bittin up like a delicious steak dinner.

Internet is pretty nonexistent in my village so I only get it when I come into the bigger city. The easiest way to reach me is by cell phone. I have it with me 24/7 and I get up around 5am or 6am everyday. Class starts around. 8am. I'm also free all day Sunday. If you call, please leave a voicemail because my phone won't show international numbers. It costs me a fortune to call since I have a pay per minute phone, so I won't be doing that too often. Incoming texts and calls are free for me though, so go wild. Also, if you send any mail write US EMBASSY PEACE CORPS CAMBODIA in big letters so they dont look through it and tax me for it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Going to the village

So, this keyboard has all the keys but tis really sticky so not every key will come out.

Today was sort of a sad day because we got split up into our village training groups. The 50 or so people I've been with get split and sent to 3 villages tomorrow. I'll see them once in a while when we come into town, but this is goodbye for now. It's also a really exciting time because we're all meeting our host families tomorrow! I've been studying K'mai for about 3 days and hopefully I won't make a complete fool of myself. I know how to introduce myself, order food in a restaurant (as long as it has stirfry and rice), and the members of my family.

OMG the tv in the hotel lobby suddenly started speaking English. It's some HBO show with soldiers in either Iraq or Afghanistan that I don't recognize. This is blowing my mind right now and I've only been out of the country for a week. Two days ago, I caved and spent 4.50 on a burger. $4.50 american dollars is a fortune out here. Usually my meals are about a dollar. The money system here is really interesting. They use Cambodian riels interchangeably with american dollars, though if you flash anything bigger than a 10 they think you're rich. If you're not Asian, they also probably think you''re rich. Comparatively, you probably are. I cringe now when I spend over a buck fifty on food. The per capita gross domestic product here is less than $2,000. In America, it's about $40,000. That's how crazy the disparity is. Here, if you're rich you can get away with murder, though that happens in America too.

The soldiers are singing Jay-z. i miss Jay-Z. Write to you all in a week?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Settling in

So, this keyboard has all its letters rubbed off. Bear with me as i try to type correctly. These past few days have been amazing. Each day I've been in a new country or city. Last night was the first time I slept in the same bed twice. I'll try to go through it all briefly in chronological order. Monday I landed in San Fran for orientation. That was just exhausting. I was up for about 21 hours that day and I ate about 5 peppermints in the afternoon because I was starving. Flying Virgin America was awesome, but the food is super expensive. We all went out to eat together and I met all the awesome people I've been traveling with. The next day we checked out at 8am and spent the day in the airport. Flying to Hong Kong is a marathon.

We got there around 6pm the next day and since we're all jet lagged and crazy, we went to see the town. It looks almost exactly like Chinatown, but with a lot of hills. I did not like the hills. Got up early the next day and took Dragon Air to Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh is awesome. I was only there for a day but we got to ride in these cool taxis called tuk-tuks. Basically, the driver is on a motorcycle and it pulls along this carriage, sort of a smaller version of the central park carriages. For a dollar or so you can get around town really quick. I love it because in NYC i can never afford a taxi. We met all these Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) that showed us around and it was amazing. After a year or two they were all fluent in K'mai and It really gave me something to aspire to. Phnom Penh itself is, i think, the largest city in Cambodia. It's sort of similar to Shanghai, but without all the new development and buildings. Here we did a day and half of orientation and getting a lot of stuff done.

The next day we took a bus to Kampong Cham Province. The town we're in is also city like. It has a huge market and vendors and everything we really need, except tp. Here we did more orienting. We met out LCFs, Cambodians who know English and are going to teach us the language and culture. They are great. Really nice and friendly and they are great teachers. I feel like I'm learning so much everyday. It takes all my energy to just keep myself focused. Every interaction and observation has to be remembered. It really is a 24/7 job. I didn't really feel jet lagged until I got to Kamponf Cham. Ready to sleep at 6pm and I cant helpo but wake up at like 4 or 5 am. I am wide awake at 4am. Today I got my new mountain bike. For those of you that know, I am not good on a bike. Not to mention there are NO traffic rules in Cambodia. So, I really am not ready to go out on my bike in the city. Luckily I'll be going to my training village soon and I'll be sure to practice my bike skills. Today is Sunday, my off day. So i'm a bit more coherent now, but I am having a full day tomorrrow. No idea what it will be like though.

If you want to call check the time difference. I'm usually free at night, not too late though and on Sunday! I am ahead, so right now its 1pm on Sunday, but 1 am Sunday in America. Calling instructions are in my previous post.

Packages anyone? I need bike lube so my new bike doesnt rust and die.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

calling me

phone number on my blog, i have to pay 20 cents a min on a small budget so i probably wont call home. think about time difference and im usually busy from 7am to 8pm. it's free for me if you call and it wayy cheaper if you buy a phone card online or skype my phone or something. you can also email. i'll try to check for the next 2 nights. here are instructions:

My phone is pay per min so I will try to conserve money. I am most free on Sundays. That is my off day so i will be more likely to pick up, but remember I am half a day ahead of everyone so sunday afternoon your time is monday morning my time. This keyboard is so frustratinggggg. haha. it took me like half an hour to type these last two paragraphs.

luckily i have plenty of time because by 5:30 am jet lag woke me up. Jess, i totally understand how you feel now. It was so much easier as a kid when i could just sleep whenever i wanted until the jet lag went away. awesome. off to breakfast. i love the food so far. no big suprises. i did have a cricket yesterday. it just always makes me think of all those hours i spent in lab disecting them. icky. but it tastes pretty good, i prefer foods with less small parts though. I swear this blog will clean up soon. Correct spelling and all.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I'm leaving tomorrow!

This post will have to last all of you for the next 5 days at least because that seems like the length of time it'll take me to make the entire trip to where ever I'll be living for the next 2-3 months during the training period. I'm getting on my 7am flight tomorrow (flying Virgin America, sounds fancayy) to San Fran. I'll be in San Fran for one night and fly to hong kong the next day. Since the flight to Hong Kong is about 14 hrs I'll land in Hong Kong at 6pm their time, the next day. I'll get to spend a night in Hong Kong and then I'm flying DragonAir (that's right, it's a dragon) to Phnom Penh. I'll stay in Phnom Penh for one night and go on to the mysterious "Training Hub Site" the next day. I will be training in Kampong Cham Province, with three possibilites for which district I'll end up living in during this time. Either Tbong Kmoung, Prey Chor, or Chamkar Leu.

 I will probably have sporadic email and communication during the first 2-3 months because it's not my permanent site. Everything will be changing rapidly for me and I probably won't be able to keep in touch very well. I won't even have access to all of my belongings during this time so please be patient.

I'll miss all of you so much, but I'm sure this time will fly by for all of us. Life goes on.

PS: I'll probably be updating my contact info because I've been given like 3 different mailing addresses and it's really confusing right now. so stay tuned...and email me or comment lots!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


It's strange, but I didn't realize how much changed on that day that I graduated until today. Until I found myself, literally, pacing back and forth in my basement because I couldn't bring myself to do anything else. I am on the edge of something and I don't know if I want time to move forward or slow down. I know every moment is a gift, something precious. At the same time, what these next few days, weeks, years hold for me is constantly on the horizon, huge and yet unimaginable. What should I do? I need to pack. I need to clean my room. Get ready. I also need to go on facebook, check my email for the trillionth time today, watch tv, read my current book, plan for tomorrow. All these things on my list, but all I do is think about time. Time has become a mindset. If I want this week to go by quickly, it will. If I want it to be excruciatingly slow, it can be. But, what do I want?

I can say right now, and this will always be true, that I am so grateful for all of my friends and family. The biggest reason I want time to move faster is so I can go to my next dinner date with a friend or so my roommates will get to NYC sooner! Even though Cambodia is less than 2 weeks away, my mind is mostly focused on who I'm going to meet up with next. Maybe it's some strange coping mechanism, but I can picture very clearly holding hands and skipping through time square with Nandini, Nehal, Kerry, and Jess. I can't even describe how much I look forward to seeing everyone these next two weeks.

Saturday, June 26, 2010