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.