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!