I just got back today from a Health Education Volunteer meeting in Phnom Penh. Volunteer organized and volunteer run. Every time we all get together to share I leave more motivated to work on new projects. This post will be a bit disjointed. I want to get some stuff down that I wrote on my list but never managed to get around to typing about. First up, pajama sets.
Pajama sets are popular here. I'm not talking about a set from Victoria's secret. They are plain old pajama sets. A top that buttons up and some loose pants. Both must have the same pattern. Pajama sets are worn everywhere. For my birthday, my host family gave me a pink floral pajama set. Unfortunately, they are ridiculously warm and sweat extraordinary amounts when I wear them.
Second, eating carbs with carbs. Cambodia is not a country where the Atkins diet would ever work. Everyday, people eat rice 3 times a day. And it's not a little serving of rice. It's a huge full plate. Then on some days we get fried noodles...to eat with the rice. I love fried noodles. I don't like rice as much, but I eat them together anyway. There's really no other choice in my house. It seems absurd, but it's just another part of my life.
Third, being Asian in an Asian country. You'd think it's easier and sometimes it is. I know some volunteers whose faces just automatically make children cry because they've never seen a caucasian before. On the other hand I have the same conversation with everyone. "Are you japanese? Are you Korean? Where are you from?". "You're American? Why don't you look American? I think your parents are from somewhere else." Sometimes its enough to make me want to scream or at least shake someone. The really hilarious part is when Cambodians pull their eyelids and say "This is what a korean looks like" or when a kid trying to sell me bracelets tells me my eyes are small...umm...no our eyes are the same size.
Fourth, NGOs. There are so many NGOs here that there needs to be an NGO to keep track of them all, no lie. Some are good and, factually, Cambodia would not be able to run without NGOs. A chunk of the Cambodian budget is from NGOs. Unfortunately, this causes a countrywide dependency on foreign aid with no sign of diminishing. In addition to this, there are numerous NGOs that are not legit at all. Most of the time Cambodians don't know better and foreign donors don't know any better. On the Cambodia side, it stinks. People are trusting these foreigners and working with them, but getting very little or nothing out of it. Sometimes, they'll build a road or give a water filter, but where does this leave them 2 years from now when the road has huge potholes or the filter cracks? The Cambodians wait around for the next irresponsible NGO to come around and give them new roads and filters because no one ever told them where the filters come from or how to organize and fix their roads. Some NGOs are bad because they give a bad name to volunteers in country. When you say you're a foreigner most people immediately jump to thinking you're a tourist. If you tell them you're a volunteer then you are some temporary being that has come to give them something. There's very little trust at times because you can't trust people that will disappear in a month. People can come and help and feel good about themselves, but in a month they are gone. They don't know the language, the culture, or the people. They think they help, but in reality they are really harming the work others are doing and creating a culture of distrust and dependency in Cambodia.
Fifth, maturity. I am finally very very tired of talking to people that giggle every other sentence. I would really really like to have a real conversation where I am not being interrogated and where I am not being ignored and where the person speaks in full sentences without hiding. It's like there's permission to speak or act disrespectfully to me because I am a foreigner. In part this is caused by the lack of investment by past volunteers. If I'm temporary then of course you can act however you want towards me. If I'm just some rich voluntourist then it doesn't matter all that much. I'm not your equal. But, I will say. For every person that ignores me or asks me rude questions there are many many more that have intelligent conversations with me.I have seen great improvement in every student that started out speaking to me in a mixture of giggles, kmai, and silence. Things change everyday and sometimes, most times, I'm just along for the ride.