Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Everyday a new beginning.

Hello Everyone,

Wow! You have been a great support.  Thanks so much for your encouragement and thoughtful comments.  I am doing quite fine now...nothing like a full blown meltdown to clear out all the residual stress that was building.  Survived, and even feeling excited about the next stage, the actual living in Sisophon and getting "established" in a routine of work and living K'mai.

So, what has happened lately. The big excitement was receiving a parcel from Canada.  Yahoo!  It was fun opening it with the other volunteers hovering over it to see what goodies were within.  And goodies there were.  THANK YOU KYMBERLEY!!! Unfortunately, the parcel had to be opened then put away as it was delivered moments before we were heading off to a "home-stay".  This was the part where we were to learn how many K'mai people live and practice our newly acquired language skill.  HAHAHAHAHA!!! Really?  I don't know what language they were speaking.  Some of the sounds did bear some resemblance to what Dara taught us and I did catch the odd, very odd, word but I would say, I have my work cut out for me.

Distributing mosquito nets for the homestay

This is the communities delivery room ...on this very bed!!

This is really how the children are is.  

The children were thrilled to see "tall Barang" who can play football.  

The family we stayed with was lovely.  The living was very simple, with cooking out the back, and eating out the front.  There was a very mangy dog (which barked all night along with the neighbours' dogs) several cows, chickens, roosters (which by the way, cock-a-doodle-do all through the night) and baby chicken scattered throughout.  The sleeping quarters were upstairs, where everyone just crashes on the hardwood floor in the one large room...everyone in the same room.  The toilet was down the steep back steps to the outside.  You don't want to have to pee in the middle of the night because the house is locked up and well, how would one negotiate the steep steps in the darkness.  There were other things in the night that I really didn't want to encounter either (spiders, centipedes for example).  There were 2 children who were living with their grandparents (owners of the house) who loved to follow us and join us for walks.  The parents of the children work in Phnom Penh, and the children see their parents about twice a year.  From what I could tell, there wasn't a lot of affection and the children always did exactly as they were instructed regarding chores.


Grandfather who was delighted to help with my Kmai and practice his  French! 

The sweet sweet granddaughter. 

The out back kitchen

The very cute grandson. 

the back yard with the "toilet out of view.

These little piggies are going to be "roast pork" 

chickies eating all the bugs just like their parents.

After a sleepless night of dogs barking and geckos croaking, we got up to a delicious breakfast and headed back to Kampong Cham.  Sunday was a relaxing day for showers, laundry and exchanging stories about our home-stays with the other volunteers.  Monday was very exciting.  That was our in-country motorcycle training.  Wow! That sure gets the adrenaline pumping, riding a motorcycle in Cambodia.  It was very funny because when we first started, we were just riding around the parking lot of the hotel.  I of course was remembering my B.C. training where you lost points for putting your foot down.  So, first turn, without putting my foot down, was a tad wide and I was heading right for some oil drums.  I managed to stop (okay, I sort of crashed but in slow motion and nothing damaged).     I, at least, managed to avoid the parked cars unlike one of the other volunteers.  Then I learned that you need to put your foot down when making tight turns.  After that, I was off and never looked back.  We rode through soft sand, bumpy dirt roads, through street vendors and markets, on the major highway and across the highway bridge.  Watch out Cambodia!  I can't believe that I will have my very own motorbike when I get to Sisophon.  Feels like a new toy.  I must say I so enjoy the challenge.

I have a lead on a house in Sisophon so will have a look at it when I get up there on Sunday.  I am just finishing up the in-country training in Phnom Penh, buying last minute treats to take to the "hinterland" of Banteay Mencheay, and then saying sad farewells to my fellow volunteers who will be spread out all over Cambodia.  I can't express how exhilarating this whole experience has been so far.  You have to love the full spectrum of emotions that truly make you realize that you are very much alive.  The drastic cultural changes and all the transitions are bound to affect us all, but resilient we are and I couldn't be happier with the support I feel from everyone at home and from my fellow volunteers.  Life is pretty darn great.

Thanks you all for your concerns, comments and encouragement.  I love hearing about your lives so keep sending your news.  I so cherish all of you and appreciate that you are there.

Lots of love and thoughts,

Friday, 16 March 2012

It isn't all roses!

I suppose it was only a matter of time before my bubble of excitement exploded into the harsh reality of what  it means to live in Sreisiphon for 2 years.  This is definitely not part of a tourist circuit.  My barang (foreigner) status makes me very obvious as there are few who venture here other than volunteers or NGO's of some sort.  English isn't understood, but then again, neither is my Khmer. In the big picture, perhaps my Khmer will improve more rapidly. I haven't brought myself to taking many pictures yet is hard to get motivated to take photos of dust, dirt, potholes, traffic, and pancake flat countryside.  The one redeeming feature is a hill or two near town but that is it.

The view of a main street in Sreisiphon with one of the two mountains. 

There is no western food, house hunting has been, hum, discouraging and have I mentioned it is hot and humid. Back to the food thing...I am not going to resist the brownies in Kampong Cham when I go back and I may even allow myself a tandoori chicken burger with fries.  And April, about posting those delicious food items you are making...I'm making a list with the expectation that you will prepare my favourites in 2 years time.  

Well, if I sound bummed out, I might be. Wait a minute, I can hear the monks chanting in the distance!  Ahhhh yes perhaps I should be more Buddhist-like in my thinking.  The children are so delightful though and people are very friendly, always smiling and eager to please.  Then of course, I must realize why I am here.  I truly would like to contribute to making this world a better place even if it is just with tiny steps, in an impoverished country, where people deserve to have a better life.  Okay, feeling better.  Thanks all staying tuned.

Two Days Later

Not so fast Andrea!  An update on yet another bad day.  Just starting to ask myself if I will manage to survive.  I was fine last night when I found a place to live and was going to sign the contract today.  After a couple of hours negotiating and translating, contract signed and feeling like I may manage a couple of years here, the husband decides he wants 1 year's rent guaranteed.  What? We had agreed on 3 months payment at a time for 2 years! (VSO's policy).  Okay, cancel contract.  So I am back to training in Kampong Cham, with the prospect that I will be living out of a suitcase for the foreseeable a guesthouse.

Well if that didn't bum me out, a storm was a brewing.  There was thunder and lightning and WINDS and FLOODS!  Sitting in my room watching the water flooding my hotel room floor as it streamed in around the windows, when a gust of wind came and blew the window out.  There it was, hanging by a piece of metal.  Luckily the other volunteer grabbed the window before it fell to the ground 3 floors below.  It was scary.  Too busy to take pictures.  Oh, did I mention the power was out and they had candles in the hallway. No emergency lights here. The hotel staff managed to rescue the window but I needed a new room.  So, here I am in yet another room that is also flooded but at least it has a window.

This was just a "shower" they say, wait until the monsoons!
I did have a highlight today.  I hire a very lovely VA (Volunteer Assistant).  His name is Vomith.  He is sooooo lovely and gentle and kind.  He will be a real joy.  The fun part was when he took me to check out a guesthouse for when I return.  I got to ride on the back of his motorbike!  just like the Cambodians do! on bumpy, dusty, roads, weaving around the potholes and slowing for the obstacles (you would never in your wildest dreams imagine the variety of obstacles).  And you know what?  I felt such excitement about my life in Sreisiphon.

Wonder what is in store for my next blog.  Well Kymberley, you have no idea how meaningful your care package will be.  I don't care if the peanut butter cookies are powder by the time I get them.  They are going to be soooooooo appreciated!!!

Lots of love everyone and thanks for the emails.  They really do keep me going.  See ya next time.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

A day in life in Kampuchia

Ice coffee during break at school ...that is yummy condensed milk on the bottom.

It strikes me once in in a while as I am comfortably cycling in the chaotic traffic of Kampong Cham that this is my life in for the next two years.  Okay, I'll be in Sisophon, or Srei Sisophon, or Banteay Meanchey Town, (your choice) but Kampuchia all the same.

The other morning cycling to school, I passed a fellow on a bicycle with textiles piled high behind and in front of him as he pedalled his way to the market.  Once past him, I turned the corner and I got stuck behind a motorcyclist herding his cows down the road.  I rode through them slaloming the cow dung, and calves not wanting to get separated from their mother.  But these Bhramas ? (help me out Larry) have the sweetest faces with loppy ears making them so endearing...except for the poo.

 As I played chicken through the intersection and negotiated my way onto the street the school is on, there was a no entry sign which bikes and motos can ignore.  Just outside the school there were 2 very long tents with music blaring indicating the preparations for a wedding ceremony which continues for at least 2 days. Unfortunately it was directly across from the school.  Can you imagine 6 hours of Khmer, trying to get your mouth and tongue around undecipherable sounds to the competition of some outrageously inharmonious music.  Holy headache!

This is Dara.  He is a brilliant Khmer language teacher and a very lovely human being.  He was a youngster during the Khmer Rouge regime.  It is truly unbelievable to hear some of what he had to live through.  The lovely disposition of the people here and what they have experienced is remarkable.

 After class in the afternoon, we headed to a Vietnamese pancake shop for some dinner.  Incredibly good!

 These nummy pancakes are packed full of pork and bean sprouts.  You break pieces off and wrap them in the green leafy bits with cucumbers and dip them into a spicy-sweet-sour sauce.  This is full-on eating with your hands! 1 pancake per person.

On the way back to the hotel, the "jazzercise"  class was happening by the river.  This by the way is free and is as much about participation as it is about a spectator sport.  Some evenings, there are more motorcycles lined up watching than there are jazzercisers!

 Just so that you know, it isn't all school work.  On Tuesday, we did have an introduction to what life will really be like when we get to our placements.  All of the partners from around Cambodia came to Kampong Cham where we met our "employers" and had our eyes open to life full of translating and smiles.  My contact spoke zero English and I'm afraid my Khmer is purely academic at this stage.  However, I did get interest when I asked my person to write "my name is Andy/Andrea" in Khmer script.  It looks lovely!  (I'm called Andy here because it seems easier for people to pronounce.)

Lunch was fish, vegetables, lots and lots of rice, beef and veggies, with fresh fruit for dessert.

And, just so you don't think it is all sunshine, sweaty heat, and blue sky.  It did rain for about 10 minutes while we were eating lunch.  Unfortunately, it didn't cool things off much.

Well, that about sums it up for now.  I'm off to my placement for a week to meet everyone, hire a translator, open a bank account, post office box, and find a place to live.  Should be interesting.  I leave at 7:30 am and arrive at 4:00 pm.  However, it is probably the distance to Kelowna from GF.

Life continues to be amazing and every day is an adventure of some sort.  I'll leave you with a picture of a favourite...Tom Yam Soup.  Hope you are all doing well and don't forget to drop me a line.  Nothing like getting mail!  Lots of love and good health to one and all.  See you next blog.