Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Happy New Year!!!!

My Guard Gecko
Yes, Sok Sabay Ch'nam T'mai everyone.  A beginning of the new year has passed and I never even thought to make a New Year's Resolution...again!  I did get doused with water and powdered as is the tradition here.  For 3 days, there is loud music in the streets as kids from 2 to 20+ stand armed with bags filled with water to throw at all the passers-by, especially if you are on a motorcycle or bicycle.  Everyone seems to be drenched as they ride around.  The really awesome thing is that if people signal they don't want it, their wish is respected.  I was indoctrinated and everyone thought it was so funny to see a "barang" laughing as she got hit and splashed.  It is all in good fun and people sit on their patios to watch all the shenanigans.  It is now year 2556 of the Buddhist Era in Cambodia.  Harvest is now over and the fields are getting ready for planting rice...which means RAIN!!! from June until October.  At this point I will be grateful for anything besides the relentless heat.  The temperature in the sun was 46 degrees one afternoon!!!!!! and humid!!!!

The actual New Year is officially 3 days but the parties go on for almost 2 weeks.  This was the last day of the Khmer New Year and there was dancing all day into the wee hours of the evening.  I no sooner got off the motorcycle and I had people running over to me to get me dancing. That is the thing here.  They had never seen me before and had no idea who I was but it didn't matter. So, around and around we went, the steps changed as the music changed, although I really had difficulty hearing much difference.  There were definitely "old favourites" from the sounds of the dancers.  Believe me, they just don't let you sit down for a minute.  I'd beg to sit but by the time the circle was half way around, there would be a new person grabbing my hand, pulling into the circle.

Yours truly dancing up a storm
Dancing in a circle around a tree. 

You should see the kids dance...they are so good. 

I did finally get a break when my assistant suggested we head to his house for some dinner before he drove me home.  Phew!  So, I arrived at his house and his wife brought out a mat and a pillow so I could have a nap before dinner.  Hmmmm!  Okay!

The entrance to Vomith's yard

Vomith's back yard with chickens and ducks. 

Dinner with Vomith and his lovely wife

I did manage to take a day trip to Siem Reap for a break from Sisophon.  Actually it was to really to shop for some western type food.  Yes, I found healthy peanut butter!!! pop corn!!! and Classico spaghetti sauce!!! but no coconut oil :-(  With all the coconuts around, I can't believe there is no coconut oil to be had!  Okay, back to my story...the taxi ride!  I thought I would go cheap and take the $5 back seat on the way there.  Well, the driver picks me up and into the back I go.  There were 4 squished in the back and 4 squished in the front...with the driver of the right-had drive sitting somewhere in the middle.  Yikes, I didn't know it would be a right-hand drive or that the driver fits a passenger beside him by the door! Having a monk share the back seat must mean some good karma don't you think?  When we arrived in Siem Reap, the driver didn't want to take me to where I wanted to go and told me to take a moto! Hope I don't get that taxi driver again!  Wait a minute...

 That was nothing.  On the way back, I decided to pay for 2 seats and sit in the front.  What good luck!  There were 9 on the way back, with one of the 6 in the back seat throwing up all the way.  Lovely smell and in this heat! I was happy to have my seat belt fastened and sitting up front...even if the driver did sit in the middle at least it was a left-hand drive vehicle.  No monk this time!

This is just your normal taxi ride.

6 comfortably fit in the back. 

Angry Birds made it to Cambodia!

It is quite hilarious that everywhere here there is "Angry Bird" stuff...hats, bags, T-shirts, you name it. The really funny thing is no one knows what Angry Birds is all about.  I decided to enlighten my assistant.

Vomith playing Angry Birds on my iPod

I think he's addicted!  

I had better go.  I just saw a cockroach run past the kitchen door into the shower where I discovered another S-P-I-D-E-R!  I just closed them both in there but now I must go and deal with it so I can have a shower before heading off to bed!!  I'll leave you with a picture of my lovely chirping inside gecko.  I think it takes great pleasure in startling me when in runs out from under my cups or from between my water filters. It is very cute though, unlike the other creatures that share my house with me.

my inside gecko 
Oh ya!  Great joy today as my garbage was picked up!  Apparently it is the first time in 6 months!  Hopefully it is a good year for garbage pick up.

Off to deal with critters then to bed.  I hope this finds you all healthy and happy.  Lots of love and thoughts from Sisophon.  

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Monks Motorcycles and More

My first house guests arrived to open arms on Saturday afternoon.  A neighbouring volunteer, only "1h45 away by taxi door to door", arrived with her brother and sister-in-law.  It was so great to see friendly faces, go to the market together, and cook in my kitchen...fresh coconut juice to start, followed by curried pumpkin, rice and boiled eggs, ending with fresh pineapple.  It was scrumptious. Thanks you guys!

Ellen in pink (volunteer) Stephen, and Tessa visiting from the Netherlands.

Easter KitKat hunt. 
With their stash!
Sadly, my very first guest were heading off on an early bus...would you believe 6:45 am much to Stephen's chagrin!  I think the 5:15 hunt was what really got him out of bed.  And, my guests were off to explore the wilds of Battambong and Siem Reap before heading back to the paradise of Stong Tren.   And I was left feeling, well, tired quite frankly, as well as first day off with no one around for about 2+ months.

Not to despair, I set about cleaning up the area outside my fence and burned my garbage.  It was fun seeing all the neighbours going by and smiling, chatting with me.  I sure wish I knew what they were saying but I think they were indicating that cleaning up garbage from the street is an endless job.  While out there, an Australian fellow and his friend stopped by and stayed for tea, then another volunteer from Uganda stopped by.  To quote Anna, how great is that to have breakfast with Dutch people and tea with Australians and a Ugandan in one day.  Ya guess it is pretty great.

I think the raining season is starting as most days we have heavy rains at about 4 pm.  I like just swinging in my hammock as the deluge comes down. At times I deceive myself and pretend I'm getting used to the heat.  After the rain, I actually thought I was chilly.  Turns out I just wasn't hot and sweaty! Sort of the same, right?
The rains as seen from my hammock
 Well, it is the K'mai New Year starting tomorrow and things are very busy.  People are off to families and temples and having their houses blessed.  We also had a blessing at the office.  It was lovely to see how revered the monks are and the hierarchy of respect.  First the monks arrive by car and everyone is very excited.  Then,the monks sit in the designated area on cushions with bowls of flower petals and candy and a lovely wrapped gift in front of each of them.  I was the only non-Cambodian there but everyone was very welcoming to me and motioned for me to join the women on the mats. Candles lit, incense burning, and the chanting begins.  I love the chanting and the devotion.
At the start of the ceremony the directors approached the monks . 

Chanting and praying
After the monks throw the flower petals and candies, they are presented with their gifts 

The following day, there was a big New Year's banquet at the Provincial Office of Education complete with the bigwigs in education for the province.  It was amazing to see how they are treated like royalty, really!  The fresh fish were taken from the pond, cooked on a fire, and so much food...noodles, soups, meats and greens, bread and yes, French wine!  As the big Poo bahs walked by and spotted us, we were motioned to the head table to eat with the royalty.  Quite a privilege apparently.  I must say, I am much more comfortable with the working stiffs.  However, the wine was good!

the fishing was quite the spectator sport

Catfish in the "bag"

Now they are really getting in the bag

These kids were giggling with glee every time the fish were netted

One of the spectators

Soon to be served to the masses

Just a glimpse of what was a huge amount of food

Yours truly and my Ugandan colleague eating at the head table between the fish ponds.  Within the first few minutes I dropped my water bottle in the nicely cleaned fish pond!

Well, I am now on about a week off for the New Year and really too pooped to go anywhere.  I am so tired of moving about living out of a suitcase, that I am enjoying just taking some time to get my thoughts organized not to mention my place. It has been very stressful trying to get used to a new life here, to learn the language, to live with people I just met, to understand not only the K'mai culture but the culture and ways of fellow volunteers, to find a place to live, and all hours of travel by bus from place to place.  I love the K'mai people, their smiles, there openness, and warmth.  We all have so much to learn.  Whenever I find I'm feeling at a loss, I get my motorcycle on the road and I am so busy trying to stay alive, I feel the excitement getting the better of me.

The chaos on the streets of Sisophon

Yup, that's me!! 

On my way into the chaos

Louise, your picture is on my fridge!  Love that smiling face.

I have had some people request a mailing address for me so I will include the two possibilities below.  The first is my local address but I have had word that the Canadian post office would only send mail to Phnom Penh.  Maybe that was only for parcels. Anyway, if you are so inclined, snail mail is a real treat.  No pressure though.  It could take months to get here although it is very unpredictable.

Andrea Vowell
P.O. Box 0120
Sisophon Town,
Banteay Meanchey Province


Andrea Vowell
c/o VSO Cambodia
#17, Street 234,
Sangkat Phsar Deumkor, Khan Tuol kork,
PO Box 912,
Phnom Penh,

Tel: 023 882 768/ 023 882 758

Hey Terry, maybe all the brain work to learn K'mai will help me in Scrabble!

Well, that's all folks.  I miss you all so much and am forever grateful to have so many truly lovely family and friends.  Lots of hugs, love, and, thoughts!!!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Home sweet home

Hello everyone!  

Finally I have made it to my placement of Banteay Meanchey Town, or Sereisisophon, or...I don't know what the name of this place really is because it depends what you want to say and where you are.  Before I get to my placement, I leave you with a parting sight of Phnom Penh with glimpses of the past as these two pass in the street carrying their goods.  

crossing paths

So, after parting with some of my goods which were to be sent with the other volunteer in 3 days, I was up at 6am to catch the bus to my placement, and endure the 7 hour trip.  Just so you know that it isn't just relaxing on a bus watching a Cambodian vampire movie, I thought I would add that the driver was regularly texting or phoning while he was "keeping an eye" on the road.  You really have to be here to appreciate the big picture of cyclists, horse and carts, tractors, motorcycles, trucks, other buses, and cars all sharing the 2 lane road.  Yes, I arrived in one piece and my VA (volunteer assistant) picked me up at the bus and we road his motorcycle with me, and my duffle, backpack, and "purse", to look at accommodation.

Let me introduce you to my new home.

This is outside the gate with my push bike (which now has a flat!). 

This is inside the gate.

My kitchen complete with fridge. (not everyone is so lucky)

Where the gourmet cooking will happen :-) The big white thing is my water filter

My downstairs living space and garage for my motorcycle. 

Where I dream of all the creepy crawly things OUTSIDE the net.  Yes, I am making doubly sure everything is tucked in now!!!!

My shower with hot water...really, who in their right mind would want hot water! 

When my VA wrote about the house, he enticed me with "an inside toilet"!  Bonus!! Until I met my new 8-legged friend this morning. 

My verandah (with glimpses of the construction material). My orchids haven't started flowering yet.  

View from my verandah

So, now you can see where I live.  I have cable TV ...if you enjoy listening to Khmer...actually there are English channels with lots of football (soccer) CNN, and BBC news.  I have only listened to K'mai as I am so wanting to get the hang of the language.  Yikes!  Will I ever manage it?  I have internet but the cable kind so no facebooking from inside my mosquito net.

Apparently the house is creature friendly.  The geckos startle me as they dart out from places where I'm not expecting to see anything move.  I do however love them and fall asleep to their chirping.  And, as some of you may have seen my post on Facebook, I have a creepy house guest sharing my toilet. I think I jinxed myself when I told Jesse that I hadn't seen any tarantulas yet.  It wasn't actually a tarantula...

I have come up with a name yet. Any suggestions? 
This is what greeted my sleepy eyes this morning when I went to have a pee.  I now knock before I enter but tonight it was back and the knocking first didn't do any good.  I thought it was safely locked in the bathroom until I notices a 4 inch square hole connecting the toilet room to the shower room.  Now, all 3 doors to that area of the house are bolted shut.  Do you think that will work?  Hopefully I won't have to pee in the night.  

Well, to make matters worse, my VA was telling me about centipedes.  My first encounter was in the hotel in Kampong Cham.  Anna, another volunteer found one in her room and together we investigated.  We got it in a glass ashtray to have a closer look.  When I took it outside to have a local tell me what it was, he freaked out, told me to drop it on the ground then he stepped on it.  So it was interesting having Vomith explain that he sleeps under the mosquito net to keep the centipedes out!  REALLY!!!  It would seem that once bitten you feel like you are going to die for about 24 hours.  Okay guess I really need to tuck my net it tight!

It is getting late and must to bed.  The roosters next door don't really know what time it is and start there noise anywhere from 4 am to 5 am.  Actually they can cock-a-doodle-doo just about anytime.  Guess no one told them to be quiet until sunrise!

I will leave you with pictures of my VA, Vomith.

This is Vomith with his 2 year old son. 

Vomith, his wife, and Alexander ready to ride home from the park...yes, all three on the bike.

Night all.  Hope you enjoy.  Again, love to hear from you.  Oh yes, and I have a spare room...if anyone is interested in a the beaten track...creatures and all.  

Lots of love and hugs,