Saturday, 26 May 2012

Friends, waterfalls, more moto mishaps and, a school in need of repair

It seems I meet the greatest people! 


Now, I know you are all really busy with spring, lovely weather, and grad, but that is no excuse not to take a few minutes to peruse...or, to drop me a line!!!!!! I love hearing how your lives are unfolding.  I think EVERYTHING that involves my family and friends is of interest.  Terry and Liz, I know...the bees! Dana...the wedding! Tara and Graham...looking after my house (good work)!  I know, there are more of you out there, I think. Wherever you are, I hope you are well and enjoying life now that spring and longer days are upon you.

Awe yes, seems like ages ago that I was swimming in a crater lake...

and under waterfalls...

and moto'ing around with friends...

and indulging in wine, brownies, and popcorn...

and then it was time to leave...:-(

Getting to Rattanakiri is a bit of an endeavour from here.  I live in the north west and Rattanakiri in the north east, so in Cambodian style, an 8 hour bus ride with an overnight in Phnom Pehn, and then a 9 hour minivan ride to our destination.  It rained on the way there, we had 2 days of sunshine, and it rained on the way back.

Ellen and I made good use of our stop over on the way there.  We used a motodop (moto taxi) for the first time.  It is a blast riding through the streets of PP on the back of a moto.  I am sorry I complained about having to carry my moto helmet with me.  I am a convert to motodops! On the return, the stopover in PP was timely as I was able to stock up on peanut butter, popcorn, and chocolate.  My backpack weighed a ton!  That is significant because when I took the motodop to my house getting off the bike wasn't so graceful.  As I lifted my leg over the bike, I lost my balance but because my pack was so heavy, it just took me right to the ground.  I did mention that I have become quite the klutz haven't I. The poor driver. The lesson:  Give the motodop driver the heaviest piece of luggage.

Oh there is more!  Did I tell you about the time I was in a hurry and forgot to use my kickstand.  As I was getting off my moto, I could feel it going over but it was too late.  My foot got caught and I did a face front of the police, my assistant, and a few random people.  How about when I got caught in a torrential downpour.  As I was negotiating a puddle, my moto slid sideways...leaving me lying in the middle of the puddle.  Again, only my pride was hurt.  It was difficult to act like nothing had happened when I had to drive the rest of the way home covered in muck.  And, the muck here is red, clay, yuck!   By the way, no one stops here because they are afraid they will get blamed for the accident.  In my case that is a good thing...I would have to suffer even more humility.  What do these people think when they see me coming I wonder. With luck, I will return to Canada in 2 years in one piece and functional. All I can say is it is a good thing I'm comfortable with myself...being a klutz and all.

Yes, the school I was telling you about...the one where I am afraid I will fall through the floor boards, the one where a student fell through into the flood waters.  Here it is...

The extras at the school...

The school bell which gets hit by a stick to announce recess

the playground

The staffroom/parking lot

Now for some images of their classroom behaviour... a classroom in the building that isn't about to collapse.  I forgot to mention that at all the schools the students take their shoes off before entering the class and do everything in bare feet.

And so, that is about it.  When it rains it pours, I mean really opens up and you are drenched in seconds, like buckets and buckets of water thrown on you.  I hate mosquitoes even more now.  Every time I see one I wonder if it will be the one to give me dengue.  My clothes stay dust free for about 10 minutes.  It is really hilarious getting off at the schools with a red film of dust from head to toe, only on the front.  The construction at the school behind my house is almost over so the noise will change from saws and hammers to children playing.  My Khmer gets worse rather than better and I wonder if I will ever catch on.  I went for a run this morning and managed about 5 x 3 minutes with a walk at either end.  The neighbours think I'm strange although they still smile and say sua s'dai.  But hey, they have probably seen me on my moto!

Hopefully my next blog won't have any klutz stories (I will try to entertain you some other way).

You have no idea how much I miss you.  Sending you love and hugs from Sisophon, Cambodia.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

That's Life!

My artwork on my gate.
Hello Everyone!

I am hoping this finds everyone well and into spring/summer mode.  It won't be long before those of you in Grand Forks will be floating down the Kettle to cool off.  I'm trying to imagine the lovely cool CLEAN, CLEAR water of the Granby!  Oh well, I will certainly appreciate the water and the mountains in a couple of years. Wherever you are, summer is just around the corner so it won't be long 'til the lazy hazy days!

Here, every day is a melange of challenges, frustrations, rewards, and delight.  It is amazing how one's perspective changes and the little things that can cheer one up.  When I find I am getting lonely or in the dumps, I just get on my bicycle and cycle around the neighbourhood.  I can't tell you how much it delights me just to see the lovely warm smiles and hear the giggles of the people I greet.  I have started walking in the early morning and I just love all the people I meet on my round.  Going to the market is getting easier too the more I do it.  I am either getting better at understanding the prices or I am caring less about how silly I appear as I say the numbers over and over in my head trying to figure it out.  It doesn't help that in Sisophon they have their own way of saying prices!  Took me a while to figure that out.

The stash from THE parcel! It was so awesome .  Thanks  Tracey, Anna, and Gordon!
p.s. Vomith loved your energy rolls Tracey (I only share one though. Kept the rest for myself.)
Oh, I should tell you about my moto crash...almost.  Vomith, my assistant, had brought a parcel to the office that Anna and Tracey sent from GF, and so, I needed to get it home.  He had offered but it was out of his way and I figured I had to learn how to drive like the Khmer people.   I was a tad nervous about riding with it in front of me but figured if these little kids can do it with 3 siblings on the moto with them, so can I...not!  Luckily there was only one person to witness my out-of-control-everything-flying-off-the-bike manoeuvre as I just about ended up in the fish pond!  I had the box between my legs but to put the bike in gear, I had to take my foot off the brake on one side and use it to hold me up.  I had the front hand brake on but I must have had the throttle on as well...whoops! So, as I popped it in gear, off I go right for the fish pool. Nice time to find out the hand brake doesn't work!  I tried to turn the bike but the parcel wouldn't let me.  Finally got it turned a bit, drove through the gutter around the pond, then over a 6" high cement sewer cover, and off towards the road.  I couldn't stop the bike because I couldn't get my foot up to the brake, and I didn't have balance to let go of the throttle.  It was at the sewer cover where everything flew off the bike.  There was one guy standing by the other motos, in total disbelief!  Can you imagine what was going through his mind? (Needless to say there wasn't much going through mine.) Or the look on my face?  I finally stopped, turned around, picked up all my scattered mess, put the box back between my legs and tried again.  As I drove by the poor guy, he stepped out of the way and looked...well, dumbfounded! I can almost hear the roars as he relates the story of this Barang who shouldn't be driving a moto.  Made me realize that I am really not very good at this yet...I'd hate to get over confident!  In spite of the fiasco, I do enjoy "zooming" around in the chaos and am feeling more like a Khmer person every day (even if they don't think so). And with my antics, I am grateful to make it home alive and in one piece at the end of the day.

Pics from the model school

Students working in the school garden during recess
playground at the model scho
Students using the library at recess 
just hangin' out in the playground

Recess is over
By the way, I do actually work.  I have been busy getting around to schools, and meeting the directors, teachers, and students.The teachers amongst you will love this.  The director at the model school I will use as a reference was telling me, when it comes to the School Development Plan, he does the administrative work and looking after books but leaves the classroom teachers to develop what needs to happen for them because they know best what goes on in the classroom. AND, he supports what they decide!  Whoa!  How novel don't you think?

 Thursday, I went to a school that was by far the poorest school I had seen yet, although Vomith tells me that most rural schools are similar. As we were driving past the community, I was thinking that this is the Cambodia that few tourists really see.  Then, when we turned into the school, I was overwhelmed.  There is only a very small area that is elevated which doesn't flood and contained old painted tires for a playground.  Beneath both buildings, there is low land which fills with water as does everything surrounding the school.  One of the buildings was made of dilapidated boards and I was afraid to actually go up the steep crumbling wooden steps and walk to the classes as I was afraid to fall through the floor boards.  The teacher told me that students drop books and pencils through the boards only to get ruined or lost .  Last year one of the students fell through and ended up in the flood water.  Luckily he knew how to swim.  The teachers and director were so welcoming and were afraid that once I saw the school, I wouldn't want to help them.  The director is so eager and said he would take whatever help I could give him and his staff as "tiny steps is better than standing still"!  There aren't enough books for all the students so they work in groups of 4. How could I refuse to help! Apparently if I visit them in the rainy season, I will have to go by boat! (I wasn't sure how serious they were about there being a boat though; I think I just don't visit them then.)

Oh but the students! You should see their smiling faces!  They are just so unbelievably cute. They stand and hold their hands in front of their faces like in prayer as you walk into the class.  Absolutely adorable!  When a student answers a question, he/she stands up, thanks the teacher with the prayer-like gesture then answers the question.  If it is a good answer, everyone applauds.  Before going out to recess, the students stand, do the gesture, thank the teacher very much for teaching them, then wait until the teacher dismisses them.  All the classes I have observed, the students are paying attention, and doing what they are supposed to be doing.  One class was a 5/6 split class with 40 students in the class--26 grade 5's and 14 grade 6's.  I have seen classes as big as 46.

Now, for a walk around my neighbourhood.  

This wedding is the reason I got up to put earplugs in at 5 am this morning!!  The music blasts out to the street for  days.  Thank goodness for earplugs.

Just walking down the street. 

A young monk going from house to house.

These coconuts are awesome.  And a good tree produces 200 a year! 

Your typical corner store.  That is gasoline in the bottles...for  one's motorbike. 

One day I saw one of these heading towards the market without a driver and loaded with  sacks!

Treacherous on my motorbike! 

This fellow goes through peoples trash.

The reason there are blood-sucking disease infested mosquitoes!

Walking along here when I remembered about land mines.  Oh dear me.!  I tiptoed to the next road following the mucky tracks. 

Traditional Khmer house

No, not Grand Forks!

Delivering meat.

The neighbourhood butcher.

One of the fouls that can't tell the time!

Training him to chauffeur her around. 

One of the cleaner drainages. 

Can you see the 2 kids? 1 in front of the driver and one between the parents. 

2 of the many reasons I haven't started running yet. 

The construction of a school behind and beside my house. 

These are buddies I practice my Khmer with.  Very short conversations!

On Friday, I am heading to Rattanakiri which is in the north east of Cambodia to visit a fellow volunteer, a Canadian I might add.  It is a 2 day journey one way as all roads lead from Phnom Penh.  It is one of the more remote and wilder places in Cambodia so I am looking forward to a swim in the volcanic lake and seeing waterfalls, and perhaps a rare glimpse at some exotic animal... but not spending 4 days travelling on bumpy, pot-holed mucky roads, nor having the exotic animal be a centipede. The trip has become a mini-reunion with 5 of us who arrived in Cambodia at the same time, 2 Canadians, 2 Scots, 1 Dutch. I am very excited.

The intense heat seems to have eased off since the rains have started.  There are some pretty spectacular thunderstorms most days.  The deluge lasts for a few hours but usually subsides.  I love the coolness in the air  (a relative term you realize) during and after the rain.  However, there seems to be a downside to everything.  I'm noticing more MOSQUITOES about these days! The Dengue-Malarial-transmitting-blood-sucking varieties too.  Guess I need to get vigilant about wearing repellent.

Found a dead rat in my courtyard this morning.  Think I will do something nice for the cats that are hanging out at my house...perhaps the juice from my tinned fish!

Well, I hope you enjoy.  Next post after I get back from Rattanakiri.

Take care everyone and love your feedback.  The responses and emails keep me going. Miss you lots!

Lots of love and hugs from afar.