Friday, 3 August 2012

Rats! Thank goodness for cats!

1 little kitty
It has been awhile goes on.  Today is a beautiful sunny day with blue sky as far as I can see. That should last until noon, then the thunderclouds roll in, the winds pick up, and eventually the sky releases more water than I thought possible.  By evening, the air has cooled and although very very mucky, going for a walk is an option.  The weight of the muck build-up on my sneakers adds to the fitness aspect of the walk.  People have started to recognise me and one lady actually accompanied me for about 3 minutes.  I'm afraid the conversations are extremely brief and, well, basic, due to my still pathetic language skills.

In the midst of the monsoons

There is a rainbow but don't think you can see it. 

What can I say.  Apparently there are still things that gross me out.  For instance, at a formal ceremony appointing the Director of one of the school districts, they served fried silk worms for one of the courses with a nice fried rice cracker to put them on. No, I didn't try them especially after my VA said he didn't like them much.
I had to sit on the podium of honour!  but  no pictures of fried silkworms.  (They already think I'm  camera crazy.)

Then, my Internet man gave me 2 freshly butchered quail from his quail farm with the head and innards still in tact. As I was cleaning it up for dinner, I kept telling myself...Andrea, you were a biology teacher, you've done tons of dissections, you can do this!  Guess it is just that I didn't have to think about eating anything I was cutting up.

 The other day I ordered fried noodles with chicken and it arrived with the chicken in pieces with the beak, claws, and eyes mixed into the noodles.  By the way, I know how to say chicken in about 7 languages because I always thought it was a safe bet on the menu.  Not so in Cambodia. The chickens here are pretty skinny so not much meat on the bones which is why when you order it you get mostly bones and all the various parts.

 Finally, in the gross department,  I have found 3 rats, all dead (thank goodness for my cats), in my courtyard this week.  Do you think the rain brings them out?  The other day as I was working away at my computer, I glanced outside to witness one of my 3 cats (the 4th has disappeared) devour a rat...all of it...bones and all.  Which begs the question, if I have seen 3 rats, and the cats devour them, HOW MANY RATS ARE THERE REALLY? Okay, make that 3 rats seen dead, witnessed one get devoured, and I have since seen the cat walk by with another dead rat in its mouth.  I wonder why I get a bit edgy when I see movement out of the corner of my eye or am cautious before I step into the shower.  My house geckos get me every time.  As I am sitting here, I am smelling something very dead and decomposing...but I have searched everywhere with the expectation of something quite gruesome...can't find a thing.  I will spare you the photos of dead rats and geckos. 

Living in the tropics gives one the incentive to keep things food related clean and put away.  While watching a video, I put my plate down and when I picked it up to take downstairs, it was covered in ants!!!  Oh do I have an ant story for you.  You'll have to read all the way through to read about that one.  I'll give you a hint...I was eating cookies in bed in my hotel room! 

The next challenge for me seems to be communication. I have realised, just because people speak English, it doesn't mean we are all speaking the same language.  Trying to intuit the meaning behind words and interpret what people are actually attempting to communicate to you can be a bit of a problem. It isn't just English second language people either.  "I'm sorry, I don't understand" has become quite repetitive these days. Things really do get lost in translation.  Let's just say it gives a person real insight into international diplomatic relations.

Speaking of communications though, I should enlighten you about the Khmer language.  My speaking skills are despicable so I retreat to the comfort of reading and writing.  Hahahahahaha!  Are you kiddin? They use symbols. Learning to read and write is more a cerebral challenge than anything else.  I am now learning my GA, KA, GO's (ABC's).  In brief, there are 33 consonants, 24 standard vowels which change their sound depending on whether they are used with the AH sounding consonants or the OH sounding consonants.  Then there are 11 independent vowels. AND, each consonant has a subscript with its sound and modified symbol.  For example, T'ngai will have a "t sound with a "ng" subscript and a "long i" vowel which could be a superscript, a subscript,  appear before, after, or before and after the consonants. The sounds are even more complicated. There is an  "eh" said very quickly "eh" a little longer sound then an"eh" stretched out, and the same with the other vowels each with its own symbol. The consonants at the end of the word aren't pronounced  but you hadn't better get them wrong because the Khmer ear can hear if you don't "imply" those consonants correctly.  It seems there is no faking it allowed which gets me into oodles of trouble.  "but" without saying the "t" "buk" without the "k" and "plich" without pronouncing the "ch" (plich by the way is to forget which I need to use a lot!) It may be boring to you but I'm making it a project over the next two years.  I do practise in fits and starts though.  
You have to admit it is lovely to look at.

I did have a much needed week in Phnom Penh, taking a workshop, as VSO is piloting English into the curriculum at grade 4.  My target schools will be involved in the project.  It is very exciting and daunting at the same time.  Imagine teaching Khmer when you don't have any idea how to speak or understand the language.  That is what the teachers here are facing in the coming years as English will become mandatory starting in 2013 in all schools in Cambodia.  YIKES!

Okay, the ant story.  My wonderful niece Kymberley sent me a parcel filled with delicious goodies...some of which were edible.  The peanut butter chocolate chip cookies were a temptation from the get-go.  The night before the parcel arrived, I noticed I had a few painful bites around my belly button.  Whatever it was was inside my jeans!  So it took cookies to solve the mystery.When I got the parcel, I sat on my bed and indulged.  That night, I was getting bitten in bed.  I turned on the light to find my bed was filled with ants...tiny, almost invisible, biting ants!  I threw the sheets on the floor and checked for more ants with the fear that I would be gone by morning.  Eaten!  No more eating in bed!  But, I was to discover it wasn't only because of the cookies...they were in the towel on my bed which had no cookie crumbs at all.  A new room proved to be the solution.

My adrenalin pumping adventure for the month, was cycling around in the traffic of Phnom Penh.  Now that is an adventure. My years of cycle-touring kicked in and within minutes and I found my stride!

I will leave you with some pictures from here and there.

On the way to one of my schools. Usually I am on the back of the moto. 

Vomith usually just continues as I hold my breath. 

On this occasion I got off to take pictures! 

Farmers drying cassava on the road on the way to one of my schools

And this is my tailor with her granddaughters. 
I do need to comment on my tailor.  She is a delightful women, all smiles and joy.  She doesn't have the use of her legs and essentially lives on the floor.  She pulls herself around with her arms, cuts, and sews, and irons on the floor, and when I visit, we all sit on the floor and chat.  She is truly a genius when it comes to her craft.  I draw a picture of what I want and she makes it.  Yesterday, when I asked if I could take her picture, her granddaughter was so excited and got out the comb to make her grandmother beautiful for the photo.

My apologies for the length of this.  Guess it feels like I am talking to all of you and I so miss that.  I definitely feel my isolation within this charming culture.  I miss my friends and family more than I can express in this blog.  I hope you are all well and not too busy to read and respond.  I am surviving because of the email connections I have with all of you.  Thank you for staying in touch.

By the way, in case you didn't know, you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them (Lyn :-)!  Think of me when you are floating down the river or swimming in the lovely clear waters of home.


Andrea (Andy here)