Friday, October 15, 2010

Hokey Pokey and what is it all about?

  I have a new and deeper respect for teachers of older children.  By older I mean above age 5 as my experience has almost always been with infants to 5 years old.  I know it's complicated by the fact that I don't speak their language, I do work with a Khmer teacher.  Well he's never really taught and his English is not that great.  You may recall I was working with a Khmer who had good English and some experience.  This is the morning class I'm speaking of now.  The biggest challenge is to get the kid's undivided attention or at at least their divided attention.  They like to talk, poke, play and stare off in any direction but the teachers'.  And they like to leave their seats.  I am trying through my fellow teacher to impose some rules and to have rewards for appropriate behavior.  I think I'm having some success but I am impatient and want results quickly.  I have to chill out and realize the morning kids have most likely not been in a classroom ever or been to a daycare/preschool where they could have experienced some structure.  Add to that that there seems to be a new kid every other day and kids gone from one day to the next.

   It sounds like I'm complaining and not adjusting and not enjoying my experience.  It's certainly frustrating at times and challenging me in new ways.  I feel stymied and confused often and keep trying to figure out what approach I should use but I am enjoying the experience as a whole.  And the kids are what keep me going back, because I do wholly enjoy them and they seem to eat up the classroom experiences once I get their attention.  I do see progress in what we're teaching, I do see they are learning.

  What is most difficult is when kids who we've worked with and you can see progress happening, suddenly they are not in class anymore.  One particular girl, Lea, who came out of her shell is gone.  What happened to her, where is she I wonder?

  So now I am struggling with how to make learning fun for them and make sure they are actually learning.  And as they are learning how do I teach them social skills and build in them those characteristics that will benefit them in the long run.  Yes FR folks I'm talking Heartstart, others can google Heartstart to know what I'm referring to.  I'll get there and keep telling myself that patience is a virtue.

  I have to say I am doing what I hoped I could which was work more directly with young children.  In my job in the states I got away from that a bit by doing more managerial work and group work for the past several years.  I enjoyed doing that and glad I did but I did miss the more direct, sustained contact with children.  So I've been introducing and singing many different songs with the kids.  I think it's a great way to learn English.  And the kids remember the songs requesting them in both the morning and afternoon classes.  Hokey Pokey is a favorite and the Khmer teachers seem to get a kick out of it also.  It always makes me think of my FR workmate Sarah who had a bumper sticker that said  'What if the Hokey Pokey is what it's all about?'  And the kids love books read to them, I just don't have enough.  Hey FR you've got tons!  Can you spare some Eric Carle type books?  

   So I've been preoccupied somewhat with my 'job' at the school but we certainly get social time with folks here, both Cambodians and expats from different places around the world.  I feel lucky and am still excited and loving being here.   I am also eating well but unfortunately no tennis playing, I played once and did find a cheap place to play.  I just have to light fires under the folks here who have said they wanted to get on a court.  I guess I'm back at telling myself  'patience my son'.



Wednesday, October 6, 2010

sticky rice

   I'd like to post something but I'm a little unclear of what.  I could write about my struggles with pink eye(s), but not really very exciting.  When I don't feel well I can get whiney and have a low frustration level.  Jess tolerated me and left town.  Hmmm.  Suffice to say I'm recovering (been a week) but it's still hanging on ever so slightly.  So it seemed like a lot of time went by when in fact I only missed one day of school.  But I didn't go out much.  Jaz and Jess got the pink eye also but my seemed more severe or maybe I just whined the most.  I'm just not used to being 'sick'.

   I could write about the very kind folk here and sticky rice.  It has been a kind of holiday here the past several days.  Kind of a Day of the Dead type thing,  folks go to the pagodas and give offerings and rememberances to their ancestors.  Often sticky rice is offered. So the folks downstairs gave us some of their sticky rice they were preparing.  And Jess went to Battambang with our friend Rithy, to his family home.  And he gave us some sticky rice also.  It's not Jaz's favorite but I think Jess likes it.  I do like it.  It's sticky rice very tightly wrapped with palm leaves or banana leaves.  With the rice can be banana or beans and I couldn't figure out what else.  In any case Rithy suggested we eat it with banana. The more beany ones I like with a little sweet and spicy sauce.  Very filling.  

  Continuing with food, last night we went to a locals BBQ place, not touristy.  It's Cambodian food that's inexpensive, very good with the added bonus of cheap pitchers of beer.  We started with grilled duck with red ant sauce.  It was very tasty, though I'm kinda glad my eyes were still a bit cloudy with pink eye as it was difficult to see the ants.  We had rice of course though it wasn't just white rice but a veg rice.  And beef salad and veg salad.  I loved the grilled squid, simple but cooked perfect.  Strips of tender beef, still red/pink that gets dipped in a black pepper lime sauce.  Oh and grilled frogs which were also meaty and tasty, mostly the thighs and calfs.  They also served a most interesting corn dish.  Kernals toasted I believe, very good.  Some folks said it reminded them of kettle corn but I didn't think so.  Everyone was well satisfied with food and drink.  I tried to save a dish for my scraps/bones but Jess pointed out the Khmer way was to throw all that under the table.  Couldn't bring myself to do that.  Lest I forget dessert, we had honeycomb fried with bee larvae.  Jess and i seemed to be the only ones who liked it.  Definitely a different kind of taste, good but a watery consistency.  that's the only food pic.  I need to take more food pics.

   I could mention the weather.   The weather here has 'cooled' a bit (low 80's/high 70's) and it doesn't rain every day.  Very pleasant and it does in fact seem cool in the morning at 77 degrees.  I'm surprised myself at this.  We don't always use the fans as there are cooling breezes and rare if we turn the air on, mostly if the humidity is high.

  Perhaps I should talk about my feeling that I haven't changed my life as much as I changed location, in other words have I changed my life or just locations?  Jess and I have talked about how it feels like we've recreated the lives we lived at home.  And did we come here to change our life or to help people in need.  Probably a combo of both and more.  Of course it's very different here and the work we do and the conditions we work in are vastly different.  I don't think we'll understand much and get a handle on our feelings until we are here for much longer period of time.  Well that's my prediction at least.

  I wonder if there is a subtle, gradual change in our thought process, our perceptions.  For example I seem to be aware of the use of certain words/phrases.  When I say I need something, like a middle sized pot, ( I have a lg. and sm.), I don't really 'need' it I want it.  In a world of so much dire need the word's meaning changes.  In a way this kinda gets back to our motivation for moving here.  I and I think Jess wanted to simplify our lives.  Did we simplify or do we 'need' more cushions for the chairs?   Sure we don't have cars and don't have to mow our lawn but we still like the creature comforts.  I guess it's difficult to leave what feels comfortable.

   I could also state that I really miss our good friends and family, and I know Jess does also.  We miss getting together with folks and just talking, bouncing ideas around.  I terribly miss sharing meals and food with friends and family.  I'm already looking forward to getting together with people when we return in May for Dylan's wedding.

  Well we have off for a few days and will have the house to ourselves.  Jaz is going to Battambang with Sovann for a few days.  I hope Jess forgives me for being in a not so good of a mood.  Luckily I don't get sick often or Jess would have 'hit the road' years ago.  She's a very tolerant and loving person.  Ha ha Jess, you reading this?   Hopefully we'll relax and not do too much related to work.  We are going to 'trivia night' tonight with some friends.  And we are also going to Battambang on Sat.  We're taking the slow boat ride there.  We've done that before and it's just a fascinating way to see people who live along the lake and river (Tonle Sap).  We'll meet Sovanns family and return Sunday by bus with Jaz.  A city to the West where they are known for their huge rice production.  It's nice to have some time off.  

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Rain, tennis and market food

   Ok, like Jess I start a blog and have to pause.  So this is most likely a mish mash, I wonder how that would be translated in Khmer.

   It's 7am and I'm a year older.  That would be 59 or as my very good friend Peter will remind me I'm in my 60th year.   I've always been convinced that I was born under a lucky star and being here further confirms that.  I am indeed lucky, good health, wonderful kids we have and of course there's Jessica.  It's difficult for me to ask for more.  Well actually some building blocks and books for the kids would be great.

  As I was writing this I had a pleasant interruption, my oldest Marissa calling to wish me a Happy Birthday.  Wonderful but I'll have to finish this later, I'm off to the kids.

  Well I did get off to the kids and I couldn't think of a better way to start off my b'day.  I uncharacteristically didn't go in in the afternoon as a torrential downpour was happening.  Fortunately I found out later school was cut short owing to the rain, that is rain in the classroom.  I had a fabulous b'day.  The 7 candles family insisted on coming over and celebrating my day.  How could I refuse, well I couldn't.  They and some other folks came, including our landlord, (the Khmer family from downstairs), Lori and an American young couple here volunteering and a few more Cambodian friends.

   The family brought delicious spring rolls, rice and a cake. Our landlord brought a case of beer!  I made potato/leek/garlic soup (no cream) and tomato bruschetta.  We had a wonderfully interesting time.  We ate , drank, talked and played games.  And the family gave me a cool picture made from bamboo.  I'm lucky.

  A few days ago Marina brought me to a new market, just a few minutes away on the bike.  It's small but packed with fruit, veggies, meat, fish and prepared foods.  I've been there a few times since, both for fresh food but also prepared food.  Oh yes I did buy grilled fish for the b'day party also.  Bargain price as always and yummy.  Ok sorry enough about cheap food, I just can't get over it I guess.  I like this market, smaller, not as hectic and close.

  I had faith that I could find a tennis court to play tennis here, and I did!  I did get on the court and had a great time hitting that little yellow ball around.  The court is not ideal but it's affordable.  The process of finding a  court was interesting.  Jess has a funny bit on her blog about my phone calls once I found the few big hotels that have courts or at least advertise that they do.  So I went to the 3 big, fancy, pricey hotels that I knew had courts.  Two of them were more expensive than my membership in the states, 800-1100 a year.  I lucked out with the 3rd one.  300 a year if I sign up with another person as a couple.  Or 5 dollars each visit with use of the beautiful pool, workout room and 20% off food and drink.  I'm there, there are a few folks here that are ready to play.  Yes I'm excited to get back out there.

   The oppulance in some of these huge hotels amidst the crushing poverty here is mind blowing.  Yet here I am putting money in their coffers.  One of the many inner moral struggles one faces here.

  I am very much enjoying the school.  Unfortunately the Khmer teacher I've been working with, Ratha, is going to be teaching another class.  It's good for him as he likes teaching the older students.  A bummer in the sense that we worked well together and were getting better everyday at it.  The replacement teacher, I'm not sure he's taught before.  I'm told his English is not that good so I would be helping him learn also, hmmm.  He has a sponsor so that he can attend University.  I guess the good thing is it feels like it's my class.  So I can teach how I want to, ah the power of it all.  I better get my shit together though cause with power comes responsibility.  I have to be prepared.  So here comes mistakes, risks, trial and error and hopefully fun and learning.  Wish me luck.

  So that's the morning class, the afternoon class I'm just getting used to.  The teacher a young (21) Khmer, Channa.  She's easygoing and seems to want suggestions from me.  These kids are a bit older and I think we can work well together, her English is very good also.  Looking forward to what develops.

  There is one dark cloud over me now, late on my b'day i got the gift of pink eye, conjunctivitis I believe.  In both eyes, it sucks but at least thru blurry eyes I 'll get this post off.  Till next time.